As I was reading about how America is now borrowing $250 million an hour just to stay afloat, I thought of something that my 79-year-old mother did recently at the Pico Glatt Mart. She had just flown in from Montreal, and when I told her we were expecting 20 people the following night for Shabbat, she suggested we go right to the market and not waste any time.
Ah, yes, that word “waste.” In the case of my mother, it usually means never wasting a dollar.
That frugal character came in handy a bit later when she was paying for the groceries. Apparently, the cashier had forgotten there was a sale on couscous. But my mother quickly caught the error and said, “No, no, too much for the couscous!”
English is her second language — but saving money is her first.
Thank God for that, too, because I don’t know how she could have raised five kids in the Canadian tundra (Montreal) on my father’s meager teacher’s salary and her job as a seamstress.
It’s not just that she raised kids who made so much noise that we had to find a new apartment every two years or so. Or that she took four buses to work every day, came home, cooked for the family, found time to take me to libraries (she knew I loved books), waited for my father to come home at 11 p.m. from night school to serve him dinner, prepared school lunches, went to sleep, and, a few hours later, woke up, kissed the mezuzah while saying a few words to God, and started another day.
And it’s not just that on Thursday nights, on her way back from work, she would stop at the fish place (Waldman’s), the meat place (Garellek) and the produce place (this was before they had one-stop shopping), and then walk home from her last bus stop in her blue winter coat on snowy sidewalks while carrying the groceries she would need to prepare for Shabbat.
No, what really stood out for me were two things.
One, we always had music playing in the house. Especially the music of Enrico Macias, whose Mediterranean melodies would warm our winters with songs of the “soleil de mon pays perdu” (“sun of my lost country”) and other images that would bring back memories of Casablanca, where we spent the early part of our lives.
Two, despite our shoestring budget, my mother managed to save just enough money over the years to put a deposit on a little house that became our family sanctuary for decades.
But here’s the thing: While she was saving this money, we never went hungry — not for food, books, music or love. I’m still not sure how she pulled it off.
My siblings and I like to tease our mother about her frugal nature, but deep down, we envy and admire her.
Which brings me to America.
I can only imagine what would happen if my mother were sitting in the Oval Office. On her first day, she would surely ask: “Please, how much money come in every month, and how much we spend?”
If her heart condition could withstand the answer — this year, our federal government will spend $3.8 trillion and bring in $2.5 trillion, for a shortfall of $1.3 trillion; while our national debt is expected to balloon from $16 trillion to $26 trillion over the next 10 years — she’d make some fresh mint tea, call a meeting of advisers and say something like: “This is very bad. We need better budget.”
This “better budget” would mean, of course, big cuts in spending and big increases in revenue, which would mean, inevitably, cutting where we spend the most (defense and entitlements) while also raising tax revenue and providing incentives for growth. You know, the basics.
And it would piss everybody off.
Which is precisely why we need someone like my mother, who isn’t afraid to tell us what none of us wants to hear. I can just imagine her first speech to the nation: “We have no more money. Every day, we borrow another $6 billion. This is crazy. What kind of example are we setting for our children? We have to live within our means. We know how to do it — it just takes courage. It will be painful, but we must do it now to save our future.
“If we don’t, our children and grandchildren will suffer, and they will hate us.”
With her love for children, my mother-president would sense the need to protect kids against a system that is rigged against them. Because they have no voting rights, children can’t assert any direct power, which puts them at the mercy of grown-ups who have this habit of going where the power is.
And last time anyone checked, there was no powerful voting bloc in America of 30 million kids lobbying for an America that won’t bankrupt future generations.
So, who could represent those powerless kids in front of those irresponsible grown-ups who are squandering their future?
I can’t think of a better person than a frugal and loving mother who hates getting ripped off, loves good music and whose major talent in life is to build for the future.
Now, about her birth certificate…