Recently, I visited a cousin of mine from my mother’s side of the family. She had a lot of family records I had not seen, and I brought a bunch of stuff home with me. I’ve spent hours reading first person accounts of the lives of my Grandmother Norma and my Great Grandmother Alzina. The short version? Life was hard and these women were tough tough tough. My grandmother weighed 85 lbs for 5 years after the birth of her second son. The birth almost killed her. She was plump later in life, and never apologized for it, with good reason.
As I stand, sit, and kneel in the garden picking green beans for what seems like hours in the hot sun, I can’t help but feel my grandmother and my great grandmother’s hands there with me, participating in this same harvest, over and over, for literally more than one hundred years. The joys and hardships these women faced every day have been on my mind, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the care and work they put into feeding their families, these last few weeks.
Thursday afternoon, house guests arrived from Colorado by way of Portland. Mere moments after their arrival, we had a storm hit, bringing with it 1/4 inch of rain and a microburst of wind that took out trees all over town and knocked the power out for about 4 hours. So the planned dinner downtown was an interesting adventure (the brand new restaurant WAS open, serving up food with flash lights, bless their hearts). Then Saturday, we woke to no running water. The well pump has gone out, and won’t be fixed until Monday. We’ve been hauling jugs of water from the neighbor’s spigot next door for the last day and a half. Thankfully, we have great neighbors. Our friends, who often camp, are not unaccustomed to roughing it. They weathered the utility snafus with grace and humor, before leaving for Portland Saturday evening.
Water. Such a simple thing, yet so profoundly important. Water for our animals. Water for the garden (thank goodness we got some rain – it hasn’t rained in two months, and with the well out, I’d be in trouble if there wasn’t some moisture in the soil). Water to bathe with. Water to do laundry. Water to wash dishes. Water to flush toilets. And then I think of my Grandmother, who hauled water into the house for all of these things (except the toilet, which no doubt was an outhouse), while raising three children, at least into her 30’s.
We take SO much for granted in this modern age. We spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars buying water filters to make sure our water is as pure as it can possibly be, when in reality, it’s simply a miracle that you can turn on a tap, and hot and cold running water that is safe to drink is available 24 hours a day in pretty much every city, town and “blink and you’ll miss it” burg in this country. What a gift of modern technology that I don’t have to wash my clothes on a wash board, boil them in a pot, and then put them through a ringer and hang them on a line to get them dry (not to mention ironing them – good grief did those women spend a lot of time ironing).
I’ve always been called to learn the “old” ways. (I bought my first “Foxfire” book when I was about 19). There are a lot of reasons for this, some of which, I’m sure, will be expanded upon in future blog posts. I like making my own soap, and “putting up” my own food. I appreciate learning how to make cheese and cure meats and brew wine. But I am grateful, every day, that it is something I can CHOOSE to do, not something I must do for the survival of my family.
Our grandparents learned these skills at their mother’s or father’s knee. I learn these skills from books, or Google, or YouTube. But the skills themselves are timeless. They connect us to the natural world. They connect us to the seasons. They connect us to our bodies and our health. And most importantly, they connect us to each other; to those who wish to learn these skills for themselves, who are just discovering the joys of “homesteading”, and to those who practiced these skills, and executed them well, who survived, so that we could be here to relearn them today.
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2013, where we’re miles away from having to wash our clothes in a bucket, but are ready to do it (and more importantly, now how) if we have to.