Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Let me do some explaining. My family wasn't exactly poor, but we had what we had by scrimping and saving and making do. Extras meant that we had new clothes for Christmas instead of thrift shop stuff or hand-me-downs. Extras meant a special outing to McDonald's for my birthday.
Then, to top it off, I married Joey and he made my frugal ways look like I was a gol-durn spendthrift. He was recycling and up-cycling before he knew what those words meant; turning old tires into planters and swings, using old pallet wood for new porch steps and mixing leftover cans of paint 'til he had enough to freshen the walls of some room or another.
The odd thing was that Joey was not un-generous. When he had a dollar he'd share it with me fifty-fifty. He trusted, and I knew, that it was to be spent well. He never asked -- and I rarely told him -- just how it left my pocket. I just said "thanks" and once in awhile I'd show him a trophy like the old floor lamp I bought at Salvation Army for two dollars that looked just like the one in the Orvis mail order catalog for over a hundred.
I guess I shoulda known that it would be this way. When we met, I was young and fulla vinegar and he was young and fulla piss. I had three jobs and still enough energy to get done work and go over to Snuffy's across the border in New York state and dance and flirt and have a few beers. He worked hard spring, summer and fall doing the yard work that he learned from his Pa. But Joey done his Pa one better and got himself some power things that made his work neater and faster. In the winter he'd plow some, but he mostly hung out at the Citgo station, the Wayside general store or the diner where I worked the late shift. Sometimes he'd piss me off coming in late and ordering a meal that required me to re-scrub the grill and do up the dishes when what I was itching for was to get the hell out and have some fun.
Back then, Joey lived in one of the half dozen "mobile homes" that my boss, Herbie, kept on his land across the road from the diner. There was a gol-durn revolving door of young marrieds and a mish-mash of short term renters coming or going through some stage of life. ... Herbie's trailers were a godsend.
I can't get through this story without I tell you a little about Herbie. He was a wheeler-dealer of the first order. His diner had a limited menu -- mostly breakfast stuff any hour that they were open. He served a tolerable hamburger and a mean BLT. And, when the spirit moved him, he'd concoct a pretty good hash or a tuna casserole topped with crushed potato chips.
Herbie made precious little money at his diner. Hell, he felt lucky if he broke even. But the folks that came in were always good fodder for his bartering and trading. He'd loan out his pick-up truck in exchange for bales of hay to insulate the trailers from the biting January wind He'd trade hunting rights on his land for venison, lunches for lawn mowing.
What Herbie couldn't barter, he'd buy up -- dime on the dollar -- most anything anyone had in excess or needed to be rid of. That's how he got the beds, dressers, pots, pans and dishes to furnish his trailers. Herbie found his ways to be not only an economy, but a challenge and a hobby. He never tired on the game and mostly felt he came out on the long end of the stick. I guess he must've, since it was rumored that he died a wealthy man.
Now Joey was living in one of Herbie's mobile homes. He never told me -- and I guess I never asked -- if he left home on his own or got kicked out. It didn't matter, really, he was on his own and away from a house that was so clotted with brothers and sisters that he couldn't even shit in peace. Only thing he missed much was his ma's cooking and he didn't have a clue how to do for himself on that score. When he got tired of cold cereal, Pop-Tarts or a can of Campbell's chicken noodle, he'd show up at the diner.
As for me, I'd been on my own for over a year. My ma had died and the family didn't get along so well after that. I was living with my Aunt Betty who never had kids. She never had a clue either. so as long as I was kind to her and kept my room neat, she'd pretty much let me do what I wanted. And I wanted to do lots of things. That's why I worked three jobs. You can't do stuff without some money no matter how frugal you were. Maybe Herbie could with his easy manner and an eye for the deal, but it weren't so easy for the rest of us.
I didn't consider myself a specially lucky person, but I was blessed. I was blessed with a ton of energy and I knew I was smarter than most. I knew, too, that I was easy on the eyes with my curly hair and curves in the right places. I figured if I worked hard I could get most of what I wanted. I wanted some travel and adventures and then I wanted to settle down to a good decent life ... but I wasn't in a hurry for it.
That's about what I was thinking when along come Joey. He was tall and good looking and best of all he knew how to laugh. He didn't have it so easy but that never stopped him from telling a joke or laughing about some of the crazy stuff folks did. We saw eye-to-eye about the strangeness of people and even if he pissed me off sometimes with his timing, it got so I looked forward to the nights when he came in the diner.
It was coming on Christmas and neither one of us was looking forward to it. It's 'sposed to be a happy time but we were both feeling a little cranky about getting into family things and didn't quite know how to get round it. Two of my jobs crapped out on me; the old lady I'd been watching fell on her butt and was in the hospital and money ran out on the grant where I'd had a spell at the court house learning to clerk. I sure as hell wasn't gonna have a very merry Christmas on my diner money. That's what we were grousing about when Joey looked at me over the remains of his tuna casserole. "Let's go to Florida for Christmas," he said.
I was stunned and thought of everything I could to object. But Joey shot holes in every damn one of them., even to to the fact that I'd miss a real Vermont Christmas tree. Joey went right out to the woods and cut down a pretty little pine tree, threw it in the back of his Ford 350 and dared me to find another excuse. He knew me pretty well and could tell he'd already wore me down. So I packed a few things, left Aunt Betty a note, a pair of pink fuzzy slippers and a box of her favorite Cella chocolate covered cherries for Christmas. I told Herbie I'd see him in a week and off we went.
God, I felt half scared but free as a bird. I was gonna see something besides snow and hills! I was gonna see honest-to-god palm trees and have sand between my toes! Yippee!
Off we went, and I gotta tell you, we had a ball. We drove and drove, stopping only to get a bite to eat or to gas up the truck. We watched the sun set in West Virginia and watched it come up when we hit the Florida line. We stopped at a roadside diner that kinda reminded me of Herbie's where the locals gave us a few tips on where we could find a good beach and where we could have a good time without spending a bunch of money.
We found the beach about mid-day, planted our Vermont Christmas tree in the sand, rolled out some big ole towels and had ourselves a Christmas to remember soaking up the sun, rubbing sunscreen on each other and wading into the clean salty water.
We were both sorry when it was time to head back but we didn't figure that the beach life was for us long term. By the time we left we were sun burnt and burnt out on not having any work to do. We needed to get back where we belonged.
The drive back seemed longer than long. We weren't quite sure what was waiting us when we got back, being a small town and all. But we didn't really care. By now we were thinking that maybe we were an item, a couple, cuz we sure did know how to have some fun together. We just weren't sure how much that counted.
When we got back to Vermont it was the middle of the night, wouldn't ya know. Neither of us wanted to bust in on Aunt Betty and scare her to death so I went right home with Joey to his little trailer. We crept into the little huddle of trailers under the cover of dark, Joey pulling the curtains over the windows before he snapped on the overhead light.
Now, I'd had quite a few surprises in the last few days but none compared to the surprise when my eyes saw what was before me in his rooms. There, bold as brass, was the coffee table my dad had made out of a slab of pine for my mom on their 10th anniversary. The sofa was the same stripey gray one that I'd sat on to watch TV when I was just a little girl. Next to it was the lamp with the red geraniums painted on it and the white shade on top of it that I had known all my life.
I was so stunned I couldn't say a word and Joey didn't know what was the matter with me. I think he thought I was scared to spend the night. Truth be told, I was scared of what it meant to see all this stuff just like I remembered it. It was like coming home and finding a piece of me that I thought had been lost a long time ago.
Joey came and put his arms gently around me. He'd figured it out before I did. Herbie'd gone after my ma died and bought out her household when the family coulda cared less and had no place for her belongings.
If I was on the fence about my dealings with Joey, I saw this as a kind of sign that we were meant to be together. And now here it is 25 years later. I can't say we ever had another adventure quite like plunking our Christmas tree in the Florida sand but we've had our times. And Herbie's lessons kind of live with us too. We wheel and deal and make do and we have a more-than-decent life.
And, for once, we're on the cutting edge of the "in" frugal thing -- without changing who we are or even trying to!
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