When I was Poor: Stories that made a Frugal Thrifty Cuban Thrive! Part 2
On weekends we’d drive around Kensington, Regents Park and Hyde Park. My mother had figured out that wealthy Brits threw out perfectly good furniture onto the streets on a regular basis; stuff that to them was old and in need of shiny brand new replacements, to my family would look like perfect treasures for our house. We’d drive around the city in the mornings and fit our finds in the trunk, then spent the afternoon re-arranging our new found furniture at home.
One time we found a fridge on a street corner, between the three of us (my mom, my stepdad and me) we managed to haul it onto our car and get it back to our apartment; but since we already had a fridge in our kitchen, my parents decided this massive fridge would go in a corner in their bedroom; they had adopted a fridge in their sleeping quarters, like a normal person might adopt a boudoir or an armoir. They even put family photos on top, as if to camouflage it. Now, every time Sainsburys had a special deal, or my mother wanted to overstock on dessert, we had a whole other fridge to fill with things we didn’t need.
Coming from a lack mentality I’m sure having two fridges relieved her anxiety around being a provider, it gave her comfort knowing that if a big catastrophe were to occur, we’d all be set to survive on our resources. This used to happen to people who lived through World War II or The Great Depression; at the fear of not having supplies they would stock surplus cans of goods even long after the war/depression had ended. For my family, there was no war, but coming from financial scarcity and rationed portioning of food where your quota is based on your age and the size of your family, it must have given my mother great relief to know that we had not one, but two fridges stocked with nourishment should we ever find ourselves in dire need.
On celebratory days, we’d go out to eat at buffet restaurants. Like Americans have Pizza Hut, Brits had Deep Pan Pizza Co, an all-you-can-eat cheap pizza joint where adults ate for $2.99 and children under 12 years old, ate free. While I loved going out to such a fancy feast it always embarrassed me when my mother would lie to the hostess about my age and say i was 11 even though i was nearing 14; the hostess would look me up and down as if trying to catch my mother’s lie on my face, i would smile bright revealing my charming overbite, she’d find this endearing and seat us. My mother would then order one adult buffet meal and one child as she loudly complained to the waiter that she was on a diet and could not eat anything at the restaurant. Whenever the staff wasn’t looking in our direction, mom would pinch me under the table and whisper the items she wanted me to put on my plate for her to eat. I thought we were so cheap. If you thought $2.99 per person was a deal, my entire family ate for $2.99! To make things worse, my mother would bring clean tupperware from home in her big fake leather purse, and she’d go to work under the table, smuggling enough pizza, lasagna and cookies for dinner that night and lunch the next day. One time the restaurant manager caught us and practically held us hostage by refusing to let us leave without at least paying for a second adult meal, but my mom’s quick wit and negotiation tactics spun the manager’s brain in circles so hard that he ended up dumbfounded, disoriented and feeling like he should have paid US to eat there, instead of the other way around! I think we might have even gotten a full refund that day, my mother was gloating as we walked toward the car.