Celebrating Our History During a Pandemic: Taking a Step (or Two) Towards More Resilience While Having Fun!

I’ve seen a lot about the isolation and depression that seems to have gripped a lot of people during this past year. The pandemic has caused us to have to take stock in how we manage our lives day to day, how we interact with people, and how we entertain ourselves. All of that while many have been concerned with minimizing the risk of contagion for themselves, their families, and their friends and neighbors. I personally have seen this period as an opportunity to focus on some priorities and enjoyments that nourish my spirit, including re-organizing the house and thinning some of the stuff I no longer need or use. I thought I would share some of the more fun things with you for this month’s blog.

Before I share how I’ve re-structured my days, I would like to remind each of you that your recent ancestors, whether in the Florida panhandle or not, did not have the Internet or Netflix or any other streaming media service; and if we go back a hundred years to the last major pandemic in the U.S., they didn’t have radio or TV, many did not have cars and not everyone could read or afford books. And yet they somehow managed. There wasn’t a ton of “free” time on a yeoman’s farm in the Florida panhandle in 1900. You grew your own food and one or more cash crops, walked behind an ox and plow to plant and harvested produce by hand, you processed and preserved your produce, you cooked your food, you cut the wood for the fireplace and wood stove, you made the family’s clothes and took the scraps and made quilts. You raised farm animals for food and/or hunted for meat for the table, you helped neighbors raise a house or a barn, you kept your tools cleaned and sharpened, and you doctored the family and the animals when necessary. When you got in the family wagon you were usually going to “town” to purchase something needed or you were going to church. Entertainment might be reading, though after dark the kerosene lamps weren’t the best of light and kerosene was expensive so you didn’t waste it. Dusk was often the time to sit as a family and talk about whatever interested everyone until it was dark. Then you went to bed because morning chores came early.

There is a belief amongst some that nothing in life happens by accident. That everything is a learning opportunity that we either recognize and act on accordingly or we miss it and pay the consequences and often get another opportunity to learn the same lesson at a point in the future. This virus is likely to be with us for awhile. It is not clear yet whether the vaccines will provide any long-term immunity and neither will having had the virus already. Viruses are really good at adapting to our efforts to control them, which is one reason the flu and the flu vaccine is an annual event. We can and will adapt to living our lives differently, whether it is gently and willingly or kicking and screaming and acting the fool. So, now that I’ve done the scary part, let’s talk about entertaining with our history, heritage and ancestors in mind.

Crafts and Re-enacting at Home

My Mom hand quilting in 2006

Whether you already have a craft you love to do but seem to never find enough time to do it, now might be the opportunity to work in some consistent time every day, or at least every week and commit to maintaining that after we return to a “new normal”. If your craft is something you already do, was it also done in the past by one or more of your ancestors? How would their work on the craft be different, or the same, as what you do today? Let’s take an example. Let’s say you quilt on your sewing machine. Was that how your Grandmother or Great-Grandmother quilted? Did she possibly have a treadle sewing machine or might she have quilted her pieced quilt by hand? Did she have a quilting frame that could be lowered from the ceiling and multiple hands from the neighborhood could quilt while sharing stories? Were all her quilts functional or did she do one or more fancy quilts? Try quilting a small item by hand. If you don’t know how to quilt, check a book out from the library, buy one, take an online class, or find a neighbor or family member you can get instructions from over the phone or internet.

Other textile related crafts to try your hand at:

  • Sewing and/or pattern making
  • Hand spinning
  • Weaving

I have designed a small wall hanging depicting 8 panels highlighting the Civil War. Seven are specific to my seven direct ancestors who served in the War and the other is one that shows the firing on Ft. Sumter and the meeting between Lee and Grant at Appomattox. I sent the images off and had them printed as cloth (the Internet is wonderful) and have been moving toward getting back to piecing it so I can start hand quilting it this coming winter. Hand quilting is more pleasant during the winter. Helps keep you warm and is something productive with your hands while watching TV, listening to music, or just sitting and occasionally talking with other members of the family.

If you go back far enough in time, you might imagine a midwife in the family or a housewife who knew her herbs and made her family’s medicines. Take an online class on herbalism and identify a couple of herbs you might make as a tea or tincture. If you don’t want to experiment with herbs you can always buy vanilla beans and make your own vanilla extract. It is the same procedure and trust me, the difference in taste between homemade vanilla extract and the store-bought artificial stuff is beyond description.

Other herb-related crafts to try your hand at:

  • Soap-making
  • Candle-making
  • Making perfumes and personal care products
  • Making herbal vinegars and honeys
  • Making non-toxic cleaning supplies

While we may learn or do these skills as crafts or hobbies, we do need to keep in mind that neither of those concepts were particularly known to our ancestors who may have been doing the same activities. These skills were necessary for the family’s well-being. You may have a quilt passed down from an ancestor and it may be quite lovely with an intricate pattern, but that just may mean that it was the fancy or “company” quilt that a woman put her best creative skills into so that when company came she could pull out her prettiest and least used quilt. Any others may have been scrap quilts meant to keep the family warm in winter. Regardless, it was a lot of time and stitches made to contribute to the family’s well-being. This was after a long day of cooking; possibly preserving food; helping with the weeding; picking fruits and berries; making lye soap in the yard over an open fire; washing, hanging up, and ironing clothes; feeding and caring for the chickens and possibly harvesting one for Sunday dinner.

Yard and Garden

Not all of us are blessed with a large yard or garden but that shouldn’t dissuade anyone from growing a few herbs or vegetables. One of the up sides to our “progress” over the last hundred years is we have more options for getting closer to nature and doing something to make ourselves more resilient in the face of disruptions. We now know that a large field and row planting isn’t required to grow food, or even better at growing good food. Raised beds can allow more intensive and inter-planting of vegetables, flowers and herbs. It can also make it easier to improve soil to better support growing plants. Not enough room for raised beds? Then grow some tomatoes and cucumbers in large flower pots in a sunny location. Many herbs do well in pots as long as they are in a sunny location for some period of the day. No room or no southern exposure? Try grow-lights and stands to grow micro-greens, cut and come again greens, herbs and flowers. There is nothing like interacting with nature on a daily basis. I believe humans were designed with that need in mind and our current way of life doesn’t always make that easy. While it is good to get out and walk, for me it is even better to dig in the dirt and plant and nurture something that will feed me, provide pleasure in seeing or help me make a medicine. While you are interacting with nature there is nothing wrong with producing something you can eat or use.

Other skills related to gardening and food:

  • Learn to can your food. Buy in bulk or grow your own.
  • Learn to make good quality compost for your garden. Soil is the key to growing healthy food.
  • Learn to make sauerkraut or any other fermented product.

What lessons should we take from COVID-19?

There are probably a lot of them and to some extent they may be specific to us as individuals. Maybe it is not putting our elders in nursing homes and then never finding the time to visit regularly. Nursing homes are a recent development and are very appropriate in situations where there really isn’t room at home and our elders need care that would be hard to do in a home setting. But there are also elders sent to nursing homes because they have become inconvenient. That may seem painful to hear but each of us have to seriously weight these questions before sending our parents or grandparents to a home.

Grandmama in the Chicken Yard

Do we spend enough time with our families doing activities together in the home? Do we all sit down and eat together? Do we just sit and talk and get to know each other? My maternal grandmother was an extraordinary woman. She just always seemed to know what to say and how to say it. When I was young she just knew when we needed to sit on the porch and talk about things that were bouncing around in my head. She never gave me dictates or should dos. She would phrase her responses so that they got me to think though solutions that would be best. So, I learned early to find solutions and be confident in my decision. My Mom used the same Jedi-mind-trick most of the time though there were a few more hard and fast rules and consequences. That’s the upside to being a grandparent over a parent, I suspect.

Are we prepared enough as a society, as households or as individuals to weather a major disruption in our lives? If not, what do we need to do differently? I’m not talking about prepping as much as I’m talking about structuring your household and lives to be resilient in the face of any number of disruptions because that is what life is about. We can’t know good times if we have never experienced bad times. Finally, if you are a small business person and you have been heavily impacted by COVID-19 what might you do in the future to be able to adapt more quickly to a sudden disruption. Viruses and the possible pandemics they can bring are not going away. Do you just “go back to normal” and hope the next disruption doesn’t impact you or do you re-consider how you provide your service or product and how that might work better or at least in conjunction with near normal. Remember that we may not be able to completely go back to how things were in 2019 and the public may make choices that eliminate some of what we use to have as a society. Think about being more adaptive now as you work to bring your business back to life.

Conclusions

Most of our ancestors were farmers. Farmers do their jobs surrounded by unknowns and things they can’t control. Sometimes things worked out and sometimes they didn’t. Regardless, they picked up the pieces, tried to adapt to the changes and moved on. If they hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here. I always try to find at least one silver-lining in anything that negatively impacts my life. There are usually more than one. Don’t spend much time in life wallowing in doubt, self-pity, or judgment of how others are fairing in comparison. New normals can be good things, just as they can be bad. Decide to make your new normal a good thing for your family. Come out of this pandemic in better shape and build on those skills you picked up while confined to home. Our Panhandle ancestors were a hardy lot. They did not have nearly the conveniences we have and to survive they couldn’t take much time to feel sorry for themselves when things didn’t go well. We have more of a social safety-net today but that shouldn’t lull us into complacency. Just as our ancestors took charge of their lives, we must do the same and find joy in it. Be grateful for all that we have and find the joy in the simple things in life.

Until Next Time.

Resources:

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