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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Becoming My Grandmother

At her blog, For the Someday Book, revjmk expresses something we have probably all noticed:

Becoming My Grandmother

A few weeks ago, I strung a clothesline in my backyard. Yesterday, I washed six loads of laundry and hung each one outside in the summer sun to dry on my new clothesline and a couple of drying racks that usually stay in the basement. I did not once turn on the dryer.
Last summer, I learned how to freeze all the fresh vegetables we could not consume from our CSA. This year, we are growing tomatoes. Next year, we’re talking about growing our own garden. I really want to learn home canning.
J is talking about baking bread. We are wondering why we should buy bread all the time when we can make it for ourselves, and it would taste so much better. It’s all part of our desire to get away from eating processed food. We love to cook together, to take raw meat and fresh herbs and whole vegetables and transform them into cuisine. We don’t measure or follow a recipe, and try to do it from scratch.
My friends all travel with skeins of yarn and knitting needles poking out of their bags, and sit in meetings and on trains and knit their own clothes. They make scarves and blankets and sweaters and baby things, for themselves, for their friends, for charitable causes.
We are trying to reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose. We have a concern for the environment, for our health, for living more simply and consuming less and reducing our impact on the planet. And in the process, I realize I am becoming my grandmother.
My grandmother gardened, crocheted, cooked from scratch, and hung the laundry out to dry. She did it because she grew up in the Depression, and she learned how to make things stretch and last. I remember as a child watching her dig the last bits of batter from the bottom of the bowl, or rinse out the cottage cheese container to use as storage, or clothespin sheets to the line. I thought it was quaint and old-fashioned, when we modern people did not need to be so frugal. We threw out the plastic silverware and let go of leftovers and ran the dryer just to freshen something up.
Now, nearly a decade since my grandmother died, I am keeping house very much like she did. (Another grandmother still lives. She was raised in the city, but also practices many of these same habits.) Why run the dryer when the sun does the job for free? What’s the shame in hanging your underclothes outside, if it’s in the back yard? Who needs a recipe? Just pinch this and scoop that and do it until it looks right. No, I won’t throw out that plastic container, because I don’t want it to go to a landfill or even to recycling if I can use it again. Why use plastic at all when there are dishes and silver in the cabinet?
We do these things not because it is a financial necessity, but because it is a gentler, more careful and intentional way of living with the earth. The logic may be different, but the lifestyle is the same. What was good enough for my grandmother is good enough for me.


  1. I think the only thing I might actually lust for is a clothesline. And sometimes I miss my big pressure canner.
    My grandmother did all of those things, too, although I don't think she ever did any knitting. My mother did some of them. Freezing lima beans once was a disaster (but then, I don't like them so I wasn't too upset) but I remember things she did that we would call frugal now but we just though were normal then.
    Thanks for this piece, Songbird. You have jogged my memory of good times.

  2. Wow! What a nice surprise to awaken this morning and discover my post in my Facebook news feed on the RevGals page. Thanks so much for sharing it. I am honored!

  3. revjmk, I was about to leave a comment at your place when my computer decided it was time to do updates. Thanks for your good words.

  4. Amen, sister! And thanks for choosing this one, Songbird. This helped start my morning with a smile on my face :-)

    However, I am sticking with my permanent press clothes...not so much ironing as my grandmother did.

  5. this is all true and good -- and believe me, the logic of financial necessity is NOT all that remote...I used to do a workshop on THRIFT as part of our Marriage Prep classes, on the premise that DEBT is one of the most serious threats to a marriage... the young betrothed "ate it up."

  6. Also, I encourage you to look in the comments section on the blog. A member of my former congregation has posted a beautiful poem she wrote, with remarkably similar themes and images. You all will not want to miss it.

  7. I hope I am not being a "scrooge" but I also hope that we are not overly romanticizing the past. I remember when my mother hung out the wash because there were no other choices; when every stitch we wore had to be ironed and it was a full time job to do that and cook and clean. It wasn't just about frugality.

    I am all for living intentionally and in a way that is more gentle for the environment, but let's remember that we have the luxury of making the choice...and we still have the dryer when it's cold and rainy outside.

  8. Very true, Rev Dr Mom, and I remember the day my mother put her hand through the wringer of the wringer-washer...that was Not Fun.

  9. This made me smile - I was thinking "...or you've turned English" haha! It's pretty much the norm to hang out the washing here. I'm glad to have a drier but it gets used when it's needed - the back-up-plan! Lots of people grow tomatoes and some do grow a lot more. Reusing containers too and I didn't understand the bit about 'plastic silverware' though if that means disposable cutlery then we use that only sometimes if you're having a big gathering to save on washing up - though even then it often gets washed up and reused!
    Of course there are those (as evidence of the riots shows) who aren't inclined to do any of it but to go and take what they want). They though are not the norm. The 'norm' response was seen in the people out on the streets afterwards with brooms and household gloves cleaning up and making tea for the police! There are many discussions about poverty etc, rightly going on, but in one sense the "I have a right to what I want when I want it" needs to be met with the things our grandmothers also did and many have learnt to do too!

  10. Chelley, clothes lines are the norm here in Australia too. I have a clothes dryer, but it hardly ever gets used. Every place we have lived since we have been married we have grown some vegetables. Lots of people with gardens, grow something edible in their gardens, even if only a lemon tree or some herbs. Even people in units [flats/apartments] will grow herbs or small vegetables on the balcony in a large pot.

  11. Believe it or not, our homeowners association does not allow a clothesline! We have a temporary one we put up when we need it, but it can't STAY up. I also don't have the time to hang the wash... most days the laundry gets done after 9 pm! And our yard does not get enough sun to grow tomatoes.

    However - the part about reusing and recycling is important. We recycle everything we can. We compost (it's in a secluded part of the yard and I keep it from smelling) and we also don't try to have a "golf green" for a yard.

    Being aware and careful of our choices I think is something we all can do.


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