"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Our Grandmothers, Ourselves

   This is an excerpt from Branches on the Conejo: Leaving the Soil After Five Generations, my memoir celebrating life in (then) the rural Southern California community of Thousand Oaks.                             

We daughters of the soil bear a long and affectionate link to the past. When most of us left home for the glamour and the financial opportunity of the city, we didn’t understand that we were abandoning our rural heritage. We thought we could escape the drudgery of chores and save up a nest egg for retirement. We never meant to sever the link. Now we baby boomers have become grandmothers, viewing the past through lens of wisdom. And we are torn.  

We think of ourselves as the last generation to be reared under the expectation that hard work will be rewarded. We work at town jobs but drive a tractor on Saturday mornings. We daydream of silk lingerie, but opt for a new pair of Wranglers. We help castrate sheep, but wear gloves to protect our nail polish. Some of us marry city boys and spend our lives trying to figure out why some things make us so cantankerous.

Still too close to the old ways, we see little reason to trade our values for others that seem artificially slick and calculated. We accept progress with a sigh, pick and choose what we will embrace.

We help raise sheep and cattle on our five-acre suburban plots while we work full time jobs in town. We grow peaches and apples and spend our weekends canning them into Mason jars before returning to our town jobs. We can’t understand why our children won’t help in the family garden, why our children and grandchildren have rejected our belief in hard work and have replaced it with confidence in a New World Economy. Our advice, our spirituality, our way of life seems archaic. We see our community becoming a service economy where no one wants to be the servant.

Our children think we are dinosaurs, fools for our work ethic and our slavish devotion to the old ways, and maybe we are. We seem to be caught in a schizophrenic blur between the old and the new.

We distrust bio-engineered food and altered milk. We remember when things tasted real. Many of us can still milk a cow. We recall our grandmother’s roses and geraniums before the nursery industry hybridized their scent away. We recall when trees were planted in both male and female varieties, the females making a mess in the yards with their pods and debris. But they attracted the pollen that now floats uselessly in the air. Now we sneeze and take our allergy medicine, and medicate our children’s asthma. We recall that the old days were healthier.

We study the photographs of our ancestors and we notice that hardly anyone was fat. We remember the Fifties, when sodas, flavored drink mixes, white bread and potato chips came into our diets, when sugar became synonymous with a mother’s love. We remember school prayer, spankings, being sent outside to play, and having to change into play clothes. We remember twice a week baths, and saying ‘thank you’, and calling our parent’s friends Mister and Missus instead of by their first names.

Now we are hounded by the guilt of our abandonment. Things are out of kilter and we suspect that we are to blame. Our grandparents’ photographs remind us that we forgot their lessons along the way. They were disciplined in a way that we are not, focused in a way that we have lost.

True, theirs was a world of fewer choices. I doubt, given the diversity of our temptations, they would have done any better than we have. But the fact is, we failed to heed their maxim: Waste not, want not. Maybe we are bracing ourselves for the consequences.

What about you? Anything resonate with you?