Waste not, want not

My mother's guide to economical living...

One night I was sitting at a Kansas City Royals game, watching an elderly woman eat an apple. That tells you at least two things; the game wasn’t that good and I’m easily distracted.

But the woman was eating the hell out of that apple.

A team of government-funded microsurgeons could not have gotten more edible fruit off that apple’s core. By the time she was finished, all that was left was the stem and you could have passed that through a standard-sized keyhole with room to spare.

Then it dawned on me: that woman lived through the Depression.

These days we have disposable razors, water bottles and employees, but in my experience people who lived through the Depression don’t throw away anything. They never know when they’re going to need a busted rubber band or six inches of dirty string or a moldy cardboard box, so they save all that stuff just in case.

They won’t be able to find those things when they need them because they’ll be buried under all the other crap they’ve saved, but they know they have them somewhere and that makes them feel better.

So far, so normal.

Lots of people save stuff, but my mom — a Depression survivor — tends to overdo it when it comes to finding a use for the useless.

The display case

I visit home at least once a year which is twice as often as necessary considering how the visits usually play out.

On one visit, five minutes after walking into my mom’s house, I was sitting on her couch, eating a bowl of red Jello mixed with little white marshmallows and bananas, while watching a rerun of Hogan’s Heroes and wondering if I should catch an early flight back to Kansas City.

On the other hand, a trip home is always worthwhile just to see my mom’s latest interior decorating innovations. She has an uncanny knack for using the crap she’s saved to create something that looks almost right.

Take my dad’s hat.

I came home and my father’s police hat was sitting on a counter in a display case like a minor addition to the Smithsonian Museum.

Now look closer at the display case.

It’s actually a plastic cake container from the local Raley’s grocery store. So my dad’s uniform hat is now proudly displayed in the same space that was formerly occupied by a chain store carrot cake.

Waste not, want not.

After I posted the photo of the hat, I noticed the glass vase with a bouquet of Tootsie Pops in the background. Why throw away candy that’s so old it’s achieved the same density as a diamond when you can use it to create a lovely artificial floral arrangement?

Waste not, want not.

The picture frames

On this particular visit home my mom had decorated the staircase walls with family photos and at first glance, they looked normal. But knowing my mom I always look twice and realized the photos weren’t actually in picture frames, they were in plastic bags that had hooks at the top…what the hell?

My brother Danny saw me examining my mom’s latest home décor innovation, started laughing and suggested I turn the bags around. My family’s precious photographic memories were being preserved in used pantyhose bags.

Waste not, want not.

The Breakfast of Champions

If you visit my mom she will ask if you’re hungry and whatever you say has absolutely nothing to do with what happens next.

One morning I walked into her house and she asked if I wanted some breakfast and I said I’d just had some. (BTW: If you visit my mother, always eat before you go because she fervently believes in the mystical healing power of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, but sell-by dates are a bunch of bullshit.)

Despite the fact that I’d just eaten and had no intention of consuming whatever over-the-hill, ptomaine special she put in front of me, my mom served me breakfast anyway and it came in three bowls:

  1. Fritos

  2. Red licorice

  3. Tootsie Rolls

Waste not, want not.

The birthday cake

As you might have already surmised my mom is not a great cook so I was pleasantly surprised when one year she baked a cake for my birthday and it was perfect: chocolate frosting with those little sugar flowers around the edge.

Until you looked closer.

Turns out she was carrying the cake to the car when she noticed her lawn’s dandelions were in bloom so she used those little white flowers with a yellow center to decorate my cake.

Bottom line: my mom served me a cake with weeds on it.

But wait, it gets better.

After we got done laughing and removing the lawn clippings from the top of my cake, we cut into it and discovered a yellow cake with weird veins of butterscotch pudding running through it. When I asked what the hell kind of cake I was eating she admitted she had dropped it on the floor and used butterscotch pudding to glue it back together.

Waste not, want not.

The flower vase

I saved the best for last, although that Tootsie Pop bouquet will be hard to beat.

My brother Danny decided to make himself useful – first time for everything – and clear out some of the crap my mom had stored in her living room. But then Danny made the mistake of leaving that clear space unguarded.

Nature and my mom abhor a vacuum.

While Danny was away my mom decided to redecorate and the results are recorded in the photo below. Look closely. Your eyes do not deceive you: you’re looking at the bottom half of a toilet decorated with a garland of flowers.

You think the Sphinx raises a lot of unanswered questions?

After a photographic examination that would rival the FBI’s work on the Zapruder film, I determined that the toilet seat still has a sticker on it so at least it wasn’t a used toilet seat…thank God for small mercies.

But why did my mom have an extra toilet seat?

Where had she been keeping it?

And how in the hell did a 93-year old woman who takes a solid 20 minutes to get up and answer the door, drag that toilet from wherever she had it stored – flights of stairs were involved – to be proudly displayed in her living room?

Trying to get a straight answer out of my mom is always doomed to failure, so I guess some mysteries will never be solved.

Let me leave you with two things to remember:

First: waste not, want not.

Second: if my mom offers to redecorate your house, say no.