Elders can help you make the best of a bad situation

Sunday, July 12, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

I have been fortunate enough in my life to live among many people who could teach classes in frugal living. So growing up, I thought this was the only way to live. I got into the habit of looking for solutions to problems that cost the least amount of money early on.

Instead of asking what product I should purchase to clean an item, I first determined if it could be cleaned with baking soda or vinegar. Checking the grocery store counter was always the last resort.

I can't resist books containing helpful hints. One shelf in my bookcase is lined with them. I'm always looking for ways to accomplish tasks without spending a lot of money. I've been cleaning my brass tabletops with Worcestershire sauce for years, and I'm always taken aback when somebody questions my judgment.

I learned a long time ago that older people have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, and that's why I like to hang out with them and have suggested to my son that he do the same. I've always told him that if he has a problem, he should take it to a person who has been around for years and ask them to help him solve it.

I was recounting to someone last week the occasion on which I suffered an attack of Bell's Palsy, which I consider a strange illness. This was at a time when almost everyone had health insurance, and a doctor's visit wasn't the first step toward bankruptcy. When my jaw began to become paralyzed, I made a trip to the dentist. He informed me that this was a medical problem, so off I went to a doctor who treated me with muscle relaxers but never explained the illness.

Unfortunately, some medicines affect me opposite to the way they affect others. In fact, one doctor threatened to give me diet pills to see if they would slow me down. In any case, the relaxers didn't help. On Christmas night, I bit down on a turkey sandwich, and my mouth twisted sideways. It was time for desperate measures, so my mother called in her neighborhood women, and they discussed the situation. That day, they prepared a liniment containing three common ingredients. I began rubbing my jaw with it, and a couple of weeks later, I was cured.

A couple of years later, I noticed a preparation containing the same ingredients on my pharmacist's shelf. While I am sure by now that medical science has found a better way to deal with this illness, I was glad the little old ladies helped me out.

Some people think that those who live in small towns are more adroit at frugal living than city dwellers. But actually, most of my cost-cutting lessons were learned in the city. That's because, I think, our neighborhoods were more diverse with people coming from all over the country.

When you are surrounded by cooks from Shreveport, La., Memphis, Tenn., and San Francisco, you can learn to put on a first-class feed at 12 years old on a few dollars or fewer. You learn to buy one large beef roast and a sack of vegetables and convert the meat into enough steaks and stew meat for two weeks of meals. When your neighbors are housekeepers and Pullman porters from places such as Salt Lake City and Alexandria, Va., you learn how to clean everything from carpets to crystal without spending an extra dime.

My mother taught me how to make my own clothes on a Singer sewing machine. So once when I couldn't find a job, I set up my own shop as a seamstress. It's called making the best of a bad situation. When you learn to do it early, you have an easier time as you get older.

In most instances, academic studies give one a great advantage. But never belittle the life lessons that teach an individual how to live a good life in whatever circumstances one finds herself.

The greatest people I have ever known have been those who were able make themselves content in the worst of places and situations. Some of these folks have convinced me that they could learn to live with their worst enemy if they had to. They make getting through a recession look like child's play.

I've learned, too, if you surround yourself with good people, it always makes your troubles lighter. When life gets tough, a shoulder to cry on helps tremendously.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at


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