From the Relief Society Magazine, 1960 –
Only the Essentials
By Frances C. Yost
Young Mike Palmer had carried his bride over the threshold of the old Miller place. The house was rundown and had been vacant for several months, but the rent was cheap, and that was important, when you were just starting married life.
“Karen, I guess you’re going to find out that you have to do without a lot of things that you’re used to,” Mike Palmer said, as he made a fire for her in the old coal and wood range. “You’re going to miss cooking with electricity and doing dishes with a dishwasher, and having an automatic washer and dryer for your laundry. Honestly, I feel sorry for you. It’s sort of like pioneering in the year 1960.”
“I’ve thought of all those things, Mike, but I still have you, and I feel your love and this old coal stove will keep me warm. I have my two hands for washing dishes, and, well, I won’t have to scrub clothes on a washboard like the pioneers, because there is our own conventional washer you bought at the second-hand store.” Karen laughed softly. “It’s going to be fun.”
“You’re a good sport, I’ll say that for you. But I want you to remember I just don’t have money to burn as your father has.”
“Oh, Mike, daddy doesn’t have money to burn. Why, he’s really very careful with his money.”
“Most people are that have money. That is, if they have gotten ahead in this world. And believe me, Karen, I mean to be successful like your father and some other men I admire. So, I’m going to start out by being careful about little things. I want you to budget all your spending and trim off all the nonessential buying. If it’s something we can’t get along without, why, fine, buy it. But if it’s something we can jolly well manage without, why, pass it up and …”
“Yes, I know, Mike. Only the essentials. I’m going to be very careful. You watch.”
“I’m sure you will be. Bye for now. Your ambitious husband is going out into the world and make a few honest dollars.” Mike laughed, and raised her chin for his kiss.
Alone, Karen surveyed the old house. There were curtains in the living room, but they were faded and full of holes. She would buy some pretty flowered cretonne and make drapes for the windows.
Karen found just what she wanted, flowered cretonne, in the yardage department, which was much more economical than drapery cloth. She sewed every moment while Mike was gone all week. Then Friday morning she hung the new drapes. Why, they made all the difference in the world to the whole house. She could hardly wait for Mike to come home and see them.
When Mike walked in the door he had eyes only for Karen. He gathered her into his arms and kissed her tenderly. Then he raised his head and saw the drapes. At first his face registered surprise, and pleasure. Then, as if he had appraised their value in terms of money, his face hardened.
“Mike, I know what you’re thinking. You like the looks of the drapes, but you don’t think we can afford them.”
“That’s right, Karen. I believe we could have managed with those net curtains which were already here in the house. You remember what I said, only the essentials.”
Karen felt hurt. Sometime she would tell him how economical the cloth had been, and that she had sewed every stitch herself, not hired them made by a professional draper.
It wasn’t just spending the money for the drapes. It was Mike she was worried about. What type of man had she married? She had known him so well, but she hadn’t known this financial side of him. Was Mike really close? Karen somehow abhorred tightness in a person. She surely didn’t want to be married to a man who inspected the potato peelings to see if they were thick or thin.
During the evening Mike commented a time or two that he really liked the drapes, and that they made the whole house more beautiful, and that perhaps her judgment had been right about going ahead and buying them.
Now that the drapes were hung, and the entire house had been polished, Karen had time on her hands. She dropped into the little rocker she and Mike had purchased at the secondhand store, the same time as the stove. She wished she had something interesting to read. She wondered if The Relief Society Magazine for the month was out yet. It would be nice to subscribe for the Magazine, have it delivered to her home each month. But Mike would probably class it among the luxuries, as he had the drapes.
“Maybe our budget doesn’t allow for subscribing for the Magazine,” Karen jumped up excitedly, “but, by golly, I’m not going to miss a single copy. I’m going right this minute over to Mike’s mother and borrow her Magazine.”
What had Shakespeare said: “Neither a borrower, nor a lender be.” “Well, in spite of what he said, I’m going borrowing, and I hope Mother Palmer is a cheerful lender. The Relief Society Magazine should be passed around to enjoy it.”
“Of course you can take the Magazine, Karen,” Mrs. Palmer said cheerfully.
“But if you haven’t had time to read it …” Karen hesitated.
“I can read it when you are finished. You go right ahead. I have these few peaches to make preserves of today, and oh, Karen, get a sack from the drawer and take some of these peaches home with you. There’s a jar of fresh cream in the fridge you can have. Mike just loves peaches and cream.”
“Oh, thank you, Mother Palmer. This will answer my dessert problem for our supper, and we’ll have peaches on our cereal for breakfast.”
Karen left the house with the sack of peaches in one hand, a jar of cream in the other, and The Relief Society Magazine tucked under her arm.
Karen curled up in the rocker and enjoyed the afternoon with the Magazine. “Why, there are a dozen poems, and each one is a treasure. And three nice stories, besides the serial. There are three worthwhile articles, and in the features for the home are recipes and sewing hints, and bits of wisdom.”
Karen closed the little Magazine and held it almost lovingly to her. Why, this Magazine could not be classed as a luxury. A single issue cost even less than twenty cents, and where could you get so much for your money? But Mike had said nothing but essentials. She guessed she would just have to figure on borrowing Mother Palmer’s Magazine for a while.
“Well, it’s time to start supper.” What would she fix? There were recipes in the Magazine. She opened it again. “How about a fluffy lemon chiffon pie?”
Karen checked the ingredients. “I have everything to make it, luckily, but I have the fresh peaches Mike’s mother gave me. No need for dessert. Oh, here’s a main dish that sounds interesting and nourishing, macaroni loaf. It has cheese and hard-boiled eggs. I’ll make this, and with a green salad, and some raisin cookies and the peaches and cream, such a meal should please any hard-working man.”
Karen was busy for the next two hours, and she was complimenting herself on baking the cookies in the coal stove and not burning a single one, when Mike came through the door.
“How’s my pretty little wife?” he kissed her lovingly.
“Just fine, Mr. Palmer, and your supper is almost ready. Want to sit in the living room while I finish? It’s a little warm in here.” Karen wiped her brow. It was warm cooking on a coal stove, but soon it would be chilly weather and the same warmth would be inviting.
Mike, tired from the day’s work, dropped into the little rocker where Karen had been, and picked up the Magazine on the nearby table. He started reading.
“Dinner, Mike,” Karen called invitingly. “Come and get it.”
“I’ve become interested in a story. Say, where did you get that little magazine?”
“Oh, that’s The Relief Society Magazine. I borrowed it from your mother.”
“You mean that Magazine’s been in my home, and I’ve never noticed it before?”
“Perhaps you didn’t take time to read it, but it was there.” Karen laughed.
“Did you read it before you were married, Karen?”
“Never missed an issue. Fact is, it’s my favorite magazine, Mike.”
“Karen, it’s a magazine we should have in our home. You better make out a check tomorrow and send for a year’s subscription.”
Karen felt something warm inside her. Why, Mike wasn’t tight as she had imagined at all. She guessed about the hardest thing about being a bride was to get used to spending someone else’s money. Especially a new husband’s, when he didn’t have any more than when he was courting and living with his folks, and not maintaining a house. Yes, it was true, she would have to make sacrifices, go without things she was used to as Mike had pointed out that first day, go without things she had taken for granted in her parents’ home. But they would be able to have and enjoy the important things of life, like The Relief Society Magazine. She could hardly wait for the postman to deliver her first copy.