When I was a little girl, my sister and I would go to my grandparent’s home for overnight visits. They lived in a tiny rural community that consisted of a church and about 25 houses (give or take a few). Growing up, I heard stories of how it was once a thriving community with its one-room schoolhouse and grocery store. The train ran thru this little village, stopping to pick up passengers for a trip to the city about 30 miles to the north and west.
I suppose it was like many small rural towns during that time. Families sustaining themselves with food from their gardens, chickens, maybe a cow or pig. Kids were expected to do their fair share of work on the family homestead with no television or electronic devices to occupy their time.
As time went on, things began to change. Folks began to purchase automobiles and as a result, the train had fewer and fewer passengers. Cars allowed families the freedom to venture out when they wanted or needed to and as surrounding communities began to grow, this tiny town began to die. The schoolhouse closed it doors as children were picked up by the bus transporting them to a school in the neighboring town. Larger grocery stores opened up causing the little town market to go out of business. The little town became a shell of what it once was.
I spent some time recently, thinking about the lifestyle my grandparents must have lived. Honestly, I don’t know or remember a lot about their life, even though I spent many hours in their little tow-bedroom home. There was a chicken coop with its weathered wood and I remember the chickens in their fenced enclosure scratching and pecking at the ground. I can remember my grandmother filling her apron pockets with feed, opening the gate to the chicken yard and the chickens running up to her knowing they were about to get something good to eat.
On the east side of the house was a root cellar that I entered only a handful of times. I was quite scared of spiders and mice and knew they were residing behind the root cellar doors, so it took every ounce of courage I could muster to climb down that stairs behind my grandmother. It also seems strange that I can so clearly remember the root cellar and the food stored down there, but I don’t remember a garden, although there must have been one.
My grandparents little farm had a small water pump at the sink and a larger pump just across the driveway. There was no indoor plumbing, so trips to the bathroom were a trip across the yard to the outhouse. The bathtub in their house was filled with buckets of warm water that had been heated on the cook stove. A bar of Ivory soap in the tub was more like a toy as we watched it float or pushed it under water to watch it pop back up to the surface.
My grandfather spent hours in his old garage tinkering. He loved working on old cars or just about any engine he could get his hands on. I can remember many old baby food jars in his garage. He filled them with different sized nuts, bolts, and washers. An old grinding wheel attached to the workbench was used to sharpen tools and mower blades and I loved watching all the sparks fly.
Grandma used an old wringer washing machine to clean their clothes. I’m quite sure that was a luxury item that took the place of an old wash board. We were not allowed to get near it, but watching her run the dripping wet clothes thru that wringer provided me entertainment and I longed to give it a try.
Grandma was one of the best cooks and bakers ever. She had an old flour bin with a built-in sifter used often for making homemade pie crusts, rolls, and breads.
As time went on, they began to leave the homestead lifestyle behind and traded it in for a life of more convenience. Indoor plumbing was put in and the old cook stove was replaced with a gas stove. The chickens were soon gone and I can only assume they were butchered but never replaced with new baby chicks. Food was purchased from the grocery store and the root cellar was soon empty. The life of self-sufficiency turned into a life of dependency. Probably a welcome change from all the years of hard work to feed their large family or possibly a way to fit into a changing society.
Over the years, I really didn’t think about how different my grandparent’s lives were from the life I grew up living. Yet the life they lived impacted me in much bigger ways then I even realized. Happy memories of my time spent at their home. The feeling of freedom I didn’t feel anywhere else. Thinking back to those times fills me with a passion and desire for much of the same. No, I don’t want the outhouse or water pumps, although I wouldn’t mind the wringer washer and big flour bin. But I long to give up so much of the life of dependency I’ve built for myself for a life of more self-sufficiency.
I’m not sure why all these memories have flooded my mind. I suppose it could be that the holidays have caused me to pause and think about Christmases past, so many of them included visits to my grandparent’s home. Their silver aluminum Christmas tree with the changing coloring wheel in the living room. The cuckoo clock sounding off each hour. Peaceful, happy memories from my childhood.
While I may not desire to live the exact life they lived, their life has given me a foundation to build on. A life that causes one to fall into bed each night, exhausted from the day, feeling satisfied and content. Not a simpler life, but a connected life. A happy life. A homesteaders life.