Living on the Economy Overseas

Most of the places we lived overseas we lived on the economy before moving on base. The one exception was Japan. We went to Japan in 1948, not long after the war, and dependents were not allowed to accompany the men there. We had to wait for a house on the base. Dad went 8 months before us.  It took that long to get a house.

India, Late 1940s

When we went to India in 1952, I was 6 years old.  There was no base there, just the embassy, so we had no choice but to live on the economy.

It seemed a strange place to me. It was so different from anything else I had ever experienced. The poverty was overwhelming.

I could not understand why there were people going hungry and starving but yet there were sacred cows wandering in the streets.  I wondered why they didn’t slaughter and eat the cows like we did here in the United States.

Leprosy was rampant.  I would see lepers out on the street begging.  I felt very sorry for them.  The  sanitary conditions were appalling.  If someone needed to use the bathroom, they would just squat down where ever they happened to be and go.

I just could not comprehend that. That is one of the reasons disease was so widespread.

We had to boil the tap water before drinking it or using it for cooking.  Mother fired our consama (cook) when she caught filling up the water bottles under the tap and not boiling the water first. We had to soak our vegetables and fruit in Potassium Permanganate before eating them, because the Indians used human excrement as a fertilizer.

I got to see Indian culture up close and personal.  Every day I thanked God that I am an American.

Growing up in a Christian household, I could not understand how they could worship animals and statues of Hindi gods.  The sheiks worshiped an elephant statue with 6 legs. I was appalled and just didn’t see how otherwise intelligent people could do that.

Anyone who has watched the Simpsons on TV has seen that purple elephant statue in Apu’s Seven-Eleven store.  It is a caricature and so true to life.

I do not mean to demean Indian culture.  I just mean that I did not understand it at the time.

England, late 1950s

When we went to England in 1957, we lived on the economy for a year in Warrington, before moving on base.  We lived in what the Brits called a semi-detached house.

That is mostly what they had in England at the time—they were all the same throughout the country—what we would call a duplex.

Each house had a living room, dining room and kitchen downstairs, and some had a downstairs “loo”  (bathroom).  Upstairs were two bedrooms, another loo, and what the Brits call a box room.

A box room  is about the size of a very large walk-in closet.  The Brit houses did not have closets (because they tax you on closets), so you had to use armoires and wardrobes.  They also did not have outdoor water faucets, because those are taxed, also—so no hoses for watering plants outdoors. We had to use a watering can.

They also tax your TVs.  When I was later in England as an adult, the government had vans that drove around with equipment to detect TV us in a house where the people were not paying the tax—and they would be fined.

The British tend to name their houses.  The names are in the address, rather than a house number.  When we lived on the economy in Warrington, our house was named Idono.  My  mom asked the land lady how it got that name and she replied, “When we bought the house, I asked my husband what he wanted to name the house, and he said, “I don’t know”…. but came out like “Idono”, so, that is what she named the house.

London, England

My dad was transferred to London, and the house we lived in there was named Coldstream, because the owner was in the British Army, in the Coldstream Guards, to be exact.  That was my favorite house on the economy.  It sat on the edge of a big wheat field, with woods across the street.  I played in the woods with my English friends all the time.

We had a favorite tree we would climb all the way to the top.  At the very top, it had a hollowed out section you could get in and see a panoramic view of the area.  Once, there was a fire in the woods. A firetruck came to put it out.  The firemen inadvertently left a very long ladder there.

We kids got some rope and climbed high up in a tree with the ladder and some rope, then tied it to the tree, and tied the other end to another tree. We then used it like monkey bars on a playground. If one of us had fallen from that height, it would have been a disaster.

Eventually, the firemen realized they had left their ladder, and came to retrieve it.  We had to point it out to them up in the trees—they laughed but fussed at us and said we should have had one of our parents call and tell them the ladder was there.

I loved going to the outdoor markets in England. It was great fun, and you could bargain for what you wanted to buy.  I lived and breathed horses at that age, so I bought a lot of books about horses, and also figurines of horses, which I collected.  Most of my time was spent at the stables, where I would work to earn free rides by cleaning out the stalls, cleaning tack, and grooming and exercising the horses.

We lived quite a distance from the base, and it would be dark when I would go out to wait for the school bus, and it would be dark when I got home from school.

In the summer, it was light very early, and stayed light until 10:00 or 11:00 PM because we were so far north.  If you look at England on a map, it’s southern coast is further north than the state of Maine, and the same latitude as Canada.

It was foggy and damp most of the time in the winter. Our heat was a fireplace in each room, supplemented by Portable kerosene heaters. They were all a light green color.

My mom, having grown up inn Texas was used to lighting wood fires, but in England, it was coal.

She found a product called “firelighter” at the local grocery store, a very small establishment, in the local village.  She bought a pack of 4 firelighters and used them to start her coal fires.  They were each a little bigger than a stick of butter.  Mother would use one stick each time she built a fire, so she had to go back to the store for more after 4 days.

The owner of the shop said, “But I just sold you a pack of 4 firelighters earlier this week. ”  You should not need more yet—”  He proceeded to explain to her that you only needed to use a tiny bit to start the fire, not the whole stick. By the time we left England, she was an expert at starting coal fires with very little fire lighter.

Once my parents invited a young British couple for dinner. They decided to cook American food for them, so they did barbecue with my dad’s delicious barbecue sauce, and they did steaks.  Dad, being from Texas, used quite spicy sauce.  The English woman took a bite, and her eyes started to water.  She said, “I don’t even use salt and pepper.”

So my mom fixed her something else to eat with no spices—the husband manned his way through the steak.

We had a bobby on the beat in our neighborhood, Sgt, Taylor.  My dad would always talk to him as he walked the neighborhood.

One night Daddy said, “I have some Old Taylor Bourbon.  Would you like to come in for a drink?”  He replied he could not drink while on duty, but would stop by for a drink sometime when he was not on duty.  One evening our doorbell rang, and he was standing there, and said to my dad, “Do you have an Old Taylor for an old Taylor?”

We also lived on the economy when I was an adult in England.  We rented a house in the village of Trimley St Martin, which is just down the road from the major port of Felixstowe, on the North Sea.  Our village abutted another village named Trimley St Mary.

To give you an idea of the age of our church buildings, they were in the Doomsday Book of William the Conqueror.  When he invaded England in 1066, he ordered a listing of all the public buildings for tax purposes, of course.  They were stone buildings with huge oak doors.  Our village church shared a common churchyard with Trimley St Mary’s.

The churches were just a short distance from each other. During the British civil wars of the 1600’s when Oliver Cromwell ousted the king and took the throne, our village church stayed with the king, and the other one went with Cromwell. That began a feud that lasted until 1960.

Our church had bullet holes in the oak door dating back to the war.  They finally made amends in 1960.  While I was there in the 1980’s they joined forces, and made one the church and the other, the parish hall.

I have very fond memories of living on the economy in England.  It is my favorite country in all the world.

Azores, Portugal

We also lived on the economy in the Azores, Portugal.  We lived up high on a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  It was a beautiful view.The Portuguese farmers would bring their farm animals and leave them in American yards to graze, and retrieve them in the morning.  It was  not unusual to wake up and see a horse and cow or two, or goats or donkeys, grazing in your yard.

The Portuguese kids would knock on our door and beg for bread.  Every morning my husband would run down to the local bakery and buy a big Pao bag (Pao is bread in Portuguese) full of crusty rolls. I would give them to the kids who begged. One day my husband decided we should put some peanut butter on the rolls to give them some protein.  They refused to eat it.

The food stores in the Azores did not give you plastic or paper bags to take your food in—you had to bring bags from home.

Our American water heater died while we were there. The bottom of it had rusted out and flooded our laundry room, where it was located.  The PX was out of them, and told us it would likely be at least 6 weeks before they could get any in, so we bought a German Junker water heater on the economy.

It did not have a tank to store water like ours do—it just heated water as you used it.  I loved it.  The only problem was, it used propane gas, and if you ran out of gas while you were in the shower, you got a cold shock.  Our kitchen stove was also run by propane, and if you ran out of gas while cooking, uh-oh—

We always kept an extra tank of gas just in case.

In England when I was a kid, the stove had to be fed shillings for the gas—just like a vending machine. Mother had to make sure she had enough shillings to cook a whole meal before beginning to cook.

As a Military Brat I remember the transformers we had to use in Europe to run American appliances.  That was a pain.

We had to have so many—one for the refrigerator, because the Brits did not have refrigerators when I was a kid. they did when I went there as an adult, but they were just about the size of a dishwasher. The British clothes dryers did not vent to the outdoors like ours. They just blew the lint out of the front of the dryer into the room.  I was not willing to put up with that, so I found a solution.

I attached a pair of my pantie hose to the front of the dryer with a huge rubber band to catch the lint.  When the dryer was running, my pantie hose would blow out and fill up with lint . . . a very funny thing to see.

Living on the economy was surely an adventure, and gave me great memories.

Did you enjoy this article?
Signup today and receive free updates straight in your inbox. We will never share or sell your email address.
I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
Leave a Reply

HomeSitemapBlogAbout UsNews & EventsLinksResourcesContact Us