Monday, November 26, 2018


Note: I originally wrote this story when Chicken Soup for the Soul was looking for submissions for its newest book in the series:

My mother was one of the most generous, giving women on the planet. Her sister, however, my Aunt Ann, was one of the most…well, frugal.
I can remember my childhood Christmases when Aunt Ann would gift me with coloring books that already had half their pages colored, or slippers that were three sizes too small and had lint balls on them.
Visiting Aunt Ann also was a unique experience. When she invited my family over for tea one afternoon, she brought out an already used tea bag and had us all pass it around and share it because she said it still had a lot of good tea flavor left in it.
Also, she would buy a large chicken on Monday, and by that Saturday, she still was eating it in some capacity – even using the bones to make broth for soup. Her grocery bill for the entire week was what most people would pay for a morning snack of a cup of coffee and a donut
To save even more money, she often did her own home-canning. As a result, down in her basement was a shelf of jars that contained mystery food items in various stages of decomposition.  One day, when my mom was down there, she picked up a canning jar in which all of the contents had turned black.
“This should be tossed out,” my mother said, holding up the jar so Aunt Ann could see it.
“Noooo!” she gasped, grabbing it away from my mother. “Those are mushrooms I canned! They might look terrible, but they’re probably fine.  I’m still going to eat them!”
I swear the woman had a stomach made of cast-iron.
And then there was her bathroom. She was very strict about allowing the toilet to be flushed only once per day so she could save money on the water bill. Believe me, there were a lot of times my bladder was on the verge of exploding while I visited her, yet I still wouldn’t set foot in that bathroom.
Aunt Ann walked everywhere because she didn’t want to spend money on gas for her car or pay bus fare. And although she lived only two blocks from a pharmacy, she walked four miles to a pharmacy on the other side of town because it offered free coffee to customers while they waited for their prescriptions to be filled.
During family get-togethers, we enjoyed playing card games for pennies. Usually, each player contributed 10 pennies to the pot before the game began. I can’t count how many times we all sat there, waiting while Aunt Ann counted every penny in the pot, just to make certain it wasn’t short by a penny or two. And heaven forbid if the pot turned out to be missing a penny. She would refuse to start the game until someone replaced it.
So it came as no surprise that my aunt’s siblings often referred to her as “the old penny-pincher” behind her back.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, both my mother and my Aunt Ann became widows in the same year, 1984. Up until that point, my mother always had looked forward to preparing Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, but that year, understandably, she had very little holiday spirit. So my husband and I decided to invite both my mother and Aunt Ann out for Thanksgiving dinner. We had heard about a restaurant that served the meal family-style, with bowls of food placed on each table and even a whole turkey to carve, just like having dinner at home. So it sounded like the perfect alternative.
When I invited Aunt Ann, the first thing she said was, “I never eat out. It’s too expensive.”
“It’s our treat,” I said. “It’s a flat rate for each person and you can eat as much as you want.”
“Oh? Fine, then. I’ll go!”
That Thanksgiving Day, we inched our way through sleet and snow to get to the restaurant.  Due to the weather, we arrived late for our reservation, so we were seated at the only table still available – on a platform overlooking the other diners, which made us feel as if we were at the head table at a king’s banquet.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” my husband said as he gnawed on one of the rock-hard dinner rolls the server delivered.
The server then asked what we would like to drink. I ordered a glass of orange juice.
“We don’t have any,” she informed me. 
When I cast her a look of disappointment, she sighed and said, “I’ll see what I can do.”
She returned with a glass of something that resembled water that had been tinted with orange food-coloring.  It tasted like plain water and sugar. 
The salads, laden with heavy dressing, were delivered next.  Aunt Ann was visibly upset when she saw hers. “I can’t eat this!” she complained to the server. “I have heart trouble and I’m on a strict diet!  Just bring me a plain salad and some ketchup.”
“We don’t have ketchup,” the server said.  The way she said the word “ketchup,” you would think my aunt had asked her for drain cleaner.
Aunt Ann opened her mouth to protest, but my mother subtly elbowed her and whispered, “Be quiet, or she’ll go back out to the kitchen and stomp on some tomatoes for you!”
At least the nicely browned turkey that was delivered to our table looked delicious.  The server handed the carving knife to my husband and then disappeared.  When he stabbed the bird, a trickle of blood ran onto the platter.  At that same moment, Aunt Ann took a sip of her coffee. It was ice cold. That did it.
“What’s the matter with this place?” she stood and shouted. “Raw turkey and cold coffee?  Did you guys forget to pay your gas bill?  Are you trying to give me botulism? My niece and her husband are paying good money for this meal – actually, way too much money, in my opinion!”
All heads snapped in our direction.  That’s when I discovered that sitting on a platform made it really difficult to slide low enough in my chair to become invisible.
After we suffered through a disappointing meal, Aunt Ann critically eyed my husband and said, “I noticed you had three helpings of mashed potatoes. I don’t think it’s fair that those of us who ate less are being charged the same price.”
There she was, still worrying about money, even when she wasn’t the one who was paying.
“Well,” she finally said, sighing, “I’m going to forget my diet for a moment and indulge in my favorite Thanksgiving dessert – pumpkin pie! I look forward to the holidays every year just for that reason!”
“Sorry,” the server said when we ordered the pie. “There isn’t any. We’ve been having trouble with the ovens since last night – that’s why the turkey didn’t cook right. And the pies came out with burnt crust and raw fillings. Would you like some orange gelatin instead?”
I held my breath, knowing Aunt Ann’s response was not going to be a pleasant one.
“Orange gelatin?!” she fairly exploded, once again causing all of the other guests to stare at our table. “What is this place – a hospital cafeteria? I can tolerate a lot, but not having any pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day is unforgivable – a sacrilege!”  She rose to get her coat. “And I hope you know that my niece and her husband are NOT going to pay you for any of this!”
My husband and I just sat there, too embarrassed to move.
As it turned out, the restaurant discounted our bill by 50-percent. I was pleased, but Aunt Ann still complained all the way home, saying what a rip-off the meal had been and how we’d have been better off staying home and eating TV dinners.
My aunt lived to be in her 90s. When she died, it was discovered she had a very substantial bank account – over a million dollars. Actually, I guess it came as no real surprise to anyone, considering she rarely spent any money.
And in her will, she provided every one of her relatives, including my mother, my husband and me, with a nice yearly annuity. She also left me her diamond engagement ring.
Funny, but after that, she never again was referred to as the “old penny pincher” or “the tightwad” by anyone in the family.
Bless you, Aunt Ann.

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Monday, November 19, 2018


I have bought so many different brands and types of bed sheets over the years, if I tied all of them together, I could use them to rappel down Mount Everest.

When I was a newlywed, I bought a set of black satin sheets, thinking they would add a romantic touch to the bedroom.  They turned out to be so slippery, I didn't dare wear a silky nightgown when I jumped into bed, for fear I'd end up on the bathroom floor.

I later got into a phase where I enjoyed the feel of crisp, cotton sheets and pillowcases.  My husband, however, didn't share my fondness for them.

"They're like sleeping on cardboard!" he complained one morning. "They feel like those sheets hospitals use. And look at my face!"

He had a series of lines across one cheek that made him look as if someone had been playing tic-tac-toe on it as he slept.

"These lines are from all of the wrinkles in my stiff pillowcase pressing into my skin all night!" he said.

Before I could comment, he added, "And the sheets are noisy!  Whenever I roll over, they sound like someone's crumpling newspaper!"

So I switched to a softer cotton, which he liked, but I didn't.  Every time I washed them in hot water, they seemed to shrink a size. 

It got to the point where the elasticized bottom sheet wouldn't even stay on the mattress any more.  Whenever one of us rolled over, the corners of the sheet would spring up at us, as if it were an attack sheet.  I expected to wake up one morning completely wrapped up in it…like a giant taco.

The sheets my husband and I finally both mutually liked were made of flannel.  They were soft.  They were cozy.  They were warm in the winter and surprisingly cool in the summer. 

The only problem was they were lint magnets.  They ended up gathering more "pills" than a pharmacy.  After a while, lying on them was like lying on a bed of goosebumps.

"Maybe you should use that clothes-shaver gadget to get rid of all these lint balls," my husband said one morning as he was lying in bed, staring at the collection of white bumps that resembled constellations all over the blue sheet.

"I'd have to spend a week shaving it!" I said. "Those little shavers are meant for sweaters and socks, not for something the size of a car."

Then came the answer to all of our problems…micro-fleece sheets.  They were softer than flannel, lightweight, and best of all, they didn't gather lint.  Washing them also was heavenly because they came out of the washer practically dry.

I was so excited about the mirco-fleece sheets, I bought them in plaids, florals, stripes and solid colors. 

I even bought myself some micro-fleece pajamas.  I soon discovered, however, that the two micro-fleeces stuck together like Velcro.  Whenever I wanted to roll over, I had to lift my body off the bed and fling myself onto my side.  By morning, my pajama tops usually were bunched up like a scarf, somewhere around my chin.

Still, I loved the micro-fleece sheets and thought they were the ultimate in comfort.

That is, until I discovered something even softer and more comfy…brushed micro-fleece (also called microplush by some companies)

Brushed micro-fleece was thicker than regular micro-fleece and felt like angora.  It was like sleeping on a cloud. Even my husband raved.

But his raving was short-lived.  "These sheets are way too comfortable!" he complained one frigid Monday morning. "I can't force myself to get out of bed any more.  They're making me late for everything!"

I didn't want to admit it, but I was having the same problem.  Something about the brushed micro-fleece made my body scream, "No!  Don't make me leave this cozy warmth and go out into the cold, cruel world!  Let me just stay here curled up in bed all day!"

I actually slept until 4:00 one afternoon.

I hate to say it, but unless I want to end up hibernating like a big old bear all winter, I may have to go dig out the cardboard sheets again.

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Monday, November 5, 2018


I was in the supermarket the other day and happened to stand next to a group of college-age kids whose shopping cart was filled with a variety of chips, pretzels and snacks.  I overheard them talking excitedly about some party a guy named Jason was throwing and what a fantastic time they were going to have.

Listening to them, I couldn’t help but think back to some of the parties I’d attended when I was their age. I don’t know if I was just a party pooper or if everyone I knew gave bad parties, but the majority of the gatherings I attended back then turned out to be anything but fun.

For example, one night, this guy named Norm called to invite me to his friend's party. The woman who was throwing it, he said, was celebrating the fact that in a week, her husband would be returning home from active duty in the army.  I thought it was kind of weird she was having a party before her husband’s return instead of waiting to give him a big homecoming celebration, but I didn’t question it.

The minute Norm and I set foot in the woman’s house, I knew I shouldn’t have come.  For one thing, the hostess, who was wearing enough makeup to stock a cosmetics counter, and a dress short enough to make any attempt to sit down an X-rated event, was the only female there. The other guests, about eight of them, all were men, and let’s just say that good grooming didn’t appear to be very high on their list of priorities. In fact, they all looked as if they’d just stepped off a pirate ship.  I began to suspect that this actually was a farewell party for all of the woman’s boyfriends, before her husband returned …which made me wonder why Norm had been invited.

“I don’t think we should stay,” I whispered to him, my hand in a death grip on his arm.

“Let’s not be rude,” he said. “We’ll just stay for a half-hour or so, okay?”

Well, 20 minutes later, the hostess brought up the subject of Norm’s sports car and how she’d always dreamed of riding in a gorgeous car like that.  I silently prayed he wouldn’t say what I suspected he might. 

Unfortunately, he did.

“Come on, then,” he said to her. “I’ll take you for a little spin.”

My eyes shot daggers at him.  Only two people could fit into his car, so that meant he intended to leave me all alone with the Pirates of the Caribbean. 

I didn’t want to cause a scene, so I gritted my teeth and waited, figuring that Norm and the hostess would be gone for only a few minutes.  And, I told myself, when they did return, I was going to insist that he take me home.

Two hours later, there still was no sign of Norm or the hostess. Fuming, I called a cab and left.  Then I took great pleasure in slamming the phone in Norm’s ear when he called (that’s the sad thing about cell phones nowadays – there’s nothing to slam down when you’re angry).

Another time, a guy named Tom, a bank teller, invited me to a Christmas party his new neighbors were throwing. The party actually seemed very nice. The interior of the apartment was festively decorated, Christmas carols were playing on the stereo, mistletoe was hanging in the doorways, and a big crystal bowl of bright red punch sat on a holly-covered table.  The guests consisted mostly of young couples, all animatedly chatting and mingling.

I really was enjoying myself until about an hour into the party. That’s when the host, a guy named Bob, carried what looked like two big cans of paint into the living room.  “Time for some real fun!” he said, smiling almost wickedly.

I leaned over and said to my date, “Don’t tell me we’re going to have to help him paint this place!  I’m wearing my good dress.”

“I have no idea,” he answered, looking genuinely puzzled.

The host then left the room and came back with two more cans of paint. The crowd cheered.

I glanced over at one of the cheering couples standing near us. “What’s all of the paint for?” I asked them.

The guy chuckled. “It’s not paint, it’s glue. He works in a shoe factory’borrows’ a few cans from time to time.”

Dummy that I was, I had no idea why on earth someone would want to steal that much glue.  Maybe, I thought, the guy had some sort of huge Christmas craft-project in mind where we all were going to sit around making construction-paper chains to decorate something equivalent to the tree at Rockefeller Center.

Before I could open my mouth to ask anything else, my date grabbed me by the arm. “Quick!” he whispered. “Let’s get out of here!”

Without questioning him, I allowed him to practically drag me out of the apartment. 

“What was that all about?” I asked him once we were outside.

“From what I overheard, they’re glue sniffers,” he said. “They put some of that shoe glue into bags, put the bags over their noses and then sniff it. It gives them a cheap high.”

I laughed, picturing the party-goers with bags of glue clinging to their noses like feedbags. “You’re kidding me, right?”

He shook his head.

The next day, we heard that the party had been raided by the police. Had I gone to that party with a creep like Norm, the one who’d left me stranded, I’d probably have had to call my parents for bail money.

So even to this day, thanks to my past history, I’m still a bit apprehensive whenever I’m invited to a party.  

Although, at my age, I don't think I have much to worry about any more. I mean, at the last party I attended, the highlight of the evening, which drew cheers from the guests, was when the host demonstrated a new device he’d purchased to help him put on his socks without having to bend over.

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