Doing without

Opinion section
Valley News - Opinion

Many people who are younger than I am have been struggling as they no longer have access to restaurants, bars and other amenities and as purchasing groceries has become more difficult. For me, this situation is nothing new.

I learned the hard way that theoretically a college degree results in greater income but that extra income is irrelevant if it is offset by child support obligations. My children hadn’t gone through what I endured, but they were aware that I wanted them to get married early when the right person was still available rather than to go to college and thus they are aware of my misfortune.

Their grandparents, who are my parents, were born in 1934. Both of my parents were raised in Southern California. Not only did they experience rationing during World War II, but they also experienced nighttime blackouts so that the Japanese couldn’t see the California coast.

Both sets of my grandparents were married during the Great Depression. In terms of doing without, they experienced more than that. My maternal grandmother lived to be 102; Nana Bea was born in 1910 and died in 2013. United States Patent No. 1,000,000 was issued in 1911. Patent No. 8,000,000 was issued in 2011. It means my grandmother did without 7 million things in her earliest years, not for lack of economic resources, but because they hadn’t been invented yet.

When I was in junior high school, I read a newspaper article about Patent No. 4,000,000 being issued. Patent No. 10,000,000 was issued in 2018. It means I grew up without 6 million things which hadn’t yet been invented. My parents didn’t have a video cassette recorder, which has been replaced by the DVD player, until I was in high school. Our first video game, which was hooked up to a TV that is no longer suitable for reception, was also acquired when I was in high school. We didn’t have cable television, a microwave oven or an answering machine until I was in college. What we now call a cellphone was something we laughed about on “Get Smart” reruns.

Nana Bea’s mother lived until she was 96 and I was 15. Great-grandma Henrietta was born in 1883 and the car was invented in 1886, so it wasn’t for economic reasons that my great-great-grandparents didn’t have a car. My great-great-grandfather was the tailor to the Danish royal court, so they weren’t poor, but King Christian IX didn’t even have a car. Neither did Queen Victoria of England or U.S. President Chester Arthur.

By the early 1970s, my great-grandmother talked about her childhood memories, both in Denmark and in the United States, in front of a tape recorder. When the family arrived in the United States, they were hungry. A food vendor was selling bananas, and my great-great-grandmother bought some. They didn’t taste good, and my great-great-grandmother and her children were told that they needed to remove the banana peels before eating them. In 1890, when my great-grandmother came to America, there were no bananas in Denmark.

I once read the upcoming features section of a 1950s magazine. Those subsequent articles included a new fad called pizza. I grew up taking pizza for granted. My parents grew up without pizza. During my elementary school years, people had to visit the Jewish bakery to get bagels because they weren’t sold in grocery stores. Today we take bananas, pizza and bagels for granted. It wasn’t always the case.

Right now, we’re doing without things we took for granted a year ago. Those who have gone through economic hard times, and those who experienced good times when certain amenities did not exist, are used to doing without.

Joe Naiman can be reached by email at