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As advanced and modern as we like to think of ourselves in society, I feel we’re actually a lot worse off in many ways than our great-grandparents. We may have more technology and I’m not saying I’m not grateful for it, but sadly, we’re turning into a generation of people who lack skill sets and a sense of pride in their work. (I know this isn’t true of everyone, in fact, if you’re reading this, then it most likely does not apply to you)
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We’re entrenched in a world of hurry up, keeping up with the newest and greatest thing, looking for that one thing that’s going to give us an edge, a to-do list a mile long, and multi-tasking like we’re an octopus with eight arms. I’m not judging, because I’m guilty of all of these things in one form or another. And if you’re honest with yourself, I’m willing to lay money down you are too, to one degree or another.
There’s a lot of things we have going for us today, but there’s a few areas where we need to take a look and reconsider going back to our great-grandparents (or grandparent’s depending upon your age) and learning from them.
1. Use local. While there’s nothing more local than growing it yourself (hello backyard grocery shopping, I love you) the next best thing is buying it from someone you know. During the Great Depression Years and before, if you weren’t raising it yourself, then you knew the person you were buying it from. My grandparent’s and father had a milk cow, but for those who didn’t, there was a dairy and local milk man who delivered the milk by wagon. You could go by the dairy, see the cows, and talk to the man providing your milk, literally.
If you needed lumber, you went and put in your order at the local mill. You saw the log, told the sawyer what you wanted, and you’d come and pick it back up from him when it was done.
We still buy our milk locally. It comes in a glass bottle and I return the bottle to the store when I purchase more.
A store-bought outfit was a big deal. Most people wore home-sewn clothes, many made from the flour sacks when times were lean. Or when Papa’s shirt couldn’t be mended anymore or Mother’s dress was too frayed, it was cut down into a small dress or shirt for the youngest member of the family.
Not enough material left for clothing? Then it went into the rag bag to be made into a quilt or rag rug for the floor.
You learned how to sew. Seams were made to last and buttons were sewn on tight and re-used. A button box was something almost every house had and they were prized items, not to be thrown out when you no longer liked the clothes or outgrew them. For repairing seams, sewing on buttons, and mending having these basics in a sewing kit is a must.
People had dedicated skill sets. Sewing, quilting, basket making, carpentry. People took pride in the things they were making with their hands. They knew the people who would be wearing or using their handiwork. It wasn’t just an assembly piece in a factory.
2. Skill sets. Our great-grandparents had skill sets and knew how to use them. They didn’t rely on stores and huge chains for their needs and goods. They learned how to do things themselves, they were the original DIY’s and a lot of times, their lives depending upon it.
Their work became their art form. My father always told me, “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Give anything you do your best.” As you can imagine, I was kind of being a grump about having to help him fix the fence and may have been not doing such a hot job of holding the wire tight while he mended it.
As an adult, I see the wisdom in his words and remember them when I’m doing something I’d really rather not be. I may have had this pep talk with myself while scrubbing a pan or two out before.
3. Sewing. They made their own clothes and knew how to mend them. I realize there are still quite a few folks who know how to sew, but it’s not being taught at home or in schools like it used to.
Look in your closet or in your children’s closet. How many items are handmade? How many times do you throw out a piece of clothing because it gets ripped instead of mending it? You might not become a full-on seamstress but learn the basics.
How to mend a seam, how to gather fabric, how to hem. These basic skills will let you do a lot more than you think. Find someone who sews and ask them for a lesson. Most are happy to teach someone. You don’t need to buy a sewing machine to learn some good hand sewing skills. I didn’t get a sewing machine until much later in life (and I’m still not what I’d called a skilled seamstress by any means), but I can mend and fix most things by hand with just a needle and thread. This is a great beginner’s sewing kit for less than $15.
My mother taught me how to stitch a sampler when I was young. My grandmother and mother were both making a quilt top when I was eight and I wanted to be like them. A family friend took me to buy fabric (such a generous gift) to make my very own quilt. My mom sat me down and showed me how to stitch the pieces together by hand. Over time, my stitches became more uniform and neat, until you could barely see them when turned right side out and up. I still use that stitch to mend seams on our clothes, blankets, and pillows today.
I love these vintage looking stitching transfer patterns for embroidery work.
4. Cooking and baking from scratch. There weren’t store-bought versions of everything. You stocked a full larder (start with our 8 Foods Everyone Should Be Storing and 6 Tips on Buying Food in Bulk). You were grateful to have food to put on the table and didn’t complain that it wasn’t what you “wanted”.
You swapped recipes with your neighbor or at church potlucks. (Anyone else love potlucks?) You handed down your most favorite and best dishes to your children, as they were right there with you learning and helping to put the meal on the table.
5. Self-sufficiency. Even though we raise all of our own meat and a good portion of our vegetables, in our day to day life, we’re still quite dependent on a lot of modern conveniences brought to us by large companies or entities. I mean, let’s face it, I bring this to you via the internet…. but I’m okay with that because I know if I have to, we have the skills and the means to make it on our own.
We save our own heirloom garden seed, we have fruit trees and plants, I preserve and put up a lot of our own food, we forage, and have quite a bit of our grandparent’s old-fashioned knowledge!
Learn how to can in my free video series here
6. Helping one another. There was a reason our great-grandparents had barn raisings and roofing parties. They knew how important it was to help out a neighbor because when they needed help, that’s who they’d be calling on. Communities banded together to help those who ran into misfortune.
Needed a cup of sugar? You ran over to your neighbor’s house to borrow it and knew they’d do the same for you. Actually, a neighbor came over and borrowed cumin from me when she was making relish, and I ran out of dill and went to another neighbor who had extra this past summer. We were all doing a bit of summer preserving and what one didn’t’ have, the other did.
There are many ways of helping someone, sometimes it’s simply being a friend or watching out for their place when they’re gone.
In an emergency, your neighbor very well might be the person that saves your life.
We’ve been a true community of helping each other out with tips and suggestions in the comment section. I’m honored to be a part of your journey and what I consider our “on-line neighborhood.”
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.