Everything about the family in which I grew up was modest.
Mama made her clothes and mine and, sometimes, my summer shorts or play dresses were made from leftover scraps.
She was thrifty. She’d spend meticulous time, laying out a pattern on material, turning the pieces in every possible direction until she had decided how to position the pattern pieces to save yardage so she could make me something, too.
Daddy bought a nice suit every fall and got years of wear out of his Florsheim black wingtip shoes which he kept polished and shining. I was taught to take care of the things I had. I still do. If I get a spot on the carpet or rip the hem in a dress, I repair it immediately.
Until recently, I didn’t realize how modestly we ate. There was rarely junk food in our house. Potato chips or a candy bar was a rare treat as was a Coca-Cola. I grew up on milk and Kool-Aid which was cheap because it was powder mixed with water.
Every morning, Mama made a hearty breakfast as farm folks did back then. Eggs, homemade sausage, sawmill gravy and biscuits. My sister recalls that I began drinking coffee when I was 18 months old because I begged for it as I watched Mama and Daddy drink it.
So, Mama would put a little coffee in my sippy cup, mix it with goodly amount of milk and sugar. I have drunk coffee almost every day of my life since. At age four, I dusted my hands of breakfast and took to drinking only coffee. From the first grade on, I’d wash my face, head to the kitchen where Mama had a cup of coffee waiting for me on the kitchen table.
“Do you want anything to eat?” she’d ask, glancing over her shoulder as she stirred the flour into the skillet of sausage grease to begin the gravy.
“No,” I replied, picking up the hot cup. “I’ll just have coffee.”
Lunches were simple. I ate school meals or sandwiches. On Saturdays when Daddy worked the farm, he’d come in during late afternoon and Mama would make him a sandwich — one sandwich — made with a fried egg, fried boloney or fried Spam and a cup of coffee.
Now, as I think back on it, I am amazed that a big, strong man like my daddy who worked as physically hard as he did, subsisted on such small meals.
Suppers were equally simple. Pinto beans and cornbread or homemade vegetable or potato soup or Mama’s canned “sour kraut” with hot dogs scrambled in. Meats like roasts or fried chicken were saved for Sunday dinner.
This I explain because, after many years of marriage, I am still astounded by the amount of food that John Tinker eats. And, unfairly, stays trim without exercise.
I was taught to be a good Southern wife and to make delicious meals for my husband. Mine are not as simple as Mama’s. Usually, it is a hearty meat and two sides.
Tink — this I appreciate much — will eat anything. He doesn’t complain about anything I cook. He just dives in.
The problem is that I cannot fill his stomach up. I will spend an hour or two in the kitchen. He devours it. Then shortly, he’ll return to the kitchen.
“I’m starving,” he says, opening the refrigerator door. Even if we’ve been out for a big dinner, he is eating again fairly quickly.
It’s aggravating. But, lately, I’ve been studying on it and I have come to realize this: We ate like poor people because my parents had come from poor people who sometimes had only cornbread and milk to eat. Tink came from a prosperous family where they ate steaks regularly, not beanie weanies.
I don’t envy the difference in our raisings, though. Quite differently. I am grateful for the modesty of mine.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]