Poor Man’s Ingenuity

MesmazosThis is an old photo of my baby sister and I, 1982, Lithuania. My favorite part — the ladybugs on my knees. They are not for decoration, although I definitely think they are cute. In those days, we wore our clothes to shreds, and the holes on the knees of the tights had to be fixed. My mom would knit woolen ladybug patches and patch the knee holes or reinforce the knees. She would even go as far as to embroider ladybug antenna. What would a world do without a poor woman’s creativity.

As I was musing over these knee-patch lady bugs, I tried to recall some other nifty ideas that we did in the Soviet Union when in a pinch. And we were always in a pinch. My parents would recall a lot probably, I was just a kid. But I do remember most people tinkering with old things, like old cars, fixing them and re-fixing for decades, people making radios, TVs and music players out of many random electronic parts. My parents built their whole cottage with building materials salvaged from a dump where government dumped material left over from building sites.

We made friends with everyone, so that when you needed something (and you always needed something, like a pair of shoes for your kid, because you could not just count on getting them in the store), you always knew that one of your friends will help you out. We also lived in communal settings, so neighbors were always around to help out. There were some truly ingenious things though, like people making vinyl records out of x-ray films back in the 1960s and beyond.

Since economy was so messed up, and the party controlled supply and demand, huge shadow economy existed. And strange way it worked. Let’s say your best friend’s child really wanted a bicycle but they could not afford it or even get it in the store, and you worked at a recreation center that had many bicycles. You would “write off” one bicycle as a broken one, and would give it to your friend’s child. In America, that would be considered stealing. But how can it be stealing in communism, where everything belonged to the state, and therefore what belonged to the state, belonged to the people, and therefore everything belonged to you. I remember as a kid being quite confused about the morality and immorality of stealing. It appeared to be ok and sometimes even encouraged to “take” from any government institution: school, a place where you work, etc. but then it was not ok to take something from another person’s house.Some people even felt compelled to “take things” from government owned places in hopes to sabotage the whole system, as a way to fight it.

But I digressed. So back to the bicycle. You gave your friend’s child a bicycle, your friend will one day will help with something else, maybe you’ll need some hard-to-get medication and she works and has “connections” at a pharmacy . This ingenious friend-help-friend system really masked booming barter economy.

And last, but not least, all ingenious uses we had for the newspaper, it barely ever made to recyclables, it was used for toilet paper, for storing unripe tomatoes on, for drying herbs, for making paper hats when painting a house, for cleaning and polishing windows, making book covers to protect new precious books, for stuffing into shoes, fire starters, lining a garbage can, wrapping up some smoked fish and then eating it off the newspaper, weed control, swatting flies, lining pet and chicken living quarters, and using newspaper as a dustpan, in a pinch. Who says you cannot live a good life when poor.



About BeeHappee

Where have all the bees gone? Where have all the flowers gone? https://beehappeenow.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in History, Lithuania, Soviets and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Poor Man’s Ingenuity

  1. bobraxton says:

    I like: ingenious uses for the newspaper [ a book in Kenya is called “100 uses for Kanga cloth” ]

    • BeeHappee says:

      What is a Kanga cloth?
      Yes, I probably did not recall half of the stuff for the newspaper.. As a kid, I liked when my dad made newspaper sailor hats for all of us. 🙂

  2. smcasson says:

    Actually, a lot of car detailers swear by black-and-white newspaper being the best thing to clean car windows with.
    Always enjoy your memories from Lithuania. I am also a big fan of the barter economy. Lots of that goes on in small towns, I’m learning. 🙂

    • BeeHappee says:

      Yes, definitely, for some reason, we only used newspaper for cleaning windows, you would think it would be too scratchy… but hey, we had to use it as toilet paper as well. 🙂
      But everyone swore by it.
      I had best conversation with Pakistani limo driver on my trip, he told me so much about cultural differences he has run into, and some funny stories as well as his whole perspective on Pakistani/India/Afghanistan issues, healthcare in Pakistan, etc.. So yes, always learning, fun.

  3. We didn’t live anywhere near anything soviet related and yet many of the things you described are quite familiar to me too. Funny how capitalistic and communistic societies can be alike, huh?? 😉

    • BeeHappee says:

      Thanks, Ron. I always thought they were alike, truthfully, all the same, plus it was just a part of our generation, kids of the 1970s. 🙂 People are same everywhere, same needs, same dreams, same resistance to certain systems, no matter who “controls” the system. Thanks for reading. Hope your family and Rex are doing well.

  4. Neat! The photographed blossoms into the photographer! 🙂

  5. jemmaroth says:

    Love your words! Can’t believe how much your daughter resembles you!! 😘

    • BeeHappee says:

      Hey, thanks Jemma for reading and commenting!!!! 🙂 I never very much think we look alike, but yes, other people see that. And yours looks just like you also!!! 🙂 I cannot even remember if I told you that Adela got the card, and loved it. Thank you!!!!

  6. Zambian Lady says:

    Those lady are so pretty – I would not have guessed they were not original. Zambia has never been a communist country, but many of the things you have written about occur there as well since many people are poor. People can be quite resourceful when faced with a problem.

    • BeeHappee says:

      Thank you! Yes, I wished I was as good as my mom or grandma at making things, knitting, sewing, etc. I looked at some pictures of Zambia, looks beautiful, and Victoria Falls look incredible. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  7. Zambian Lady says:

    ** OOps meant to write “ladybugs….. “

  8. Bill says:

    It’s interesting how that kind of economy leads to the creation or moral distinctions between taking from the state-controlled factory and stealing something from a neighbor. It makes sense to me.

    I enjoy your stories of life in those times. I suppose we have to trust that humanity learns from its mistakes.

    Just yesterday my mother was telling me that when she was a little girl her best friend was very poor and lived in a log cabin. In the winter they would go to the store and get the thrown-away cardboard boxes, and tack them up on the walls inside the cabin to help insulate it in the winter. I’ve seen newspaper used like wallpaper on the walls on the small tenant cabins on our farm. They would use the “funnies” (comics) because they were colorful.

    • BeeHappee says:

      Thanks, Bill. Yes, I had seen newspaper used for insulation also. I believe it works well for insulation, in a pinch you could stuff it in your clothes in the survival situation. Interesting story from your mom. I wished my father-in-law was still alive, he lived his young years through the Great depression and always had interesting stories.

  9. nicoleaugust says:

    Ooo, I have to patch the sofa, a ladybug might just be the thing !

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