I have just finished reading a very informative book by Jane Goodall on the subject of Food. Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating has led me to reconsider the way I buy and cook and eat food. Much of it is based on common sense and natural practices (What would a chimp choose to eat? Have you ever seen an overweight chimp in the wild?), and much of it exposes the insanity that is our factory food production here in the “civilized” world. How civilized is it to cram thousands of chickens together in a cage, remove their beaks so that they can’t peck each other to death, pump them with antibiotics and force them to cannibalize their own kind by giving them non-vegetarian feed? And then to slaughter them, ship their polluted flesh over thousands of miles burning fossil fuels, and eat it? I was not thinking about that when I bought Super Saver packages of chicken breasts at my local super market. I think about it now.
And here is the surprising gift of hope: my children have been thinking about this for years. I didn’t lead the way.
Here is another arena of hope: reclaiming, salvaging and recycling living space. My daughter and her fiance purchased a home that had been severely water damaged and mold and mildew infested. The inhabitants had moved out to hospice care and died; the house was abandoned, but the water wasn’t shut off. In the winter freeze and thaw, the pipes broke and flooded the place. What a mess! But Joe comes from a family line of carpenters and construction wizards. He has completely re-worked the house: plumbing, electric, heating, floor plan and surfaces. He’s gotten neighbors, friends and family involved in the labor and in donating fixtures. The final step will be relocating the back yard garden. You see, this house is just a few doors down the street from the one they’ve rented for the past 3 years. So, by their wedding date one year from this month, they will have their own home and garden. They are marvelous role models for sustainable living, and I am so proud of them! Yesterday I went down to visit and take pictures. They sent me home with a bunch of produce from their garden. I am so grateful and awed by how life unfolds. The next generation is certainly capable of taking responsibility and working hard in a sustainable direction. Let’s just hope many of them choose to!
In the late 1960s, a couple with 2 young children bought their first house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
There were small trees in the back yard that grew and grew…
The trees shaded the house and the garden. The children played beneath the trees, and the mother and father planted flowers in the garden so that they could sit outside and enjoy their color and fragrance.
As time went on, the children grew to adults and moved away from the house. The couple lived there still, and grew older together. Then the father died, and the mother lived there alone. Finally, she decided to sell the little home to another young family with small children…and a baby on the way. So she and her grown-up son said ‘good-bye’ to the place together.
I don’t have a television, so I don’t see a lot of commercials. Still, I find NBA games on the internet and catch a few ads in the process. There’s one for a fried chicken franchise that particularly bothers me. Here’s the set-up: two teenaged kids have made a rare venture out of their rooms to join their parents for dinner. They are still plugged into their media devices and never speak or make eye contact with the camera or their parents. The African-American family sits in the living room with a bucket of chicken on the coffee table. Mom & Dad tell the camera that the chicken is the occasion for them to have this special “family” experience. Dad jokes that if the batteries run down, they might actually have a conversation.
Sigh. Is this an accurate snapshot of our current culture? Rewind about 100 years.
I’m reading a book called Nothing To Do But Stay: My Pioneer Mother by Carrie Young. The author describes her life in North Dakota during the Great Depression. Her mother had acquired land as a homesteader, married and raised 6 kids on the farm. Her sisters struggled to become educated and get jobs as school teachers in local one-room schoolhouses. One particularly brutal winter, their parents found it more sensible to drop off the 18-year-old daughter, the teacher, with the two younger sisters at school and let them stay there during the week instead of transporting them back and forth through the snow drifts by horse-drawn wagon. The week turned into months. Fresh supplies were delivered every week, but these 3 young ladies spent that winter relying on their own resourcefulness for their daily life — with no electricity, simply a coal-burning furnace in the basement and a woodstove with one burner in the classroom. How is that possible? I’m sure that life was one that their parents had modeled for years.
Compare these two snapshots and imagine the changes that have swept through our country. What has “adult living” become? What do we model for our children these days? What skills are being delegated to machines or service companies or ‘experts’ that used to be more universal and personal? Besides modeling tasking skills, how do we model social and moral skills in this decade?
When more families were farming, children grew up alongside their parents and were incorporated into communal activities. They helped milk the cows, tend the garden, and make the food and clothing they all needed to live. In the 50s, when more families lived in cities and suburbs, Dad would drive off in the morning and work out of sight of his kids all day while Mom would turn on appliances to do the chores around home. The kids learned consumerism. Then the Moms left the house and went into the workforce leaving the kids in daycare. In 1992, someone came up with “Take Your Daughters To Work Day”. That was expanded to include boys a decade later. What was first perceived as a Feminist issue of role modeling was recognized as a parenting void: children had no clue how adults spent their work days.
Musing about these changes made me consider what my own children had learned from my husband and me. My daughter made a calligraphy sign when she was in High School: “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived and let me watch him do it.” (Clarence B. Kelland) She was 23 when her father died. What we intended to model and what she actually learned are most likely two different things. One thing I do know. She did learn to cook her own chicken.
© 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved
Ever since I was a young girl, I have been enamored of “rolling hills” and farmland. My third grade class studied farm machinery and went out to the plains of Illinois to see a farm. It was nice, but when I caught a glimpse of Kentucky and Iowa on a family trip that summer, I raved about the “rolling hills”. Now I am living up in Wisconsin, where ice age glaciers left deposits across most of the state in landforms known as moraines, kames, drumlins, and eskers. I am in heaven when I venture west from the city of Milwaukee and wind my way around farms nestled between these ancient hills. I am planning to aim toward this horizon more intentionally in the future. Steve & I are hoping to move next year to a more rural village and live a simpler, slower life. May we all reach our desired horizons before the darkness comes!
P.S. to enjoy this horizon in a wider view, just click on the picture!
I am now working the summer schedule for Old World Wisconsin. I am still at St. Peter’s Church playing the pump organ and singing to the rafters on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. I am also working at the Hafford house on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Mary Hafford was an Irish immigrant who came to the U.S. with her husband and son, living first in New Jersey and then settling in Wisconsin where she had family members who had also moved there. She had two more children here, and then, at the age of 36, she was widowed. Her husband had worked on the railroad and owned no land or property. She could neither read nor write. Somehow, she had assets (possibly from a railroad company’s pension plan?) amounting to $500, twice the average for the village where she lived. She spent $150 to buy two lots in a rural village where she had been renting lodgings. Presumably, there was a dwelling on that lot, a worker’s cottage. She took in laundry and did the washing, ironing, and mending from her home so that she could look after her children. By the time she was 53, in the year 1885, she was able to hire carpenters to upgrade her house to a more respectable cottage. This home is the one that is now on Old World Wisconsin property, right next to St. Peter’s Church. It has one large room (combination kitchen, dining room, living room) with a small bedroom and a pantry on the ground floor and two bedrooms upstairs. It has a kitchen garden in which is growing lavender, sage, rosemary, alpine strawberries, thyme, and other fragrant herbs. The wash tubs and clothesline are set up outside so that visitors (kids, mostly) can try their hand at washing without electricity or plumbing. The laundering process in the 19th century could take up 3 days of the week. For Mrs. Hafford, it would probably be 6 days a week. Soaking, boiling, spot treating with lye soap, scrubbing on the washboard and rinsing would require multiple trips to the pump with two large buckets. One article estimated that women carried 400 lbs. of water in a week for laundry. After the clothes were dry, she would heat the irons on her wood stove and press them. One of the irons we have weighs 6 lbs, though it’s only about 5 inches long. I get the feeling this woman had no need for a gym membership. She pumped iron, literally, at home often enough! So this is the story I interpret for visitors. When there are no guests to chat with, I sit in the rocker and crochet rag rugs. I just learned this skill last week. I pass the time wondering what it would be like to be unable to read and write. Yesterday was my first day in this position. Sorry I didn’t post a blog entry, friends, I was just too tired and hungry and out of time by the end of my day! Here are some photos to whet your appetite. More to come!
Guess what I made today in the wood stove at Old World Wisconsin? Rhubarb pie! First time I’ve ever made it and first time I’ve ever used a wood burning oven. It’s a display pie, meaning no one is going to eat it. The crust was a tad dark on one side, but it looked pretty good. I have no idea how runny or crunchy the inside is. Maybe someone will cut into it tomorrow. It was lovely just sitting by the wood-burning stove, keeping toasty in the 50 degree rainy weather, smelling the pie bake and hemming handmade linen towels. We didn’t have many visitors, so I felt like I was having a cozy day in my own little corner of the 19th century, by myself. Nice work, if you can get it, I think.
So now that I’m back home, I’ve got to figure out if there’s something I can whip up for dinner in this century. Plus, I’ve got 3 days of dirty dishes in the sink to wash. Domestic bliss. For your entertainment, let me showcase a guest photographer: Steve. He took this shot while we were hiking on the Ice Age Trail on Monday.
One of my activities today was to string rhubarb up for drying. Dried rhubarb will keep for a while, and then you can boil it down for rhubarb sauce and pie later. So there are two strands of rhubarb hanging on the wall of the summer kitchen. Maybe in a week or two we’ll have enough for one of those super 70s-like door curtains, you know, the kind they made out of love beads? Do you suppose that’ll become a fashion trend? Okay, maybe not.
I opened the door to the stairs where we store our flour and sugar in plastic containers and our newspaper and matches for lighting the fire. Something smelled like death. Sitting next to the pile of newspapers is a “tin cat” – a metal mousetrap. I made a mental note to ask my supervisor to show me how to check it. I built a fire in the woodstove and in the bake oven. The smell was forgotten quickly as smoke billowed out the chimney. After fetching water and setting up some rinsing basins, I stepped outside to sit down and enjoy the sunshine. A black and white cat came ambling up the gravel path. He sniffed at the doorway into the summer kitchen, mewed at me a few times, and moved on. I wondered if he smelled a mouse. When my lead came by after lunch, I mentioned my suspicion to her, and she showed me how to open the trap. Sure enough, a dead mouse was inside. She wrapped it in a plastic bag and disposed of it in the trash, so as not to spread any more poison into the food chain. I apologized for asking her to perform such an unsavory task right after lunch, but she laughed it off with a comment about what she does to be paid the “really big bucks” at Old World Wisconsin.
A school tour group came by in three installments. I was surprised to see how many kids had brought phone cameras. I was also surprised that some of the teen girls didn’t want to knead the bread dough. What? Too squishy? Afraid to get your hands dirty? Don’t want to put down the camera? Whatever….
A homeschooling family of four arrived later, each with massive lenses and expensive camera equipment. They were taking pictures for our annual photo contest…for the eighth year. They had each won prizes in last years’ contest. The teenaged boys enjoyed chatting about the merits of Nikon vs. those of Canon and making “Saskquatch” prints in the garden. They snapped away as I opened the bake oven door and placed the 8 foot pile inside (the bread paddle). I wished them good luck in the contest and mentioned other great photo opportunities I had taken, like the oxen and the zigzag fence.
Cash prizes, folks! Photo contest reception is September 7. Come on by and take some pictures! And say “Guten tag!” to me!
I am reading a book called After the Fire: The Destruction of the Lancaster County Amish by Randy-Michael Testa. Kirkus’ Review sums up the basics thus: “As a Harvard graduate student, former third-grade teacher at a Denver private school, and serious ethical thinker of Catholic persuasion and “morally tired” condition, Testa spent the summer of 1988 living with an Amish family in Lancaster County, where he conducted fieldwork for a Ph.D. thesis exploring a “community of faith”.”
Here is an excerpt that echoes all the discussions Steve & I have about living a life that embodies our values, a grounded life, a life of depth.
“…Dorothy Day once quoted from the Archbishop of Paris: ‘To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda or even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery; it means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.’
“I stand barefooted thinking of Elam. Earlier in the week, he and I trooped across the Franklin and Marshall College campus to the library to look for some maps of the county. In lieu of classes, campus had been taken over for the summer. Everywhere there were boys in soccer gear and coaches in black shorts and white and black striped shirts blowing whistles and clapping their hands and yelling, ‘Atta boy! Good work! Good WORK!’
“Elam and I had just driven in from the farm. I had been up since five working in the sweltering barn, where I am regularly stung in the eyes by sweat rolling off my head. My white shirts are permanently stained yellow. I have gained ten pounds and back muscles. I sleep so soundly in the Stoltzfus house I sometimes awaken myself with my own snoring. So for all that, hearing the word ‘work’ in teh context of a soccer camp seemed like complete insanity.
“Elam turned to me and asked, ‘What is this?’
‘It’s a soccer camp,’ I said. I felt my soul tense.
‘What is ‘soccer’? Elam asked blank-faced.
‘It’s a sport. Like baseball.’ (I knew some Amish played baseball at family outings.) ‘These boys are here to learn how to play it better,’ I replied quickly.
‘But why? It’s a game,’ Elam said, puzzled.
‘These boys have paid money to come here to learn how to play a sport better,’ I repeated tersely.
‘But why would they go to school to learn a sport?’ he persisted.
‘Because the outside world doesn’t have or value productive, meaningful work for its young men, so it teaches them that it’s important to know how to play a sport well. This keeps them occupied until they go to college and THEN THEY PAY A LOT OF MONEY TO COME HERE AND ASK WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE!!!’
“I practically turned on him- and my own world. I shocked Elam with my vehemence. I shocked myself as well. I wondered what was happening to my view of the world.
“Now, standing in Levi’s meadow in the middle of the night, suddenly I understand what has happened. At this hour, in this stillness, among these people, life makes perfect sense. The outside world does not. I have become a witness.
“I return to the upstairs bedroom as the blue mantel clock in Elam and Rachel’s room chimes three, and fall asleep to a cow lowing in the moonlight.”
To live in a way that embodies your deepest values, despite persecution, propaganda, and perspiration. That seems like an honest life to me. I hope I have the courage to live like that.
(photos taken at Old World Wisconsin, the living history museum where I work as a costumed interpreter)