For The Someday Book

Becoming My Grandmother

Posted on: August 8, 2011

Some of our CSA vegetables from last summer.

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.

3 Responses to "Becoming My Grandmother"

Love it. And if the stock market keeps going the way it is, we may all need to be living like our grandparents someday soon. BTW, if you want to make bread, you’ve got to get the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Have I evangelized to you about it yet? It’s LIFE CHANGING.

The Three R’s

(In memory of my grandmother, Ann X Weber – 1914-2001)

Long before the three R’s
became reduce, reuse, recycle,
you were living a life of simplicity
living in harmony with the earth.

You consumed only your share
of what the earth provided.
“I couldn’t eat another bite,
but the meal was a delight,”
ever refusing superfluous sustenance.
Nothing wasted, nothing in excess,
each kitchen scrap returned to the garden
enriching the soil from whence it came.

You wore the same dress to your daughter’s marriage,
your husband’s funeral, each grandchild’s wedding
and every formal occasion in between,
the plain gray silk adorned
by your elegant bearing.

You saved each rubber band,
paper clip,and pencil stub,
storing them in cottage cheese containers,
glass jars and shoe boxes
scattered throughout your house in
a random order only you understood.
Reluctant to waste even the insignificant;
Each item categorized, organized
awaiting a moment of need.

You rummaged at Goodwill
finding treasure in others’ junk.
Baskets of embroidery floss,
Shoes with springs to propel one to the moon,
Surprises for the grandchildren, given for no special occasion
yet, tailored to the loves of each one.
Gifts for the one who sews, the one who reads,
and the one who likes to have fun.

An intricate yellowed table cloth,
not a necessity, never used by you,
yet too fine to be neglected,
and such a bargain, too.
Restoring new life to the faded and used.
Giving purpose to the unwanted.

Self sufficiency was learned on the farm
from parents who came from the
Old Country with all that they had – which was nothing.
In your lifetime you achieved prosperity,
yet never craved luxury.

You were not motivated to save the world from excess and greed,
You lived a lived a life of simplicity, contented only with what you need.

– Annamarie Ross Shu (2011)

A poem I recently wrote very much along the same theme as your blog entry.

Annmarie, this is beautiful–a much more eloquent expression of the same theme I was contemplating! Thank you so much for sharing it. –JMK

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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