North of the Border: Am I Poor?

by Pat Mestern


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A number of people have asked for some words of wisdom about poverty and being "poor". To respond, I visited Marie, who was a close friend of grandmother's. Marie is 103 years old. Although her eyesight is beginning to fail, her mind is tack sharp. In her own words, she raised nine children on little more than spit and polish. Marie was in her favourite place, the solarium of the retirement home sharing a booktape with her 93 year old friend. When asked to give her views about being "poor", she happily did so. Marie, one of ten children herself, raised nine children during the depression on one of the poorest farms in the area. Eight are still living - two doctors, two lawyers, three teachers and an engineer. Marie says, "Consider this your pep talk for the day".

"Being poor is the ultimate opportunity handed a person. Being poor is no excuse for being filthy and uneducated. You have access to the same libraries, soap and water and schools that others do. Being poor is no excuse for living in a dirty house and wearing dirty clothes. Being poor is no excuse for living surrounded by clutter and garbage. Being poor means that, if you can't presently afford university/college, you can educate yourself until such times as that goal is within your reach.

Being poor means being surrounded by necessities. Being rich means being surrounded by "things". Being rich you can buy perceived happiness. Being poor you make happiness happen. Some are born with a silver spoon in their mouths and some have to go looking for it. They end up better people for chasing after that silver spoon, because they've had to learn valuable lessons along the way. Sometimes they turn that silver spoon into one of solid gold. Being poor means you start at the bottom and work your way up. Being rich means you start at the top and slide your way down. It's harder to work your way up, but the trip is worth the effort. You'll never forget what you learned along the way. You rarely slide your way down again. Being poor means you have to give back to life, you have something to look up to, something to achieve. Being rich means you are always looking down. For some being rich means that rather than earn achievements, you try to buy them. Stop saying I'm poor, poor, poor. Pretty soon you'll begin to believe it. Start saying I am at a temporary financial disadvantage right now. I can do something about it.

Stop saying I can't even afford to put food on the table. My family ate potatoes three times a day for more than eight years and look at us today. I'm 103. All my children would still be alive if Charlie hadn't gone skiing at age seventy-four and cracked his skull.

Stop saying the government has to do this for me, the government has to do that for me. The government does not have to pull you up by your bootstraps. You are master of your own destiny, digger of your own rut. Destiny can be altered. Ruts are filled all the time. If you lie in yours too long, someone will bury you in it. Self pity is the cruelest form of poverty because it is in your mind.

If you don't like the word poor, just substitute that fancy new term "financially challenged". Keeping up with the Jones's is a game you cannot ever win. Never spend more than you make. Save a bit from everything you make - one penny today, two tomorrow. Tuck the money away and forget you ever saw it come into the house. My children went to university on money we tucked away, and good hard work on their part to make it happen. They never heard us say "we're poor" - "we can't do it". We said that it might take awhile, but if that is what you truly want, it is achievable".

When Marie did stop to take a breath, she asked what I was going to do with the information. I told her it was going on the Internet to be read by hundreds of people.

"They'll say. Times change. She's an old woman living in the past. She is not in touch with reality. Well, tell them that when it comes right down to the crunch there are only six basics that are really important - a roof over their heads however slanted or leaky it might be, something to put in their tummy however boring it tastes, clean water, soap, heat in a cold country, and love of life and family". Her parting shot was - " Tell them too that if they can afford a computer to read this, they are definitely not poor as I understand the term". Marie always gets the last word.

And yes, before you ask, I know where she's coming from. There was no silver spoon awaiting my birth.

Free Unusual Decorations: A frequent question pertains to reasonably priced decorative touches for the home. Everyone likes pretty things around them. But at what cost? Here are some suggestions that will cost next to nothing and afford lots of pleasurable moments.

We have a large basket of unusual rocks in our front hall, free rocks from our many wanderings. When I see visitors looking oddly at this basket, I choose two or three beautiful specimens and give a little background pointing out fossils, different minerals, beautiful colours. Most are soon converted to the benefits of displaying rocks. Another basket holds pine cones and odd "bits of wood".

Indian artifacts collected over the years by ancestors, birchbark, feathers and home- carved artwork decorate one bedroom. Shells and shore-find decorate a bathroom, all free. I use old canning jars to hold smaller shells and rocks, baskets for larger specimens.

Bouquets of wild flowers are great additions during the summer months. Adam's cat food spoons (no longer needed) have been flattened and are now part of a pretty wind chime.

Family photographs in scavenged frames make a great "rogues gallery" in the upper hallway.

Five of nine rooms have homemade shelves full of books purchased from yard sales, library sales, scavenged from friends or bought if we just cannot live without a copy.

Drying Food: So many questions have been asked about drying fruit that I'll just touch of the subject and recommend you visit a library for more comprehensive information.

An electric dehydrator is great but until one is affordable it is easy to dry fruit the old-fashioned way. You will need some plastic screening, cheesecloth and cheap wooden frames. Make up a number of 24" x 24" square frames from 1-1/2" x 1/2" pine wood. Pull plastic screen taut over one end of the frame and staple onto the wood; pull taut over the opposite end and staple to the wood. Then pull taut on the third end and staple, same on the fourth side. Measurements are flexible. Make the trays stackable, leaving lots of room for air movement between frames. Use plastic screen rather than metal screen for obvious reasons. Make trays portable. Prepare fruit according to instructions found in a good book on drying fruit. Spread on screens/trays leaving room in between pieces for maximum air flow. Cover fruit with cheese cloth (keeps the bugs off ) and set in full sun. Put trays out each day in good weather until fruit is dry. Bring in each night before the dew falls.

At the moment I'm drying raspberries and blueberries on trays manufactured forty years ago. I do like to sun dry small fruit. Books recommended include Putting Food By, 1975 published by Stephen Green Press, Brattleboro, Vermont; Back To Basics, 1981, A Reader's Digest Book.


Periodically Pat Mestern provides us with frugal living tips from a Canadian perspective. You'll find some of her other musings at mestern.net. Her latest work of historical fiction is entitled "No Choice But Freedom" which takes place in England and British Colonial America c1750.

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