Angels Among Us

A derelict grocery store that for a short
time was an Eberhard's Food Center.
Our refrain attracted the attention of other shoppers at Eberhard's Food Center.

Whenever Eberhard's offered triple coupons, we piled into the Citation to score deals worthy of Extreme Couponing. My mom studied elementary education in college, and though she never held a teaching job, she applied creativity to educating us. Having learned to triple the discount and subtract the product from the item's price, my brother, sister, and I buzzed around the store, each with our own stack of coupons--in a way a modern parent never would allow--returning just long enough to ask, "Mom, is this cheap enough?" if we weren't sure. Items which weren't suitable bargains we conscientiously returned to their correct spots; she taught us math and price comparison while seamlessly integrating thoughtfulness into the curriculum.

This shelf of vintage food at a
Missouri estate sale
reminds me

of my mom's cupboard.
On these shopping sprees, we bought things normally anathema to the frugal: Fruit Roll-Ups, Cap'n Crunch, Gerber Baby Food (my mom favored vegetable and bacon--until someone decided bacon wasn't appropriate for babies and discontinued the flavor). She took practically anything if it was free or nearly so. The choicest treats we gobbled up within days, but some items which seemed so well-priced went into the cupboards, where they remain decades later.

I grew up eating 1950s Jell-O my mom
had purchased for next to nothing at an old
general store auction.
Broke as a college student, I employed creative means of feeding myself. The local Meijer store doubled coupons which I had rescued from the recycling Dumpster near my apartment, sometimes allowing me change back at checkout, to the befuddlement of the cashiers. My roommate--whose parents paid for her food-- felt squeamish about even the smallest bad spots in produce, donating her rejects to me. And when visiting home, I raided the pantry, which, though full of groceries long expired, offered sustenance I couldn't afford to turn up my nose at--things my mom was as happy to part with as I was to take. No stranger to old food, when we attended the estate auction for Dutton General Store, my mom bought a case of Jell-O. It was easily a quarter century old when we got it, yet it tasted as Jell-O should. Eventually we stopped eating it before we had finished it all; my mom deemed the remaining packages too collectible to consume. They're still buried in her cupboard somewhere.

There's a thin line between sanity and insanity, and sometimes my mom, when she shops, tiptoes over it. I forswore coupons several years ago. Since we shop at the local produce market, our own kitchen garden, or the salvage store an hour and a half away, I mostly avoid the temptation to collect groceries. I find thrift stores and garage sales problematic, though. It's easy to overbuy for Laura's Last Ditch. Attending a Voluntary Simplicity study group helped me control the impulse by hammering home that just because something's cheap doesn't mean I have to buy it. I'm constantly admonishing myself, "Leave it to bless someone else."

Kristi offers Halloween candy to George.
Our neighbor, Kristi, had a kind and gentle spirit and a dog to match. George loved to visit her in her lavender house with the fanciful stars on the door. Curious about the person who lived there, we met Kristi soon after moving in. We took to her immediately, and she to us. We visited Kristi and her sweet Saint Bernard often, learning that she loved vegetarian food, but could no longer cook for herself. So, when we made a pot of soup, a homemade pizza, or fresh flax and apple muffins, we'd share some. When the weather cooled, we'd leave it as a surprise on her front porch, earning us the moniker "food angels." Kristi possessed a special skill of engaging our autistic son in little conversations. He loved her, and we had ample reason to ponder, too, if there was an angel among us.
The flax and apple muffins were
Kristi's favorite.

It came about so slowly, we hardly realized it. We gradually saw less and less of Kristi, until one day, Lori, her caretaker, told us she no longer needed our food. Kristi was too ill to eat. Not long after, parked cars filled the street in front of her house, and we feared those closest to her had come for final goodbyes. The next day we learned she had passed away.

With Kristi's joie de vivre; she ordered pizza for her funeral. But Kristi had another surprise just for us. She bequeathed us the contents of her cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer--wonderful, expensive, and fun foods we would never, ever buy. If we were Kristi's food angels, it looked like she had dispatched a multitude of the heavenly host to fill our back porch. I doubt most people, as they're dying, give much thought to their neighbors or an over-full pantry, but she took care to bless us with her abundance.

On my mom's first shopping trip after marrying my dad, she bought a jar of Crosse & Blackwell mincemeat. Bearing a 35-cent price emblazoned in wax crayon indicating it was a markdown, she intended to make mincemeat cookies like Anna-Mae Kaiser's mom's, but never got around to it. While many of our favorite possessions we sold or gave away while preparing for our many moves, the mincemeat remained a constant through my childhood. A few years ago, my mom--as if to substantiate her sanity--attempted to throw out the 40-year-old mincemeat. Eating old Jell-O consisting of sugar, citric acid, flavors and colorants is one thing, but the mincemeat pie filling--its contents escaping the confines of the jar and drying on the label--she wouldn't risk. Yet, Becky and I intervened. Who says an heirloom has to be a rocking chair or a wedding ring?

My mom never filled us with mincemeat cookies, but she filled us with her love--and with her love of frugality, even if it was sometimes frugality gone awry. And in a final benediction some day, she may leave one of her children the mincemeat pie filling. But as for the rest of the food? She'll have to leave that to bless someone else, though only a movie set designer or museum curator could appreciate such a windfall.

Even though she failed to impart to us the importance of needing an item when considering if it's a good value, in teaching the values that matter most, she excelled. And with her kindness and generosity evident to all who know her, I'm sure some wonder if they have met an angel.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. -Hebrews 13:2


  1. Love reading your blog, Laura! The line "my mom deemed the remaining packages too collectible to consume." really made me chuckle. I marvel at the the "collectible" (as defined by others living here) stuff taking up space at my own house! Maybe the boxes of Jell-O would be as profitable as an empty Lip Lickers tin or an unused tube of vintage toothpaste. It cracks me up some of the things people will buy.

  2. What a perfect blog for Mother's Day! I'm guessing your mom is similarly pleased with the wonderful, thoughtful and uber-intelligent children she raised. Should I pre-decease you, I'll know who to bequeath the contents of my cupboards!

  3. You're cracking me up with the 25-year-old jello. When I was a kid (1970's), they dismantled the school bomb shelter, and we used 1950's toilet paper for a few years!


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