Saturday, July 26, 2008

Lost Lifeskills: Reflections Across Generations

No doubt about it, the basic costs of living are getting more expensive. We can get a t-shirt or new cell phone for ever less it seems these days, but a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs, a warm house, a tank of gas, health care, or a college education, those costs are skyrocketing. It's no wonder so many folks are feeling anxious or angry about what's going on.

This week I had the opportunity to meet two people whose ages span several generations yet they share an insight about one thing we can do to reduce our eco-nomic stress.

The first was a retired doctor. When I told him I was offering financial mental health counseling, he was immediately enthusiastic. "That is so needed right now," he said. Then he went on to share his perceptions of why. "Most people are not at all prepared for life today and especially for what's ahead," he explained. "I'm afraid my generation has helped create this problem. I grew up on a farm. My parents survived the Great Depression. We grew our own food. We all worked. There were many daily chords. There was no time for play. But when we grew up we went to school, did well, made lots of money, and didn't want that kind of life for our children. We created a world for them in which everything is provided for them. My daughter can't put dinner on the table for her family without a microwave."

The next day I met a young professional woman who's married and just starting her family. When I told her about the plans to teach Lost Life Skills courses through out Let's Live Local program so our remote community can become more self-sustaining , she quickly volunteered to help. "I could teach a lot of those skills! "she said. "There's so much we can do for ourselves and each other instead of paying others to to everything for us." She admits she's a throwback but prides herself on doing as many things as possilbe herself: cooking, sewing, gardening, knitting, cleaning, etc. Basic living tasks are fun to her. She enjoys them. Her husband suggested remodeling their home to accommodate a live-in nanny to take care of the house and their baby so she can work full-time. She can't image doing that. "I'd rather earn less and do what needs to be done myself, than work all the time to pay for others to take care of our life."

I asked how she developed these basic life skills and such a love for them. "From my grandparents," she explained. "They had all these skills that my mother wasn't interested in learning. But I was. Now my mother is getting older and I'm doing a lot of things for her she can't afford to have others do. I'm not worried about the need to become more self-sufficient. That's how I already live."

Reflecting on my own life, I fall somewhere between these two generations. My mother is of the doctor's generation. Her parents lived through the Great Depression and she taught me many basic living skills. But I was growing up in a different world where you were ostracized if you did things like wear home-made clothes or bring a homemade lunch to school. Canning? Repairing things? Maintaining your own car? No way! Though I learned how to do many of these things, I set that knowledge aside to pursue a full-time career and paid others to take care of the business of living. Now I'm busy reclaiming them and grateful to my mother for passing them on.

There is much our grandparents and older parents can teach us about how to live more simply and sustainably. Judging from my conversation with the young mother, when we get past the idea of needing to buy the basics of a simple, good life from others, these lessons are empowering and create a sense of enjoyment, security and peace of mind that's fast slipping away for so many of us.


BelleFromGa said...

What a great blog Sarah! I wish we could all go back to the ways of our grandparents. I enjoy canning vegetables from our garden and learning new things that I can do for me and my family. A course like you are proposing to teach these lost arts is an awesome idea. As always I enjoy reading ANYTHING you write! Good luck and God bless! Much love, Gail

Pat said...

Very interesting topic Sarah! I look forward to all your future posts on this subject.

Sarah Edwards said...

Gail, I'm so glad you like the idea of Lost Life Skills. I think it is important that we reclaim this knowledge. As much as I love many of our electronic devices and conveniences, we are at risk of becoming unable to sustain ourselves should our family or economy encounter another depression or dust bowl like sitation. We like to think such a thing could never happen, but the people of that time didn't think that was possible either.
In the collapse of the Soviet economy almost everyone had a place to live, a garden (90% of their food was prduced on persoanl gardens), heat through through central neighborhood boilers and free transportation that continued running even during the of times. We would have to be more ingenious as none of those basics are assured to us in tough times.
My mother told me yesterday about the dust bowl days in Kansas City. I didn't know the dust bowl came up to Kansas City. She said the temperature soared to 117 and they would let the kids out of school to walk home in the dust storms. There was no air conditioning. Many people in her family lost their jobs and they moved into the family home together.
I think we should all be prepared to be resilient because who knows what difficutlies we may face and we don't want to end up as helpless as the woman who can't fix dinner without a microwave.
Besides even should the economy stay strong, as we all hope it will, it is empowering to do for ourselves and it's fun to create our own lives instead of buying prepackaged versions.
Much love, Sarah

Sarah Edwards said...

Pat, so glad you enjoyed the blog.
Cheers, Sarah