With the passing of the decades, it becomes more and more apparent to me that parental influence regarding values – which includes money – is subtle but almost immeasurable, and it is for better or for worse.
My parents were poor for more than three decades – but never poor-minded. They lived at the margins of material want through no fault of their own, but they never saw themselves as paupers whom they believed someone else should provide for. They were of the proud, working poor.
They were blessed in that during the Great Depression they did not have to appeal to the government for what was then called Relief, nor did they need to turn to the soup kitchens of the day. Instead, they were near the land and relied on their own hard work and resourcefulness to stay a step ahead of destitution.
My father was 5’4” tall and my mother was about 4’11.” As immigrants from England to Western Canada, they had no savings to fall back on, and no family to rescue them. They knew that if they were ever to come to a place of reasonable financial security it would be by their own ingenuity and hard work.
I look back on their homesteading venture as noble. They were not complainers, but occasionally they gave us glimpses into how exacting their pioneering life had been. Once my mother spoke of a time of drought early in their days in Canada when she walked three miles across the prairies to the nearest neighbor to exchange a few turnips for a few carrots so there could be some variety in their diet. All of this helps me to understand why they lived so carefully right up to the end of their lives.
In the summer of 1929, about 25 years after their arrival in Canada, my parents moved to Estevan, three miles to the north, and bought a stuccoed bungalow at the corner of Third Street and Souris Avenue. This was a part of my father’s long-range plan to become a merchant. He had already built a small bakery on Main Street and my older brother, Wilf, had left school at age 15 to be the baker. In preparation, Wilf had had a crash course with a baker on Fifth Street.
But the Christmas season of 1929 turned joyless. The prosperous post-World War I era of the twenties took a sharp downturn when the stock market crashed in November of that year, and Western Canada experienced the onset of the Great Depression. The situation was complicated by the serious drought during the Depression which turned some parts of the province into what was called “a dust bowl.” That decade was often referred to as “the dirty thirties.” All business plans had to be revised.
I was four years old that Christmas and there were no presents. One of my earliest memories is of the pall that seemed to rest on the family. Nothing was explained but little children sense moods even when they don’t understand them.
I learned later as an adult that my parents had feared they were going to lose the house, which in fact they soon did. And the bakery was under a similar threat. The Depression took most people by surprise.
To face this crisis of home and business survival my father rented a vacant store up the street from the bakery. There, he started a second-hand store. His hope was to make extra income to save the bakery.
Eventually, the store evolved into a furniture exchange where, for example, people could trade in a used kitchen set for a new one. The bakery also evolved into a grocery store, one of the two main ones in town. But surviving the crash did not erase from their awareness the threat that poverty might at any time return. They never ceased to be frugal.
I review this family history because I know that in ways both conscious and subconscious it influenced my psyche. I wrote last week about my prodigal approach to the first money I earned. Without a doubt my parents’ influence tamed those impulses somewhat and gave me a more deliberate approach to spending money after my initial experience of earning one dollar a week. I am careful with money but not as frugal as my parents were.
My father’s one counsel to me that stuck was the suggestion that one should always put a little aside for “a rainy day.” Five years into our marriage for the first time we had a fixed though modest income as a student pastor in Lexington, Kentucky. We then took Ben Franklin’s advice seriously and began a lifetime practice of saving something, however small that amount might be. Three years later, at our first church after seminary we committed ourselves to save $22. a month.
I wonder now if my parents’ history and example was not training that made it easier for me to answer the call to pastoral ministry? I don’t recall ever asking a church we were going to serve what the salary would be. And I never looked that information up.
At the same time, how could Kathleen and I have guessed that from a humble beginning as a student pastor that calling would place us in large fields of service both in Canada and the United States, and for brief periods in several other countries of the world? In any case, now in our retirement years with adequate support we look back on the privilege with humble thanks to God.
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(My next post will be on marriage and money)