Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Depression Mentality, or just Depressing?

Peculiar clues keep popping up in my life that keep bringing me back to this thought, so I figured it's about time to post.

I've always attributed some of my otherwise unexplainable actions to a distantly recalled "depression mentality", that was somehow referred to here and there during my childhood. A need to stock up on things when you see them, or to take something very basic and make something more substantial out of it.

Obviously, as a child of the 70's, my life was not influenced by any major economic depression, though I caught a glimpse at occasional reminders from my parents and grandparents along the way - at restaurants, at the bank, at social events, etc. At iHop, Grandma would always sneak a few jelly samplers or sweet'n'low packets into her purse ; my dad would always wrap a few extra brownies in a napkin for later, after Shabbat services; we would never throw away shopping bags (long before the days of recycling - we just accumulated them, I don't remember ever actually reusing them!)

I never invested much thought in it. I suppose I may have been a bit embarassed by these actions, but never saw reason to question them. Until now. When I find myself doing them too.

I recently made a huge batch of candied citrus peels (mmm), and didn't have anything at home to store them in. So, I "took" a few extra empty plastic containers from the supermarket (you know, the ones you're supposed to fill with olives, or trail mix, or other bulk foods in the open bins). I began to wonder how I did this with no qualms, no embarassment, and no looking over my shoulder. I even felt that I was justified in taking them since I spend enough money at that store anyways.

But when I showed my husband the containers, he proclaimed I had become just like his mother (which I have no problem with, she's a wonderful woman, but also a major packrat). Thinking about it some more, I realized that his parents, who had come to Israel in the early 50's, had a very similar mentality, as do most people of their generation here, from many different backgrounds. The 'hoarding' (and I mean that in a good way) of food and supplies is inherent in everything they do - not just because of some good 2+1 sales, but because they want to be sure there will always be enough, as opposed to just a few decades earlier, in times of war, rations, and uncertainty.

Is it a cultural norm or a depression mentality? are we entitled to these things nowadays if they're there for the taking? I'm guessing that Denny's figures in their losses on jelly samplers from the "Golden Girls" crowd. And the supermarkets charge extra on the bulk foods to balance out the cost of the little containers. But does that mean it's okay to take them? Am I passing these unintentional clues on to my children too? And most frightening of all - does it get worse as we get older?