I’m giving up the facade. No longer am I going to worry about if I’m viewed as a generous or giving person; my true inner self is hereby released. Starting now I am following a righteous path to the genetic predisposition I’ve determinedly refrained from acknowledging my entire adult life.
I’m a cheapskate.
What brought this on? Well to be honest, it pretty much has everything to do with scapegoating. We’re learning from the very top levels of our society that it’s perfectly acceptable to blame someone else instead of admitting to a personal failing or transgression. So in that same vein, I am following a similar path: It’s my father’s fault.
I was surprised too. It does seem like a bit of a cheap shot to blame a parent for one of my own deficiencies. Not to mention, it’s also something over which I do have the ability to correct or at least modify. All I can say in my defense is that I believe it has taken years for this to outwardly manifest.
What with suppressed memories, I am finding that triggers for it are everywhere too, especially the grocery stores. For instance, the sight of the store brand ice cream brings back all kinds of childhood trauma.
In fact, I’ve made bold attempts to fight these kinds of memories in earlier periods of my life. At one time, I even engaged in spirited hijinks aimed at mocking Dad’s thriftiness.
In my first job after college, I was put in a back office area reverentially referred to as “Country Cubicle Estates.” Six of us in our early twenties sat there. We had no privacy, of course, so phone conversations and discussions were always a community affair. It was an intimate setting.
To help pass the time, we would occasionally play a dumbed-down version of Truth or Dare, where each of us would identify a personal trait or habit of a family member which we feared might someday materialize in ourselves. Siblings and extended relatives were great targets for laughs, but the most interesting victims were always parents. When you’re young and full of yourself, who better to lampoon than the ultimate authority figures in your life?
So lampoon we did. I remember absolutely killing with anecdotes on how my mother could take what should have been at best a two-minute story about the time she went to the wrong restaurant to meet someone for lunch, and instead manage to make it into a full 30 minute stemwinder, including the part about the waitress’ sister owning the same beauty salon Mom also frequented. By the time she finished, we were ready to hang ourselves.
Of course, I had many a tale to tell about Dad and his thrifty ways too.
What I never could have imagined in those heady moments of yore was how prescient our little game’s intent would turn out to be. That fast forward 35+ years, my own parental parodies would one day mirror a striking resemblance. I was skating on thin ice and didn’t have a clue.
And so it has indeed come to pass that I see many my dad’s frugal tendencies in yours truly. I have no doubt that he’s enjoying this spectacle right now, sitting on some heavenly lawn chair with a can of Tico pop in his hand, and laughing at my expense.
Tico, if you’re wondering, was a discount Detroit soda pop that sold in the late 1960’s and 70’s. Leaving aside its questionable usage of Mexican-themed imagery, it was a watered-down, second-rate offering. It was also embarrassing to be seen drinking it. Once it was brought into a childhood home, you knew you had to keep your friends away until it was completely consumed; or you were somehow able to talk your parents into buying a better brand.¹
I still vividly recall pleading with Dad to buy something better than Tico. My pleas fell not only on deaf ears but also defiance. It wasn’t just soda pop on which he held the line, but also chips, pretzels, cookies, etc. Unless it was a special occasion such as company coming or New Year’s Eve, he bought store brand only. My mother picked out quality meats, poultry, fish, fruits and vegetables, etc. for the family meals. But we were left to Dad’s choices for anything fun.
To strike back for all that horrible “suffering” at the hands of a fiscally prudent parent, I resolved to go another way during my adult working years. It didn’t just extend to snack items, but additionally my choice of outdoor grills, what repair shop serviced my car (the dealership, which to Dad was akin to making a pact with the devil), and where I bought my clothes (i.e. not Sears). During his visits he stayed mostly silent on my choices, yet somehow managed to still enjoy the offerings of higher quality booze and imported chocolates.
Since his death, I honor his birthday by pouring a small amount of Scotch whiskey — his favorite — into a glass and raise it in his honor. I then remind myself that I doubt he ever bought a bottle of single malt in his life. Not only was it too rich for his blood, but he would have made an argument that for the money Johnny Walker Red is every bit as good. Who am I now to argue with him?
About a month ago, I was searching in my bathroom vanity for a tube of Neosporin to apply on a paper cut. Except it wasn’t Neosporin; it was the Walgreen’s store brand version of it. As I looked through the drawer, I noticed Walmart ibuprofen, Publix acetaminophen, Target brand razors, etc. A glance into the medicine cabinet are more over-the-counter medicines and sundries, all generic store brands. Even the band aids are generics. Another glance into the shower stall and all of my shampoos are store brand.
Gorgeous’s side of the vanity and shower I notice is a sea of name brand creams, oils, powders, moisturizers, etc. Her one over-the-counter medicine is an allergy one; it too is a name brand.
A reverse epiphany moment for me arrived a few days later when we stopped at a gourmet grocery store in Ponte Vedra, a nearby upscale community to the north of us. Cook and baker that she is, Gorgeous loves this store and can easily spend well over an hour in it browsing merchandise and reading ingredients. She is always in a state of blissful zen here.
I, on the other hand, walked around the store with a furrowed brow and a permanent scowl of judgement. I saw bags of potato chips for $5.00, packages of cookies for $6.00, bottles of water for $4.00, and boxes of cereal for $8.00. Don’t even get me started on the fancy bakery counter with its cakes and pies that require a partial IRA distribution to pay for them.
I stayed silent as we later walked out to the car loaded down with grocery bags. I knew full well the presence of mind I had at that moment wasn’t some random moment of fiction. No, the full transformation had taken place.
You gotta love karma.
Until next time…
¹ Detroiters of a certain age will remember that just below the national name brands of Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up, etc., were the local ones which fell into a definite pecking order: Faygo was not only an acceptable substitute but in fact some flavors were even better than the Real Thing, so to speak (i.e. Red Pop and Rock & Rye). One notch below Faygo was Towne Club, which was respectable up until at least high school age. The remaining offerings were all store or off-brands such as Tico, which meant consumption was done discreetly and universally in a darkened room, preferably the basement. This in turn probably led to more adventurous consumption, though it should be noted that the blogger makes no claims on any relationship between awful soda pop and later marijuana use.