A few weeks ago, our twenty-one-year-old son was standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open. He gazed at the interior for quite a while, pondering what to have. And then he gazed some more.
From the kitchen table, I said in what I thought was a fairly measured tone, "Shut the refrigerator."
He did and then said, "I notice that when I stand at the refrigerator, you seem to get tense if I leave the door open too long."
One of our daughters was in the room and added, "Yeah, I noticed that too."
Then our son asked, "What's that about?"
"It wastes energy," I answered.
"It seems like there's more to it than that," replied my son, no attitude, just curiosity.
I thought a moment and said, "There is."
"When I was a kid, it really bothered Grandpa when I stood with the refrigerator open, and I didn't know why either, other than that it wasted electricity. And I
also thought there was more to it than that."
I wondered at the time, "What's the big deal if the door is open for another five seconds?" Gradually, I learned to be quick when I opened the fridge, or at least when he was in the room.
I seemed to have carried his concern forward with my own kids. It does waste energy to leave the door open too long, and I should get a few points for being environmentally green on that issue.
But I knew that wasn't the real reason that my dad wanted that door shut as soon as possible. The world he grew up in held many uncertainties.
My dad was born in 1920, in Wichita, Kansas, nine years ahead of the Great Depression and eleven years ahead of the Dust Bowl. His dad was in the worst war in history, until the war my dad was in at twenty-one. Both were forever changed by these wars, and both lost many friends during wartime.
Gradually, I understood that my dad's desire to save money was a big part of the world he grew up in, and that's why he didn't like the refrigerator door left open. Though he had a successful career, he held the milk bottle aloft until the last drop fell into the glass.
I feel blessed by my dad's and grandfather's sacrifices for us and thankful for the values they passed on to me, values of hard work and character, love of family and loyalty to friends and country. A healthy dose of frugality is certainly one of those values too-a small price to pay for all the rest.