Winter’s expenses hit poor hardest

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:45 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

The threat of rising heating costs and gasoline prices are causing a lot of folks to begin considering changes they can make in their lifestyle this winter to shave living expenses. According to some predictions, natural gas prices in our part of the country could take a substantial leap.

Some families who have already combined households for financial reasons are facing the possibility of having to stretch space even further to accommodate more family members.

Rising food costs are also a concern, especially among those living on fixed incomes. Hard times, though, are not anything new to a segment of our population.

Looking back, I can see that even in the bad old days some of us were lucky. We were fortunate enough to grow up in families and neighborhoods where acts of creative living on a slim budget were elevated to the level of a fine art.

I remember sitting down to a delicious Sunday supper of savory meat and mashed potatoes accompanied by a cup of hot apple cider and feeling like I had died and gone to heaven. A savory loaf was made of nothing more than cornmeal, bacon scraps and chopped onion, baked slowly in the oven, then fried in hot grease. It went a long way when sliced thinly and nestled in a medley of warm vegetables.

Home-fried sugar donuts or individual fruit pies waiting on a plate after school, for a half-dozen hungry mouths to consume after homework, was incentive enough to make household chores get finished fast.

When life gets tough, sweet tasting memories such as those are enough to snuggle up with for a lifetime.

Winters in those long ago days, too, seemed colder with more snowy days and greater accumulation. As bed warmers, we used a hot water bottle or a warmed brick to cuddle our feet against as we went to sleep. Flannel gowns and pajamas were the sleepwear of choice.

A literal smorgasbord of recreational and entertainment activities left no room for boredom.

There were books to read, games to play, scientific experiments to conduct (how many nights does a firefly live?), investigations to be made (what are those little things that wiggle around in the jar of rain water?), inventions to create (could we really make a car by equipping our wooden cart with a washing machine motor?), discoveries to explore (where did that shaft under grandma’s house lead to?).

On special occasions, we got to sit around on the floor with bowls of popcorn and listen to family members tell stories.

I know now that we led a poor but sheltered life. My family believed that it was the business of adults to provide for the well-being of the family and the business of children to get an education and grow up to be productive adults.

When I think about it, I realize what appeared on the surface to be an incredibly simple philosophy for child rearing was, in fact, a studied, well-reasoned approach to successful parenting.

It wasn’t until I became a parent myself that I began to understand the influence my upbringing had on helping me avoid many pitfalls as I traveled through life.

I suppose this accounts for the fact that I’m concerned about the manner in which some parents of today are bringing up their children. Disallowing children to experience hardships and facing the consequence of their behavior, as far as I’m concerned, is a form of child abuse.

Denying one the opportunity to build up inner resources amounts to cruel, unusual punishment.

If it turns out that this winter becomes one in which the working poor and people on fixed incomes find themselves in dire circumstances, I expect that it will be much like the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina, with few prospects of any help forthcoming.

But the hurricanes have served as fair warning.

Survival will require not only strength of character and strength of will, it will require an effective strategy for making it through the long haul to spring.

My conservative friends keep telling me that it’s everybody’s responsibility to take care of themselves. They live in a world where all people have equal access to the same things.

Most of us live in a different place where the majority of folks are just doing the best they can.

I just hope and pray the winter will be kind.

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

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