My father was the youngest of seven children. He grew up on a farm where he lived until his father passed away when he was 13 years old. When he was in high school, they moved to the city, but even though you can take the boy (or his mother) off the farm, you can’t take the farm out of the boy (or his mother).
My grandmother lived with my family until she passed away when I was nine years old. The memories that I have of Grandma, and the stories that I’ve heard about her throughout my life, depict her as a veritable homesteading role model superhero. Although we lived in town, my grandmother would regularly go out to the “old farm”, spending as much time there as she could. She spent her summers there, working in her (huge) garden. Although they did have a telephone, there was no electricity on the farm and no indoor plumbing, aside from a hand pump at the kitchen sink. The only heat was a woodstove, but she was used to this. This is how she was raised; this was how she lived most of her life.
So this is the homesteading role model that I grew up with. The picture that I’ve put before myself of what a woman should be: knitting socks, mittens, hats, and sweaters for her family and sewing clothes for them. My aunt once told me of a time when she was young, during the Great Depression when they had very little money, my grandmother sewed underwear for them out of the sugar sacks. Now that’s putting everything to good use, I would say. If there was a job that needed to be done, whether in the house, or out in the fields or barn, she would do all that she could to get the job done.
However with a homesteading role model like this, there is one problem… those are some pretty big shoes to fill! How am I ever going to live up to that image?
The reality is that probably even Grandma couldn’t live up to the image of what I’ve built her up to be in my mind. She was a pretty remarkable woman though,and not just for all of the things that she could do, but for the person that she was. She was quite skilled though, and able to do a lot of things. If she didn’t know how to do something, she had something even more important than skill, she had ingenuity! What she wasn’t sure how to do, she would figure out how to do it as she went. It might not have looked pretty all the time, but she got it done. If I was even going to accomplish half of what Grandma could do, I had a lot of learning ahead of me. How was I ever going to manage it?
Probably the same way Grandma did, learning one skill at a time.
Of course, Grandma and all of her contemporary counterparts had the advantage that homesteading—and all of the skills that go along with it, including the many domestic skills like canning, knitting, baking, etc.—was just the way of life for most people back then; at least for those who lived in the country. They simply didn’t have, or couldn’t afford, the modern conveniences that we so take for granted. She would have learned these skills from the time she was a little girl, at the feet of her mother (another amazing woman).
I did learn some homesteading and homemaking skills from my mother (and a few from Grandma herself). In fact, it was my grandma who taught me to knit when I was about 4 years old. But I was quite young when she died so I was limited as to what I could learn from her. And when I was still living at home with my parents, in all honesty, I didn’t have the same desire for the old ways that I’ve developed as I’ve grown older. Thankfully, I have something that Grandma never had: Google and YouTube!
Through the wonder of modern technology (yes, even us homesteaders can take advantage of the modern advances that are available to us—no need to reinvent the wheel) we can sit in the comfort of our own living rooms as we learn skillset after skillset through YouTube videos and homesteading blog posts.
So, I have learned how to knit socks in the round using double-pointed needles (My most vivid memory is of my grandmother knitting socks). I have ground wheat berries into flour and baked homemade bread in my wood-burning cookstove. I have milked a goat and made butter and cheese. I have rendered deer tallow and dipped homemade candle wicks into the tallow to make taper candles. I have a pantry full of canning jars filled with food from my garden harvest, and recently I was even given a Singer treadle sewing machine that I am eager to learn how to use.
Yes, I think Grandma would be proud. Either that or she would think that I’m crazy for living life the hard way. No, not the hard way, I’m living the satisfying way. Yes, Grandma would understand the satisfaction of spending the morning picking berries and bringing them home to make jams and pies. She would understand why I would spend hours cutting large pieces of fabric into small pieces, only to sew them back together into large pieces again to create a beautiful quilt. She would understand the desire to raise animals for food, even though it takes all the work of daily caring for their needs, and the bloody job of slaughtering and butchering them. You just can’t compare the taste (or the quality) to the stuff that you buy at the grocery store.
Yes, Grandma would understand. It’s something that gets into your blood. It’s a lifestyle that is so much more fulfilling than the noisy rat race of city life.
How about you? Do you have a homesteading role model? Who gave you a taste for the “simple” life? Did you have a grandma or grandpa that you learned alongside? If you don’t have one, well, that’s okay. Perhaps you can find someone else’s on YouTube and learn from them. Perhaps you can teach this lifestyle, these skills to your children… to your grandchildren. Let’s reclaim the legacy for future homesteading generations. Perhaps we got distracted from it for a while, lured away by the glitter of city living, but for me, it’s time to refocus; to get back to the simple life; to teach my son how to truly live, not just exist. Yes, this is definitely the life for me. I want to live just like grandma did.
Well, maybe I’ll keep the indoor plumbing…