I cannot recall the exact year when an old Post Lady called "Betty" became "Aunt Betty." She always wore an old black mackintosh and black laced shoes while pulling her postal trolley around the estate. Her steely hair was tied severely into a tight bun on top of her head, the only colour in her ensemble being her well-weathered skin and a pair of sharp blue eyes sparkling with bright pinpoints. I can still see her sitting on our couch and animatedly gossiping with my mother.
Betty was also a miser and I didn't realise how far she took it until I went to her house for tea. A row of spent tea bags were pegged up on a string above the kitchen sink and she pulled one down to make two cups of tea, which accompanied the tartest apple pie I'd ever tasted. The apples had been picked from our back garden trees and Betty thought sugar was an extravagance. What with the weak tea and eye-watering pie, I was lost for words.
We sat in a spotlessly clean room, so clean in fact that it seemed Betty had cleaned all the colour out of it. The furniture was threadbare and would have looked well in Noah's Ark living quarters but it suited Betty, she matched her furniture. I stared at a black fireplace, shivering in my coat as my hostess had already told me that she only lit a fire once a week and it was a pity I hadn't called nearer the weekend. I asked about the row of shiny jam jars on a shelf nearby; each was filled with a different coin denomination and Betty looked proudly at them before saying: "Ah, I'm pleased you asked. You're never too young to get into the saving habit!"
The stout old woman stood up and flung open cupboard doors on each side of the fire place to show me a collection of home-made items. Cushions, table cloths, quilts, curtains - each item was meticulously wrapped in clear plastic.
"When I retire..." she winked. "I'll get the house done up and then open all these packages and use them."
"How long have they been in storage?" I asked.
"Oh, I've been busy over a number of years. You see, I have to find the right material and it has to be at the right price. That brings me to the jam jars. Every penny I save goes into a jar."
I looked at the jars again and my confused expression didn't thwart Betty. She continued:
"All the money I save from coupons, or walking instead of taking the bus, goes into a jar. Get yourself a piggy bank and then open up a bank savings account, you'll need it for a rainy day!"
"Like your cushions," I said innocently.
"Everyone gets a rainy day!" she told me. "You will not be exempt! I said the same to my husband and it didn't take me long to get him into good habits."
Betty then went on to explain some of these good habits.
"For special occasions go to a take-away and order one meal then share it. If you go to a party then take plenty of small plastic bags with you so you can bag-up some food for a future meal..." (I remember when Betty had been let loose at my 13th birthday party and made huge gaps in plates before my guests could help themselves!). "Also, there's no need to ever buy soap as it's free at most public loos so make sure you have a suitable container with you."
She died before she could retire. The funeral was held and true to his training, Betty's husband didn't bother with a ham sandwich spread afterwards but a week later he had cleared the house including Betty's cupboards, ordered a new kitchen, bathroom and decorators then placed a brand new car in his previously unused garage. Betty's years of thrift had left her husband in a very comfortable position. He retired.
When I was dusting off my copy of Dickens 'A Christmas Carol' I thought of Betty. I thought of her again when I flung open my wardrobe doors to take out numerous Xmas gifts for wrapping. She had so looked forward to her rainy day and had spent years looking forward to it but in the process of saving money she had also saved-up her enjoyment of life.
So Aunt Betty! - When I go to my Xmas parties there won't be one plastic bag about my person and to hell with it, I'll use one tea bag per cup! My jam jars contain only marmalade and honey and I'll put my feet up at my fireside to toast my toes at the roaring flames. I wonder if Betty is sat on a cloud somewhere still sewing her new wings? I wonder if it is a rain cloud?