As you all surely know by now, I grew up with five sisters; for a while, I had a brother as well—a first cousin once removed, really, but he lived with us & was family. We lived in a biggish house, but never big enough for everyone. We shared bedrooms and two bathrooms, and a backyard that was not conducive to outdoor games.
My mom was the queen of saving money. She grew all her herbs fresh and had a veggie garden besides. She did constant battle against slugs (beer is best, I’ve learned) and the tent caterpillars that infested the one fruit-bearing tree in the yard.
She was also the queen of buying in bulk. Costco began near where I grew up and I swear she must be a charter member. We had a pantry the size of my current apartment’s kitchen, and it was always full of the kinds of things that don’t go bad.
Fruit she only bought when it was on sale and then only for specific purposes. Add to her realm canning, jams, and dehydrated foods. She made her own raisins and fruit leathers, among other things. The only fruit that was fit for afternoon snacking were bananas, apples, and oranges. Oranges were always hard to peel and I ended up with more under my nails than in my stomach, so I stayed away from those. Bananas had about a half an hour between being too green and too brown, so I often didn’t eat those, either. Apples were my snack food of choice, then, since I didn’t have to ask before eating them (we always had fresh homemade cookies, but you had to ask before dipping into those).
When she bought other fruit, I knew better even than to ask. Strawberries that we picked ourselves by the flat, raspberries bought directly from the grower by the flat, even the occasional flat of blueberries, were destined for james, fruit leathers, or pies. Blackberries that my own hands were blue from picking a few blocks down the hill were for pies or special desserts, never just eating. I loved the house-permeating smell of puréed berry boiling down on the stove for jam or of an oven-warmed crust bubbling over with blood red sticky juices. I never begrudged the flats of berries I was not allowed to eat; I just knew that berries weren’t for eating—they were for making.
Then I met my husband. He was his parents’ only child and one morning, when we had slept in and were the only ones at home, we stood in front of an open refrigerator and contemplated our choices. He reached in and pulled out a box of berries. And then, a box of pre-cut pineapple. Breaking the seal on each, he ate a few and then offered them to me. I was having a heart attack. “Berries aren’t for eating!!!” I thought, wondering what kind of born-in-a-barn person I’d fallen in love with, but steadied my voice long enough to ask, sternly, “Are you sure we’re allowed to eat those?” Then, since he didn’t appear to have understood me over his munching, more pointedly: “Aren’t those being saved for something?” Then, slightly desperately, “What will your mom think when she comes home and they’re gone?!?!”
He chewed thoughtfully and then swallowed. “They’re for eating. She bought them so they would get eaten. She’ll think we ate them. And she’ll be right.” He then went back to his berry-carnage, likely wondering what kind of a weirdo he’d fallen in love with.
I couldn’t bring myself to eat berries with him that day and as soon as his mother got home, I confessed my crime (I was complicit, you see, since I didn’t stop him): “We were hungry, so we ate…your berries.” She blinked and then said, “Oh, good. What should we do for dinner.”
She didn’t care. I couldn’t believe how much she didn’t care. Her berries were gone and she didn’t care!
I told this story to my sister recently; she now has enough children to match my mother, though a smaller house. She agreed that DH was in the wrong (and his mother crazy)—berries are not for eating. “But,” I told her, “I’ve gotten over this. I can now eat berries at my husband’s parents’ house and not feel guilty. Of course, I never buy berries myself, but if I did, I might be able to eat them.” We laughed at the thought of that ever happening and she confessed that her children are likely in the same place we were: that berries are not for eating.
“You know what?” she said, “I’m going to buy berries.”
And she did. She called me as she was packing her car at the grocery store. “I just bought berries, and I wanted to tell you! We’re going to take them home…and eat them!” We giggled at her secret sin. “Do you know what my daughter asked me, as I picked them out?” she asked rhetorically, “She said, ‘What are we getting those for, mom?’ And I told her, ‘Nothing! They’re just for eating.’ And her whole face lit up with delight.” I could hear the smile in her voice. Her daughter may enjoy those berries, but for my sister, no berries will ever taste better.
So eat berries, everyone. Enjoy the small simple joys in life. Eat takeout with the good china. Use the silver. Open that bottle of wine that you’ve been saving. Burn candles. Enjoy life
I’m happy. This is a very strange feeling for me and one that was foreign. But I’d been noticing it of late: things don’t piss me off, my short fuse has gotten longer, and I generally approach things with equanimity. And people. I like people now. It was hard for me to identify this fact in me because I guess I’ve never been happy before; I’ve been content, no one has ever died on my lawn, but I’ve never had a sustained period where I’m just…happy.
So I stepped back to figure out what’s going on in my life that could possibly make me happy. My father is dying, I’m worried about money, finding a job (in three years), and failing law school. I’m stressed beyond belief and feel like my friends will think I’ve abandoned them because I don’t have time to talk to them (or blog to them). But somehow—still happy.
And then I realized: I’m living my life the way I want to. I’ve completely abandoned the desire to make my parents happy. I’ve allowed myself to do what I want to do. I’m in a relationship that supports me, I live with my best friend, I’m going to law school (which, entertainingly falls in both the “good” and “bad” categories when I quantify my life), and I’m in control.
In high school & college, I did what I did because I was supposed to. After college, I got a job that I didn’t like so that I could pay the bills and live with my boyfriend. Even though the last half of that sentence was what I wanted, it came at a high cost (plus my family went off the deep end about that). But now, I’m only doing what I want. And I never knew before this that I was unhappy.
This is a beautiful story from a favorite blogger, discussing why she gives money to beggars on the street. To religionists who say that morality may only come from the Divine, I give you this story. Love for fellow man need not be based in religion. This is a simple story that affected one person’s life in a manner that will affect many others.