Archived Story

Being frugal is easy to understand

Published 9:29am Wednesday, August 15, 2012

“If I could run like that, I’d still be stealing watermelons. I’m getting old. Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer I get to the end, the faster it goes.”

I heard a man say that as I watched four little pigs race around a track at the county fair to a finish line reward of Oreo cookies. Watching them gives me something to do until pigs fly. The placement of cookies at the terminus is how some Olympic athletes train. The four pigs had built their houses of straw, sticks, bricks and cheese curds, and were killing time waiting for the Big Bad Wolf.

The fellow could have stopped there, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. He was an advocate of sharing wisdom. He could have talked about the weather, but chose not to. We’d received a trace of rain, but it disappeared without a trace.

Instead, he told me that he’d recently visited his son’s home in the city. He asked his offspring if he could borrow the newspaper. His son told him that he read the newspaper on an iPad and handed the device to his father. That fly never knew what hit it.

The man gnawed on a hangnail big enough to pull a trout from a river as we watched small pigs sprint past. I was warmed by the way he called his wife by endearing terms such as honey, my love, babe, darling, sweetie, pumpkin, lovey, honeybunch, sweetie pie and snookums. I call my lovely bride “She Who Must Be Obeyed.” I believe that no kind word should go unsaid, so I complimented the man on his sweet nature. It was clear that he loved his wife. I told him that I thought it was wonderful that, after all those years, he still called his wife by loving pet names. The man spit out the hangnail that he’d chewed free and said, “To tell the truth, I forgot her name years ago.”

It reminded me of a day when I was leading a bus tour in Alaska. I was studying our itinerary when a woman in my group tapped me on the shoulder. She offered me a handful of peanuts. I prefer almonds, walnuts, cashews or pistachios, but I wasn’t about to pass on her kind offer. There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but on that day, there were free peanuts. I grabbed the peanuts, smiled a much obliged and munched them appreciatively. You know a man is grateful if he doesn’t give a gift back. A half-hour later, she tapped me on the shoulder again and handed me another fistful of peanuts. She repeated this kind gesture a few more times. I protested that I didn’t want to eat all her peanuts.

“That’s OK. My dentures make it difficult for me to chew peanuts,” she replied.

I asked her why she bought peanuts if she couldn’t eat them.

The woman responded, “Oh, I still love chocolate-covered peanuts. I suck all the chocolate off the peanuts.”

I stopped to get a glass of iced tea at a semi-fast food restaurant recently. As I waited for the fine beverage, an elderly couple sat down. They had ordered one meal and an extra drink cup. As I watched, the man cut the hamburger in half, then counted out the fries (one for him, one for her) until each had half. The man poured half the drink into the extra cup and set that in front of his wife. The man began to eat. She sat watching him, with her hands folded in her lap. Even Popeye didn’t eat his spinach until he had to. I understand frugality. I cache wheat pennies in an old Sucrets tin. I’m not rich (I would be if I had a dollar for each time I’ve wished I had a dollar), but my wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed, had just given me my weekly allowance. I asked the couple if they’d allow me to buy another meal for them so that they didn’t have to split one. The man said, “Thank you, but no. We’ve been married 65 years and we’ve always shared things equally.”

I asked the woman when she was going to eat and she replied, “Not until it’s my turn to use the teeth.”

Life goes by faster than racing pigs. Youth is a limited-time offer and old age can happen at any moment. You get from here to there in just one letter.

 Hartland resident Al Batt’s column appears every Wednesday and Sunday.