Living Low on the Hog in Rural America

The PBR tall-boy. Good enough for Clint Eastwood.

When a friend moved from New York to Connecticut decades ago, she railed about how everything was marketed there as country.  Country crockery. Country blue. Country curtains. CT was a lot of things, including the Nutmeg State, but it was not the country.

Their rural (scenis?) envy was understandable.These days, I wouldn’t mind their (sub)urban salaries. While we country folk were either born here or else traded income for an idyllic locale and are used to counting our farthings—so the New Austerity seems to us hardly new—things have definitely gotten harder. Since when is canned tuna “on sale” at $1.49? Wasn’t it 89 cents a can for, like, 15 years?

It’s gotten so tough here in paradise to pay for essentials while squirreling something away for old age that I, for one, have given up trying. I resort to a Ramen Pride lifestyle so I have enough to tithe and buy modest holiday gifts and send the occasional kid to summer camp. Financial advisor/retirement savings advocate Suze Orman would give me a spanking. But really, in the event of a global contagion or nuclear Armageddon, Suze, what good will our savings do us? I prefer games where you try to get rid of all your cards; he who has the least at the end wins. My retirement plan is to have spent it all by my death date, give or take fifty bucks. But I digress.

One of our maple-cured survival tricks for country living: we know how to have fun at little expense. While we didn’t invent pot luck— 16th century Brits did—we have taken that baby and run with it. We romp freely in our woods, lakes, and rivers and scamper about in snowy fields, leaving pricey divertissements like downhill skiing to strung-out city slickers (read: valued tourists) who, quite frankly, need ski outings to keep from going off the rails entirely. We save the craft beers for our guests and drink PBR in cans. The Genesee Cream Ale trucked here is allocated to killin’ slugs as firm evidence of our Yankee frugality threshold.

We get together and knit at the library. We form book clubs. We contradance. We pick up used instruments at yard sales and teach ourselves how to play. We may not be power yachting or padding our IRAs, but we can all hammer out Turkey in the Straw. And hey, if you haven’t taken up a musical instrument due to time constraints, my former mandolin teacher once had this to say, regarding the extra instrument (violin?) he had to learn to get a music degree:  “It’s amazing how little you can practice and still get better.”

My trick is to spend on fun and cut back on food spending. Often I see my meals as meager and pathetic. But then I think on college, when one can of corn plus one of stewed tomatoes equaled a “stew”;  a friend ate Ragu Bread, a dish of low-end bread topped sadly with spaghetti sauce. By those standards, Lord knows, I eat like a king. Though sometimes I do eat questionably old foods. It’s amazing what you can eat and not get sick. I save so much coin I can afford decent wine to share with nutter friends. (You know who you are. You are loved. But for God’s sake clean up the language next time.)

Yes, we dine cheaply, socialize cheaply, and amuse ourselves for next to nothing. Might I also suggest free classes at the hospital or affordable ones at RTCC or VTC? I’ve taken tai chi, Excel, gardening, kayaking, nonviolent communication, water aerobics, classes on how to take classes, you name it. Teach a class yourself. Or start a blog. Share your f-a-c-t-s or heart or wit. It’s amazing how little you can know and still have something to teach.  Good (country) livin’, and good day.

About uppervalleygirl

Columnist, bloggist, short storyist, essayist, author.

Posted on October 18, 2012, in humor, rural, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I love this. I love people who buy old instruments at hard sales and then noodle around with them. A guy like EB White living over on the Maine coast would be so proud of you !

  2. Amen, sister. When folks complain that they don’t have enough money, what I hear is that they don’t have enough imagination. Things were tight when we were kids – no lessons, exotic vacations, cable tv. I taught myself to play guitar, how to tat, and read enough books to make me crazy as a loon – free, library books. Great post.

  3. OMG! I hear Suzy is all excited about giving you a spanking (with a used instrument)!

  4. Leave it to you, Lover, to take the low road. (The fun road.)
    Won’t ask what kind of instrument was in your bean when you sent your comment. Some mysteries are best left…unsolved.

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