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GREED: Getting Your Money’s Worth: Mama’s Five Principles of Good Living
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In the part of the South where I’m from, which is my mama’s house, there is a strong tradition of respecting your elders—especially when they have sharp tempers and wield quick belts for disobedience—and for knowing the importance of religion. So I grew up reverent for certain things that kept the God-fearing in the house up and the trouble quotient down. At the top of that list—because this was at the top of mama’s list—was respecting mama’s five principles of good living.

Now, we lived in a big old house and mama made a pretty good living in real estate, but if you listened to the talk about "opportunities" (that is, food opportunities) going around the sitting room every night with mama and her two giddy live-in sisters, you’d think we were plum starving over there. But let me tell you, that was far from the case.

The Holy Trinity—as I called the three of them since they all shared the same mind-set—had all the angles worked out. I suppose they learned some of these tricks from their mother (grandma was a piece of work, but that’s another story), but I’m equally sure they raised those techniques to a new art form. I reckon they must have bought groceries for a real meal (other than drinks and such) at least once, but if so, I never witnessed evidence of such an event. Paying for food pained them worse than having a dentist extract their teeth. I guess pulling money out of their wallets must have hurt just as much.
Heck, I don’t recall ever having a home-cooked meal—that being defined as something actually cooked in our house—in all my years growing up.
Now mama had five great principles of living a good life that she taught me to obey. Since she had kind of an oblique way of expressing herself, I’ll provide explanations so you can absorb the full value of what she was really going on about.

1. Cherish Your Close Ones
To mama, this one meant to throw a pot luck dinner once a week. Mama might have pushed this a bit far as she had four separate groups of people involved in these feasts—two sides of relatives and two sides of friends—alternating to maintain the quality and quantity. Mama’s pot lucks were great; people would bring over big pots, plates and platters of all sorts of goodies. And man did we eat! Mama was never happier than during these to-do’s. Can you blame her? The leftovers from these food orgies provided victuals for three or four days. She never spent a penny on these get-togethers since, as she always trumpeted loudly, she provided the venue and goodwill. And God help any of the flock that tried to edge in on the action by suggesting the tradition be moved elsewhere. The pot lucks were always held on Wednesdays to bridge the gap between her very successful weekends.

2. Love Thy Neighbors
It seemed mama knew everyone in town and in the nearby counties. She made it her business to be extra friendly to anyone she crossed paths with. Of course, that good attitude had its side benefits. We were invited, embarrassingly so, to seemingly every single event of any nature that occurred in the neighboring counties. Christenings, baptisms, communions, bar-mitzvahs, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, puppy births, whatever: If they occurred, we were usually there to help celebrate, eat and help remove the leftovers. Mama’s very strict belief that giving presents of value or money at these ceremonies—I think people took them to be religious in nature, though I never was quite sure and mama was one you didn’t dare ask—precluded her from ever going out of pocket. These events were always in-pocket, so to speak, especially at the end when she packed up to go, if you follow what I’m saying. We went to events every weekend, often making the rounds.

3. Be God-Fearing
Mama was always God-fearing as long as the traditional Sunday church picnics were held. And these were good ones since people made an extra effort to provide for the Lord on those special days. In winters, when the weather got bad and intruded on the victuals, mama respected God’s wishes and the rough weather and shifted her attentions elsewhere.

4. Keep the Family Together
You can already figure out that mama could dig up every bargain to be had, no matter where it might be found. She’d find places during the week like warehouse clubs, malls, promotional events, where free food would be served, and the lot of us—me, my brother Elgin, my two aunts and mama—would partake in the complimentary gettings.

5. Help the Less Fortunate
Mama ladled out food every Friday evening to lines of the homeless and the hungry, a tradition she kept up until two weeks before she passed. In fact, she organized the whole food drive to begin with, making sure that restaurants, farmers and individuals all contributed their share to the programs’ success. A lot of people got fed through those programs, and after all those years, don’t think I didn’t get to know some of them pretty well—like every member of mama’s household. That would usually tide us over for a few days, being that some leftovers could usually be counted on. Mama used to get as much pleasure out of feeding us as she did the other recipients. She respected anyone that could benefit from food for the getting.

Between all of the above, and a few other tricks mama had up her sleeve, I don’t recall us ever paying for food—I mean ever. Yeah, mama was a bit eccentric, parsimonious, frugal, creative or whatever you want to call it. And it’s not exactly like I’m cheap or any of those things either, it’s just that I grew up with a deep respect for tradition. Like my mama taught me. And my grandma taught her.

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