In early 1931, as the Great Depression was moving into the lives of our ancestors, George and Olive Denyes, my grandparents, adopted a six-month old who would become my father. My grandmother, who even at her death managed to keep her age a mystery, was somewhere in her early 50s. My dad was the youngest of five children, two foster children and two other adopted children. All of them were raised to adulthood by George and Olive.
As I moved through my early 50s, I would think about grandma and wonder at her inner strength, expansive heart, and strong character that allowed her to extend herself to one more little boy. She opened her heart’s doors to others when it would have been simpler and easier to keep her doors closed and concentrate on those already in her care.
My grandfather was a Methodist minister who pastored in small churches around the prairies of Manitoba. He had retired by the time I came along. And I best remember them living in Winnipeg in a lovely modest home, trimmed out with dark wood.
As a child when we would visit them, I recall the food was odd. A bit of gravy, a bit of meat, a few muffins, and maybe some small sweet to finish the meal. Not that tasty, but we were fed. Cleaning up after the meal was also odd. After a meal was over, I had been trained to get a nice warm dish cloth and “wipe down the table.” This was not how grandma did it. No. At Grandma Denyes’ house, she would use her dry, wrinkled hand to wipe up the crumbs and bits of food. Then very carefully she would sweep them into her hand. She would then take a jar that was always on her kitchen counter and brush the bits into it. And those crumbs would be added to the mix when she next made muffins.
The depression taught her that nothing could be tossed aside. Nothing.
In my mother’s kitchen is a cross stitch that I created for her several decades ago. It reads:
Use it up
Wear it out.
Make it do.
I think I am living some part of this just now. Tossing a jam jar in the recycling bin was the action that birthed this reflection. What if I keep this jar? Might it serve in a way that would prevent me from needing to go to the store, from using a plastic bag, from even having to wash another dish? So, I gave it a good wash. Saved it.
While the idea of gathering our breadcrumbs and baking them into muffins may be less than appetizing, I invite you to consider where you could symbolically gather some “breadcrumbs” and reuse them. Or make do. Or do without.
Store up compassion, so you have for yourself and others. We all need that for sure.