Poverty and the New Depression
By Richard E. Noble
When my wife and I rented our first apartment together, it had no furniture. Our first purchases as a new couple was not a living room suite or a kitchen dinette, it was a set of carpenter tools. We bought a circular saw, an electric drill, hammers and nails. Neither of us had ever built anything but very quickly we had a kitchen table, a bed and a chair - and my wife built them with very little help from me. She is a "builder-bee." If you give her three consecutive days to rest and think - she starts building something.
But this type of practical creativeness is what has been the driving force behind our entire lives together. We didn't sit around dreaming about what life would be like if we only had more money. We asked ourselves how we could do what we wanted to do with the money we had.
Next we were off in a homemade or "Carol-made" van camper touring America. One of our big problems on this adventure was eating. How do you eat food everyday with very little money? We lived while on the road with a combined gross income of less than $5,000 per year.
One of our creative innovations was with purchasing meat. We decided that we would search each grocery store in every new town and make something out of whatever was selling for the cheapest price at the meat counter. This experience led to the possibility of a new and different cookbook. We were going to entitle it "One Hundred and One Different Ways to Cook Chicken Necks." Have you ever eaten a sliced bar-b-que chicken gizzard sandwich? Actually it isn't bad.
My wife had never eaten a beef kidney. How do you cook one, she wondered. Being an old butcher, I had the standard reply - It's easy, you just boil the pee out of it, honey.
While camping on an American Indian reservation in Arizona we ate kidney mutton chops and roast mutton leg for a week. Mutton is an adult lamb. It tastes like lamb but much more so. The Indians raised sheep - any cut of mutton in their grocery store was 69 cents a pound.
Then we discovered fishing. In my big city environment many people fished but they never caught anything editable. My wife bought one of those $3.99 rod and reels one day when we were camped on this beautiful lake in Kentucky. By the end of the day she came walking back to the camper with a whole stringer of crappie - I couldn't believe it. I immediately upgraded the budget to include fishing poles and artificial baits. We ate free fish all over America.
As professional fruit pickers we never ran out of fruits and vegetables - or orange juice. Every farmer, no matter what his cash crops, always had a vegetable garden - and they were always willing to share with the helpers.
In Eastpoint as "oyster people" we ate a lot of oysters, shrimp, fish and crabs. I think we had a few years where we never ate a hamburger or a beef steak.
Our little ice cream parlor in Carrebelle was also a personal act of individual creativity. Initially Carol built all the tables and counters. We knocked down walls and hollowed out closets.
But the real creativity came once we got open. When you have a simple idea that takes imagination and very little money, it sounds good - but it's not. The trouble with having an idea that takes very little money and a bunch of beginner imagination is that once you do it and everybody sees it, then they can do it too.
After a couple of years of making practically no profit and fending off a host of copycats, we were almost ready to give up. But once again our poverty creativeness kicked in and we devised a plan. We cut our loses by closing down every winter. We weren't making enough money in Carrebelle to pay the light bill during the winter. We actually made more money closing up shop.
While we were closed we changed the entire store - inside and out. Every year when our old customers came back, our store was different and our menu was different. It was a lot of work for Carol and me but it kept us "new" every year and it kept our competitors hopping.
I must admit, I was quite proud of my wife. By the end of each season she would be so frustrated and tired that I wouldn't have blamed her if she just gave up. But all winter long she just kept thinking up new things to do next year. I really think that she liked making the changes better than running the business.
As I sit here thinking all of this over, it occurs to me that our whole life has been one big creative experience. For the most part it has been a continuous effort to adjust, adapt or try and beat the odds, but what else can you do when all you have is your dreams?
We're both getting a little frustrated with "dreaming" at this stage of our lives. We're supposed to have "something" by now. But I sometimes think the real challenge for us today and maybe for all older people is trying to keep those dreams alive - no more dreams, no more life!
“A Little Something”is R.E. Noble’s first book of poetry and it is now on sale at Amazon along with Hobo-ing America, A Summer with Charlie and Honor Thy Farther and Thy Mother. Richard Noble is a freelance writer who has lived here in Eastpoint for nearly 30 years.