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Here's Dennis. It surely had something to do with his having grown up on a farm and during the Great Depression. But Daddy expressed few desires for things, and he seldom made impulse purchases. He bought only what he needed. If he needed it but couldn't buy it, he made it or did without. He was always looking for the better deal on what few things he did by. Daddy hated debt. He had built his own house on his own land. The only debt he incurred was for the drilling of a well on his property, something that he was unable to do himself.
He paid his brother in law, my uncle Dylan, $10 a month until the total was paid off, and he never owed anyone a dime after that. Rather, Daddy saved money. Actually, it was probably Mother who saved it.
But Daddy certainly was behind her efforts, never fighting against her on it. I recall that every time the Knoxville News Sentinel raised its subscription rate, Daddy threatened to stop the paper. But Mother always found some way to trim the household budget, usually through getting better buys on her grocery purchases, and saved enough to pay the higher rate and keep getting the paper.
For years, home delivery of the seven-day subscription was only 50 cents a week. But if Daddy needed something, he saved for it, not making the purchase until he had the cash in hand to pay for it. That's what he did when buying a car or truck.
He saved and saved over a long time. Then, when he was approaching the amount needed for the purchase, he began shopping around for the best deal. When he thought he had located the vehicle he wanted, he sat down with the salesman and stated his terms.
Ninety days, same as cash. If the dealer wouldn't accept those simple terms, Daddy simply got up and walked out. That's how he bought every car and truck he ever owned. Daddy was not tempted to exceed the top amount he had determined to spend by any dealer add-ons, options, or extra features or enticements. He wanted no luxury features, no radio or air conditioning when those features were optional. He did get them when they became standard. His trucks never had radios. They were work trucks. No wide, white sidewalls, if it was extra. No fancy hubcaps or wheels.
No more chrome than was standard. And those were the days before most of the cars were made of plastic. Daddy saved more than money, though. He seldom threw anything away. We might need it someday, he would offer as a reason for hanging on to something. Many a time when I had nothing to do when I went to work with him, or on rainy or cold days when we could not work, he had me pull nails from scaffold boards that had been nailed together. After I removed them, he instructed me to straighten them and store them in a large coffee can or jelly jar or old wooden box. He might need to reuse them later. He also had a similar collection of old assorted sizes of screws, bolts, nuts, washers and rubber gaskets. Then, when a need arose for one of those items, it would be available. He wouldn't have to run to the hardware store to buy one. He would, however, spend an hour or so searching through endless cans and boxes and other kinds of containers until he found the right item for his current need. This was all part of what he called making do.
But to make do, you had to have a ready supply of material and tools to make do with. That's why he saved, not just money, but everything. But I was impatient. I couldn't understand Daddy's thinking. Daddy, I sometimes tried to reason with him, you save all these nuts and bolts and washers and screws to save money.
But then you'll spend an hour or more hunting through the whole collection trying to find the right one. Don't you know that time is money? He couldn't see it that way.
I'd resigned myself to his never changing. The problem was that it was often my time, too. The place where Daddy's making do concerned me most was on the job site.
He sometimes improvised in ways that clearly were unsafe to himself, me and other workers. For example, when I was so young that I could carry a maximum of only three bricks at a time, I was working with Daddy on a house that on the upper end was one story tall, but on the lower end was three stories. The pile of used bricks that had been dumped on the upper end meant that I had to transfer them as needed on the scaffold all the way to the other end of the house. Daddy rigged a two by ten walk board running from the brick pile to the uppermost scaffold. I was to carry my three bricks up that board and along the scaffold walkway to the other end of the house. My problem was that with both of my hands on the bricks, I had no way of balancing myself on the walk board.
I would fall off. Listening to my complaint, Daddy conceded and agreed to put a handrail on one side of the walk board. That sounded to me like a safer solution to the problem. But after he added the rail and I tried it out, I discovered that the rail made the walk space on the board even narrower, forcing me to walk toward one side of the board. Daddy insisted, however, that it was safe. I tried to make it work and promptly fell off the side without the rail and into the pile of bricks below.
Daddy's make and do once just about did him in, too. He was working high on the scaffold in the gable end of a house. He used two walk boards nailed together with 16 penny nails to span the central part of the scaffold. Is that safe? I asked with genuine concern. Of course, it's safe, he responded, sounding a bit hurt by my doubts.
I built it, didn't I? He walked across it once and then recrossed it, bouncing up and down on it a little to demonstrate his point. Over the course of the day, however, his repeated walking and bouncing across the gap caused the nails to begin working loose. Near the end of the day, the board suddenly separated as Daddy walked across them, and down he fell, about 20 feet, into a wheelbarrow of freshly mixed mortar.
Other than a skinned shin and a bruised ego, he was uninjured. But what would have been the result of that fall had that barrow of mortar not been there to cushion the fall? On another occasion, when Daddy made do, he nearly burned our house down. We had been having some trouble with our water heater not being able to meet the demands of a family of six. One Saturday, we asked Daddy to look at it and see what the problem was. Upon examining it, he determined that one element had burned out, but he thought that he could jury-rig it so that it would still produce heat. I don't understand electrical appliances enough to know exactly what he did, but I think he somehow bypassed something and rewired some other thing. And it worked. Problem solved.
Or so we thought. On Monday afternoon, we drove into the garage when we got home from work, and for some odd reason, I happened to look toward the opposite side of the garage, where our water heater was. I saw one side of it blackened from bottom to top. My eyes followed the direction of the rising soot stain to the ceiling joist. They were charred, and the insulation between the joists was blackened.
Fortunately, the fire caused the circuit breaker to do its job, cutting off the power and preventing further damage. That's what can come from making do. But Daddy remained a make-do man all his life.
The story of Dennis Peterson's dad, so many dads around this country like him, here on Our American Story. Crypto is like finance, but different. It doesn't care when you invest, trade, or save. Do it on weekends, or at 5 a.m., or on Christmas Day, at 5 a.m. Crypto is financed for everyone, everywhere, all the time. Kraken. See what crypto can be. Not investment advice. Crypto trading involves risk of loss. Cryptocurrency services are provided to U.S. and U.S. territory customers by Payword Ventures, Inc., PVI, DBA, Kraken.
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