Saturday Stories: Nonny’s Frugality


Nonny was my mother’s paternal grandmother.  She was born in the 1880s and died in the 1960s, just a couple of years before I was born.  She raised five children and lost a sixth.  She was an educated woman, starting out as a teacher before she married Pa.  She was also a frugal woman.  Though she was not known for being a great cook, she made do with what she had and she passed along many homemaking lessons that, generations later, are still being taught.

Nonny bottled all sorts of fruit and vegetables.  She never passed up a fruit or vegetable stand without taking home an abundance.  She also knew where to pick berries for free to add to her larder.  Her pantry was lined with bottles of peaches, apple sauce, elderberries, rhubarb and tomatoes.  She served a bowl of “sauce” with every meal.

Nonny kept a large can, the size of a coffee can, into which she put all of her leftover grease.  It didn’t matter what meat it came from, she strained it into that can.  About three or four times a year, she would light a fire in her furnace, collect the ashes, strain water through the ashes and collect the resulting lye.  She never bought soap.  Hers was the old fashioned allpurpose variety.  Mom said it would take the hide right off of you.  And it stunk.  Nonny would shave some of the soap into her washing machine to wash clothes.  She would bathe and wash her hair with it.  The men-folk would lather up and shave with it.  She also had a nifty metal wire gadget into which she’d place little pieces of soap and then whisk it into dish water to create bubbles to wash dishes.  That soap was used for everything!

Nonny was a gracious hostess.  Her dining table was always completely set for company.  If you happened over to her house, any time, any day, you were expected to sit down for a cup of coffee or tea and a little bite to eat.  If you were family, you were also expected to clear your place setting, put the dirty dishes in the sink and then go over to the cupboard, get clean dishes and reset your spot on the table.  There was never a time that that table wasn’t ready and waiting for company.

Nonny was also quite a seamstress.  She, along with my mother’s other grandmother, taught Mom how to sew.  She made her own dresses and many for her granddaughters.    Once her oldest daughter, Beulah, was on her own and working, she made sure Nonny had store bought clothes, perhaps as a way of thanking Nonny for all the hard work she had put into clothing the children when they were younger.

Although Pa always had a decent job, Nonny wasn’t one to waste money on herself.  She always thought of others’ comforts before her own. She would fill a table with food and then nibble on a piece of toast, all the while making sure everyone had their fill.

She is the only one of my great grandparents that was gone before I was born; the only one I didn’t get a chance to know personally.  I think I would have liked her.  A lot.

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