The pattern started on our honeymoon, 1969, 40 years ago. Stuart had $600 in his checking account when we got married. I spent all the money I earned that summer– the summer of my 21st birthday, the summer of Woodstock and the moon landing, and the summer of our wedding– on the wedding dress, flowers, gifts for attendents, and the wedding cake. The picture below illustrates the dress and shows our parents as they supported us.
I was broke, but debt-free. Stuart had a modest NDEA loan, but had that $600 in the bank. The way he chose to spend it would become a pattern for both of us in our marriage.
Stuart had the idea the planning the honeymoon without consultation with me would be a very romantic thing to do. I thought so too and was very curious about what location he would pick. Would it be Niagara Falls, the destination both sets of our parents had chosen, or would it be Ocean City, the place I loved to escape to in my teenage years, or a city neither of us had never been to (that would have been every major city in the country except for Philadelphia and New York)?
Our first night stay was a Holiday Inn in Valley Forge, PA. No jokes about the name, please. Actually, we had plenty of jokes already. They were written in white shoe polish all over Stuart’s ’64 maroon Ford Fairlane. “Just married.” “Going South for a little son.” “Watch out for the lovers.”
From Valley Forge we crossed the Delaware, like George Washington, but only from the air. We parked our car at the Philadelphia airport on our way to the destination Stuart had picked–Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was totally entranced, both by the second airplane ride of my life and by the exotic destination I had never heard of before.
We spent a glorious eight days in Halifax, to Yarmouth, to Boston, back to Philadelphia, then to Lititz, PA, my home, to return finally to Harrisonburg, VA, close to Stuart’s home , to “take up housekeeping,” as people then said, in a tiny basement apartment. We had $35 left to spend until Stuart’s next paycheck. I was still an undergraduate, heading for student teaching.
I will spare you the rose-tinted details of our honeymoon adventures in the Nova Scotia lighthouses, fish markets, bus, trains, hitchhiking. I’ll even forego the details about our first fight while walking on the Boston Common, but let me tell you about one aspect of the trip we have continued in our subsequent travels.
In one way we were profligates. Stuart spent all his money on the plane tickets and paid for the rooms, meals, and other forms of transportation with traveler’s checks. If we had been really cheap, we would have driven to West Virgina, stayed in a state park, had a wonderful time, and returned home after a two-hour drive with more than $500 to spend on rent, food, and tuition.
We weren’t cheap, but we were frugal. Those traveler’s checks had to cover all our expenses–hence the hitchhiking and one or two sketchy hotels. But making that money stretch became a big part of the adventure. We were so excited and so in love that food fell in our priority list. We made several meals from one loaf of bread, one jar of peanut butter, one jar of strawberry jam, a box of saltines, and two cans of sardines. They tasted like caviar and champagne in our honeymoon bed. Only problem was the crumbs, but that was easily handled, too.
I thought about our honeymoon and subsequent trips to Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and throughout the US because I drafted this post in Sarasota, FL, on the vacation part of a business trip. Over our 40 years we have traveled together often, and we still enjoy traveling the way we did the first year. We love to talk with the locals, visit them if we have friends in the area, eat the local food, walk a lot, and save dining in restaurants for special occasions, often hosting our friends. We could afford, now, to eat three restaurant meals a day and drive or be driven everywhere. But that would spoil some of our greatest fun.
One morning in Sarasota we walked four miles from our hotel to the amazing little neighborhood of Pinecraft, unlike no other place on earth. Amish people from Northern Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have converged on a little spot of land not much bigger than a mile square. They even have their own post office.
Their homes are very modest and often crowded together with maybe an RV or two on the lot and a lot of old-fashioned mobile homes scattered among the stucco and brick and stone and wood houses. Dark-colored shirts, pants, and dresses wave on washlines in the Sarasota breeze. Little fruitstands sprout up, first selling backyard citrus, and then at least one as a serious business.
We bought a dozen backyard red grapefruits for $1.00. We rounded out our purchases with a pint of local strawberries and two pounds of Georgia pecans. Lunch was mighty tasty! We also have talked with several Amish people about the plight of their community in Elkhart County, IN (where the unemployment rate in January was 16 percent and where Barack Obama promoted his stimulus package a few weeks ago). One woman told us that, so far, the Amish people who have lost their jobs at the RV factories have been absorbed back into the community. The cabinet makers and woodworkers, entrepreneurs, take on the former RV workers or they return to family farms.
The Amish have their own forms of frugality. They did not used to travel at all-except to find new land to settle. The phrase Amish vacation is an oxymoron-or used to be–until a generation ago. They don’t travel as individuals for the sake of adventure. They travel with members of their community in buses to visit the members of the Pinecraft community. They bring food from home, purchase fruits and vegetables at the Amish-run stand on the edge of the community, treat themselves to ice cream cones at the drive-in across the street, ride bicycles everywhere, build houses for the birds, and plant flowers. They always look happy despite their many layers of dark clothing, as incongruous as they may seem, playing shuffleboard under Sarasota palm trees.
Stuart and I do not have biological Amish relatives, but we have a shared history with these people that goes back nearly 500 years to Switzerland and Southern Germany. Frugality and community, cheapness and generosity coexist. We have tried to take the frugal, leave the cheap. Keep community without the conformity. Have we succeeded? In Sarasota, walking through Pinecraft in our shorts and tee shirts, no one could tell that we are ancient kin.
But when we peel open one of our dozen-for-a-dollar grapefruits, we smile. We are back in honeymoon land again.