Looking at that photo, I’m not only struck by how much my appearance has changed but how the way we live has as well.
I grew up in a comfortable middle class family, in a relatively new but small subdivision. While we were only one train stop from the city centre (an eight minute ride) the few streets of my suburb were nestled in a valley of farmland and native bush. There was a small playground and a ‘corner store” (there was no corner but it was a store, or dairy as we called it). Life was relatively simple. Dad went to work on the train each morning, mum got the kids off to school, cleaned, shopped and cooked each day. Once a week she’d drive across town to see her mother and three sisters in their various homes or workplaces. Though the soil wasn’t the best, she always grew a few vegetables, some rhubarb and a lemon tree in the garden.
But what got me most about the photo was this: my aunt made the skirt, my nana knitted the jumper and my other aunt cut my hair. No cobblers so the shoes would have been bought (a nice sensible t-bar style that I have no memory of according to another photo taken on the same day). There were hand-me-downs from my sister and the odd neighbour or relative. In fact some of the clothes I loved most in childhood and adolescence were pre-loved. Sure, I had my share of new, shop bought numbers but they weren’t necessarily coveted.
One aunt was a dressmaker by trade and another a hairdresser. Very handy skills. My own mother was a nurse. I remember the trail of injured kids bought to the door for first aid in my childhood. The worst was a crushed finger that got amputated at the top joint (a hospital job obviously, it was a capital city not the wild west). Though she even delivered a baby once I’m told.
Things got darned. Socks, jumpers, patches on jeans when the knees wore through. Shoes had heel and toe plates and when they wore down they got mended. Clothes were made with a generous seam and hem allowance, so they could be ‘let out’ as you grew. Oh and we were always bought clothes a little too big so we could ‘grow into them’ (have you noticed at a certain point in adult life this is reversed, clothes a tad too small are purchased to urge us into shedding a kilo or two).
At the end of its useful life when an item of clothing, or a sheet, could be patched no more, handed on or used for its original purpose it was turned into cleaning rags. My dad’s big white Y-Fronts would have a second life as a dusting cloth.
My mum always bought in bulk. Her sisters or neighbours would buy a cow, sheep or a pig. They’d get together and pack the portions, sucking the air out of each plastic bag before twisting the tie. I'll never forget the half a pig's head sawn down the middle, which for all her thriftiness stumped my mother's culinary prowess. In the 70’s freezer envy was at its height. In each garage lurked a massive freezer. I can still remember what it felt like to stand on tip toes and cantilever my body into the chest to get something from the bottom of it.
Curtains were lined to keep the heat in and my father was obsessive about shutting them the minute it was dark enough to turn the lights on inside. If you left the room you turned everything off – lights, heaters, TV, radio. They still have a habit of unplugging appliances from the wall when they leave the house. You put on a jumper (the same lovely ones that my grandmother knitted) before turning the heater on. There were slippers, pyjamas, thick woollen dressing gowns and hot water bottles.
I read blogs teaching people how to be frugal and it is nothing new. Just a generation that grew up with parents a few steps removed from the depression era mentality.
I still mend my shoes (nice Italian pricey ones turn out to be more economical than cheap ones in the end). I have been known to darn, however badly. I save buttons, even when I don’t use them later. I’ve finally got it into the Not Boyfriend’s head that in winter he needs to wear more than a t-shirt and not to put the heating on all the time. I still have to keep sneaking the thermostat down every time he uses the heater though.
No dead cows in this house but I prefer to cook with whole fish and if I need fillets, use the bones for stock that I freeze.
I still frequent op shops though these days I pass more things onto them then buy and the same goes for Freecycle.
I have a fascination for dumpsters and items left in the street for recycling. My ‘new’ wing chair came into the house this way last year.
But I like to welcome the evening light through uncurtained windows. You can only go so far I guess.