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Woodworking column: Have you ever been hungry?

It's a common practice for octogenarians to reminisce about how tough times were when we were growing up. Years back, when I taught at Augsburg professors who grew up in its south Minneapolis neighborhood got together in the student union to talk about the good old days when things were really bad.

We'd watch students walk by with trays of food piled high with chili con carne, grilled cheese sandwiches, soft-serve ice cream. One day, Howie, a PE prof, remembered the good old days. "Our family was so poor," he recalled, "that my mom made gravy out of wiener water."

Another colleague, a Latvian woman who grew up in a displaced persons camp after World War II shook her head as she tied into a huge tray of food, two burgers, fries, cream of broccoli soup and apple pie. She toyed with her food, nibbled on a burger, sipped a tablespoon of soup and shoved the rest aside. "Gunta, why are you leaving all your food?" we asked. "Aren't you hungry?"

"I used to be" she replied.

One day at a faculty meeting, a member of the board of regents tried to explain to us why we'd have to suffer through another year without a salary raise. He said "I sympathize, but we've just got to tighten our belts! I remember during the Depression our family never had enough to eat ..."

"Humph," whispered an 80-year-old prof sitting next to me. "He didn't have to worry. His dad was a preacher and his family was always invited to eat at some parishioner's home."

Fortunately, I never suffered the pangs of hunger because my grandmother always had a coffee can of bacon grease stored away in the refrigerator. So she never had to go to the store to buy Crisco to fry her leftover potatoes. Some days, when the coffee can was empty we dined on rice. White rice, boiled in salt water until the ends of the kernels were split. The rice was drained, a splash of milk was added. We each got a bowl, sprinkled with salt and pepper. That was the entree. For dessert, we got another bowl, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. The crème de la crème, however, was Tuesday nights in winter when we dined on bacon grease, Karo syrup, whipped until frothy and dipped into with stale crusts of bread. Norwegian guacamole.

Hunger didn't end with the Great Depression, however. Back in the 1980s, my Star Tribune colleague Peg Meier was sent out to several grocery stores to see what sort of stuff was in the shopping carts of senior citizens. Peg approached on old man (south Minneapolis, of course) and said "Sir, you have a shopping cart full of cans of 9 Lives Cat Food. You must have a lot of cats."

"Nope," he replied. "It's cheaper than tuna and I kinda like its real fishy taste."

More recently, my Beautiful Wife and I dined on a sumptuous meal at the home of Monika, a German immigrant, who fled Germany after the end of World War II.

She reminisced about the difficult days in East Germany.

"Food was so scarce," she recalled, "that my grandmother made broth from a single bone. When the broth was finished she hung up the bone to dry before making another pot of soup.

"But things improved," she continued. "A year or two later, a butcher in the next town began to sell homemade sausages. Grandmother used to send me to the town where I'd pick up a pail of water the sausage was cooked in."

Ever been hungry? Let Dave know by calling him at 715-426-9554.

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