published in the Jefferson Journal 8-21-09
I have always been fascinated with the old stories that are told first hand to me by people who have lived another life. They grew up in America, within the past 100 years, and yet it truly was another life. Not all the stories take place on a farm, but they all share common threads: getting by on very little, never having everything they wanted, working hard day in and day out, learning to live with disappointments and tragedy, overcoming the everyday obstacles of life, and always seeming to expect very little while hoping for the best.
When my grandmother tells me stories about her mother making all of their clothes by hand, and that a peanut butter and banana sandwich was a rare treat, I don’t really have a frame of reference for that. Nor do I quite understand the stories I hear when I am working at the nursing home. Stories from people who took a weekly bath in the Ochlocknee River, fed and watered livestock and milked the family cow before walking to school, and even a man who rolled logs down by hand through the mountains of North Carolina for his family to build their house from. To what can I compare this type of working lifestyle to… unloading the dishwasher? Putting a trashcan out by the road for the garbage men to pick up? Going through a drive-through to pick up dinner? Unfortunately, these things haven’t taught me much at all. But yet, it is the reality of my generation and it is almost impossible to pull out and away from it. Lately I feel that the prevalent obsession with a life of ease has caused an attitude of ambivalence to hard work.
I’m not a person who generally is opposed to store bought items, because I can appreciate convenience and I am a very practical person. But there are some things that I have realized are not that hard to do on your own and actually are worth the effort that you put into them. For example, I grind wheat berries to make my own flour. It isn’t hard! I don’t know that it is a cheaper alternative to store bought flour, but I believe it is a healthier option. And even more so than that, I enjoy the satisfaction of the work that I put into the process. There are so few things in life anymore that require a process, and I really think that the generations who grew up without having to appreciate the process are at a disadvantage. I got an email last week from a friend who was sending out a recipe for homemade laundry detergent. At first I thought this was absurd. Why make laundry detergent when there are shelves of the stuff at the stores? But the ingredients were cheap and easy enough to find and the process seemed like I could pull it off alone. (By this I mean nothing required farmer husband’s assistance. I have put enough drudgery on him with all my other little projects, such as the cow, that I have sort of worn out my welcome on that type of thing!) And I did. I made it and it is working beautifully. Let me tell you, bumpkins can really produce a lot of laundry. I do 10 loads a week sometimes! But when I mentioned to some friends that I had made laundry detergent, the response was shocking to me. They couldn’t believe I had all the extra time and energy to spend on something so pointless. Their argument was, why make something that you can buy? It was then I realized that the hard work involved in the process was more meaningful to me than they could understand.
We all enjoy the progress that our country has made and as a result, find ourselves in constant need of convenience. But I am trying very hard to not lose sight of the importance of learning the process of living. This may mean that I incorporate more things into my life that require some toil and sweat. Maybe this will also mean that my children won’t scoff at hard work…imagine that!