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Jessica Cronenberger: Parents prepared me for life in real world

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for never giving us anything. Well, anything we wanted, that is. You supplied us with all the necessities, like food, shelter, clothing and appropriate medical and dental care, but all that stuff we really, really wanted never came.

Oh, how I wanted a pair of pointed shoes in sixth grade, a pink princess phone in 1964, like my friend Linda, and one of those popular peacoats two years later! I never got them, but that’s the way things were. I was granted very little of what I asked for. Come to think of it, I didn’t ask for all that much because I knew that it just wasn’t possible.

We were a family of seven with a meager income. Dad worked hard and spent his evenings in the mid-’50s building a home for us. Not a builder by trade, but an all-around able and capable person with great fortitude, he used his skills to erect a beautiful house a few blocks away from our tiny little flat where the first three of us kids lived. Mom had to be exceptionally frugal with the funds, so there was never any “extra.” She cooked, sewed, cleaned and made us mind our manners and attend school and church without fail.

By the time I could earn my own money, I rarely spent it on those frivolous things I thought I would. I saved and worked more hours so I could pay for college, a car, insurance and clothing. My social life was squeezed somewhere amid school and work schedules, so it was pretty nonexistent, yet life was good. What my parents’ actions accomplished was preparing me for the real world. How powerful was that? Happiness wasn’t things; it was the security in knowing your ability to do it on your own.

Years later, a bad decision turned my world upsidedown. I returned to Buffalo and, for a few months, I had only a bicycle for transportation; my son on the back kid seat, groceries in front. With a solid family support system and renewed determination, I got back on track, returning to school with my “new” 1962 station wagon, duct tape and all.

The first time I could afford toothpicks, such a luxury when I had to use a clicker to monitor my grocery items, I felt rich! I knew how to do without and to be creative and resourceful to get the things I needed. Necessity certainly breeds the honing of skills. I became a better sewer, cook, repairer, painter and thrift guru.

Back in the ’60s, I never did get those pointed flats. Dad’s yearly trip to the shoe store netted me a pair of red oxford-like, rubber-soled shoes that were practical and way too long-lasting. Ugh!

But that peacoat I wanted turned out a bit better. Mom found Dad’s Navy peacoat in the back of the closet and told me I could use that. Well, the shoulders were out to there, it wasn’t nearly as cute as the ones at the store and it smelled of mothballs. So, after airing it out for a week and shortening it myself, I proudly wore my “new” coat.

The only problem was those darn shoulders! So whenever I wore it, I pulled down on the end of the sleeve to pull the whole arm down, and kept my hands, with constant pressure on that sleeve, in my pockets. I pretended that no one noticed. It was all I was going to get, so I made the best of it.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m remembering, with gratitude, the lessons learned from those ’50s parents (child psychologist John Rosemond’s favorite kind) and enjoying the simple and rewarding life with comfy flats.