“Don’t worry about it, girls,” said Ma. “We must cut our coat to fit the cloth.” (from Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder)
It seems strange to me that we have so much more now than we’ve ever had before and things come so much easier because of the affordable technology available, yet we are more worried than ever. Everywhere I turn I hear complaints about the economy, the struggle to make ends meet. But if you get down to brass tacks, the people making these complaints are not really starving. We are unbelievably spoiled by our plenty and unaccountably worried about our small degrees of lack.
In this scene from Little Town on the Prairie, the Ingalls family is upset by the sudden demise of their entire corn crop when thousands of black birds swoop in to eat it where it grows. For years they have worked extra hard (as if the hard work of beginning a homestead and farm in a new place weren’t enough), taking on extra jobs to save up for Mary Ingalls to attend a college for the blind. Just when they feel they have enough to send her to college, the cash crop is destroyed completely. Pa shoots as many of the offending birds as possible and Ma industriously bakes them into a pie to make the best of the situation. They salvage what corn they can to dry for the family to eat later in the winter. But their cash crop, the income source with which they planned to buy necessities such as coal, is gone. Laura immediately assumes that this will keep her sister from realizing her dream of an education. She does not realize yet that her parents will sell a cow to buy the coal and meat for the winter, and send Mary to college as promised.
The coal is an absolute necessity. Supplies for the winter are a must. The cow provides cream and butter–luxuries that they have looked forward to, but not something they need to survive. College for Mary is also a luxury, and between the two, they decide to give her the gift of education and wait a year for their cream.
This is where I think we have strayed in our modern sensibilities: we no longer understand the difference between luxuries and necessities. If my husband and I have two cars and one breaks down, do we have to panic and pay to have it fixed or could we share the one working car until we can comfortably pay for repairs? How often have we said there is nothing to eat in the house, meaning really that there is nothing we currently crave to eat in the house? And should I stare despairingly at the electric bill after an insanely hot Texas summer even while I continue to pay for little luxuries like paper towels, fountain drinks, and movie rentals?
No, there is no real need to worry for most of us. We just need to learn to cut our coat to fit the cloth. Simplify. Check out the Laura Ingalls Wilder collection at your public library and be inspired by a harsher time but a simpler (and seemingly happier) way.