Over at some other blog there is an interesting thread on thrift that got me thinking of my own family’s tortured relationship to the Mormon thrift ethic. My grandfather grew up on a cattle ranch in Eastern Utah. Think hardy, self-reliant, fix-it-up, western cowboys who envied the coal miners in Price, Utah for their wealth. That is my grandfather. The Depression hit the cattle industry in the west hard and the ranch went from marginally profitable to economically incoherent. Eventually, my grandfather went east to Washignton, DC for college and ended up selling insurance in Moses Lake, Washington outside of Spokane.
The rural, Depression-hardened thrift ethic, however, remained with him. My grandfather never threw anything away, no matter how broken down and useless. Over the years the accumulation of junk became truely awe inspiring. He literally purchased extra property that ultimately served little purpose beyond storing his accumulation of random stuff: things like old bicycles, piles of cast-iron pipe, large amounts of salvaged lumber, and the like. He is now too old to really do any additional collecting of discounted treasures, but he continues to tenaciously insist of keeping his stuff. You never know when an old coil of bailing wire is going to be useful in suburban Salt Lake City. The demon thrift ethic was passed on to his children. I have uncles who have accumulated their own fantastic collections of stuff that they will someday fix-up and use.
My own father is both horrified and attracted by this urge to collect, pack away, and save. Ultimately, however, he channeled the thrift-inspired need to hang on to old stuff away from the accumulation of unidentifiable bits of old truck motors (“Just in case”). He did what I am sure seems natural for anyone who becomes aware of powerful genetic tendencies toward becoming an uber-pack rat. He studied art history and became a museum curator. He now works for the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City, where he diligently packs away Mormonism’s old stuff and presides over the collection of the accumulated treasures that the Church — blessedly — just could not bring itself to throw away.