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Family motto...‘Anything for a buck’

By the late Roger Goettsch of Moorhead

(This article was submitted a couple months before he passed away)

Growing up in the 1940s and 1950s has made me realize there is certainly a generation gap. When I think back, I realize that, if my family had a motto, I’m sure it would have read, “Anything for a buck!” 

I know now that we weren’t exactly poor, but we certainly did not have much cash. We had a nice home, always plenty to eat, clean (if patched and mended) clothing, and really did not seem to want much. One of my early lessons was that, other children may have had those things and items I coveted but I was not supposed to ask for them as we could not afford them. I’m not sure I really understood why at the time but maturity does bring this realization.

I did always know that my parents and grandparents loved me enough so, that if were possible, they would provide it. This was not always a concept that a child was capable of understanding.

I was a curious child... maybe no more curious than most, but studied people and situations and drew my own conclusions. Of course they were not always the correct ones, but more often than not they were. It was easy to see the outward trappings of money; newer cars, fancier houses and more stylish dress. On the other side of the coin were those who had a more obvious and difficult struggle to just survive. It was easy to discover reasons why their lives were more difficult even though these were not always the underlying reasons. Two of the most frightening were fathers who drank too much or completely walked out on their families. In small towns, news spread quickly and, like most gossip, always had a ‘kernel of truth.’ My family talked openly about all situations, although I remember them speaking in German during my younger years. When I asked why, I was told that there were ‘certain things that little ears should not hear.’ I even remember thinking, I’d really like to hear that stuff!

Since we had little money, the conversation often turned to money if there were major bills coming up. Many projects could be predicted -- like the house needing a coat of paint. Money would be set aside for these types of projects and, when money was available to purchase the paint, everyone contributed according to their ability. Mom and Gram scraped and painted windows and storms, and Dad and Gramp were up on the ladder. My job was to take a brush and brush the scrapings off the storms and screens.  I would rather have been doing the painting. I also had the responsibility of moving the drop cloths under the ladder and keeping my baby brother occupied. Painting seemed more fun. Just goes to prove that, what you desire at the moment is not necessarily the same thing you might desire in the future. I was never so happy as when I could replace the wooden windows with plastic encased ones in my own home.

Sometimes, “words of wisdom” you hear, over and over have a profound impact.  I remember Dad talking about a car he wanted but did not have the money. He would say that other cars would come along but he refused to borrow money to make payments, as interest was a waste of money. Can you imagine my dilemma when we decided to purchase a new home with a 20-year mortgage? We had been renting an attic apartment that was poorly accessible and cramped for space when we discovered that we could purchase a new house that was unfinished both inside and out. It was called “sweat equity,” which meant we had to paint the interior walls, varnish all the doors and woodwork and put in our own lawn. The paint was no problem as we checked the local paint store and we could purchase mismatched paint for a buck a gallon. Of course there was only a gallon of each color. The kitchen was orange, the living room and hall a light green, one bedroom a light blue, another tan and the third had a different color on each of the four walls. Oh yes, the bathroom was lavender as that was the only semi-gloss color. It took lots of evenings and weekends, but we made it in the time allowed. Later it was time to remove the rubble and level the yard for what would be the lawn and plant grass seed.

It did turn out to be a good deal as our house payments were only $125 including taxes and insurance. Of course it was 25 percent of my salary for the first year and my salary slowly went up each year and the payments stayed the same.  Now it seems amazing how quickly those 20 years passed. Actually, at the end there was so little left we paid it off in just 18 years.  Justification is everything and, in this case, it was a well-thought investment.

I do remember when Dad was having trouble with his shot gun and really wanted a different one. No used ones were available and the guy at the hardware store offered to sell him a new one and allow Dad to pay if off “on time.” Dad refused and I’m sure he was tempted.

Then he learned of a non-hunter who had won a new shotgun at a raffle and dad went to talk to him.  He’d prefer to sell it as he needed money for a new well. Next thing I knew I was helping Dad dig a well. Seems now like it was 35 foot deep and dug with a post hole digger with extensions.  The first 10 feet were easy but then the four-foot extensions had to be added and it had to be carefully raised and turned as it was lowered.  My job was to clean the clay off the bucket part and keep the edges of the hole clear.

It was a little nerve wracking lowering the tile down to the bottom of the hole but after nearly a week it was complete.  Thanks to Gramp and his divining rood, there was plenty of water.

The guy was pleased with his well and Dad thrilled with his new shotgun. And, he didn’t have payments nor needed to borrow money. If I ever started to make a list of all the ‘skills’ I learned from Dad’s projects, I’m sure I could cover many sheets of paper. We never received an allowance but there were always ‘rewards’ of some kind. It was expected that everyone contribute to the family to the best of one’s ability and, while most were just hard work, some had fun consequences.

The first thing that comes to mind was the ‘live bait business’ and part of that was covered earlier. A converted ‘36 Ford coupe to a pick-up, several barrels full of water, a minnow scene, two pairs of hip boots and several five gallon buckets. Did I mention hard work, hot sweaty days, barbed-wire fences to climb over or under and many trips across uneven pastures and fields.  That was the down side. The up-side was being chosen to ride along to Storm Lake to deliver the bait with an opportunity to swim in the lake and fish from shore for walleye or from a boat for crappie. It might also mean a cold nickel bottle of pop and another nickel for a candy bar. It’s amazing what these rewards can do to destroy your long-term memory. At least I’ve learned patience and the difference between want and need.

There is so much positive to be said about re-using, repairing, refurbishing and, of course re-cycling. Salvaging also works along with trading and, even, hand me downs. Back then, survival skills!

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