Wednesday, April 29, 2009


The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same

I'm still singing that song about "everything old is new again." What's sticking in my throat is all this nonsense about the apparent invention of frugal living. Please! When you throw in this wonderful new concept (I'm being sarcastic) of recycling and conservation, I become nauseous.
After all, there are many of us who have never overdosed on credit cards, who know that being careful with resources wasn't just invented by mouthy activists and media mouths who never bothered to find out what happened before they were hatched.
I know that for readers past the Biblical promise of three score years and ten, and for many in their sixties, this is just a return to basics, the way many of us lived when we were kids and our parents had only modest means. Even those in their thirties and forties may understand what I'm talking about because the explosion in wasteful living is only a couple of decades old.
In the 1940s, I was a kid living in a little house in Chesley, which is southwest of Owen Sound. And we lived out of necessity the way the greenies do today out of flamboyant conviction.
There was an outhouse in the woodshed, papered with big posters of the generators at Niagara Falls. A "honey" wagon was a common sight emptying the outhouses.
Oh yes, there was a compost heap in the back yard, and many scraps we also fed to the Leghorns which we ate after they got too old for laying. We even fed the chickens any preserves that had gone bad, causing them to stagger around drunkenly. My Baptist grandfather didn't appear to notice even though he once worked in a distillery.
We grew most of our vegetables and fruit on the empty second lot beside the house, which was common in towns around 1950. There was still lots of space around the houses and garages often were converted stables.
The house was heated by running the hot water pipes through the fire box of the wood stove, which was also the only heat for the house. The stove was one of those smart old ones with a warming shelf up top and a reservoir to heat water on one side. Plenty of hot water on those days when the bread was baked, since many people didn't buy store bread.
There was a pump in the kitchen for the cistern which was under the kitchen floor, fed from the eaves troughs.Now this old-fashioned house featured many of the green gimmicks which are now touted half-a-century later as the latest thing. And I'm not just talking about growing your own vegetables.
I have a Envirolet composting toilet at my cottage, and indeed there's still an outhouse tucked behind evergreens for winter use when I've drained the water pump.
I would just love to have a big old wood stove at the cottage, fed from all the limbs that fall in the winter, but they now cost a fortune. Saving rain in barrels is now so fashionable they have fancy varieties which conceal the function behind bric-a-brac.
And so it goes. Yet we are told breathlessly about how the latest fad is to live frugally and greenly.
Let me give you a few more examples of how green most of us really were 50 or 60 years ago, starting with the fact there was no need for blue boxes and grey boxes etc. because every bottle was saved for jams, preserves and nails. And boys like me trundled our wagons around Chesley collecting newspapers which we then sold to the furniture factories for packing.
No one threw away newspapers because paper was needed to start stoves, furnaces, bonfires and trash fires. (Of course that's a socialist no no today since the lefties/gliberals won't even allow clean incinerators producing watts from waste.)
When you bought groceries, every store in Chesley subscribed to the Vandervort delivery truck and your groceries were delivered a few hours later. No one walked the streets carrying groceries. The local dairy also had refrigerated lockers where you could store your meats etc. so you didn't have to have a home freezer. (And it sold buttermilk for a nickel a pail.)
The big furniture factory also owned the sawmill so a team pulling a wagon filled with sawdust plodded by my house every hour ferrying the sawdust to the factory furnace.
Now the good old days often weren't. Half-a-century ago, a major illness could bankrupt a family because Medicare and welfare hadn't yet transformed the lives of Canadians. But all of us lived carefully. Any string on parcels was rolled into a big ball for reuse. If the Post Office missed cancelling a stamp, we soaked them off and glued them to our new mail, which still drives the posties nuts as they rant about it being illegal.
So we no longer have the luxury of as much space around our homes and cottages. And new windows save us more heat than the big old wooden ones. Same with modern insulation. But when I read Time talking about a young chap whose idea of hardship is that he can no longer buy $200 ties, when I read newspaper stories about teenagers now being careful about their cell phone costs, when I see the expanses of useless space in the modern show homes, I wonder what kind of fiscal insanity infected North America before the recession/depression forced more sanity on people who never ever have had to save, who knew that life was only going to get fatter tomorrow, who have just learned they should have been living within their means.
Giving mortgages to sucker who had no down payment, allowing people to max out six credit cards, advertising even after the depression/recession hit that you could get a loan without one credit check, all these are just a few examples of the good times madness that struck every street which are now lined with leased cars that people can't afford.
Chesley was hardly a dream town, but most of the people there 50 years ago would have observed what passes for ordinary living today with amazement. What about saving for a rainy day? What about never buying on time, with exceptions for the house? What about saving 10% of everything you earn, which everyone from the wealthy barber to Dickens said was the key to happiness and prosperity? What about buying a used car (avoiding that crap about pre-owned) until you could really afford a new one? What about using the old stereos and TVs even when fancy new varieties tempt you?
History is filled with crashes of markets and dreams. Only fools would think that it would never happen again. Many thinkers have reminded us that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
And yet many around us did choose to ignore history. They kidded us about not living as well as them because, after all, we can't take our money to heaven/hell. They forgot that everything old should become new again, especially when it comes to living without the worry about how to pay for tomorrow.

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