Sunday, January 18, 2015

13 Things We Need to Learn From Our Ancestors

For many of us our parents, grandparents, or even great grandparents knew how to do things about which we have no idea or no desire to learn. While I can see the argument that we have advanced beyond the need of these basic skills, I respectfully disagree. We don't have to leave these skills as they are per say,  but can modify them to fit our modern lives and be all the better for them. I was extremely blessed in that I not only was able to know my grandparents from both sides, but also had 3 great grandmothers that I was able to meet and get to know. My grandparents were children or young teens during the Great Depression. Their memories of that time shaped their entire lives and how they looked at the things they owned. My great grandmothers were all adults during the Great Depression, so they saw things from a different light as well. I loved all of their stories and the lessons they taught. I am going to try to share a few nuggets of wisdom they taught me.

1. The Little Things Matter

I remember one of my great grandmothers telling me a story about how my great grandfather brought home some honey comb one day. He had found a bee tree while he was out in the woods. He cut the tree down and robbed the bees. I don't know how much honey he was able to bring home, but I do remember the look on my great grandmother's face when she talked about the next morning having biscuits with fresh honey. She said it was the best honey she had ever tasted. We take so many thing for granted today that we have lost a lot of joy from a simple surprise.

2. Make Everything Last as Long as You Can

My grandfather used to tell all of us kids that we should be thankful for everything we had. He only got one new pair of shoes a year and that was in the fall before school started. They only wore their shoes to school and to church most times because that would wear them out faster. By the time the next year rolled around those shoes were history, either outgrown or destroyed by use. Half of the summer the boys went barefoot everywhere they went, yup even church. 

Clothes were always patched or repaired until they couldn't be fixed any more. Part of this practice made it all the way to me. I remember wearing pants with patches on the knees. I actually have a couple of pairs right now that could use a patch or two. 

Even after clothing became too far gone to repair they were not thrown away. They would become patches for other clothing, dish cloths, or even rags for use in cleaning or repairing things around the home. It wasn't until there was no use left in the cloth at all that they were thrown away. Talk about re-purposing things, they were masters. 

3. Never Be Wasteful 

I will confess that sometimes when I am putting things into the compost pile or feeding leftovers to the chickens, I feel a little guilty. Even though I know that I am putting those scraps to another use and I know that they are helping our little part of the world be more productive, the fact still stands that we cooked more food than our family ate. 

I don't know if you have ever heard of Jerry Clower, but he tells this story well.

The lesson of never being wasteful does not just apply to food. My grandfather kept every nail, nut, bolt, and screw that he had ever bought. The last thing we always did after working on something was to walk around the area and make sure that we didn't drop anything that could be used in the future. He always had boards or pieces of metal around and most things that we needed to do, we could find the supplies around the barn to get it done without having to run to the hardware store. 

4. Never be Envious 

This may vary from family to family, but once again I remember the stories. When electricity came through our small community one of my great grandmothers talked about going to the only house that had it put in. She talked about the light and how they didn't have to feel around for matches, but she also talked about how worried she was that they would get used to this new thing and not be able to pay their bill. She put off getting electricity for a couple of years before she was willing to pay the 15 cents a month power bill. Yup, 15 cents a month and she was worried that her neighbors wouldn't be able to pay the bill.

5. Be a Reliable Family Member or Friend

I cannot remember any of my great grandmothers driving. Anytime they needed to go anywhere, someone in the family would take them. They never had to worry about being left to fend for themselves. Great grandmother Humphries was so afraid of storms that if she even heard it thunder she would call and have my grandparents come and get her so she could be close to their basement. 

If my parents needed to go somewhere and needed someone to look after me, one of them were always available. I cannot tell you how many times I have played with a set of dominoes that my great grandmother kept on top of her cabinet. 

6. Pitch in and Help

Every late summer and early fall when the crops started coming in the whole family would converge on my grandparents' house. This was especially true when the sweet corn was coming in. All of the men and boys would be in the field pulling corn till it was all gathered. Then we would pull the trailer up to the side of the house and we would start shucking the ears of corn. As soon as there were a couple of pans shucked my great grandmothers would start silking the corn. Then it would go to the younger ladies to cook and cut the corn. Everyone, and I do mean everyone had a job. Even the small children would pick up the shucks and throw them to the cows. It was a great system and everyone was working for the benefit of everyone.

7. Be Content

My great grandparents never had a lot. They didn't have fine china, they didn't have fancy cloths, heck they didn't even have a car, but they were happy. I remember when one of my great grandmothers moved out of her old house and into a single wide trailer. She didn't complain about not having as much room, in fact the only thing that I remember her saying was how much easier it was to heat and how thankful she was for an air conditioner.

8. Work Your Garden

My Great Grandmother Carter worked in her garden until the year she died. She had the most beautiful roses that I have ever seen. She just knew what and how to do to make them shine. All three of my great grandmothers had something outside that was their passion. One was her pear tree and the blackberries, one her roses and vegetable garden. The other was a vegetable garden and fruit trees, primarily a massive fig tree. All three lived into their 90's and all three stayed active in both body and mind. Working a garden is not only healthy and light exercise it is also very therapeutic. 

9. Have Redundancies

Here is a statement I remember, but I cannot remember who said it,
"Just because you have city water doesn't mean you fill up your well."
For many this statement may not make much sense so I will try to explain. Our little community didn't get city water, or water from a utilities company until I was a child. When the water lines came through the utilities company of course tried to convince everyone that they needed to abandon their wells and be tied to the lines. Lots of people did just that. They capped or filled their wells and were hooked onto the system. There were a few though that refused outright to be on city water. There were others like my grandparents that hooked up to city water, but kept their well and just re plumbed their system so that the well water went were they wanted it to. One year there was a major problem with the water system and the community went without water for a couple of days. Well most of the community did. Those that were either still on the well or still had the well as back up went on as if nothing had happened.

If you will think about it every old country home had oil lamps and a variety of things that enabled them to get through whatever the world threw at them. This is still a great idea for today.

10. Be Willing to Barter and Trade

My great, great grandfather was a self taught country doctor. We still have a couple of books that he studied from and even have his ledger. Paper money is a fairly new creation and it really only serves those who have it. In my ancestor's ledger you can see that he was paid with a pig, chickens, even getting to pick up a gallon of mild once a week for a year. He served everyone in his community without regards of their ability to pay with money. These people his friends and neighbors paid him with whatever they had. Some even paid him in labor on his own farm. Just think about how much better a world it would be if we were not so fixated on currency and paid more attention to the things that have true value no matter what were to happen to the economy of stock market.

11. Pay Attention to Nature

My grandfather could tell you hours in advance when it was going to rain, when it was going to be hot, dry, or cold. He would predict with as good accuracy as the weatherman what the winter or summer would be like. How did he do it? He knew that nature knows the weather patterns long before we do. He had learned over the years and listening to those who were much older than him what things meant. The way animals and plants act will tell you a little about what to expect from the weather.

12. Know as Many Skills as Possible

My grandmother could sew clothes, cook and incredible meal, and shoot a crow in the field. Everyone knew multiple skills. Very few people specialized. There was a good reason for this. When something broke down you couldn't just call a repairman. You had to do as much as you could for yourself.

13. Always Be Thankful

It is so easy to get wrapped up in whatever is happening at the moment, but we must take time to be thankful for all of the blessings in our lives. I remember my grandfather talking about a Christmas where all they received as a gift was a nickle's worth of hard candy split by 6 children and an orange each. That was one of his favorite Christmases and he told that story often.

I remember my one of my great grandmothers being so happy every time we came over and we did so fairly often. Saying the blessing over the meal was not optional and after you reached a certain age you were not allowed to just recite some generic prayer.

I do not know if my dad started this or not, but it has left an impact on me that I will never forget. Every time we would plant the garden as the first seeds hit the ground he would say "We sow in hope and we will reap in joy". Think about that for a moment. There are few things that illustrate faith better than the sowing of seeds. Honestly, everything we do should be done in hope and we will receive our reward with joy.

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