Sunday, November 8, 2009

But You Look Clean and Don't Smell . . .

When we first moved here to the great state of Minnesota, it was to 80 acres of land out in the boonies which had originally been homesteaded in the early 1900s, but then deserted since the early 1920s. There was no house on the property (it had long ago burned down), and what had once been hay fields and garden area were overgrown with trees that were over 50 years old. The only building left on the property was the hand-hewn square log barn. The roof had caved in, but the four walls were still standing.

In order to have shelter, we had an 8' x 50', 15 year old house trailer moved up here from Illinois. It had very little insulation and was truly like living in a tin can.

There was the original hand-dug well on the property that, we were told, had been boarded over to keep animals from falling into it. We had a terrible time locating the well because it was well hidden by a mass of brambles grown over it. But once we found it, my husband pumped it out, went down into it (it was lined with rock) and cleaned it up the best he could. We built a new platform over the top and put a hand pump on it. The water came into the house by the bucket full and that was our water system for the first few years.

The old well served us well (no pun intended) but it faithfully went dry twice a year . . . in August when the ground water seepage dried up and in March when the ground water froze so that it didn't flow into the well. In August we took jugs down to the shore of Lake Superior and got our water there. In March I melted snow (a slow, laborious project) for all of our water.

Our bathroom facilities were located at the end of a meandering path through the woods. There was a large window in our outhouse with a scenic view. I kept our biffy clean and odor-free which, contrary to what some people think, is not hard to do.

We either took sponge baths or filled the old aluminum wash tub on the kitchen floor. Primitive though our water situation may sound, we had a system that worked well for us.

Our second year on the homestead, a Montessori School opened in town. Because our daughter was an only child, we thought it would be beneficial for her to get some socialization with other children her age. The school encouraged parents to be involved so we had a good number of meetings and committees involved with the curriculum.

One of the mothers I met and was involved with was . . . how shall I say this? More than a little on the up-tight side and basically, I think, unhappy. Her family had come to northern Minnesota because her husband, who worked for the Department of Natural Resources, was transferred here. She hated being 130 miles from a shopping mall, she hated the lack of cultural events, she hated the weather, basically she didn't want to be here.

At one of the school functions, someone asked me where we lived. I told them and they commented that we didn't have electricity that far out, did we? The discussion continued about our lifestyle and when the up-tight mother heard me explain that we didn't have running water or plumbing in the house, she got a look on her face like she had just eaten a bad piece of fish and said, "Oh, my God! But . . . but you always LOOK so clean."

Yep. I was clean. We were all clean. I kept a clean house and we ate off clean dishes. Our level of hygiene was right up there and none of us ever got sick. Each year we refined our own alternative electrical and water systems a little more. We ended up with quite adequate systems and many people coming to our home didn't realize we weren't hooked up to grid power.

Then came the year when public utility power came down our little back road, and we brought it in to the house. We actually became quite "modranized" (as one old, salt of the earth, backwoods gal in the area used to say). Why, we even had (ta-dah!) running water and indoor plumbing.


Sue said...

Hahaha-peoples ignorance never ceases to amaze. Glad you didn't "smell"-LOL.
I well remember sponge baths-we had them at our cabin in the U.P. of Michigan-and no one ever knew.........
Doesn't mean I LIKED it, but you do what you gotta do.
Have a great week, and thanks for the memories!

Erin said...

Wonderful story! I love hearing about your times spent starting your homestead. Isn't it unbelievable what some people will say? We actually live in a house that is a little under 1000 sq ft. Yep, we have 2 boys and 2 dogs! When people hear this their first reaction is always "I could NEVER do that, I have (x) amount (usually over 2000) sq ft and it's not enough"! I wonder how well these people live! We are very anti-clutter, and I run this place like a sailboat, everything having a place and all my furniture must have a dual purpose - but we live "big"! Then it is my turn to laugh when they see my yard - at a half acre it is my greatest asset here. While everyone else has a postage stamp yard, I have a garden, mini-orchard, play areas for the kids, fire pit and seating/dining area for over 2 dozen people. Funny it seems that all the clutter bugs and McMansion dwellers have to leave home to have fun, and they have been spotted in MY YARD, lol. Sorry to ramble, you have touched on a pet peeve for me - people who have no tolerance or understanding for any way of life other than the one modern convenience and greed has fostered. Think I may post about that this winter! By the way, what year did you make the move to MN and how long did it take to plan and decide?

Melissa said...

Great story! What made you want to move to the wilds of Minnesota and what were you doing previous to this? Were you resturant owners I think?

RuthieJ said...

What I have a hard time understanding is why someone would want to live in a major metropolitan area surrounded by scores of people with houses all alike and no privacy? No appeal for this gal!
I'd take your homestead over theirs any day Mama Pea! (humming the Green Acres tune...)

Mama Pea said...

Sue - Thanks for your kind words. It's good to get these memories down in print, isn't it? Maybe someone will get a chuckle out of them years from now.

Hey, Erin - With your mild climate, I'll bet you can use your yard "for living" nearly year round.

I think I'll do a little post about how we ended up here from Illinois . . . hope to answer your questions.

Melissa - You and Erin have given me the impetus to write a little more about just how we chose Minnesota and what we were up to when we left Illinois. I'll do that soon. Thanks for asking. (The restaurant came after we had been up here for fifteen years.)

Hi, Ruthie - I just laughed at you humming "Green Acres!" I know . . . I would go crazy if you made me live in a high-rise in the middle of a city. (Shudder!) But aren't we lucky everyone doesn't want to live "out" and on their own little piece of land?

beth said...

that was a wonderful story! can't wait for the next installment! You're an amazing woman mama pea! I'm sure you knew that already though!!

Chicken Mama said...

Another great story, Mama! But, did you MEAN to stop it, mid-stream? I was expecting it to segue into "getting used to" living WITH electricity! After all, I had lived the first (basically), what, 12 years of my life without it?

More, more!


Mama Pea said...

Hi, Beth - Hahahaheeheehohoho! Amazing is not a word I would ever use to describe myself! But bless your heart . . . I wonder what I've done to bamboozle you so? :o)

Chicken Mama - YOU, my dear, are the one who should do some writing about growing up the way you did. I (along with many others) would be very interested in hearing YOUR perspective on our lifestyle. What experiences and events stand out in your memory? I'm sure you saw things differently than Dad and I did.

You'll do it? GREAT!

Erin said...

I second that, Mama Pea! I would love to hear Chicken Mama's perspective on this - especially since we plan on inflicting this on our children someday LOL, although ours will be teenagers at that time!

Sue said...

Mama Pea-thank you so much for your comment today--I really appreciate it.
And I , like Erin, would really like to know more about how you ended up where you did.....and what part of IL (Hellinois!) did you come from??
And if you do decide to take it easy next summer-good for you!! Life is short-enjoy it fully! (but don't forget to take LOTS of pictures along the way cuz people like me LOVE LOVE LOVE pictures!!!)
Have a great week!

Jody M said...

When my husband was in college well before I met him, he was dating a well-to-do girl. He went home to the suburbs with her one weekend.

At one point, he was standing talking with the girl while her mother was doing something in the kitchen (?), and he mentioned that the following weekend he wouldn't be available to get together, he had to help his parents dig the 2 acres of potatoes they had planted.

The mother dropped whatever it was she had in her hands and said "OH MY GOD, THEY'RE POTATO FARMERS!!" and shot her daughter an unmistakable glare.

He didn't date the girl long.

So happy you all smelled clean!! Congratulations!

Mama Pea said...

Jody - Oh, that IS a good story. Talk about stoopid stereotypes, huh?

I have a little tale that's about as good. I heard two people talking about a young man (don't know what their "beef" with him was but I thought he was pretty cool and doin' just fine) and the one person said to the other, "Well, what can you expect from him? He grew up on a pig farm."

kadfoto said...

Wonderful story! I'm so glad you shared this. It gives inspiration and reminds me, breaking free and living the simple life can be done! Good job to you and your family, and thank you for sharing!

Mama Pea said...

Hi, kadfoto - Thanks for commenting!

Living the way we did (at least initially) was hard in many ways. But we gained so much from it in the way of self-sufficiency. Sadly, that's something most people have little concept of anymore. I think if we got back to more personal responsibility, we'd all be happier and gain a lot of satisfaction and pride in our own abilities.

(Gosh, somebody take the soap box away from me.)