Hilton Head Monthly — You can say a lot of things about us Vrabels — that we are a stout, swarthy, Chicago Bears-loving bunch, that our surname is Slovak for “little bird” but we tell people it means “ferocious warriors wielding large hammers with jagged metal things on them” and that we whip up a mean plate of halupki, although most people who say that last one do so right before making other plans for dinner.
But we Vrabels are also a frugal lot, and by “frugal” I mean “some of us steal little jelly packets from restaurants to briefly postpone buying full-size jars at the store.” Once, deep in the recesses of my grandparents’ basement, I discovered a case of Pepsi cans commemorating an All-Star Game that had taken place about four years prior. I am related to people who are basically ninjas when it comes to garage sales. Basically if any of us go to dinner without a coupon of some kind, a brief panic sets in.
True story: After my grandfather died and we began the process of sorting through the astonishing mass of stuff he’d stashed throughout his basement, attic, back room and at least one closet no one had ever seen before, we started to find things like stacks and stacks of cigar boxes labeled “Scotch Tape Dispensers — Working” and “Scotch Tape Dispensers — Broken,” which was obviously an odd development unless Grandpa was working on a Scotch tape dispenser-fueled robot or something, which he might have been (he was that kind of guy). If you went through the garages of our extended family today, I guarantee you’d find at least 50 buckets of old golf balls that have been fished out of northwest Indiana ponds and lakes. And my cousin recently confessed that after eight years of marriage, it still drives him nuts to see his wife employ a piece of aluminum foil only once. “I die a little each time,” he told me, shaking his head sadly, “and don’t even get me started on the Ziploc bags.”
These aren’t huge family secrets or anything: We used to joke about this sort of thing at Christmas, generally while drinking beers someone bought 12 years ago when they were 2-for-1 at Jewel. But they seem now like stories from happier times, when gas was two bucks and you heard more about people landing jobs than losing them.
But not anymore. In today’s world, with this sustainability/living within your means/three Rs thing catching on, we Vrabels can hold our heads high, because these things that we are accustomed to doing, such as holding onto stringless 30-year-old baseball gloves because you never know when they might be handy, is no longer “miserly” and “unusual” and “sort of weird,” but “green, sustainable, economically sound and forward-thinking.” SCORE! VRABELS RULE!
Related, sort of
- White Castle candles: Like a delightful bouquet of abandoned onions and my grandparents’ kitchen
- It’s the Grammys vs. the polka community, and no one can truly win
It’s here that like to bring up a story starring my uncles Jim and Don, who would for years routinely appear at Christmas Eve parties with bags full of tennis shoes they picked up for an insane discount at someplace like the grocery store, with the idea of selling their discounted wares to the family, for a small profit. WHICH THEY TOTALLY DID.
Now, you might rightly be thinking such a thing is a little unusual, cutting into your family’s holiday cheer with a discount-footwear underground sales break. But with everyone, including this magazine, all about reducing, reusing and recycling nowadays, that’s no longer strange, it’s BRILLIANT. Which puts our family at the forefront of the green revolution, since we’ve been doing this since about 1906, when my great-grandfather Andras arrived in America on a steamship that was offering crazy deals on Priceline. So, yeah, Audubon Society, you can just pass your Bandwagon Ticket to Uncle Jim, who’s just a few rows down from you. While there, get yourself a nice pair of shoes.