About Me

Twenty years ago I asked a Tarot card reader what would I be doing when I was 50. She replied, “I see you doing something so wildly creative, it defies a job title.” Only recently did I realize that was a slick way of saying, “I have no idea of what you’ll be doing.” But that prediction kept me charging ahead to the fifties with zeal and anticipation. Now that the future is today, I’m ready for anything!

Christmas Creativity from
a Frugal Ford Family

I still haven't found my Cutting Corners book, the compilation of 1950s household hints by wives of the Ford Rouge Plant factory workers. (Having grown up during the Great Depression, these clever and creative women were the First Frugalistas, and the subject of popular posts like this and this.)

But creative frugality wasn't limited to the women alone. 

As long as I can remember -- and that goes back to the early 1960s -- the figures for our Nativity set were packaged in FoMoCo auto parts boxes. I don't know whose idea it was, my mom's or dad's. But somewhere along the line, someone had an epiphany.

The 8 3/4 x 2 3/4" Trans. Main Drive Gear boxes are just the right size for Mary and Joseph, a shepherd with lamb, a King, the camel driver, and the infant Jesus. 

The 5 x 5" square Retainer boxes house a kneeling King, a donkey, and a cow. 

And a whole flock of 2 3/4 x 2 3/4" Gear and Bushing Assembly boxes house the lambs.

Here is a photo of my dad, Michael Astor; he's the guy on the right. The photo is taken at the Ford Rouge Frame Plant, located on the Rouge River in Dearborn, Michigan. Dad was born in 1904 in Austria-Hungary, or what is today known as Slovakia. Building hand-made wooden houses with thatched roofs is a Slovak folk art.  After several moves over the years and less-than-careful handling, the manger needs extensive rehabbing. But the boxes which house the Nativity figures still feel substantial and sturdy, even where the tagboard is worn. I wonder if today's auto parts boxes could stand a similar test of time and wear.

The Nativity scene evokes worship, controversy, and sometimes irreverence. (Like a Nativity scene with a G.I. Joe action figure.) What I worship about our Nativity set is it represents the creativity and frugality of my parents. It represents an era of durable American workmanship. And it represents a thriving manufacturing base in which an immigrant with a sixth-grade education could provide a solid middle-class life for his family.

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