I grew up in a farming community outside of Phoenix, AZ. I don’t know how poor we were; I mean I don’t know if were poor or not. My mother was fabulous at budgeting money and my dad always worked extra. Probably like most kids, there were some who had more money than us and some who had less. I recall that among my particular group of friends we never counted how much money we had in our pockets in order to be friends with each other. Our family ate our share of beans and I thought everyone did. Maybe they did; I don’t really know. But that being said I’m recalling how both of my parents would act and react to money.
My mother was frugal. She enjoyed good things in life but she never spent money she didn’t have. For most of my growing up years she was a housewife and considered it her job to take care of the house and household finances. She hated being in debt. She still does. She owns everything she has and has no debt. Admirable, for sure. She taught us that pursuing finer things in life isn’t a matter of money, that it is a matter of deciding what you want for yourself and going after it. And maybe it’s using your time wisely to pursue good things and not having time for the trashy stuff. Mom loves poetry; Robert Burns is a favorite. If you have any experience reading Burns in the original dialect you know it is challenging. Mom thinks the challenge is worth it to gain an understanding of the author’s meaning. She loves good music and would gather her kids around the old phonograph player and play the early (50’s) versions of the Time Life compilations. There was everything from Turkey in the Straw to Tchaikovsky. She liked Country music so we heard that too. But thank heaven she liked Marty Robbins and not Tex Ritter.
Dad was an easy going, hard working carefree individual. He worked hard so that he and his family could enjoy the good things. We never had a new car but we always had a good car. We bought good shoes so they would last but we didn’t buy shoes often. Dad raised cattle so we could have meat. He had grown up having to milk cows and hated it, so thankfully his kids didn’t have to do that, but we learned to work in other ways. Dad always had money in his pocket so that when we were in town we could stop at the Dairy Queen for a cone. We could get whatever we wanted for $.25. I guess that in a nutshell I’d say about my dad that if he had money, everyone had money; he shared what he had with everybody.
But Mom and Dad talked some, not much, because they weren’t whiners, about growing up as Depression era kids. Dad in particular would talk about him being the youngest of 11 kids and how his mother would bake 4 loaves of bread every day. On a wood stove mind you. She was always preparing a meal, cooking a meal or cleaning up after a meal. Dad talked about there always being plenty to eat but that it was usually not fancy. One of the things he remembered was having dried biscuits or maybe some leftover bread, especially the hard crusty ends in milk. Mom learned to make a great pot of beans because that’s what they had. While I was growing up the word “beans” meant pinto beans. If you had green beans you said green beans. If you had Lima beans you said Lima beans. But if you said beans it meant pinto beans. I’ve spent years trying to make beans the way Mom does. So later in his life, while I was growing up, my dad would save biscuits for a couple of days, let them get good and dry and put them in milk and consider it a special treat. One of Mom’s comfort foods was beans. Nothing fancy in them; maybe a bit of bacon or a ham hock, but mostly just a few spices and beans.
So for breakfast this morning I had some biscuits in milk and thought of my dad. Comfort food. Good thoughts, remembering him sitting at the kitchen table eating biscuits and milk. My dear sister still has that table and I think I need to visit her and have some biscuits and milk. Mom lives with my sister now and maybe I can get her to give me one more lesson on making beans. I make some pretty darn good chili beans, people have asked for my secret. But I want some “beans”, beans the way my mom makes them. And now I wonder what my lovely daughters will think of as comfort food when they are my age. I hope they have good thoughts, the way I have good thoughts.