By Lisa Hayes-Minney|
Looking into the Past to Prepare for the Future
Several years ago, for a short time, Frank and I lived in the house my grandfather was born in. Only one of his siblings remained, but she had fallen and broken her hip and was then living with her daughter. The house remained, just as she left it.
Alone, at her age, she had not been able to maintain the house and farm as she once had. Frank and I, living there, began to clean, clear and organize.
In sorting through the spare bedroom (which had become a storage room of sorts) I found an entire box of elastic bands cut from little boys’ underwear. In another box, I found a collection of dry-rotted thread pieces.
At first, I was confused. Then, I remembered. Elvie, my Great Aunt, had survived The Great Depression.
I thought more about the “clutter” there on the farm. Cider jugs and pickling crocks in the pump house, empty canning jars in the cellar house with boxes of little plate-glass lids for them, a ringer washer on the back porch and clothesline nearby.
At the time, these things were foreign to me. I had never had my own garden, never harvested my own food. Never as an adult had I hung my clothes on the line. I had never, really, pinched a penny.
At the time, I saw those jars as clutter. Boy, I wish I had them now.
As a publisher, I spend much of my time learning to be ready for the future. What’s new in publishing, current trends, about current and future technologies. Most of this I can learn through the Internet.
But as a country girl living on a farm in trying economic times, to be ready for the future, it seems I need to be learning things of the past. Many times I’ve closed my eyes to pull up a childhood memory of my Grandmother canning green beans to see if I could recall the details of her method. Many times I’ve contemplated the fact that my Grandfather never had a fence around his garden.
Many times I’ve wished I had them in the room with me to remind me how they did it. Sure, I can read books or online articles to learn, but believe me – it’s not the same as having someone to teach you – especially when you follow the written instructions, and they didn’t work.
Our attempts at self-reliance, saving money, gardening, canning and making from scratch are all trial and error. We have yet to grow a decent crop of corn or potatoes, and although I’ve managed canning and freezing well enough, my first attempts at dry root storage were not completely successful.
Our system for recycling couldn’t handle our habits for waste (I never realized I drank so much milk), and resulted in multiple piles of plastic, aluminum, magazines and cardboard – stashed beneath the porch stairs outside.
After two years, I still can’t get every loaf of bread to rise right. About every sixth or seventh loaf rises, then falls – flat. Half of my recipe books call for ingredients (white wine, yellow cake mix) that I no longer keep around the house on a regular basis. I lost four trays of tomato seedlings to dampening, and in my mind, I picture empty spaces on the pantry shelf where spaghetti sauce should be.
Today, Americans are struggling to learn to live better with less, when only two generations before mine, it was a way of life. Canning jars that have been empty and gathering dust in cellar houses and barns are being washed and checked for chips around the rims. Clotheslines are appearing in yards across the country.
But our mindset (and the problems with our economy) has not really changed. A clothesline and some home canned goods are not enough to “survive” a depression. Apparently, it also takes boxes of elastic waist bands and short little pieces of thread.
When you think “salad,” do you think of back yard dandelion greens and nasturtium blossoms and nettle? No, and even if you did think of it, would you know how to fix that salad? I may have chickens in my back yard, but I have no intention of eating them, nor would I have any clue as to how to deal with the feathers.
These days, I sometimes think it might be a good idea to learn.
I feel fortunate to live where there are people around me who well know these skills of self-reliance. People who were my age before they ever ate green beans from a can, or ever heard of a microwave. Our family, our neighbors, friends, the ladies of Rush Run CEOS (of which I am a member) – they are all more than happy to teach us how to “do for ourselves” when we ask for help. I’ve noticed an increase in classes and workshops about these topics in our region as well.
Learning the skills from others will get us a long way on our path to saving and making the most of what we’ve got, but it only takes us half way. We can learn the theory and the concepts, but we have to practice, and change our overall way of thinking and behaving. We can learn how to do, but we also have to learn to undo. We have to undo wasteful habits that our now built into our culture. We need to change our mindset.
I’ve recently begun using energy formerly spent on worry on making that change instead.
When I worry or talk about energy costs, I look around and see how many lights are on around me. I look to see how many electrical devices are using electricity, even if they are turned off. I realize, I’m paying that clock on the DVD player to flash at me.
When I worry about food prices, I look in our refrigerator. How many leftovers are in there going to waste that could be frozen and later used in a casserole or stew? How many plants in our yard can I identify as edible? How many do we use on a regular basis in our salad or meals? We live in a region where food grows wild, if we have the mindset to recognize and use it as such.
When I worry about gas prices, I think how often I drive when I can walk. How often I ride alone when I could ride with someone else. No more do we run to town for a single purpose or item, and more often we check with local family and friends to see if they need anything, since we’re going.
We worry and we go through the motions, but have we really changed? By putting my worries into changing my actions and behavior, I feel a little more in control. I lose some of that sense of worry.
This is no Great Depression. We’re just feeling the squeeze. The Great Depression was so great that years after it passed, the people who experienced it still saved boxes of elastic waistbands from their underwear! Did Aunt Elvie let the water run while brushing her teeth or leave lights on all over the house? No. Likely never.
People who survived the Great Depression knew how to make a salad without ever going to the store. They knew how to make remedies and brooms, pickles and bread. They made quilts and patched clothes by lamp light or gas lights, and they knew how to make use of everything they had.
Even elastic waist bands and pieces of thread.
Lisa Minney is publisher and editor of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine, www.twolanelivin.com and updates regularly at www.twolanebloggin.com