This story is from Julie Lavigne, submitted as part of our Wisdom From Our Elders collection of self-sufficient tales from yesteryear.
When my grandparents built their little two bedroom home in the city, grandpa made sure there was a wood stove in the basement for heating and cooking. They also made pickles and sauerkraut in the garage and it always smelled of the drying dill from the garden.
Most of the yard was a garden where he grew the best tomatoes, cabbage, baby lettuce, onions, radishes; we ate very well. He didn’t buy plants. He saved seeds and started them every spring in old milk cartons and other recycled containers. I wouldn’t be surprised if he brought some of those seeds from the Ukraine when he made his way to the U.S. All of my grandparents lived on farms in Russia or Poland before coming to the U.S. But, my one grandpa was the one who really brought it home to us.
I grew up eating sunflower seeds grown in the garden and dried in the basement. They were fantastic. I thought everyone ate them!
My dad started gardening seriously when we were fairly young; I often wondered if it was an attempt to get on my grandpa’s better side for having stolen his daughter. Grandpa taught him everything. The neighbors hated it every spring when my dad had a buddy bring a load of fresh manure for our garden. They sure liked the tomatoes he gave them later in the year.
I remember mushrooming with my grandparents, parents, and aunts and uncles. One time I found a box turtle. I remember thinking that was really cool because I was really into nature.
Every August my sisters and I couldn’t wait for school to start. We spent the last few weeks before school canning tomatoes, plums, pickles, homemade applesauce and, later, mushrooms. It was really hard work. Now, my husband and I do it for pleasure and our health.
My parents used to buy an entire cow and pig and split them with my grandparents. I am guessing we got the lion’s share of that. One memory, not necessarily fond, is making head cheese with my grandpa. I do know I grew up eating meat that was free of hormones, antibiotics, and other questionable additives. I eat much less meat now but still make sure that what I do eat is very healthy and clean.
My grandparents had a cottage on a lake that was once an icehouse office that my parents later bought when my grandparents passed on. For as long as I can remember, when we spent the weekend there, we only ate fried panfish, turtle stew, and wonderful salads and fried potatoes from everyone’s garden. We swam until we dropped and the eight of us kids shared two big squeaky beds and one old-fashioned “futon” on the summer porch.
We had to pump water in the kitchen and I remember it being so cold it made my teeth ache. When we spent our summer vacation there, my mom didn’t drive and my dad would go to work off and on so there was no car. We had our bikes and would ride them a mile or so into Parnell just for something to do; usually to buy ice cream.
My family did not come to the U.S. until the late 1800s and early 1900s. They did not homestead or break new land. They settled in major cities where other family and friends had come earlier.
I just wanted to let people know that you can live this kind of lifestyle even in the city with all its asphalt and manicured lawns. Now, as I mentioned earlier, we live in the ‘burbs but it is a nice small community in East Michigan. I have eagles, Peregrine Falcons and hawks in the area all the time. I have had flickers, woodpeckers of all kinds, and many beautiful songbirds at my feeder, and they just delight my soul. While I miss the fabulous sunsets of West Michigan, we have beautiful sunrises here and the sunsets are every shade of pink to deep purple. We are doing our best to respect this beautiful world we live in. We are putting in raised beds this year and composting to build up a good soil foundation for next year’s garden.
Photo Credit: Fotolia/Tatiana Orel
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