Today we grump and grumble about the "difficulties" we encounter making our way through life. Much of what we stress over has to do, I think, with the complexities of our modern lives which are caused to a large part by the extensive opportunities we have and the multitude of choices available to us.
A jog in my memory yesterday made me think back to an elderly couple hubby and I met some time in the second year of our marriage. This must have been about 1965 and at that time, the couple I'm remembering, Mr. and Mrs. Hawes, were both in their eighties.
Although life during the time when Mr. and Mrs. Hawes were trying to make a living and raise a family was so much more basic and simple, their life was much more difficult and challenging compared to our life today.
In the mid '60s we lived in a farming community in Illinois where a small weekly "buy, sell or swap" newspaper was published. Even then we were interested in obtaining the most natural food possible for ourselves so when we saw an ad for butter made with raw cow's milk, we decided to follow up on it. This led us to turning into the driveway of what looked to be a very neat, but very old family farm.
Mr. and Mrs. Hawes had lived on this same piece of property for over fifty years. They'd farmed the land and raised their children in the old two-story, bare bones farmhouse. When we met them, they had given up farming, leased out their land and no longer kept any animals except one Jersey cow which they still milked and separated the cream for making and selling butter.
We became steady customers of theirs and nearly each time we stopped to buy our butter, they asked us in for a little visit. With our encouragement, they reminisced about their life in days gone by.
They must have started farming in the early 1900s. We heard a story of the horse they had that was always difficult to get harnessed up. One time, Mr. Hawes had been having an especially hard time with the horse so sent his eight year-old son into the house to get his mother to come help with the uncooperative horse.
In the ensuing scuffle, the recalcitrant horse bit Mrs. Hawes on the side of her face. Needless to say, all thoughts of getting the horse harnessed up were forgotten as everyone went into the house to determine the extent of Mrs. Hawes' injuries. Luckily, they proved to be not very serious and soon everyone started to calm down.
As the mother and father were assuring their children that all was well, they saw their eight year-old son go stomping out the door with his BB gun. Mr. Hawes asked where he thought he was going. The little boy replied that he was going to go kill the horse that had hurt his mama!
Most family farms weren't profitable operations during those times, so Mr. Hawes was forced to take a job selling livestock feed to supplement their income. This necessitated him traveling long distances away from the farm. Of course, when he was gone it was up to Mrs. Hawes and the children to keep things running smoothly as best they could.
They told us of the time their old wood cook stove in the kitchen nearly burned the house down. The pipe from the stove went up through the ceiling and across the attic before venting into an old brick chimney. Fortunately, Mr. Hawes was home the day they had a chimney fire and the pipe in the attic broke and fell to the attic floor. The whole family working together was able to get the fire out before terrible damage was done. It's scary to think what would have happened if that old, wooden, tinderbox of a house had caught fire.
Mrs. Hawes talked of one year the insects were unbelievably bad in their crops and in her huge vegetable garden. She recalled standing for hours and hours at the kitchen sink alternating between crying over the paltry harvest and nearly becoming physically sick from the huge number of insects she tried to pick and wash out of the vegetables. Of course, these were times when they didn't have money to go to the grocery store to supplement the food for their table. These sad garden vegetables were all she would have to can and try to feed her family with during the coming year.
We listened as they talked of a particularly harsh winter when their area experienced one snowstorm after the other, always when Mr. Hawes was away, Mrs. Hawes remembered. During one of these blizzards two of the children who had had bad colds developed pneumonia. As we talked, Mrs. Hawes pointed to the spot in the living room where she had set up two cots near the parlor stove for the children to lie on so she could better tend to them. (There was no heat upstairs in the bedrooms.) She told of the night with a howling snowstorm that rattled every window in the house and the snow formed small drifts on the inside windowsills. Mr. Hawes was away, she was alone with the five children and the two with pneumonia were so sick that she thought she was going to lose both of them before morning. The telephone lines were down so she had no way of getting help. Although everyone survived that event, she said she'd never been able to enjoy a good snowfall since then.
Yep, we grumble about things such as the hot, humid weather, the lack of rainfall and the plague of insects dining in our gardens on a daily basis, but do we have a difficult life compared to how hard Mr. and Mrs. Hawes worked year after year to provide the basic necessities for themselves and their family?
I don't think so. We have it so easy.
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