How To Take Hard Times (or Where Faith Comes From, and Why She Still Shops at Goodwill)

If the shirt is too old to wear, even
around the house, take off all the buttons
and turn it into dusting rags, or stuffing
for a small girl’s toy,
or cut patches you can use to mend
the bed sheets.
If the shoes are too worn to repair, save the laces.
If you’re letting down the hem of your pink dress,
pull the thread out carefully, then wind it round a fold of paper
so you’ll have the matching color to reuse
for next year’s alterations.

On Saturdays, shop late
at the street market, when the farmers want to sell for cheap
what won’t last through another day.
Buy as much as you can carry, boil it with some chicken
bones, and turn it into soup.
At the booth where they sell lettuce, ask for the wilted leaves
they’ve tossed away.
Tell them it’s for your goat.

Chuck roast on sale, 29 cents a pound, but only two
per customer. At the shop around the corner, chicken.
Across town, more chuck roast. Go to each in turn
then go round again. They won’t know
you’ve come back twice, not with so many others in the lines.
What goes in the freezer now turns into savings
later, when we’re hungry, and meat is not
on sale.

Don’t buy new the things you can find used.
Take what you didn’t spend on buttons, bed sheets, shoelaces,
your pink dress—
the money saved from saving, always
saving—and spend it on the oval mirror, the chest of drawers
that someone else no longer wants.

Be patient.
Look for quality.
Antiques will keep
their value. Besides, they are so beautiful,
and beauty matters, too.

When you’ve found lovely things for every room, don’t stop
buying secondhand.
If you find a better chair, a better desk, a better lamp, sell
what they replace, and in this selling earn
a little more.

From what you earn, set some aside. Put it
towards a mortgage, or your children’s education. Save some
for the times when times are hard, like when
Dad had his heart attack, and for so long we had to live with debts
to pay, and not a penny
coming in. Remember
at the market, how we used to
ask for lettuce leaves? And how we went all over town
to buy the cheapest meat? How it was like a treasure
hunt! Remember
finding a whole head of cabbage in one farmer’s box
of scraps? How we were so thrilled, we danced
around the kitchen!

Even when you’ve something
in the bank, think
before you buy. Know what you only want
and what you need.
Everything you don’t spend now, you’ll have
for something else.
This
is how you make ends meet,
and when they meet, this
is how you’ll have enough to spare
so you can tie a pretty bow.

Jennifer L Freed lives in Holden, MA. In other lives, she taught English in the People’s Republic of China and in the former Czechoslovakia. Her poems have appeared in various journals including Poetry East, Atlanta Review, Off the Coast, and Cloudbank. Her chapbook was a finalist in the 2013 New Women’s Voices contest.

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One Response to How To Take Hard Times (or Where Faith Comes From, and Why She Still Shops at Goodwill)

  1. lifecameos says:

    Yes. My parent’s generation did all this, as did their forbears. There was so much poverty in the Western world, and often still is, though we do not use these ideas so much these days.

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