Tuesday, June 20, 2006

1930's House

As I was hoeing corn this afternoon, I kept thinking about my great-grandmother.

I coined her nickname that we all called her, Grandma Squeezie. She grew up in Idaho and eastern Washington on farms with her parents and several siblings. They were poor, but they got by. Her birthday was April 14, 1905. She turned 7 on the day the Titanic sunk.

When she married, it was to a farmer and they had six kids. He was not a nice man, to say the least. He beat the kids and my grandma, too, but what could she do? She was completely dependent on him and isolated on their farm. They were poor, but they got by. They had crops, vegetables, and animals to take care of, and they killed, grew, or made from scratch every single thing they ate.

In the late summer the men got together and harvested everybody's crops as a group, and the women went out and cooked their meals so they could get the work done more quickly. Imagine that, cooking over a hot stove in the middle of the hottest months of the year! The only relief available from the intense heat would be a swift breeze containing slightly less intense heat.

When I knew my great-grandma she was a happy, sweet old lady who was talented at sewing, quilting, cooking and gardening; who liked birds; knew funny sayings and songs; and basically enjoyed life. I remember going to her house one day to stay. It was the day I discovered that I loved radishes. She grew them in her garden and they were the best things I had tasted. I kept asking for more, I loved them so much. I never knew she had such a tough life until she told stories about it, but even then it was with a smile and laughter. The really bad things I learned from my grandma and mom.

When I'm out there hoeing our four rows of corn, feeling my back ache and thinking about the watering I still need to do all while my daughter chatters on incessantly, I think of her. I think of how much more work she had to do, how many more kids she had, and how much harder it was. She didn't have the connection of the internet and telephone like I do. Even though she had neighbors and the community of the small town nearby, she didn't get out of the house very often. I wonder what she did have for relief? I know she wasn't married to the man of her dreams. I don't know how she survived. What did people do before Amazon.com or Bluefly.com could bring books and designer clothes at a discount, respectively, to your front door without leaving the house?

After contemplating all of this I understand the relevance of quaint things like the quilting bee or the county fair. It was a necessary form of making and keeping connections, of seeing what all was going on outside the confines of your life. Life meant daily your hours were filled with manual labor just to provide for all your basic necessities. Forget about luxuries.

A luxury for her must have been some new fabric, some ribbon, or maybe a book. I can't even imagine, as I think of my craft box stuffed with crap I haven't even had time to look at in months, much less make anything with its contents.

It's a comfort to me to think of Grandma Squeezie's experiences. When I get frustrated, or feel isolated and overworked, I can't help but think I don't even know the true meaning of "isolated" and "overworked". She would laugh at me, in a loving way and point out how easy I really have things, and she would be right.

Happiness is an attitude, not a circumstance.

I realize how much truth that saying contains. I had never thought of it that way before. Happiness doesn't just come on a silver platter every morning, you have to work for it. I suppose that means it's more rewarding, and you get better at attaining it, but it really pisses me off. You have to work? For happiness??? It seems crazy.

The human experience has always included connections, be they cave paintings or quilting bees or a group of blogs on the internet. No matter who you are or what you do, you need other human beings to communicate with, to love, to share life experiences with. As generations grow up and time progresses, you just need to figure out what particular form the connection will take and reach for them.

For Grandma Squeezie, it was a barn dance. She figured out a way to survive her harsh life and remained a fairly happy person when I knew her in her later years. For me, it's a screen containing the heartfelt words of strangers, or an email from a loved one. They are my saving grace.


Anonymous said...

Wow, that Grandma Squeezie was quite a woman! Who knew? C

Izzy said...

Since I don't know anyone who was alive that long ago, nor anyone that lived an isolated, rural life, I have often wondered what people did back then to not go stir crazy from too much work and not enough fun. This was really illuminating. Thanks for sharing your grandma's perspective.