The Thrift of My People


This story will tell you a lot about me. It will tell you what friends and family already know about me.

It will tell you what Tink took a good many years to learn but knows steadfastly now and jokes about it.

It will tell you about the Appalachian folks who raised me and what, besides the King James Bible, they taught me.

One of my favorite people has always been my precious aunt, Kathleen. She was not born into our family but, thankfully, she married into it by way of Mama’s brother, Delbert.

There’s not a person who does not adore her. There has never been a bad word muttered against Aunt Kathleen because she never offends or says an unkind word. And, if you — or I — should utter a judgment of another’s character or act around her, she’ll smile sweetly and say, “Well, I don’t know about that.” Then, she will change the subject.

My daddy, her brother-in-law, always said, “That is one of the finest women God ever made.”

He backed up his admiration by giving her a special gold coin.

That’s says it all, right there.

Aunt Kathleen plays the piano by ear, sings specials at church and funerals, has drawers full of costume jewelry, always wears fancy shoes, can cook anything that comes out of the Appalachians — she loves “poke salad” which she picks when it is young and tender — and lives as well as plants gardens by the signs of the moon.

When the doctor told her that she needed heart surgery, she replied, “Well, let me check the almanac and see when the signs are right then I’ll schedule it.”

She picked a time when the signs were in the legs — meaning a faster healing time in the chest — and made a date with the doctor.

One of my favorite things she has ever said was during a conversation about having babies. To her sad regret, she never had children, which explains why she dotes on her nieces and nephews and is, likewise, doted upon.

In her mountain drawl which sounds like mine, she said, “It takes nine full moons to make a baby.” Then she pressed her lips together and nodded with the full authority of the Appalachians.

I laughed. “I’ve never heard that.”

“That’s what my granny told me and she oughta know — she had 16 babies. And, they all took nine full moons.”

Here’s the story you should know:

Aunt Kathleen was recovering from open heart surgery last Thanksgiving and at the same time, my sister and brother-in-law were down sick. So, I made turkey, dressing, gravy, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and buttermilk biscuits, then toted it to all the sick and suffering. All was homemade except for the pumpkin pies which I bought at the grocery bakery.

My people are thrifty. What is now considered “recycling” and fashionable, my people have been doing for years. We wash out ziplock bags to reuse and if a paper towel has only been used to wipe down, we rinse it out and reuse it.

I put the food in sandwich meat and butter containers I had saved, stacked it in boxes and took it to the two sick households. A couple of weeks later, I made cheesy chicken noodle soup and a pan of biscuits and took to Aunt Kath.

Months later, I stopped by to see her and she said, “Before you go, I need to get your bowls.”

“What bowls?”

“The ones you brought with the food.”

Out of her pantry, she pulled the same box I took to her at Thanksgiving filled with the same butter and sandwich meat containers AND the cheap tin pie pan. All spotless.

“I don’t throw nuthin’ out,” she announced.

“Me neither,” I agreed.

The next time someone’s sick, I’ll frugally use those bowls again. One day, someone’s gonna keep ‘em.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should).” Visit to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]