By now, many of us have heard, and perhaps even put into practice, that old adage of practicality: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” I think of it as the wisdom of the Great Depression. When so many people had so very little, the best use was made out of every single resource – be it a sock, a newspaper, a swatch of fabric, or any number of little things I take for granted every day. Perhaps I should restate that last sentence – that I used to take for granted every day.
Since the Global Credit Crisis of 2008, my family has been affected in a similar manner to many others. Our single income has been reduced by more than 25%; we lost our home to foreclosure, despite the fact that we purchased far under what we qualified for when we took out the mortgage; our day-to-day purchases are ruled by the now-familiar question: “Is it a want or a need?” But we are not unhappy.
Sometime around 2005, I started hearing about “preparedness.” It struck a chord in my mind and in my heart. As I did more research, attended some local classes, and talked to people who were quietly preparing themselves for – well, for something , although even they didn’t always know quite what – I became more and more convinced that I was being guided down this path of knowledge, and that I needed to begin my own preparations for a long-term emergency.
What eased this transition for a spoiled-rotten, materialistic, comfort-oriented woman who had never thought about “the end of the world” or even what would happen if the money ran out one day? The stories of my Great-Grandmother--stories I’d been hearing from my Mother and my Grandpa throughout my life.
My Great-Grandma lived in rural areas throughout the Midwest and West Coast most of her life. She was a rugged, tough woman, not attractive in the dainty sense of beauty of her time, but she exuded a confident, strong, chin-up prettiness in the pictures I’ve seen of her as a young woman. As a married woman, she managed the farm she lived on with my great-grandfather, preparing meals for her husband, children and all the farm hands from scratch every day; keeping the kids out of trouble and into their education (for the most part!); gathering eggs, produce, and equipment; killing the non-productive hens and rabbits for the stockpot; canning, preserving, and candying; and all other manner of daily tasks which her family and farm provided her with.
Great-Grandma pumped her water by hand and heated it on her wood-burning stove to wash dishes, clothes, and children. She tended her seedlings with care in boxes on the windowsills until they were hardy enough to plant in the garden plot. She took care of the soil and her livestock wearing long-skirted calico dresses and a working apron; my Mother recalls fondly that Great-Grandma only wore pants when she went fishing – “A lady doesn’t fish in a skirt!” she would say. I never had the opportunity to meet this woman, whom I imagine had calloused hands to go with the soft smile she wears in my favorite photograph of her, standing beside her prized and unbelievably gorgeous hollyhocks that grew outside her door, but she above all others motivated me in my efforts to make sure my family is as self-sufficient as we can possibly be.
As I learned more about the prepared lifestyle, I began to store away food that would store well long term; first wheat, then rice, beans, and canned goods, among others. I learned to grind wheat to bake bread, and put away white flour, learning to make biscuits from intuition, thinking of my Great-Grandma as I mixed the flour, salt, baking powder and milk with a lump of shortening in a bowl with my hand. I got a barrel and some five gallon containers to hold extra water, and considered how fortunate Great-Grandma was to have a hand-pumped well. I ground my wheat and baked bread, much to the delight of my family, and realized that when my Grandpa was a child, he never ate store-bought bread.
But there is one thing that makes me feel closer to the memory of my Great-Grandma than anything else; canning. When my kitchen is chaotic with jars, ladles, funnels, cutting boards, lids, and a huge canner clattering on the stove, I feel like I practically have her standing there beside me. You see, Great-Grandma canned her garden up every year so there would be ample food for the winter, since the store was miles and miles away and there weren’t yet shipments of grapes from Chile or strawberries from hothouses. My Mother tells me that the canning time was busy and fun, with neighbor women getting together constantly, first in one house, then another, until all the women for a few miles around had their produce and some meat tucked away to feed their families for another year. It was a community event, a time for women to get together and have time to discuss local gossip, their families, their farms, and their children. And, of course, in the meantime, they were assuring their health and survival. When I can for long-term storage, I feel I am carrying on that tradition that has been lost from our family for two generations. I feel like I’m passing the memories and philosophies of my wise and strong and tireless Great-Grandmother on to my children…and providing for their health and survival just like she did for hers.
Looking back, I do believe that the Lord provided my memories of my Great-Grandma to me for inspiration on my journey to preparedness. >From 2008 to 2010, as a string of pay cuts and rising inflation ate away more than a quarter of our income, we relied more and more on the food we had stored away to supplement our grocery budget; at one point, before we realized that we were going to have to lose our house, we lived entirely off our storage while we funneled most of our assets into our mortgage payment. By the time we lost the house, we had used up most of our storage – it had borne us through our emergency. God has been good, and in recent months we have been able to start building it back up to the levels we’d had previously. My husband is now a passionate advocate of our storage and all manner of emergency preparedness, and my children excitedly tend the lettuce we’re growing in our teeny-tiny garden plot.
And as the nation teeters on the brink, with politics and the economy wheeling toward what seems to be a point of no return, I try not to fear; I hear the wisdom of my Grandpa’s mother whispering to me –
“Use it up,” when I start to throw away the tablespoon or two of sour cream lurking in a container taking up space in my fridge – I add it to my biscuit dough.
“Wear it out,” when I start to toss a pair of out-of-style, but perfectly sound jeans into the donation bin – and I keep them and wear them until they’re frayed and worn (and usually keep them even then, since that’s the most comfortable denim!).
“Make it do,” when I notice holes torn in our only sofa’s upholstery and instinctively wish we could buy a new one – I go get thread and a needle and stitch the hole up nice and tight.
“Do without,” she counsels me when our bills skyrocket, or the car needs a repair, or the medical bill for a sick child's doctor visit arrives in the mail -- and I drive on by the store to my well-stocked home, where I know I can keep my children and husband comfortable, safe, and well-fed without having to spend any more money.
The cash I save and the skills I gain serve to increase our preparedness and supplies -- and I realize that much of what I have learned about being prepared – and being content – has been supplemented and supported by the wisdom of a woman I never really knew…but still love and respect. (Dedicated to Great-Grandma Hall)