Lots. One learns lots from those she shares 725 square feet with for almost two months. Yup, our family remains in a two-bedroom corporate suite in Omaha, waiting for the house closing in late July. This close physical proximity, which feels more like a college dorm living area, forces a togetherness that is sometimes ideal, and other times, well, not so much. What this coziness absolutely does do is expose gaps-like gaps in knowledge about one another. It’s become quite clear to me that our 20-year-old son, Alex, knows little of my life prior to when he entered it. In the shuffle of life, my history became irrelevant. He thinks his mom has always been an urban professional bypassing my rural upbringing as the second oldest in a North Dakota family of 11. Now that we are in this tight shared space, more time is being spent together, thus more stories are being told and it’s heart-warming to see his interest, though it also does bring historical personal gaps to the forefront.
Recently Alex did laundry in the institutional machines on the first floor and was rewarded with gum on five pieces of clothing, including a pair of his khaki shorts. [The sticky green evidence was resting under a wrapper in the lint trap of dryer #3.] Teaching a lesson on responsibility and problem solving, I insisted he find a dry cleaner to consult about laundering the pieces and, once he did, take the clothes there and pay for the additional work. He was not happy, but followed through. The items were returned gum free and his khaki shorts attached to a paper covered hanger with safety pins.
Several days later he came to me with blood gushing from his thumb, explaining this happened while struggling to remove those shorts from the hanger. “They were hung on there with something I’ve never seen before.” Through his dramatic explanation I learned the blood came from his multiple inept attempts to free the shorts from the safety pins. When he left, I just shook my head and laughed to myself. Really? He’s never seen a safety pin? But I think he’s right. Are safety pins used anymore? My grandmothers affixed religious medals to their bosom aprons with safety pins and different sized pins were always in sewing baskets, but it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a safety pin, or a sewing basket, for that matter.
While it may seem funny now that the wound has healed and the blood dried, I did wonder what else this near legal aged young man has not been exposed to in his years that were ever-present in mine. So, in the tight space of our living area, we made a list of habits and items from my upbringing that he may not be aware of.
Though I have never hung laundry with safety pins, as the second oldest of nine children who helped rear my siblings, I was taught to push safety pins into a bar of soap before closing a cloth diaper-not for sanitary reasons but because it makes the pin glide easier into the fabric. In our farmhouse another type of pin was used to close potato chip bags…a clothes pin…the kind made to hang wet laundry on lines outside. This was before dryers were used all year long or gum chewed whenever one wanted to. Gum, in my childhood, was a rare treat.
On that farm with 11 people nothing was ever wasted, and though it wasn’t then called recycling, we found multiple purposes for everything before recycling was ever “green” or trendy. For instance, margarine or butter stick wrappers weren’t immediately discarded. Instead, they greased cookie sheets and cake pans and sometimes even soothed burns, though today we know that butter is no longer a recommended topical treatment for burns. We also never disposed of bacon fat. It was used to flavor garden-fresh green beans, to fry eggs in and sometimes to draw pus from boils when onions were fried in it and placed on gauze covering the boil. Today some call this homeopathic skin care treatment.
Table scraps went in an empty ice cream bucket and after each meal were fed to the chickens or cats, depending on content. To this day my childhood farmhouse doesn’t have a garbage disposal. The cats and chickens are gone; instead there is composting. How progressive!
The plastic ice cream buckets had additional purposes. They stored toilet cleaning brushes next to stools or were placed under sinks and filled with sponges and cleaning supplies. As a child I wore an ice cream bucket around my neck with fabric strips tied to the handles while picking chokecherries made into jams and syrup. Industrial engineering at its finest…leave the hands free to increase productivity and efficiency.
Some of these multiple-use habits remain with me. Alex has seen me put oven roasted chicken carcasses in empty bread bags and place them in the freezer, only to be brought out later and covered with water and bay leaves in a stock pot, making chicken broth for homemade soup. More than once he’s been told to freeze ham bones later used in crock pots full of black or northern beans. He’s brought me the oatmeal container to sprinkle into ground hamburger to stretch the meal out. I’m not impoverished. Rather, I’m influenced by my upbringing and my exposures.
Lately the story time in this 725 square feet of space has shifted from nostalgic multi-use lists to events I know Alex has never experienced, most recently about butchering beef cattle and pigs. And though I’m aware from my lobbying days that one should never see how sausage or legislation is made, I shared in colorful detail the sausage making process-everything from slaughtering the animal with care, so as not to spoil the brains later fried and consumed, to boiling the casings the meat was pushed through. I explained that today I understand these events in process mapping and management terms, but at the time I just knew what needed to happen so the job got done before the meat spoiled.
To Alex, my 20-year-old ‘safety pin virgin’, these stories are rather graphic and barbaric. To me, it is history and character formation. Sharing this history and those events make me appreciate the massive amount of lessons learned that today can be placed in proper life and business context. It makes me acutely aware that children need to know more of their parents history-the part that made them who they were before their children entered the world. It’s relevant and needs to be shared. This is on me. Taking Alex to the farm is not the same as sharing stories of living and working on the farm.
Copyright. July 2015. Linda Leier Thomason