Change for the better… or not
I recently watched a Discovery channel program featuring several generations of a family living self-sufficiently in a remote Alaska location lacking most modern conveniences.
Their life was such that with a hard winter coming on, their freezer was nearly empty, and they were heading out in sub-zero cold to trudge to their trap lines, hoping for a rabbit.
The resourcefulness of the family was amazing—especially when I considered all the ways my life is eased by invention and location—electricity, plumbing, grocery stores, medical care—the list is long. Physical labor or challenge? Not much.
My grandmother was born in 1885. She saw years of hardship as a girl and young woman. Her life eased as she grew older, but she always appreciated the value of hard work.
After she and my grandfather retired and moved permanently to Camano Island, I think she liked reverting to less comfort and ease than she had enjoyed in previous decades.
For years on Camano, my grandmother cooked on an old wood range, turning out pies and fresh bread all winter. A balky oil-burning heater she called “Sparky” kept the poorly-insulated little house warm during the damp, chilly months, though we all pulled chairs a few feet further in from the drafty walls during winter.
After the dinner dishes were done, and her goats and chickens fed and safely enclosed for the dark night, my grandmother settled in her favorite chair in the tiny living room to read “The Christian Herald” or work on one of her ongoing crochet projects.
Every fall, my grandfather stocked up on wood he chopped the right size to wedge into the range.
After he put the berry patch and garden space “to bed for the winter,” as he termed it, he finished up small household projects before there was a chance for snow.
My grandfather’s favorite winter activity was playing checkers or Old Maid with visiting grandchildren. He kept up correspondence with old friends and read “The Farm Journal”—a subscription I gave him every year for Christmas.
Eventually, my parents built a charming retirement home on the half acre next to my grandparents’ island place. It was a typical small rambler, built from a stock plan, but it had my mother’s touches throughout. Unfortunately, they needed to move back to Edmonds, close to my father’s doctors.
Recently I ran across this yellowed 1970-something newspaper ad:
“BEAUTIFUL CAMANO: Nearly new custom designed home. West Side view. 2 bedrooms, combination dining and living room. Double garage and work shop for the handyman. Wall to wall carpeting. $23,995.” Twenty-four thousand dollars. It sold quickly, the end of an era.
(Support local theatre arts: “Sylvia,” termed a ‘mad comedy’—in which Sylvia is a dog!—plays weekends through Nov 11 at the Phoenix Theatre in Firdale Village. The play is imaginative, funny and perfectly cast--definitely some “adult” language, though. Theatre number: 206-533-2000.)