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Coping with Inflation

February 11, 1980
It was the lead story two weeks ago in Family Weekly, the weekend supplement of the Bangor newspaper. The title of the article was ''Coping With Inflation: How to Survive the Hard Times.''

For weeks now we in Maine have been reading stories about (and some of us have been standing in line for) energy assistance programs which are an attempt by government to keep some of the poorer people among us alive during the cold of this winter. The lines were unexpectedly long the first days of the program, and are still bringing forth numbers greater than expected.

Jobs are hard to find. A major poultry firm goes under and 300 people apply for two jobs at a rope factory. Pulp yards are swamped with wood because when times are hard, people in Maine cut their trees to earn some money. Just to get by.
Now, in the pages of Family Weekly, we find out how the people in the rest of the country, like the New Jersey family highlighted in the story, have to cope to survive.

The second paragraph reads, ''But, the Paniccuccis hardly ever go out for dinner. They shop for clothing in discount stores. They slashed their vacation budget this year to $470, and they wear warm clothing at home so they can keep the heat turned down low.''

The next paragraph proclaims that ''It's a new way of life for middle-class America.''

Sorry folks. Not only did my heart not go out to the Paniccuccis, but my stomach turned as I read the article.
''For some time now, they have been eliminating luxuries in order to make financial ends meet.''

Father Richard finds he must resort to giving music lessons to his children himself rather than spend eight dollars a week for private instruction. Judging by the accompanying photo, his 10-year-old son is getting those lessons to learn how to pluck a $500 guitar, and his 6-year-old daughter is poised at a piano which I would conservatively place at costing $2,500.

''We learned that you just can't buy everything you want to buy or drive everywhere you want to drive,'' hubby is quoted as saying. Wifey pipes in ''I really think before I buy anything these days.''

This is what the rest of the country calls survival?

Maybe I am more fortunate than most people in my generation, because at one point in my life I learned just what I could do without in this world. That list is long, but it includes things which many, if not most, of the people in this country would consider not conveniences but necessities.

Things like inside plumbing, drains, piped hot water, electricity, refrigerators and freezers, central heat, telephone, a convenient grocery store, an income above the government-set level of poverty.

Until about 50 to 100 years ago, everybody lived without most of these things. Many generations of people have hauled clean water into their abodes, and dirty water out. When you have done that for a while, a drain becomes a wonderful thing. (Yes, I know the Romans had plumbing.)

A refrigerator is great in the summer time, but doing without one makes you realize why some things used to be done. For instance, milk was made into cheese in the summer. Not only did the cow give more milk on green grass, but the milk spoiled faster when the creek or spring water warmed up to 45 or 50 degrees, and there was no other way to keep it cold. But cheese keeps fine at that temperature.

It was a revelation to me that life could exist almost normally without electricity, provided arrangements had been made for alternatives. Kerosene lamps give enough light to read by in the evening, and they are eminently more portable than those chained to a wall by an electric cord. You just pick them up, already lit, and take them with you to the other room.

Clocks have been known to wind up by hand. Wood-burning stoves are immune from power failures. A hot-water tank hooked up to the cook stove means that the stove not only cooks the food and heats the house, but provides piped hot water, all in one operation. Now that is luxury.

There is no problem with keeping food refrigerated in the winter, provided it's stored in a cupboard against a northern outside wall of the house. (It's a good idea to warm the flour stored there before making bread, because if it's cold the yeast won't rise.) A deer carcass, hung in a shed away from predators, can last for weeks in cold weather, while the family hacks away at it for successive dinners.

It suddenly makes sense to butcher the pig in the fall, and eat fresh garden vegetables in the summer, and store a lot of potatoes and apples and beans and onions and squash to get you through the winter.

I have moved away from that lifestyle, as have most of the people in the generation before mine who survived the Great Depression, the last time a good percentage of this country's population found out what they could do without.
But I can guarantee you, I appreciate what I have. Electric lights still thrill me, and I love my refrigerator. Water comes into the house and goes out with amazingly little effort on my part.

But I also know where the well is, and a garden is still in the picture. If the world shuts down, I plan to be able to feed and water myself, if everyone will leave me alone to do it.

I have my doubts that the family in New Jersey can say the same.

I worry about them, but not in a way they would like.

Bangor Daily News, February 11, 1980

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