The other day I was waiting in a line outside on a cold, rainy day. I didn’t have a book with me, and I’m in between smart phones at the moment, so there wasn’t much to do but stand around and wait. I went through the pockets of my jacket, looking for I-don’t-know-what, and I found a pack of chewing gum. It was apple pie-flavored Extra gum, so I unwrapped a stick and put it in my mouth. And I thought about my maternal grandmother as I did.
Going to grandma’s house, which we did a lot when I was a kid, meant a couple of things. One was that we could eat Golden Grahams, which was a type of cereal that was never allowed in our Rice Krispies and Corn flakes household. And another was that we could chew Wrigley’s gum, unlike the Trident that my mom always wanted us to chew. The Bubble Yum, Bubblicious, and Hubba Bubba were all carefully hidden from her, of course.
But there was a catch to chewing the Wrigley’s gum (usually it was DoubleMint, but every so often JuicyFruit would also be available). My grandma would always tear a stick of gum in half, and give us each a half-stick. I didn’t know why, but I never really though to ask her about it, either. Have you heard the saying that a half a loaf is better than no loaf at all? The same thing goes for DoubleMint gum, too.
It wasn’t until much later, probably even after she had passed away, that I figured out what it was. My Grandma grew up during the Depression, and I think she just instinctively learned how to cut back to make things last longer. You’re still chewing gum with the half-stick, but you get to chew it twice as often. It makes sense to me now, but only because I learned in history books about what she lived through in her lifetime.
My parents are Baby boomers, and I’m a Generation Xer myself. Neither of our age groups ever had to live through anything like the Depression. But many of the kids growing up today, who are the same age as my daughters, are having to confront some very hard economic times. If they aren’t quite at the Depression levels, they are far scarier than what I saw back in the 1970s and 1980s.
The American way, as I stated in an earlier post, seems to be predicated on consumption. We routinely buy more than we need because, well, we can do it. Places like Wal-Mart and Costco exist to sell us as much as they possibly can, of whatever it is we might want. And that just doesn’t jive with my grandma’s Depression-era ways.
Can Americans voluntarily get to a point where less is more, and cutting back on consumption does not carry a social stigma? I don’t know, but cheap gas didn’t last forever, cheap food seems to be going that way too, and things like co-pays for medical insurance are eating away more discretionary income every year. Something somewhere’s got to give.
As I stood there in the rain, chewing my full stick of Wrigley’s gum, I wondered about my grandma and her frugal ways. They didn’t quite rub off on my mother, and they certainly didn’t rub off on me. So does that mean her experiences went for nothing? I’m afraid so, because of the consumerist beast that we all feed every day in this society. We’re told to consume, and so we consume. And there’s no room for any half-sticks of gum in there, either.