Writer’s Note: It is December, at last. This is the month that back ten months ago we were told would be when all would be well, everything would be back to normal, and our lives would be restored.
How’s that working out for you? About the same as it is for nearly everyone else, I imagine.
The holidays are always hectic, almost always filled with family and friends celebrating together. This year’s December will be quite different.
This year, we must all “make do”. — GP
for the Holidays
When I was growing up, an expression that I often heard repeated was “making do”. It was usually spoken when a family member (often my grandfather, Daddy Moore, my mother, or our cook who was like family) discovered that something they had been counting on was not available. As a result, they would have to “make do” with what they did have.
I was reminded of that expression recently when I began looking closely at how people were trying to cope with this holiday season’s restrictions and too obvious reality. It seems that all of us will have to “make do” with what we DO have, and try to continue making the best of the situation that we find ourselves in.
For many of us (like my family during my childhood), “making do” was an everyday part of life. In my memory, nearly every example of it revolved around cooking.
When our refrigerator had no buttermilk chilled and waiting and the biscuits were ready to be made, the cook would “make do” by adding 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to a cup of whole milk. Or when brown sugar was called for in pecan pie and there was none to be found, she would “make do” by stir in 1 tablespoon molasses to 1 cup of white sugar.
There are “make do” memories not associated with food, of course. My mother was something of an artist, and during a time when making reverse glass paintings was all the rage, she made a lovely peacock. To enhance his tail, she didn’t dare to waste precious (and costly) aluminum foil so she used the silver linings from stick chewing gum papers and cigarette packages to give his tail feathers a proper “shine”. As in all things on the plantation, the family and the workers learned to “make do”.
Origin of the Term
According to one fellow on english.stackexchange.com, the idiom may have come from the French expression “faire avec”. This is used by the French to mean “making with” and “making do”. He speculates that those speaking English might have heard it and incorporated it into their vocabulary. Considering Louisiana’s rich French heritage, that is certainly a possibility.
Interestingly, a recipe from a newspaper in 1849 is believed to be among the first times that “make do” appears in print. Within the recipe for Beet Root Vinegar (I can sense your disappointment that the entire recipe is not available), the following appears: “Many families purchase their vinegar at a very considerable annual expense; some ‘make do’ with a very indifferent article . . .”
Although this is the first verifiable mention in print, some scholars believe that the idiom was in use as early as the 1700’s. A variation (“make it do”) appeared in 1847 in Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre.
According to another blogger on the english.stackexchange.com, the expression is likely derived from the British expression “make and mend” referring to “. . . a period (as in afternoon) given the hands on a ship for work on their clothing or as a period of leisure without set duties.” Whatever the origin, the idiom has been in use for quite a while and has developed common synonyms and synonymous phrases --- “to get by”, “to muddle through”, and my favorite: “to manage as well as you can with what you have been given”.
A Year of ‘Making Do’
For nearly a year now, we have all had to “make do” to “get by” with what we “have been given”. “Zoom” and “Facebook Live” have become the new in-person visits, and drive-by parades have taken the place of parties.
Even death has had to take a place in the line of seemingly endless changes required of us. For those who have passed away this year, wakes and funerals have been replaced by “family only” services with a promise of a “fitting” memorial service to follow once the pandemic has been brought under control. (There have also been a number of “drive through” visitations, if social media is to be believed. One just drives up to a “viewing window” — think repurposed bank drive-through — pays his respects to the departed, and moves on.) Ghoulish, perhaps, but one more way some are “making do”.
Landlords were told in early spring that they could no longer evict tenants because of a national moratorium against such (the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act -- CARES). The idea was that people forced into a national lockdown should not be evicted because they were unable to pay their rent because of financial hardships.
Everyone thought that this was for the short-term. In September, however, President Trump signed an Executive Order that halted evictions until the end of this year. While landlords may still “. . . pursue eviction against tenants committing criminal acts, threatening the health and safety of other residents, and damaging property, among other offenses” there is no real guarantee there, either.
And just a week ago, landlords were told that now they may not evict before January 27, 2021. As a result, many landlords are facing a full year of non-payment by tenants — a significant loss of revenue for even small rental businesses. There is a stipulation that the non-paying renters are still responsible for the entire back rent owed, but no one in the rental business has any real hope of collecting a year’s worth of rent from renters who have made no effort to pay a single dime throughout the pandemic, in spite of receiving stimulus checks designed to help meet those expenses. Sometimes “making do” is expensive — and not just for the landlords.
In spite of everything, people — especially the little children — are looking forward to Christmas with perhaps a bit more enthusiasm than in times past. And they are not alone.
Have you noticed how quickly Christmas decorations went up this year? Many “halls were decked” days or more before Thanksgiving Day.
Several dear friends of a “certain age” laughingly confided to me recently that they had put out their door and window wreaths early but planned to do absolutely nothing indoors. Their rationale: Since no one can come visit anyway, no one will know! They are “making do”.
One of our dear friends who now lives away sent me two lovely pictures the day before Thanksgiving. They showed his two grandchildren, Ezra and Adelaide Mae happily decorating the family Christmas tree. What caught my breath was not how adorable they looked — and they ARE adorable — but the fact that they were doing this annual custom fully masked. They were “making do”.
American novelist and short story writer Jack London (1876-1916) certainly understood how to “make do”. He lived in poverty as a child, and left school at an early age to make his way. At one point he went to the Yukon hoping to find gold. While he never found any gold in the cold north country, what he did find was a wonderful set of experiences that would provide ample material for his successful writing career. London once wrote, “Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.”
Here’s to a December where we all play the hands well that we have been dealt. Our children are setting the example for us.