It is easy to lose our way sometimes in life. Especially in the fast-paced Internet-connected world today. I feel fortunate to have disconnected somewhat from the pace some years ago. As remote as I live, it is nothing compared to how my grandparents lived.
My grandfather and grandmother, on my mother's side, were farmers. They lived life by the seasons. My grandfather had a 3rd-grade education, my grandmother an 8th-grade education, but they could hold a conversation with just about anyone. My father said my mother's father was about the most informed man he ever met. Despite living a rural life, they stayed plugged into the world in the early days via a wind-generator that charged up a battery-operated radio and by reading the local newspaper that came in the mail. The mail box was located some five miles away outside a small country store.
My great-grandparents had traveled by wagon and horse to town when they had owned the farm. It was a 38-mile round trip when the river was down. When the river was high it was 60 miles to get supplies (a two-day trip in a wagon), as they had to go many miles to where a bridge crossed the river. In the 1930s, an old pickup truck made the journey easier for my grandparents, but it still was not an easy trip in the heat and the cold with no heater or air conditioner in the truck.
My grandparents, like their parents before them, built their house themselves with help from relatives and friends. My grandmother made clothes, using a treadle sewing machine (foot-powered) from cotton feed sacks and material purchased with the money earned raising cattle and grain alongside my grandfather. Some feed sacks were made from cotton with patterns deliberately made for sewing together for women's clothing or men's shirts. Not much was thrown away; almost everything was used. They kept several acres of gardens around their house for home use and a two-acre garden down by the river for selling produce. No toilet meant going in a chamber pot at night and walking outside to the outhouse during the day. All warm water had to be heated on a cook stove or outside fire until a butane hot water heater was added in the 1950s. They never had air conditioning and heated their home with a wood stove.
They did not have electricity until 1953 and used coal-oil lamps for light. Butane powered the stove and the refrigerator. Prior to the fridge they used a wooden-clad ice box with blocks of ice providing the coolness. My grandparents processed their own meat once the weather turned cold enough using a sugar cure for the pork. Beef was taken to the locker plant in town; before that it was canned at home in jars or tin cans. With electricity came the addition of a large home freezer, and while my grandmother continued to can most vegetables, meat and fruit could now be frozen to enjoy year-round. In addition, they caught catfish and hunted squirrel. There were no deer nor turkey when my mother was young. They would move into the area later. My grandfather killed his first deer on his farm on his 62nd birthday.
They did travel some outside of Texas, and took a ride in an airplane in the late Twenties at a county fair. They chose not have a phone until they retired in the mid-nineteen seventies and moved into a large metropolitan area.
Unlike my mother’s parents, my father’s parents were teachers during their adult lives. Some years were spent teaching in one-room school houses. They lived in teacherages, homes provided by the community, and they moved almost every year. Some schools provided better than others. They did not own a home until my father was a freshman in high school.
Even though all my grandparents lived into my twenties, their times seem ancient to me. As I sit here listening to an electronic pump circulating water in the goldfish pond, it's hard to imagine the windmill that pumped water into a storage tank that created the pressure to get the cold water to the house of my grandparents.
For all that my grandparents didn't have, they had more than most who lived on farms in the 1920s - 1970s. They were never cold or hungry and they always had a home to call their own. Despite not having luxuries, they got by just fine.
Sometimes I think stories get lost because we don't know what questions to ask when we are young, or perhaps, later on, are too busy living our own lives to find time to listen to others. I think it is important to slow down from time to time and listen to the stories of our elders. Whether they are from rural or urban life, there is much to learn from them.