The other day I was at Mama’s house, digging through kitchen cabinets trying to find a cast iron skillet that had once been there, when I stumbled across a large blue glass jar filled with various utensils that Mama had long used.
The slotted spoon, with a coated handle that she had once laid too close to a hot stove eye and melted it in a spot, brought back a tug of memory. Mama had used that spoon all of my life and many years before I was even born. Mama’s generation didn’t waste things. They were not a disposable society, looking to replace something good with something thought to be better. They made do with what they had as long as they had it.
It was her potato masher that bought forth a hearty chuckle as I fingered it gently and appreciatively. About 15 years before Mama died, the plastic handle broke away, leaving the steel part but rendering it useless because it couldn’t be held in order to be used.
This did not faze Mama. She came from a legacy of resourcefulness. The hard upbringing during the Depression in the mountains where there was little had taught Mama and her people how to fix virtually anything. Mama had a remarkable ability to study on something and figure out how to repair it.
As in the case of a potato masher.
It could have been replaced for a couple of dollars but, as Mama saw it, that was $2 that didn’t need spending. She took an ancient wooden spool which had once held thread. She had probably been saving that 2-inch tall spool for 30 years, hoping for a moment to prove it still had worth. She pushed the ends into the spool and created a new handle. It made for a rather short potato masher but still useful.
“Mama, why don’t you buy you a new potato masher?” I asked one night as I mashed potatoes.
“Money is too hard earned to just throw away,” she replied. “I fixed that and it works just fine.”
And, so it did. To be truthful, I do the same as Mama. When something breaks, I try to find an ingenious way to repair it. It’s practical and challenging.
When I found the potato masher with the wooden spool, I thought about the value that Mama and Daddy’s people put on common sense. To mountain people, nothing was prized more. Those folks could be tough and judgmental.
“He’s a no account, wouldn’t strike a lick at a snake if it was fixin’ to bite him,” was one assessment they used.
“He never darkens the door of a church. The preacher wouldn’t know him if he walked right up to him,” was another. To the dwellers of the Appalachian Mountains, little was worse condemnation than that of calling a man a lazy, no account, drunken heathen. It was the combination of all sins.
Only one judgment was worst.
“He ain’t got no sense. He ain’t even got the sense that God gave a Billy goat.” Nothing worse could be said about someone.
Growing up, my parents taught common sense by example but Daddy took it further whenever I had displayed questionable judgment. “Now, does that make any sense?” he’d prod. “Think about it. Use some common sense.” Other than the good Lord, he valued nothing more than common sense.
Colleges now teach this with classes on “critical thinking” but too many young people fail to truly understand that many of life’s problems — big ones and broken potato mashers —can be fixed with common sense.
After I admired the potato masher, I went back to the cabinets and discovered the glass measuring cup that Mama had used for decades. Somehow, it had been broken in two big pieces.
I plan to glue it back together. In honor of Mama.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newspaper.