Remembrance of Recessions Past

The greatest man I will ever know: My father, L. Richard Grigg, holding his grandson, Jefferson Leonidas Grigg (age 3 at the time), circa 2004.

At some point in each visit we pay to my parents’ home I find myself pondering a curious object found in their washroom — a small glass cologne dispenser in the shape of a mallard.

The artifact entered my childhood home as a Nixon-era Christmas present to my father, and has survived no fewer than a dozen migrations across three states. The aromatic toiletry dispensed from it has a pleasant if generic scent vaguely reminiscent of Hai Karate (a 1960s-era cheapie cologne that was marketed as an Axe-style olfactory aphrodisiac). To this day the decanter appears to be a little less than half full.

The sight of that insipid little cologne bottle has an effect on me akin to that described by the protagonist from Remembrance of Things Past as he consumes his first morsel of tea-soaked Madeleine cake. I find myself irresistibly transported back to my childhood in a home presided over by loving, thrifty parents whose formative years were indelibly marked by the experiences of the (last) Great Depression.

Like tens of millions of Americans, my mother and father lived by the Depression-era credo, “Use it up, wear it out; make it do, or do without.” They would never buy something new — an appliance, an article of clothing, an automobile, or a piece of farm equipment — when it was possible to extend the lifespan of a suitable item already in our possession.

My parents, like many others of their generation, preferred saving to spending, and self-reliant home production to the typical consumer lifestyle.

We always had a garden, albeit sometimes a very small one, in order to grow our own produce, which was always much better than what we could buy at a grocery store. Mother always canned whatever we harvested; she also baked bread (often from grain we grew ourselves), churned butter (from a cow I often milked by hand), and kept our old clothes in good repair. Dad would only throw something away if he couldn’t devise some suitable use for it, and he constantly surprised me by the depth and variety of his imagination.

During the early 1970s, after Nixon definitively de-coupled the dollar from gold and our economy was plunged into a recession, Mom and Dad began to stock up on survival foods of various kinds.

In keeping with the prime directive of food storage — “store what you eat, and eat what you store” — our family soon became acquainted with the odd but hardly unpleasant flavor of storable surrogates for more familiar staples, such as carob powder as a replacement for cocoa, and textured vegetable protein (TVP) as a substitute for sausage on pizza.

In 1979, as Carter-era stagflation plagued the national economy, our family relocated from eastern Oregon to southwestern Idaho. Shortly before our move, my father — a real estate broker — consummated a sale in which the closing costs were paid, in part, by a large quantity of silver in the form of bars as large as 100 ounces apiece.

After we re-settled in Madison County, Dad put the silver in safe storage and tried to establish himself in the local real estate market.

Unfortunately, we arrived just as a reconstruction “boom” went bust.

In June 1976, Idaho’s Teton Dam failed, resulting in a flood of nearly Katrina-esque proportions.

The Teton Dam was little more than a very large berm, constructed with government-standard indifference according to typically inferior government-standard practices — in other words, through the exercise of minimal competence at maximum expense.

(Ironically, one eyewitness to the disaster was a farmer named Daryl Wayne Grigg, who is — as far as I can tell — no relation.)