Tuesday, July 17, 2012

We Have It So Easy

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.

37 comments:

Carolyn Renee said...

I often think about that. We garden because it's "fun" or to supplement or save some money on store-bought groceries. But I would be TOTALLY screwed if I had to rely on my garden / livestock to survive. I mean, like we would probably die of starvation. Granted, I probably would put more time into the gardens and livestock (and less reading blogs!!), but I cannot fathom having to provide all our food. I really need to buckle down and work on it.

Thanks for the story......and the kick in the pants. :)

Sue said...

Amen!

Susan said...

One of the biggest differences is that they faced all the odds without griping and carrying on. They just set their jaw and saw it through. You are right - they had fewer options/choices/opportunities. When you HAVE to feed your family, you do it, no matter what. Why, even Carolyn Renee would toughen up if put in that position (scary thought), no matter what she says. Thank you for the wonderful story. What a treasure trove of information they must have been.

Mama Pea said...

CR - You're welcome for the story, but I don't think you need a kick in the pants. We all, however, need to think about the advantages we have today compared to that of our forefathers . . . or should I say foremothers?

Mama Pea said...

Sue - Well said, Sister!

Mama Pea said...

Susan - Don't tell anyone, but I think our dear CR may be tougher than all the rest of us put together in a gunny sack! ;o}

And you're very welcome for the story! Glad you enjoyed it.

2 Tramps said...

A very nice story and reminder to help us be more grounded in our lives. Like Carolyn, we would starve with what we grow, too. My Mom was one of four sisters raised on a dairy farm where they grew most everything they ate and we love to hear stories about their life on the farm.

Lisa said...

Our lives are so much easier....yes.... though, why do they seem so much more complicated at times?! These days of long ago were fraught with trying to simply get by, as your wonderful story tells, yet, for some reason, we think of them as 'simpler times'.... the 'good ole days' in our minds.... and some of us yearn for that. Not for the sickness and illness.... just for a simpler time and way of life. After saying all that, I am so very grateful we do not have to depend on our own garden/homestead to provide our food. We would most definitely be starving!!!

Sparkless said...

Very good points Mama Pea! Some people actually think things have gotten worse but in many ways they have improved. I am grateful that these improvements have made life easier and safer for me and my family.

Jenyfer Matthews said...

I'm sure that my own grandparents had similar stories, but they were so stoic they didn't talk much about it! The fact that they were without indoor plumbing until shortly before I was born and still ran the house on a generator and had a wringer washer in my memory spoke volumes on what they were willing to do to get by where they chose to live. Forget rabbits - I remember stealing fresh peas from their garden myself!

Katidids said...

Thank you for sharing the stories! We have an entire generation with a wealth of knowledge that we are loosing. I've often thought of how it would be to live off of what your grew. What it would take and, if I had "it". We clutter up out lives with so many "things" we don't really need. All our fancy gadgets and comforts. Yes there were shorter lives then from the harsher life but I think for many they are still short from all our excesses

Jane @ Hard Work Homestead said...

You know, the one that really gets me is that people love to complain about modern medicine and vaccines today. Yet there are very few people living in the US today that know what it was like to have most of their children die in a matter of days from something we can treat today. It is so easy to focus on the deaths or injuries from medicine now but compared to the millions who died before from illness we can treat- we have nothing to complain about. Smallpox, TB, polio, yellow fever, etc. Or how a small cut could take down even a healthy young person before antibiotics. I agree that the chemical companies have shifty, greedy motives these days and some of these medicines are more for profit than safety, but you have to respect the science behind it. If not for it, I bet 50% of people reading this blog now would not have survived.

Mama Pea said...

2 Tramps - Do encourage your mom and/or her sisters to write down some of the stories and events they remember from growing up in their dairy farm. So much every day history is lost when the people who lived it are no longer with us.

Mama Pea said...

Lisa - I do believe our lives are so much more complicated because of our "wealth." We have so many more choices than our ancestors did. Past generations didn't have the option for traveling or purchasing or going to school or even choosing a profession as we do. What "luxuries" could they actually acquire? Even though they may be "good" things, just the fact that we CAN have a vacation cabin or invest time and/or money in a hobby brings its own set of time-consuming stresses with it. What luxuries such as these could past generations even hope to acquire?

Mama Pea said...

Sparkless - Sometimes I'm afraid our technological advances have gotten too far ahead of our basic sense of compassion though.

Mama Pea said...

Jen - Yes, it was a way of a simpler life for them that they had made acceptable. Another example of the fact that they didn't have but a few choices to make!

Mama Pea said...

Katidids - Plus now we draw life out way beyond what it should be by keeping the body alive long after it should be. The old saying, "It's better to wear out than to rust out," comes to mind.

Mama Pea said...

Jane - Good points. Just think of all the children who died before their first or second birthdays. It was very common a hundred years ago for parents to have lost two or three children to infant mortality.

Lisa said...

I completely agree with you Mama Pea. Their 'luxury' might've been the orange in their Christmas stocking? We are blessed, aren't we. Thanks for a good post with good points to ponder.

Little Fudd said...

Great story we should all take to heart.

Simply Scaife Family said...

Wonderful stories from wonderful lives..so glad you shared!

Stephanie said...

Thank you for sharing Mama Pea...makes you take a good hard look at yourselves.

Katidids said...

Totaly agree with you. If any doubt all they have to do is walk through an old cematary. For every adult there are 2-3 children. There was a very old one from the 1700's near our home when we lived in VA. It was nothing to see 5-6 babies year after year in a row. We are so blessed

Mama Pea said...

SSF - Thank you! It was fun to remember and write it down.

Mama Pea said...

Stephanie - I don't know about anybody else, but thinking about the struggles of those who have gone before us makes me feel pretty wimpy!

fullfreezer said...

Thanks for sharing. I've been doing my share of whining and complaining lately- weather, "overworked and underpaid", weeds, etc. Sometimes I need a reminder of how good my life really is. I don't have to depend on my garden to live (thank goodness!). But I grew up in a farm family where we raised nearly all of our own food so I remember those days (and I'm not THAT old) of Mom and Dad worrying about a crop failure in the garden.
Judy

Freedom Acres Farm said...

What I wonder is how soon we might just find out how tough we are and whether we have the grit to make it or not. Kinda scary stuff to think about! Might come a day when we really do have to live on our gardens, what then?

odiie said...

We are so blessed! I lose sight of that. I think sometimes we romanticize the past and don't think about the realities and hardships faced by our grandparents.
Thanks.

Mama Pea said...

Little Fudd - A reminder of what life "used" to be like never hurts, does it?

Mama Pea said...

Judy - I remember so well a young gal I used to work with. She still lived at home with her folks who ran the family farm. She tried to explain how if a bad storm flattens a whole field of corn people say gee, that's a shame, but simply fail to realize it affects the farmer and his family the same way it would be if the office worker were told he wouldn't be paid any salary for the next 8 months. I've never forgotten that analogy.

Mama Pea said...

Freedom Acres Farm - My thoughts are the same. Fortunately, we who are on our own land and have the knowledge of how to grow our own and take care of ourselves are going to be way ahead of the game. (Also unfortunately, it won't be a game.)

Mama Pea said...

odiie - We have our own set of stressors that I sometimes think are more detrimental to the human race than our grandparents had. But, you are absolutely correct. We here in the U.S. are still so much better off than most others in the world. We have to remember that.

Julie said...

I agree Mama Pea. And thanks for the reminder. I think my generation needs that every once in awhile. Just think children born just 10 years ago won't even know what it's like not to have the internet, cell phones,or computers let alone not always having access to food year round. It's hard enough for me to believe my dad got indoor plumbing as a kid! i can't imagine a bath being a luxury!

judy said...

Beautiful story and so well told.I was just getting comfy reading and listening at the same time and it came to a end ,But you are so right but some of us don't even have to go back so far to know hardship and hard work-my Jerry did .The dimple on his cheek is no dimple but a rat bite from sleeping in a dresser drawer and also one time Jerry car broke down when he worked at the college and it was a 2nd shift job and no one wanted to leave there cosy bed to help a guy so he walked 16 miles home -took 4 hours . I haven't forgotten any of you bloggers ,I'm so darn busy .Patrick had his knee surgery yesterday at the U of M .I wish one of the people who set up ins policy had to come home after same day surgery,I watched my 16 year old grand son cry like a baby from the pain to try to get him up the stairs at home if I get any more spitten mad at the whole dang system ,i'' probably have stroke good night all I earned what I hope will be a whole night sleep if I'm a good girl

Mama Pea said...

Julie - Welcome and thanks for commenting! A 94-year old pioneer of our small town died recently and at the funeral someone spoke of all the changes and advances the recently deceased had witnessed in his life time. Our world have changed SO MUCH in the last 100 years that it's almost hard to comprehend.

Mama Pea said...

judy - Sending best wishes that your grandson's knee surgery fixes him up good as new. He's young and strong and after a couple of days of a bit of pain, he will heal quickly.

Take care of yourself and try to get enough rest!

Erin said...

Amen! Whenever I'm feeling particularly overwhelmed with all the garden chores is usually a good time to read a few chapters by Laura Ingalls! :)