Traverse City Record-Eagle

Columns

January 27, 2013

Ed Hungness: Uncle Bob Says: Save your pennies!

In late December, I made a trip to Chicago for a belated family Christmas celebration.

Besides the holiday festivities, it was an opportunity to celebrate my Uncle Bob's 91st birthday. Uncle Bob was born and raised in old-neighborhood Chicago and never left except for a tour of Europe, compliments of the United States government.

He was an infantryman in the U.S. Army during WW II and walked and fought from the shores of France to Munich, Germany. Though he seldom talks about it, he spent most of his tour of duty on the front lines, engaged in combat.

After the war ended, Uncle Bob returned to Chicago and quietly lived in the same neighborhood where he grew up.

He became an apprentice in the building trades. During the years that followed, he helped construct many of the skyscrapers that still stand in downtown Chicago. After retiring, Bob continued to live conservatively, in a rented brick flat, where at 91 he still lives independently.

Uncle Bob was a product of the Great Depression. During those trying times, his father was out of work for several years because of a broken leg that refused to heal properly.

What little money the family had saved was lost when their bank failed.

Unlike today, lifelines such as unemployment benefits, disability compensation, rent subsidies and food stamps did not exist. You were on your own.

Families looked out for themselves with an occasional lending hand from a neighbor or friend.

Food pantries were nonexistent. If you were hungry and had nowhere else to go, you waited in line at the neighborhood soup kitchen where you might be given a slice of bread and a bowl of steaming hot soup.

If you were lucky, you received a cup of coffee and perhaps a donut for dessert.

Uncle Bob and my mother were fortunate to find work and together they helped support their family.

During the Depression, you couldn't be selective about where you worked or what you did.

Regardless of the pay, you took the job and were grateful for any opportunity. Survival depended upon hard work and a frugal lifestyle.

Uncle Bob had a job that started after his school day ended. He was a pin-setter at a neighborhood bowling alley and often worked until past his bedtime, setting up knocked-down bowling pins at the far end of the alley.

Unseen by the bowlers, he worked until the establishment closed for the night. His pay was typically 50 cents for the shift.

My mother had what she felt was a "good" job. She worked six days per week assisting a dentist whose office was located on the second floor of a storefront building. The office operated Monday through Friday. She also worked on Saturdays scrubbing the steps leading to the second floor as well as the office floors. She was paid $5 per week.

They witnessed neighbors being evicted from their homes, their possessions piled on the curb.

They learned that nothing of any possible value was to be wasted and they saved whatever they could for the next day or the day after that. It was a common thread that linked Depression survivors.

Through lean times and hard work, they not only helped their family, but developed lifelong strengths of character and self-reliance.

It was during this part of his life that Uncle Bob adopted what became his signature — and infamous in our family — slogan, "Save your pennies!"

Throughout both my childhood and my children's youth, we grew up hearing Uncle Bob warn us to save our pennies.

Today this wise and timeless message from Uncle Bob still rings true.

Ed Hungness and his wife became full-time residents of Fife Lake in 2005 after Ed's retirement. He can be reached at edhungness@yahoo.com or by mail at P.O. Box 57, Fife Lake, MI 49633.

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