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Homeschooling The Well Prepared Child: Things I Learned From My Grandparents (and didn't even know I was learning)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Things I Learned From My Grandparents (and didn't even know I was learning)


   Some of the best memories I have as a child, were my summers with my grandparents on their homestead. They had a little plot of land up in Chihuahua Valley, in the San Jacinto Mountains. They cleared the land, built their house, and prepped for winter. Always improving, always amending always preserving. As a child, I didn't realize that was what they were doing, all I knew was that at Grandpa and Grandma's house, things were wonderfully different. More natural, more like what what I read in my 'Little House' books.
     Instead of a back yard, they had a strawberry garden. It was on a an incline, but there were rows and rows of strawberries. One year, while I was hunting for strawberries, I ran my hands over the plants and screamed. There was a large snake hiding under the strawberry plants. I ran to my grandpa to tell him. He got a shovel and went over to get rid of the snake. However, when he got over there, the snake turned out to be the garden hose. We all got a good laugh out of it.
     There was a large garden in the back of the property. Grandpa was always in the garden hoeing, planting, tilling, weeding, and/or raking. He worked from sun up to dinner time. Sometimes we would help him. My brother and I would go out with grandpa early in the morning and pick vegetables with him. He had the most amazing tomatoes in all shapes and sizes. We would munch on small yellow and cherry tomatoes as we picked. There were rows of beans and and purple hull peas. We picked okra that my grandma fried up fresh and froze the rest. When we were finished, I would sit on the back porch with Grandma and snap beans. Every once in a while, I would pop a fresh bean into my mouth. 
    Grandma also had cans with herbs growing in coffee cans on the back of the house. We nibbled on fresh mint while we played on the grass. It made our mouths feel cool and fresh. Every once in a while, Grandma would ask us to pick some of the herbs. We watched as she cleaned them and then laid them on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels to dry. 
     Grandpa had a snake in the wood pile we called his 'pet.' Every morning grandpa would go out to the woodpile he was greeted by a scarlet king snake. It never harmed anything and my grandpa told us that the snake helped to keep those pesky rodents away. Grandpa would talk to the snake as if it was his friend. Not all snakes were his friends though. One day my cousins, brother and I were walking past the propane tank and Grandpa was coming towards us on his way to his neighbors property. He turned suddenly and walked over to his gardening shed at a brisk pace. We were already at the house when we noticed Grandpa going back towards the propane tank with a shovel. Suddenly, Grandpa was striking at something on the ground. We ran over to see what was happening. Grandpa hollered to "Stay Back!" It was a rattlesnake! AND we had just walked past there and never saw it! Grandpa killed it effortlessly. When he severed the head, we came in a bit closer. Grandpa cautioned us to not get to close and explained when a snake dies, it can still hurt you. He held the shovel up to the snakes mouth. We all gasped as the snake bit at the shovel. Grandpa moved the shovel to the body and the body STOOD up and tried to strike at the shovel even though it had NO HEAD! Although it had no eyes, it followed the movements of the shovel perfectly. We marveled at the snakes body as it continued to move after being decapitated. It seemed like it took forever to stop wiggling along the ground. We paid more attention from now on while walking around the property. 
     When we came into the house from outside, the back door led to the utility room. We had to be quick on the ins and outs so flies could not come in and the air conditioning could not get out. We were not allowed to keep coming in and out either. Once outside you stayed out side for a while. Coming in had the same rule. Grandma explained this helped to keep their electric bill down. We had to leave our shoes by the back door to keep the dust and dirt out of the rest of the house. In the utility room, Grandma always keep an ice cold water jug for us. We could drink as much as we wanted, but you better make sure you did not waste any. It was from the well and we didn't need the well running dry. On the washer and dryer was usually homemade raspberry gobbler from the berries we collected for Grandma. It was one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth. 
     I loved watching my grandmother sew and mend clothes. She made nearly all of her clothes. It was almost like magic when she made skirts and shirts, curtains out of thin pieces of paper, pins and fabric. After cutting her patterns out, the neatly folded them back up and placed them back in their packaging, to be used at a later time. I watched silently as her sewing machine quickly and easily joined the fabrics. My Grandma crocheted as well. She taught me how to make chains and simple crochet loops. I would play with my long piece of yarn over and over, practicing until I could get my links and chains just right. I couldn't have whole ball of yarn until I mastered the beginning stages of crocheting; yarn could not be wasted. 
       I slept in the spare bedroom on a sleeper couch. The room doubled as Grandma's sewing/craft room and her extended pantry. There was one wall that had built in shelves lined with items my grandma had canned. Rows upon rows of the most amazing looking food items. Jams, jellies, relishes, vegetables, fruits, and meats. Chow-chow was one of my grandmother's specialties. Oh, how I hated chow-chow as a child. Now I plan on making it one day so I can try it again. She made the best dill pickles. Fresh dill flower heads graced the jar. I tried eating one once, it was horrible, and I couldn't figure out why on earth someone would put a weed in with the glorious pickles. I never saw my grandma can, but I did get to watch her make jelly out of the fresh strawberries from their patch. It seemed like a lot of work, but the jelly was well worth it! I always wondered why just two people would need all of that food. There were so many of them! At night I would lay there and look at the wall of jars, counting them by the moonlight until I fell asleep. 
     For the longest time, I wondered why most of my memories with my grandparents seemed to center around food. It was not until I started my own homesteading journey that I realized why. They lived on a fixed income, Grandpa's retirement. Everything the did around the mountain property was to prepare for everyday life. From food preservation, to chopping wood, to recycling, reusing, re-purposing, DIY, it was all about survival. Not in the sense of what people think of prepping and survivalist skills now. This was day to day, what they learned from their parents, this was natural for them. 

     By watching them and joining them in their everyday tasks. I learned. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was learning from them. Everything that I watched and did as a child has become so 'natural' for me now. Even though I never actually was taught how to sew, I 'naturally' knew how to. I say I was self taught, but in essence, watching my grandmother sew, taught me how. I am also a natural gardener, saver, recycling/re-purposing, homesteading, DIY, make your budget stretch type of person. I wish my grandparents were still with us today. I would make sure I asked the questions I missed being able to ask them when I was young. At least I have my memories. These are memories I want for my children. I want the ability to take care of their families to be 'natural' for them. Children mimic and take on the habits of those they are around. I hope to pass on to my children what my grandparents pass on to me. 

The pictures in this post are not of me and my brother. They are of my cousins, Erin and Garrett. Their mother was a lot better at preserving memories through photography than my family was. Thank you Erin and Garrett, for finding these photos for me. Love you!