November 16, 2008

Hard Times and Dandelions

Above is a picture of my maternal grandmother, Gertie. She lived on a farm in Pennsylvania and gave birth to 15 children; 13 of them lived to adulthood. She died when I was a baby and I have no memory of her, but I have a good idea of what her life was like. She would have tended a large garden, kept chickens, cooked and baked from scratch with a wood/coal range, canned hundreds of jars of tomatoes and fruits, helped with the butchering and made sausage, scrapple and cured bacon and hams, sewed clothing with a treadle machine, made quilts and comforters to keep her family warm, and done the washing and ironing and the general housekeeping, all while often pregnant and caring for children. She's in her sixties in this picture, and looks happy but worn out.

Her family had hard times during the depression, but on a fertile farm, with lots of hard work, frugality, determination and some luck, they got by. My mother said she and her brothers and sisters were always proud of the fact that when they packed their school lunch pails, they had sandwiches with bread and meat. They felt a bit superior to the really poor kids whose sandwiches were bread and ketchup, or bread and (shudder) lard.

I have a very few concrete objects from her life--a china plate, and a small stack of feedsacks. The feedsacks are just the plain white cotton kind, no prints. One of my aunts had them, and then they got passed on to me because I was a quilter and would be likely to use them.

I am using them; they are lovely to embroider on. I have a batch of blocks that I am embroidering dandelion leaves on; I've been working on them off and on for years, as a filler project when nothing else is pressing. Dandelions are unfairly maligned, in my opinion. They are bright and cheerful. I've eaten the young leaves in the spring, and made excellent wine from the blossoms, and it's a good bet my grandmother did too.

Here's one of the blocks in progress:

My life is much different than my grandmother's, although I have inherited her work ethic. I am grateful that I have the time and resources available that allow me to make art. And while these are challenging economic times, I am still a long way off from lard sandwiches, for which I am profoundly thankful.


Libby Fife said...

What a wonderful story and subsequent perspective. Thanks for the reminder.

Diane said...

My gram used to pick and eat the weeds in her yard. She showed me the mustard and the dandelion. As a child of my times, I couldn't believe she was eating things that she didn't buy from the store - which as we all know was where food comes from! When I was older, my grandpa would hunt rabbits near our house and she would prepare them for dinner. Again, I didn't appreciate their real life skills. What will my grandchildren remember about me?

ann said...

Thanks Sue for this wonderful essay and reminder.

I just turned 65. Your grandmother does look 'old. I believe my maternal grandmother died when she was 65. She seemed very old to me AND the photos prove it.

I grew up on a small farm. We always had a huge garden. The pantry was full of canned goods or we didn't have much to eat. Now I live on a tiny lot near the center of town. I have no space for a real garden, but I do grow herbs, squash and of course tomatoes. Unfortunately in years past the tomatoes were just enough for instant use. With my retirement down 80%, I will be growing and learning how to use common 'gleaned' foods.

Carol Dean said...

Thank you, Sue, for the much-needed perspective :) *hugs* We have so much to be grateful for, both past and present.

KarenF said...

I, like you, am grateful for what I have and the time we live in...and I also am grateful for the stories from those generations that show us how hard work and ingenuity can get you through tough times. We should all be wise enough to listen to and learn from them!

Thanks for sharing your Grandmother's story

Sue Reno said...

Thank you everyone, for your thoughtful and lovely comments, they are very much appreciated!