An uncle in my husband’s family, now deceased, made it his mission to collect all the family records, photos, and news, and organize them into albums. Now and then my mother-in-law would forward a request from him–she was the one most in tune with my husband’s branch–for current photos or dates of significant events. It pleased me that someone was taking the time, and that he extended his attention to anyone grafted in to the branch of the family he had married into (he was probably keeping records of his birth lineage also). Someone might want this information some day, even need it, and he didn’t want it to be lost.
I am in the thick of preservation of a different kind this fall, as the tomatoes, plums, and apples pile up and I boil up sauces and jam and pack and boil the jars, slice and array fruit on screens, bunch herbs to hang from the light fixtures, roll seeds out of their crackling pods and blow off the chaff. As well as putting food by, I am preserving the tradition of my parents, who did this kind of thing. Instead of settling in the suburbs and shopping and the superstore, though their children tried to drag them into the late twentieth century where life looked so much more socially acceptable. For some reason the subsistence of my dad’s parents on rabbit, fish and salmon from the Gander River watershed never left him traumatized and clamoring for economic progress and a “higher” standard of living. He still had Shakespeare and art, and the salty bay to swim in. My mom’s folks weren’t exactly subsistence, but living by the river with a teacher mom and a journalist/gentleman farmer dad, she caught on to the handwork that makes a home from scratch, and being a hardworking, creative person, used it as a creative outlet. Said the best wool for dying and hooking into rugs came from her dad’s old stump socks. Living in the sticks between the St. Nicholas River, she still picked up Acadian French culture at the hardware store and overheard interviews her dad conducted in the living room with the reel to reel, heard the clacking of the typewriter on the roll top desk. It was all a kind of free range parenting, I guess.
Because of my parents’ decision not to get a television–it really hinged on that, which makes me very skeptical now of the rush to get all children “connected,” I picked up a few things too. Not so much through being formally trained, but because I saw that using the sewing machine, paint, pen, wood and whatever, was a way to get things done–to create, capture, produce, build, get a meal without getting a ride into town. And other than being coerced into helping with weeding or grinding or winding wool now and then, I was free range, too.There was school, but homework wasn’t demanding and could be done on the bus, and sports was floor hockey or touch football with the principal and vice principal before the late bus came, so it didn’t take up much time. Time, a world of books and the outdoors, free of so-called twenty-first century essentials, was for the mind of a child like warm, damp compost to worms.
In the old days, seasons came–fishing season, planting, haying, harvesting, hunting, storing away, and winter trapping, and someone was around doing similar work and able to lend a hand—neighbor, spouse, child or uncle. Now, when anyone an be anything they want to be and we lean on a college education and the world economy for our livings, seasons are interchangeable in the global economy, and there’s always something more fun and entertaining to do than hoe the garden, weed, pick berries, shell peas, or make apple sauce. So I’m often alone in the garden and in the kitchen. Alone experiencing the satisfaction of accomplishment and sense of security and good sense (as I add up the savings in grocery bills and fuel costs, and possibly health costs) of a job well done. Here’s to home economics and shop.
Here’s my justification for the reintroduction of home economics shop into the curriculum: No matter whether robots take over our carpet cleaning, factory work, telemarketing, and lab research, being capable of growing food (along with finding wild food) can never completely become obsolete. Nor mechanized—it’s both too complex, requiring intelligence, adaptability, physical strength and endurance, and creativity, and too simple, relying on fundamentals like sunshine, microbial life, rain and air, all of which have no technological substitute. The temptation to modernize, mechanize, and outsource is there, but one soon finds that the costs outweigh the benefits. Growing and storing food handy to the house is immensely satisfying, meeting the human need to labor and build, providing great opportunity for intellectual and spiritual growth, and enhanced by team work and community. There is rhythm, change, beauty, and surprise. There is the call to be creative and innovative within the complex rules of ecology and the limits of conditions and available supplies. There is abundant life, from the succulent Swiss chard and rambling pumpkin vines to the daily visits of hummingbirds, discoveries of multicolored varieties of leaf hoppers and spiders, pollinators large and small. In this season, there’s a sense of the miracle of such abundance, as I go back again and again to fill yet another bowl or basket with produce. Then as the shadows of the trees lengthen across the yard I heat up water, slice and blend and boil and hope that this time we can get through an entire winter without buying store potatoes, frozen beans, or dried oregano. Certainly we’re good on tomato sauce and applesauce.