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Ruby Edwards saves money by hanging cloths instead of using the dryer. She loves the smell of cloths drying in the open air. - Jamie Lusch

More out of Less

Ruby Edwards presents her gardener's apron with the flair of an accomplished model on a runway in the Big Apple.

Never mind she fashioned the apron from a pair of worn jeans or that the runway is in her vegetable garden near the tomato patch.

"The back of the pants are always good to use; they last longer than the fronts," she said. "I carry my garden tools in my apron. I never go into the garden without it."

Her work shirt is one her granddaughter wore in high school.

"She's somewhere around 40 now," Edwards said. "But I do believe this may be the last season for it."

But her tennis shoes, once worn by the same granddaughter, still have a couple of gardening seasons left in them, she said.

No, she hasn't fallen on hard times. In fact, Edwards, 81, and her husband, Cecil Bailey, live comfortably in a chateau-like country home on more than 100 picturesque acres on the western shoulders of the Cascade Range near Butte Falls. She is a retired businesswoman from the world of fashion; he is a retired plywood worker.

But when it comes to living lean during tough times, Edwards could teach graduate courses. After all, she learned her lessons as a youngster during the Great Depression back in Oklahoma.

Today's economic slump — with its run of home foreclosures and record-high gas that's fueling sky-high prices for everything from bread to vegetables — represents nowhere near the hard times faced by Americans during the Depression. Yet for those living on the economic edge, Edwards said, there is much they can do to cut spending.

The Edwardses drive less, garden more, hang their clothes out to dry and do more recreational activities locally.

"People need to separate their needs from their wants," Ruby Edwards said. "They need to know what they have to have to survive, not what they want to have. There is a difference."

She is a firm believer in the old maxim that crisis motivates.

"When times get hard, people use their brains and ingenuity more," she said. "There will be people who came out of that poverty that will make life better for themselves."

Over in Medford, another Great Depression veteran, Virginia Carrillo, 83, who hails from Detroit, agrees.

"We had a cliche that was popular during the Depression — use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without," she said. "Bread was 10 cents a loaf when I was growing up. My mother cried when it went to 12 cents a loaf."

Carrillo, who retired from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, recalled seeing a half-eaten Thanksgiving turkey sticking out of a Medford garbage can a few years ago.

"People can save a lot of money by eating leftovers and not wasting so much food," she said.

She also dries her clothes outside.

"It doesn't use electricity and it's good exercise," she said. "It's wonderful. I like the smell of clothes and sheets dried by God."

Fellow former Detroit resident Diana Potts, who lives in the upper Applegate Valley with her husband, Alan, and their dog, Kola, reports via e-mail they cut costs by installing energy-efficient light bulbs, expanding the garden, reducing driving and shopping more locally. The furnace has been turned down and the air-conditioning thermostat turned up, she said.

Like Edwards and Carrillo, she swears by drying clothes outside. The Pottses strung a clothesline on the metal frame of an old deck umbrella.

"In this endeavor I have found great peace and pleasure, reliving a special childhood memory," she wrote of hanging clothes on the line. "There is a time-honored technique about it, such as turning slacks inside-out so they don't fade and the pockets are exposed and will dry."

Shirts must be hung by the tail to avoid "clothes-pin shoulders," she noted.

"The smell of fresh-outdoor-dried sheets sends me back to my childhood home in East Detroit, Michigan," she said. "Now when I hang my laundry, I have a warm-fuzzy feeling about the memories of my mother and all the wonderful things she taught my brother and I."

Memories of better times, along with the need to trim vacation budgets, may also be fueling an increase in business at Funagain Games in Ashland, observed operations manager Nick Medinger.

He estimates store visits have increased 10 to 15 percent over last summer. The 11-year-old business, whose largest market is in Internet sales, features board and card games.

"We've seen an upswing of folks looking for reusable entertainment," Medinger said. "It's hard to attribute to the economy but we're definitely busier than we were last summer. It seems like more people want to stay home and play games everyone can be involved in now."

The economic woes may also be increasing the number of TWITS. That would be Totally and Wholly Informed Tightwads, a frugality group created two years ago by Ashland resident Barbara Stankus. The group, which has no membership fees, now has nearly 40 members on its e-mail list who share information on local bargains, sales, free items and related issues.

Stankus defines it as "a community of individuals who understand that frugal living is good for the bank account, for the environment and for one another." For more information on TWITS, contact Stankus at bjstankus@mind.net.

Back in Butte Falls, Edwards says she won't ever forget the lessons she learned from the Great Depression.

"We came to Oregon in 1936 like the 'Grapes of Wrath,'" she said of the John Steinbeck classic. "We had lived in the Dust Bowl time, squatters on someone else's land back in Oklahoma. But we didn't get into the California fruit-picking thing. My parents knew some people east of Eugene."

Her father got a job in a sawmill; her mother eventually started a small restaurant.

Now a world traveler who has been to Africa, China and Europe, Edwards recalled their first Christmas in Oregon.

"I opened my package and it was a beanbag," she said. "This was a square piece of cloth out of flannel material that was different on both sides. It was probably from my dad's shirttail.

"And it just had beans in it," she said. "I could play with it, toss it. I loved the feel of it."

Looking back, she doesn't see her childhood as difficult because of her family's lean ways.

"We always had food when I was a child," she said. "My mother was a good cook who baked bread and biscuits. One of our breakfasts was called 'creamed something and hot biscuits.' Mom would always say, 'Don't ask what the something is.'

"Well, I had a great big brown cat I was very fond of. My joke was that I had better check and see if Brownie was still around."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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