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Hunter: Willful Waste

10/18/10 7:55AM By Edith Hunter
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(HOST) Recession headlines - and a passage from a book she's been reading - have reminded commentator Edith Hunter of what it was like to grow up during the Great Depression.

(HUNTER) I recently read a biography of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. In it he quoted his mother as saying that "willful waste makes woeful want." When I read those words I wondered if his mother knew the whole poem that my mother used to recite to my sister, my brother and me.

I must not throw upon the floor
The crust I would not eat,
For many a little hungry one
Might think it quite a treat.
For willful waste makes woeful want
And I may live to say,
'Oh how I wish I had that crust
That once I threw away.'

The ranks of those of us who - like me - grew up in the Great Depression is rapidly thinning. . As the depression deepened I was acutely aware of the threat of woeful want. I can remember vividly the day my father came home from work and told my mother that his weekly pay had been cut from $50 a week to $25. He was attempting to sell advertisements for a textile magazine. My mother began trying to supplement our reduced income by selling My Bookhouse For Children.

We owned several tenement houses that my mother had inherited. They not only brought in very little cash, but at times actually cost us money. The tenants were supposed to pay for the utilities, but we could not afford to let the electricity or gas be shut off since that might result in frozen pipes. The frequent turnover of the tenants added to the costs
.
We had always owned an automobile. We progressed from a Model T Ford to a Model A in the 1930s, and then we had to give up having any car at all. When I was in high school I attended a private school in the Back Bay. I was on a complete scholarship. In order to save the cost of public transportation, which actually was amazingly cheap - about 5 cents a ride for students - my dad and I would often walk the 3 miles from Roxbury to Beacon Street.

Dad loved politics, and he loved to talk about it as we walked along.  He had been a Bull Moose Republican, but became a Democrat when FDR took over and actually did something about the "woeful want" that was affecting millions of Americans.

Growing up in the Great Depression had a lasting affect on my spending habits. More clothes than absolutely essential, eating out when there is plenty to eat at home, any frivolous expenditures, still seem unthinkable to me.

Although John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and I were not of the same generation, and saw the Great Depression from rather different perspectives, we both had mothers who warned us that "willful waste makes woeful want."
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