Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Thinking Like My Grandparents


These are my parents and grandparents, on my parents' wedding day in 1957.

I'm very fortunate to have grown up knowing all four of my grandparents, and some of my great-grandparents too.  That's a rare thing these days.

I was thinking about my grandparents while I was out on my walk this morning.  

My morning walks are part of an ongoing attempt to regain better health after a long term illness, and to strike a healthier life/work balance.  It occurred to me that my grandparents' examples could provide some good tools for moving towards those goals.

On the surface of things, my grandparents didn't have a lot in common. They came from different upbringings and had very different outlooks on life but, when you look deeper, there are a lot of commonalities between them too.  

My grandfathers were both "working men," spending most of their lives in jobs that required physical labour.  Neither earned a great deal of money.

Neither of my grandmothers had paid work outside their homes, though both did volunteer their time to various causes.

Both of my grandfathers were enthusiastic gardeners, producing a good percentage of the fruit and vegetables that were consumed in their homes.  

My grandmothers were accomplished plain cooks.  They cooked from scratch, put food by when it was abundant, and were rarely willing to pay the extra money needed to purchase convenience foods.

Restaurant meals were treats, not regular events, and outings with the car were carefully planned.  There was no driving four blocks to the grocery store and then popping out an hour later to go somewhere else.  Errands within walking distance were planned for and done - on foot whenever possible - in a single trip.  Visits to nearby friends were made on foot too.

Phone calls were for business, for making appointments, and for emergencies.  Long phone conversations were not part of their social lives.  Visits were made face to face and friends communicated over distances by writing letters.

If you went into either of my grandparents homes, you didn't find a lot of "stuff." Resources were carefully managed.  Things were cared for and mended and used up completely before they were discarded.

All four of my grandparents lived long lives.  Even my mom's mom, who had Alzheimers, remained physically strong until she was in her 80's.

Despite their comparatively modest means, my grandparents owned their homes and died with no debts, and even a little money in the bank.


Admittedly, a lot has changed since my grandparents' day:  Most women work outside the home for at least part of their lives.  We all seem to have demands upon our time that our grandparents didn't, and we certainly have access to a broader range of choices, foods, information, and education than was available back then.  

Some of these modern changes are good and some of them not but - good or bad - we can't turn back the clock.  We exist in the here and now and have to find our way forward as best we can.  

Much of the "simplicity" we hark back to in my grandparents' time involved a considerable investment of both time and hard labour. In order to emulate that "simple" life, a person must be willing to give up some things that are common currency within our modern lifestyle.  

For me (and I'm sure for many others), the giving up portion of the exercise would involve less time connected to technology. I'm not willing to give up my modern toys completely, but here are some choices that I am willing to make:

I can spend less time on line and more time on my feet, walking, doing errands, filling my pantry, and making, maintaining, or repairing household items.  

I can do more visiting face to face - having conversations with my friends in person rather than on the phone or on line - and I can write letters.  Real ones.  That go in the mail.  (So much more fun to receive than bills and pizza flyers, don't you think?)


I can buy fewer things, use up the things I have, and clear out some of the excess.

I can remember that, through the all the challenges and joys their long lives brought them, thrift and good management were second nature to my grandparents.  

Perhaps, if I work at it, they can become second nature to me too.