Tuesday, January 08, 2013

In Which I Give You A Great Legacy. You're Welcome

When I was a little kid growing up in a steel town in NEO, we were strapped for cash although I never had any idea.  My two sisters and my brother and I never once heard our parents say anything about money being tight, and I don't recall ever feeling like I was missing out on anything.  Oh, sure, my friends went places like Cedar Point amusement park and the drive-in movies, but it never occurred to me to even ask if we could go to those spots.  I automatically assumed that, if those were Our Kind Of Places, then we would have already gone there.

One thing my father made sure we always had was plenty of really good food.  And St. Patsy could always throw out the chow.  In addition to her own collection of farmstyle recipes from her own family, she learned a bunch of good SerboCroatian and other European recipes from living with my dad's parents early in their marriage and from living in such a melting pot town.  My mother's food is still, all these years later, wonderful.  Dad was always brutally critical, however, and Patsy dreaded his forays into the kitchen while she prepared any meals.  He cautioned her about the height of the flame on the burners, asked if she had washed her hands, and wondered aloud if there should be a lid on that.  On one memorable weekend morning, Dad critiqued her pancakes.  Mom threw one at him and vowed to never, ever make them again.  She never did.

All of us kids looked forward to Saturday nights because it was Steak Night.  If it was nice weather, Dad would set up the backyard charcoal grill and cook them outside.  I don't know how they managed steaks for six people--it was always pinbone sirloins back in those days--but they did.  Invariably, as he grilled, a neighbor would mosey over and say the sentence my father always dreaded:  "Must be nice to be able to afford steak!"  The observation was always delivered with the same hangdog look, followed by a sort of admonishing expression of disapproval.  Dad detested it.
He wanted to tell them off, but he always said the same thing in a cool and level voice:

"Well, I don't smoke, drink, or chase women, so...."

Most of the neighbors who butted in and commented did one or more of those things, so that shut them up pretty quickly.  Not to mention the fact that its implication--that my father saved money by not having expensive habits; therefore, he spent that money on something nice for his family--had the added effect of making them feel a little diminished.  It really was a perfect response.

We all loved that rejoinder and started using it for anything we spent our money on.  All of us had jobs, from babysitting to paper routes, so we had some pocket money every so often.  If any sibling made fun of what we bought, we'd simply say, "Well, I don't smoke, drink, or chase women." Dad has been gone for more than a decade now, but years and years later, we all still use it. 

Case in point:  My sister Susan confided in me last month that she was in a bidding war on Ebay for a game.  It was a game from her childhood, one that we had played and played and played together (at least when we were getting along).  Both of us loved it, and we had even made up another game using its pieces.  It had attained mythological status for us, but, sadly, it had become lost long ago.  She sent me the link for it.  At one point, the price soared to over thirty dollars.  Thirty dollars for a game that had probably cost six bucks back in 1970, when she first played it!  But Susan is a Nostalgia Junkie.  She is hooked on her childhood.  And that is why I wasn't the least bit surprised to find out that she was the winning bidder.  At FIFTY-ONE DOLLARS.  "Holy crap, Susan!"  I said.  "That's a lot of money!  Who will play the game with you?  Wow!"  With her usual aplomb, she responded, "Look, I don't smoke, drink, or chase women.  And you're gonna play with me, duh.  And each time you do, I'm charging you a dollar."

Except that she does smoke (every so often), and she does drink.  It is true, though, that she doesn't chase women.


  1. Anonymous5:43 PM

    That is a great line. What a fun story. It was a different time, indeed.

    [Inquiring minds want to know: what was the game that your sister had to have?]

  2. I'm with Ally, I have to know what the game was.I was all set to surprise DH with a Hands Up Harry--his most favorite toy ever--but the starting bid on eBay was 79.99 USD. Even if his (Harry's) pants DO fall down, that's a high price to pay. . .

  3. I loved every word of this. Thank you for sharing it!

  4. LMAO ... What a wonderful way to start my day!! Thank you, Nance! I'd say that $51 was worth it for that game even if she didn't charge you to play. ;-) Such a terrific depiction of your family. I really love this post.


  5. Shirley--I'm very glad to have made you laugh today! You know, it IS worth it. We played it the other night, Susan, Patsy, my nephew, and I, and we had a blast! And you're right: she didn't charge me. In fact, she made us all dinner.

    Bookster--Oh, you're so welcome. As is often the case, it wasn't really what I started out to write, but I like where it ended up.

    Lorraine--Welcome to the Dept! How did you get here? No matter, I'm glad you've arrived and I hope you stick around. I'm not as sentimental as Susan, so I wouldn't pay $51 for a game, and I sure wouldn't pay $79. Wow. That's a lot.

    Ally--There is still one left on Ebay, but it is incomplete, so that's why it's still there and cheap, too. Here's a link. We are a Compulsive Nicknaming Family, so we had little nicknames for each picture; it helped us remember. That set is no longer made, as you can imagine. It's astonishing how it all came flooding back as we played. Such fun!

  6. I love that she's going to charge you a dollar to play :) And I want to know what it is too!

    My brother & I didn't play together very often (in my memory anyway). I remember playing Concentration with him & my mom telling me I should let him win because he was younger. Well pooh on that - he was only 21 months younger!

  7. That's hilarious - you were answering while I was writing, and the game is pretty much Concentration with pictures! We were poor deprived children who had to use regular playing cards :)

  8. I'd say your sister got a deal. The price of gas when we moved to CA in 1975 was 23 cents a gallon. It is now over $3.50 a gallon. That's 15x. So if you took the original price of $6, and multiply it by 15, you get $90. See? It's just inflation. ;)

  9. j.@jj--LOL. What an interesting perspective.

    Bug--Oh, how funny. Susan and I played everything To The Death. We still do. She is incredibly quick and competitive. When we were younger, we were actually banned from playing jump rope in the street because of our constant screaming and fighting. We were both really good, and so we often jerked the rope to make each other miss. Three misses meant it was time to turn the rope. Oh, did we ever fight. So bad.

  10. Cute story.

    I'll admit to drinking. I like cheap wine, cheap gin, and expensive Scotch and Rye.

    My sis and I were 6 1/2 years apart, so mainly just annoyed each other. Now we play dominoes with our mom. She'll be 92 in May.


  11. Anonymous5:01 PM

    Let's see:

    One pack of cigarettes in California is about $5.19, so smoking a pack a day would cost about $1900 per year. And having a couple of drinks in a bar would cost around $10 with tip, so going out twice a week would be about $1000 per year. I also spend about $300 less per month than the average 20-something in San Francisco by living in a non-central location, so that's $3600 saved per year. All in all, these choices save me about $6500 per year.

    And that is how I can afford to spend Christmas in Brazil.

    - Mikey G.

  12. What a lovely, evocative story. I, too, grew up in a similar NE Ohio blue collar family. I remember with great warmth how my father surprised me on my twelfth birthday with my heart's desire--a phone extension of my very own, and the coveted pink princess model to boot.

    Fast forward some fifty years or so, and, in my favorite antique mall, I spotted the very clone of my phone. Somewhat sheepishly, I showed my new acquisition to my husband, commenting that I had just spent the dumbest $50 of my life. Realprof, bless him, responded with an enthusiastic "I can make that work!" Sure enough, he found an adaptor that made it a working phone again, but...

    There's no way I know to fix it so that when I dial a number with no area code, and the old GL prefix, my friend Cathy will pick up, and we can talk about what happened that day in 7th grade.

  13. fauxprof--Bless your heart. What a lovely last paragraph. And bless realprof for buying into your nostalgia.

    I well remember the prefix days! We were BW, for Broadway. And we were on a dreaded party line with a woman down the street who hogged the line unashamedly. Hilda never rested, it seemed. Whenever we picked up the phone, she was on it.

    Enjoy your pink Princess phone. I think it is $50 well spent.

    Mikey--...and we know you're not out there chasing women!

    Jazz--Oh, I smoked briefly in college, which I wrote about here ages ago, and my fondess for martinis and wine is well documented, too. My father was born to parents who were makers of bathtub slivovitz during Prohibition. He grew up under barstools and around booze and poker parties. He wasn't a prude, but he just didn't care for drinkers and smokers much.

    He liked an occasional beer with a little bit of salt, and he liked hot tea with a shot of wine.

    I'm pleased to hear you and your sister have settled your differences enough to play nice with your mother. LOL. Susan and I have, too. We're five years apart, and while we don't play dominoes, Mom is game for any...er, game. She, at 82.5, is a real shark.

  14. Nostalgia Junkie. Me too. In a big way.

  15. Rainbow Motel--Me, not so much. I like the memory, but I don't crave the tangible. I wonder what causes the difference.

  16. I had a very nicely thought-out comment that went to hell in a hand-basket because IE refuses to let me sign in to my Google ID and tells me I need to get rid of cookies in my browser, which I have done, and re-set my internet privacy options, which I have done, and maybe take out an insurance policy on internet insanity from stupid messages.

    So from now on, I am only ever going to your page through Firefox who is behaving.

    I am too weary to re-construct what I wrote, but please know I loved your family vignettes, and your Dad's comeback is priceless. (And I would definitely have paid that much on eBay for the game, lol.) I'm one of those people who has to feel the nostalgia if it is important enough.

  17. Ortizzle--Well, fie on Google and the rest of the Interwebs if they can't behave.

    Thanks for the kudos. I won't pay that much for my own sentimentality, which is, admittedly, vastly lacking, but when I took the time to think about it, I realized that I'd pay that much to make someone else happy to get in touch with his/hers.

    I don't have the nostalgia gene, really. To me, having that stuff around is one more bit of clutter. The memory is not something I have to dust, find a tangible space for, or keep moving from place to place. It sounds horrid, but there it is. But I certainly don't begrudge or judge anyone else's joy from having their relics of childhood.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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