17 Mar 2009

Depression-era Parents

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Steve Tuttle, in Newsweek, nominates his frugal parents as ideal role models for the Age of Obama, the new era of poverty and scarcity in which thrift is a survival skill.

Last summer I was at my parents’ cabin in rural Virginia and I noticed a dead mouse in a rusty old trap. I tossed it in the trash. Later that day I told my dad about the mouse, and he asked, “Where’s the trap?” I told him it looked as though it were falling apart, and I’d thrown it out with the mouse still attached. He looked at me as if I’d punched him in the face. My mom chimed in: “We’ve had that trap since we got married!” I wasn’t sure she was joking, and they got married almost 50 years ago. I sheepishly dug it out of the garbage and loaded it up with cheese again. Now it’s become one of those perennial things they bring up every time I go home: “Remember when Steve threw out the mousetrap, mouse and all!?” This is followed by shuddering and head shaking, as they silently wonder where it all went wrong.

What Tuttle doesn’t seem to realize is that his parents are simply typical representatives of an older, working-class life style in which cash was in severely limited supply and in which one’s own time in the form of labor would routinely serve as a substitute.

My generation always blamed our parents’ resistance to our own preferred high consumption economic style as the product of the psychic trauma of living through the Great Depression.

A lot of people on the left these days seem to be rejoicing in the arrival of economic bad times the same way many Britons and other Europeans welcomed the outbreak of the First World War, as a purifying fire that would sweep away corruption and decadence and which would ennoble those who passed through the flames. Well, we all know how well things worked out for those Europeans of the WWI era.

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Sallie Parker

An unlikely story. You can’t reuse mousetraps because the mice smell death. I suppose there must be some way of purifying them, but in my mousetrapping days no used mousetrap ever caught another mouse.



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