My cousin Truman Hilt is a moderate Maine man. He’s also a thrifty Maine man.

His thrift trumps his moderation, though, because he was unusually excited when he stopped in to tell me that he just found a place where he can save $250. It seems as there is a $300 fine in most areas for throwing trash along the road. Cousin Truman says he just found a place where the fine is only $50.

If pressed, most Maine natives could tell you which of their old neighbors are “tight,” “stingy” or “mean,” as opposed to one like Cousin Truman, who is simply “thrifty” or “careful.”

You learn to make this distinction between your neighbors as a child.

Sixty years ago, my brother was asked to mow the lawn for a summercating woman over in Spruce Head, which is three miles away. At the time, he was too young to realize that he had been called because none of the boys who lived closer would have anything to do with her.

He got the first indication of things to come when Edwin Burch slouched by with a dripping dreener of clams in hand and shouted, “Hope you brought your dinner with yuh.”

The difference between someone who is “tighter than turkey-turd tea” and another person who is simply “careful” probably has to do with the eye of the observer. You might admire a neighbor who is “careful” if you have never worked for him or her. But the exact same neighbor who shaves your salary certainly warrants the appellation “stingy-mean” or “tighter than the bark on a tree.”

You might have been lucky enough to have a thrifty person work for you. If these folks are old enough and wise enough, their bill will be only a fraction of what you expected to pay: It pains them so much to buy anything themselves that they can’t bring themselves to overcharge others. The word around town is that they keep their hard cash in a leather pouch or underneath the mattress.

Was it the great John Gould who told of the elderly couple who went into a Rockland bank to buy a piece of property for $50,000? When the banker counted the cash in the paper bag, he said that it was $3,000 short. The old man looked at the floor and sighed, “Mother, you brought the wrong bag.”

We live in an age of colorful throw-away plastic toys, and you will find only a few scrimpers and savers in Maine today. If you have ever saved money by doing something a bit differently, you have certainly been eyed with suspicion and know what we are talking about here.

In 1974, many of my neighbors raised eyebrows when I borrowed $7,500 to buy a new Mercedes. Why a Mercedes? I couldn’t find a new Stanley Steamer with an aluminum frame and body.

My reasoning was thus: People with lots of money bought Fords and traded every four years. How much cheaper would it be in the long run to pay a wicked amount of money for a car that I could drive for the rest of my life?

Forty years later, it is going strong.

You might compare a man who bought a Mercedes in 1974 and still has it with the thrifty folks of today who put solar radiant heat in every new concrete floor that they pour – and avoid paying a light bill by generating their own electricity with the free rays from the sun.

Rich Maine folks will tell you they don’t need to save money with solar energy, and the poor will tell you that they can’t afford to save money with solar energy. You can go out on the street and find any number of people who will tell you that using solar energy is not an economically sound investment. It must be true because they heard two “fellers” talking about it last night on the radio.

In the early 1900s my grandfather’s sister, Aunt Estelle, was in great demand at family reunions, as she could reputedly slice a ham so thin you could see through it.

Back in the days before indoor plumbing, water was drawn from wells, and in each Maine farmhouse there was a bucket of that water on the “dresser” by the sink. Any water for bathing or hot drinks was heated in a kettle on a wood stove. They said that at the end of the day, Estelle’s frugal Aunt Mary would empty the unused water in the bucket back into the well.

My cousin Truman comes by his thrift honestly.

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website:

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