The Old Ways: Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em?

Here’s something interesting: My two grandmothers are almost exactly the same age (late 80s). They are from the same generation – both lived through the Great Depression with their large families. And yet, today they have almost completely opposite views of “the old ways” that were part of their everyday lives.

Growing vegetables, butchering meat, canning food, making soap and butter, hanging clothes on the clothesline, using a wringer washer, and many other “old-time skills” were simply things they did all the time, yearly if not daily. Grandmother A (the former dairy farm wife) couldn’t wait to be done with “all that work” – growing the vegetables, picking them, canning them – not to mention getting up before dawn to help milk a herd of Jersey cattle AND get her teaching degree AND work full-time as a teacher AND raise two children. In fact, when we recently moved into her former house (see my post about winter in an old farmhouse) and I found some “treasures” up in the attic, she quickly gave them to me.

Left: the huge antique Dazey butter churn with wooden paddles, found in my Grandma’s attic. Right: Lehman’s Dazey Butter Churn (brand new and with stainless steel paddles).
This Dietz D-Lite lantern is similar to the one I found in Grandma’s attic. She told me it was the one my great-grandfather took out to the barn. For some reason, it is painted bright orange – for better visibility in the dark barn, perhaps?

On the other hand, Grandmother B (now residing in a nursing home) lived in town in a modest house with a tiny yard, and she lovingly yearns for the days when she grew all her own vegetables, canned everything in sight, butchered her backyard chickens (she fondly recalls the delicious stew she made from Ernie, a temperamental rooster) and served homemade sauerkraut for New Year’s Day dinner to her entire extended family. This same grandma made soap whenever she needed it, repurposed wool coats and pants into beautiful braided rugs and used pencils until they were laughably short – just the lead and eraser.

Home fermenting is an ‘old’ skill that’s hip and trendy right now! Find all the old-time supplies you need at

It’s not as if Grandma A completely disdains “old-time” skills. She is a pie-baker extraordinaire – no really, she’s locally famous for it – and she’s one of the best cooks I have ever encountered. With years of experience cooking for farmhands and the like, she can whip up a multi-course meal  for 10 or more people, and serve it in style on her best dishes, in a matter of minutes (or at least it seems to me). And her homemade strawberry jam, which she still makes occasionally, is divine. And, perhaps I can understand why she’s happy that those long days of hard, hard work are a thing of the past for her. Then again, she’s pretty tough as a result.

These days, most of us have the CHOICE to grow a garden, preserve food, make butter, hang clothes on a clothesline and so on. We intentionally decide to do these things, whether it’s to save money, to control ingredients and our diet, to save energy or decrease our dependence on the grid, or simply to feel a connection with times gone by – when, just like for my grandmothers, there was no choice, that’s just the way things were done.

What do you think about “the old ways” – love ’em or leave ’em?

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