Ecofeminism, Subsistence Living & Nature Awareness

August 17, 2009

Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter: Flora or Smart Economics?

Filed under: Economics,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 9:17 am

Both. Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter is a unique tomato developed by a man nicknamed Radiator Charlie for his skills at his radiator repair shop. This was Charlie Byles who sold his unique tomato plants for one dollar each in the 1940s and was able to pay off most of his mortgage of $6,000 in six years with this extra income. This story came to me from Amy Goldman in her fabulous book The Heirloom Tomato. She elaborated by writing, “ ‘Mortgage lifter’ is a generic term that refers to a set of big old tomatoes, characteristically pink, from central Appalachia.” This tomato was big and juicy, of a beefsteak shape, often with several lobes. Not good for shipping, but great eating!


Homegrown Foxgloves in Bloom

Radiator Charlie understood the oppressive nature of another holding a mortgage on your home or business! This is smart economics to look after your long-term interests. Getting out from under a mortgage was understood to be an important effort in creating stability in one’s life. “Lifting” your mortgage was a life goal. Why would we want to gamble with the home or business that shelters us? In my parents’ generation one did not gamble in this manner unless desperate. Buying a house was a long-term investment.

Not owing a mortgage opens up options and possibilities. Jeanne and I knew this when we considering how we were to make a living in rural northwest Arkansas. This is a guiding principal we used to help us understand our options:

“The less money you need,
the freer you are,
the greater is your choice of jobs
and the less entrapped you are.
There are all sorts of things
we can do for ourselves.
If we have a tiny bit of land,
A small garden,
we can grow things.
We can do all sorts of things ourselves,
instead of buying everything.”

Before we moved to Cedar Hill in 1978, I latched on to this quote from E. F. Schumacker in an East-West Journal article circa 1977. I copied it in my own handwriting and posted it where we would see it every day. (I took the liberty of writing his words in verse form.)You may remember Schumacker as the author of Small Is Beautiful.

“The less money you need the freer you are,” seems an obvious statement today as many people are losing their jobs and, often times, losing their homes too. Home ownership is a precarious undertaking! Most people who loose their homes do so because of unexpected illness or unexpected job loss—who expects these things anyway? (Universal health care would help in this personal and economic disaster.) By buying bigger and fancier homes we gamble that neither illness nor job loss will affect us. With smaller homes and a smaller mortgage we have a better chance of weathering a financial storm. For example, with a smaller mortgage or no mortgage, we should be able to set aside some money each month just in case the “unexpected” happens. Perhaps you could set aside enough to live on for six months to a year should you have to cope with the unexpected.

My birth family lived in a modest house from 1947 until 1979. When the family outgrew the two bedroom house about 1954, my father built an addition of a large bedroom with bath and a family room. With four young children my parents knew the family needed more space; they liked their neighborhood and did not want to move (and could not afford to do so). My father, Paul, built a delightful space for his three daughters. Our room had a hardwood floor, knotty pine walls and we each had a walk-in closet. Dad built this while working full time as a land surveyor. This arrangement worked well for us for decades. With that addition, my family more than doubled our living space and created a multi-use, adaptable house. When the house was sold, I was told that those who purchased it planned to use that space for an ailing parent.

Sometime in the last thirty years the concept of “starter houses” appeared. Realtors encouraged families to keep “upgrading”. A highly mobile workforce also encouraged more buying and selling of homes and mortgages. Each of these developments benefits banks, realtors and other businesses that take a big cut every time a house changes hands. The more expensive the sale, the more those businesses will profit. When we let the industry decide how large a mortgage we can assume, we are engaging in foolish and risky behavior! We must think for ourselves and consider all the risks involved. We cannot let ourselves be seduced by large lots and pretty pools or big-screen TVs. The consequences may be dire. Remember, the less money you need, the freer you are!

Big house, little house, on in between–with someone else holding a mortgage on your home you are vulnerable to loosing the roof over your head if you have money troubles. Isn’t this obvious? And the more money you owe to the mortgage holder the more risk you take. Isn’t this obvious? In my ongoing exploration of both fiction and nonfiction books written by Sandra Dallas, I have been enjoying the book Gingerbread & Gaslights: Colorado’s Historic Houses. Dallas gives a guided tour of castles, mansions, huge ranch houses, and Victorians covered with “gingerbread” trim. When she was writing about these unusual houses in 1965, many had been torn down or abandoned. Some became museums or resorts. But most have not survived the decades. Each was a treasure. In reading the descriptions of the houses, the families that built them, and then the fate of the edifice, I kept thinking of the gambles that life presents to rich and poor. I once owned a large Queen Anne Victorian house at 1718 Summit St. in Kansas City, MO. It was in a poor neighborhood, but the house had been rehabbed by a neighborhood nonprofit. I loved that house. I still love that house. But I could not move it to my forty acres in Arkansas, so I sold it and that sale helped to finance our building our humble home here.


We Put Local White Oak Siding on Our 20' x 40' Humble Abode

My closing thoughts about mortgages and the value of “lifting” or avoiding a mortgage (when possible) involves the value of “staying put”. When we “stay put” we make connections—to the land, to friends and family. We care about the environment. For example, we won’t welcome a landfill like the one planned a decade ago near Delaney which the local community successfully stopped. We think about any chemicals we might consider using on our yards or near a stream because we are going to live with the long term consequences of that action. Putting down roots and creating a stable living situation for ourselves and our loved ones means more to me than living in a fancy house with an oppressive mortgage hovering in the background every day.

E.F. Schumacker reminded me that, “We can do all sorts of things ourselves, instead of buying everything.” Home grown food, homegrown entertainment and home-produced electricity are some of the ways we at Cedar Hill do for ourselves. Mostly it feels good. Especially, it feels good when we do not have to wake to an alarm clock! Usually I wake up about six and wander outside in the garden while it is cool. I weed and wake up. Sometimes, like this morning when Jeanne picked a handful of strawberries, and we savored the sweetness of a just-picked berry I believe I have everything I need.


  1. our mortgage is outrageous by Central Missouri standards, but I come to love our little acre of slope more every day. We’ve moved four times in the last seven years and I am SO SICK of it all. Next time my husband gets a set of orders, I am thinking seriously of sending him on his way and staying PUT.

    Turning your home into a bland market commodity sucks, but it’s what you have to do to get top market dollar for it. What is even suckier is planning for it to happen the whole time you live in a place. “Can’t paint the trim turquoise; what would the potential buyers think?!”

    Comment by Claire — June 30, 2010 @ 5:42 am

  2. my hubby always love small gardens and zen gardens, he always decorate it with new stuffs he buys online.’.

    Comment by Shower Screen  — October 13, 2010 @ 7:11 am

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