"Waste Not - Want
A Birthright For Esteeming All Of Life
Grandmother and Grandfather's farm was a magical place fraught with exciting adventures for a curious city child. On the farm, my love of the earth and true respect for nature and all creatures grew in me like the glorious and colorful hollyhocks outside Grandma's kitchen door. Each time I see a stand of hollyhocks today, a rush of sumptuous memories delight me. Once again, I relieve those blissful days. I recall the magic earth blooming all about me, as I sat in the branches of a tree in the center of the old apple orchard so long ago.
Black gold by the acre was the good fortune of most Indiana farmers. Back then (early 1940's), the soil was deep, black, rich loam filled with earthworms, microbes and varied and sundry nutrients for the growing of hearty and delicious crops by the truck loads. Grandfather and Grandmother, like most of their family, friends, and neighbors, lived in harmony and balance with the land which blessed them. Their birthright was a bounty of good health and a prosperous living. The natural elements of sun, rain and nitrogen-rich snow collaborated to grant them a harvest to celebrate every Thanksgiving day. As the family gathered around a table groaning from the plethora of delectables prepared by women with abiding love, each person enjoyed the feast of food and fellowship. This gratitude was spiritual, filled with love and prayers; it was physical because of the quality of nutritional content of fresh food organically farmed; it was emotional because of the feeling of connection to each family member and to the sensory Mother Earth's constant nurturing.
Recycling Was The Only Way Of Life
Grandma's lessons about recycling were everywhere. Every piece of string that came into the house was added to the string ball in the cupboard. When she wanted string, there it was aplenty. One kitchen drawer was filled with rubber bands, another was filled with bottle and jar lids to the corresponding bottles and jars on the back porch. Grandma spent many happy hours canning and preserving fruits and vegetables grown ripe and savory in their own truck garden and apple orchard. She reused those bottles and jars after scalding them in boiling water. Her pantry was always brimming with tasty treats: corn, peas, green beans, pickled beets, peaches, cherries, sauerkraut, etc., etc.
I was wide-eyed with wonder as I watched Grandma pour melted bee's wax on the top of jeweled-colored jams and jelly jars to make a hermetic seal. The sweet smell of ripe, red raspberries, scarlet strawberries, crimson cherries, golden peaches and rosy apricots simmering on the stove as they were transformed into quivering jelly or jam was, for a kid, to glimpse paradise.
Nothing was ever wasted on the farm. I never, never saw a garbage truck come haul anything away. Table scraps were divided among two or three working farm dogs and three adult cats and their batches of kittens. Peelings and parings and other scraps were given to laying hens and their chicks to supplement their feed. Sometimes there was even enough for the pigs to enjoy, along with their homegrown corn on the cob and sour-mash. All other organic matter was added to the tree trimmings and clippings on the compost bed. Here, the earthworms and microbes broke down the matter into fertilizer and top soil for the truck garden's enrichment.
This homegrown food was so yummy, I often took a salt shaker and trekked to this garden for vine-ripened beefsteak tomatoes. The sunlight sparkled down on the red, "love apples", warm to the touch. I'd wipe off the dust and sprinkle salt on the thin skin and bite into a tender burst of mouth-pleasing flavors that defy description. I treasure these memories of sights, smells, sounds, textures and tastes that filled my senses with jubilation!
When I first arrived, this was a dairy farm, where I'd watch Grandpa sit on a 3-legged stool and milk the cows twice a day by hand. He played music on an old radio in the barn because he said, "The cows like music, and contented cows give sweeter milk." I always giggled as the cats and kittens sat nearby overseeing the milking process, because Grandpa would spray a little milk straight from the cow's utter onto their faces and whiskers. This seemed to be what they were waiting for as they licked the sweet cream and warm milk from each other's faces. Except for the milk and cream that the family used, the rest was sold to the dairy industry.
The barn, too, was a recycling center as the barnyard with used straw and hay and manure was loaded onto a manure spreader and returned to the fields that grew the crops of corn, oats, rye and wheat that feed the livestock, or was sold at market. The organic matter was a natural fertilizer that replenished the soil. Crop rotation was observed and allowed a field to be fallow one year in seven, which insured harmony of earth cycles. I was only a child from the city, yet I was learning volumes about how to honor Mother Nature and did not realize it till now.
I loved the country life and felt very comfortable around these friendly, independent, and hospitable folks. Grandfather was a progressive person (he once was awarded Progressive Farmer of the Year) who believed women should have their own income to buy whatever they wanted and needed, or to give gifts as they pleased. He encouraged Grandmother to have an egg business. Chickens were easy to care for and everyone loved to help her feed the chicks and gather the eggs. Besides selling cases of eggs to the industry, she had a once-a-week egg route to the local town's people and I loved to go along. After delivering the eggs and passing the time of day with town folk, she'd take me to the "Five and Dime" store for a bag of caramels.
Farm life was a busy life. There was always something to do. Grandma could sew beautiful things on an old Singer sewing machine. It didn't even need electricity because Grand-ma's foot on the treadle would drive the motor. Here, recycling continued as she saved scraps to make "crazy quilts." Each grandchild received a beautiful, hand-quilted work of art from her to celebrate each one's wedding. I still sleep under mine; 32 years of happy marriage. I believe she sewed prayers and dreams into each tiny stitch and patch. Many of her quilts have won blue ribbons at the Kosisoco County Fair.
The attic was the place where I learned most about recycling. There were large balls of rag strips. She'd sew leftover scraps of fabric into one-inch strips, end-to-end, and roll them into a ball. When there was enough, she took them to a woman with a special loom to weave into rag rugs with dozens of uses.
Scraps of wool were made into large squares and patched into winter comforters, backed with either satin or flannel. They were filled with cotton batting, loose wool or down feathers. Some comforters (my favorites) were made of silk and satin fabric scraps and were very luxurious. The feed sacks were washed and bleached, then made into dish towels and later, feed barns used printed fabric bags that she made into aprons, kitchen curtains, pillow cases, etc. Old buttons were cut of used-up cloths and put in the button box for later use. Men's and women's old coats and suits were cut down to make children's clothes, rag dolls or toys, puppets and scatter pillows.
"Waste not . . . want not" was the motto of these times and recycling created no landfills or toxic waste dumps. Harmony, balance of nature, and love and respect for each other provided the esteeming life style and gave us peace of mind, body and spirit. This is the birthright for esteeming all of life!
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