Toothpaste and Survival

Sheep Rock, OR. photo by Mary Dessein
Most people would throw it away.
I take the seemingly empty toothpaste tube, cut it open, and get every bit of toothpaste out of it, easily five more uses before I throw the absolutely 100% empty tube away. The stick of deodorant is seemingly empty, the container is flat across the top of the stick. No… I scoop out the remainder inside the stick, clearly a couple weeks more deodorant still in there.
And the lipstick tube? Why it has a good 1/8th of an inch of usable lipstick in the bottom. I thought these were normal practices, until it was brought to my attention that not everyone does these things.
We won’t go into Christmas bags and bows…

I was born a good twenty-five years after the Great Depression. Yet my parents were raised during those years.
It appears my, shall we say intense, frugality was carried forward from them.

Another belief that I have struggled with since I was a teen is ‘men are authority figures and are to be obeyed.’ The struggle was that the belief was firmly implanted, yet my intuition resisted all the time. Looking back as I recognize this falsehood, I am lucky to be alive as being obedient included backseats of cars, saying yes when all my insides shouted No, getting in a VW bus and driving to Yugoslavia with a stranger from the Venice train station, not asking questions when dicey situations were presented, allowing abusive behavior to go on yet saying nothing.

Here’s one for you: food is solace and comfort for whatever troubles you. Oh my. I have dealt with overweight since I was young. Something that tastes good will make the problem and uneasy feelings go away, right? Related to that, here is another recipe for life-long eating issues: “There are starving children in China – you must eat every morsel on your plate whether you are hungry or not.” These over-rode a child’s natural response. Kids are truth-tellers and instinct-followers: they make candid reports (“You smell funny. You have a big nose. I don’t like that.”) to avoiding people and situations they are uneasy about.

So who’s stories were those? Old stories happening through me? If they are not my stories, what are mine? I have a right to my own stories don’t I?

In thinking about my parents this morning – my mom, Josette, gone three and a half years and my dad, Kenney, gone thirty-three and a half, I wonder what they would tell me now that they’ve had a long distance view.
Then a mental shazaam followed: what would my sister tell me? She died fourteen and a half years ago at the age of forty-nine and four days of “undetermined causes” as there was no clear explanation for why her heart stopped. What would Rosie tell me? Was she living her own story, or someone else’s? I have often wondered since that difficult time, was she looking for her own path, what was her dream? She had drifted along, trying various occupations such as working on fishing boats in Alaska, photography, office work, and was in optician school when she died.

Virtuoso pianist in Montreal playing Bohemian Rhapsody

What I am learning about my own story and my own path is that I create it, albeit standing on the shoulders of those before me. I watch the magnificent thousands of geese arching above me and the hummingbirds flitting about my porch at the feeders even as it is snowing. True to one’s self, true to one’s heart really is survival. The ‘shoulds’ are falling away as I recognize them. Byron Katie’s work is reflected here on being with what is.

Being true to myself and true to my heart’s calling is my survival and the path to writing my own story.


  • Allison Cox

    February 28, 2019 at 10:53 pm Reply

    I do these same things! And hard to believe it has been so long since your sister died my friend. I think you are doing a fine job of rewriting your stories!

    • Mary

      February 28, 2019 at 11:07 pm Reply

      Blessings upon you, Allison. Merci beaucoup. Glad to hear I not alone in frugality~

  • Beverly Allen

    March 1, 2019 at 1:17 am Reply

    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”. Works for me! We get older, we chose our own stuff. It’s much better on this side of 50. (Waaaay this side of 50. :–))

    • Mary

      March 1, 2019 at 1:40 am Reply

      Yay us! I am looking at the gorgeous sunset on tops of the Cascade foothills, thinking of you on Mt. Doom, Beverly. You rock~

  • Lynda Condon

    March 1, 2019 at 1:35 am Reply

    LOL!! I thought I was the only one who cut tubes open to get the very last of ‘something’. We are all unique and we’re not 🙂 Love you bunches!!!

    • Mary

      March 1, 2019 at 1:41 am Reply

      Turns out there are quite a few of us! Too funny, Lynda. Hug to you, wondrous friend* Thank you for reading~

  • Shirley Routliffe

    March 1, 2019 at 3:38 am Reply

    Beautifully written Mary! It would seem to me that you are now writing your own stories. You do such interesting things. It is a pleasure and a privilege to know you my friend.

    • Mary

      March 1, 2019 at 5:31 am Reply

      Merci bien, mon cher ami. It is indeed a pleasure and privilege to know you, Shirl; your comment means a lot to me.


    March 1, 2019 at 6:47 am Reply

    Hi Mary!
    I have experienced both as a child & as an adult, the 2 sides of the same coin “we/I have to use up / eat up everything” (cutting open the tubes of whatever) and “you/I don’t need scrape the plating off the can, it’s not like we/I can’t afford to buy ….” Guess that means I’m a bit schizoid. ????

    • Mary

      March 3, 2019 at 10:50 pm Reply

      Don’t we all have our quirks, Michele? Thanks for reading~

  • Aletha Helm Riter

    March 1, 2019 at 5:25 pm Reply

    I myself have somewhat the same story about the food issue, the abuse and yes death of a parent but not both or a sibling…..but I can still relate. Your words touch my heart and I wish our paths crossed sooner….but we are here now and that will be part of my story. Thank you Mary and I am so glad we were together in high school… Love you…

    • Mary

      March 3, 2019 at 10:51 pm Reply

      Indeed we do have intersections, don’t we Aletha? Thank you for your supportiveness.

  • Joy Ross

    March 4, 2019 at 7:26 pm Reply

    So well said,,,,,,words from the society of hand lotion squeezers and cut open…etc..etc.

    Also, it is a connection to those before us that I smile at….and remember when something works well, that is part of their gift worked thru each of us in our own way.

    Celebrate YOU!!!

    • Mary

      March 4, 2019 at 8:05 pm Reply

      Joy – I celebrate you. Thank you, yes those who came before us. I suspect in ways I am not aware of, there are gifts, bits of knowledge, wisps of legacy that helped me. (Let me go rinse out my coffee creamer carton to make sure I got it all~)

  • Rose johnson

    March 8, 2019 at 5:10 pm Reply

    We are so much alike. TY for encouraging thoughts. Rose Johnson

    • Mary

      March 8, 2019 at 5:58 pm Reply

      How good to hear from you, Rose. Thank you for reading.

  • Joan Bates Cronk

    March 11, 2019 at 11:37 pm Reply

    You write such great posts Mary. So thought provoking and filled with truths. How I can relate to the frugality, and what I call my tight-wad nature. I wonder if our parents came to realize the same things, that what was drilled into us as children aren’t always things worth carrying with us through life. It’s freeing to finally shake them off. Can’t believe how long it’s been since you’ve lost Dad, Sister and Mom. I still remember thirty-three and a half years ago like it was just a few back. Hugs my friend!

    • Mary

      March 12, 2019 at 1:10 am Reply

      Joni, Joni, Joni~ Thank you. Time does seem long in the moment sometimes, doesn’t it, then we look and say, “What? That was thirty-three years ago?” You were there for much of it. I am grateful for your continued reading, Joan. Hope you are both thriving.

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