Recently I realized that the steps I am taking to live more frugally, simply, and honestly are changing my life to look more like that of my great-grandparents and older relatives who are now gone. I started reflecting on these people and what about them I find makes them good role models. I was lucky enough to have these elder statesmen around to show me, even in some small part, the simpler life that they lived because they were born in a simpler time, and perhaps in part how living through the great depression affected them and permanently marked the way that they chose to live their lives.
Clarence & Elsie
My mother’s mother’s parents lived in central Arkansas, in the southern Ozark mountains. I believe Clarence was a chair maker, and Elsie raised 6 children. During the great depression, my great grandfather was able to purchase land very cheaply. He invested much of their extra money in land. By the time they passed in the late 1990’s, that land was worth a considerable amount of money. He could have sold it and bought several large houses and had lawn service and just about anything they wanted.
When I met them I was 6 or 7, in the mid 1970’s. I remember my great grandmother wore cotton dresses and aprons, and had her white hair pinned back in a bun at the nape of her neck. Then and there, I thought “when I grow old, I want to wear my hair like that”. 30+ years later, and I still haven’t changed my mind as they grey hairs have started to creep in. They lived in what a modern suburbanite would probably have termed a “shack”. Nestled away from the road in the woods, the car had to drive over the very small simple bridge to get to the house, being careful the tires didn’t veer off the bridge into the creek. Crawdads could be seen in the creek around the natural spring. It was a great place to play and explore. As you rounded a bend in the long grooved dirt-and-gravel driveway, you could see the screen porch on the side of the small house. There was a carefully tended garden surrounded by wire fencing to keep away the deer and other “critters”, and a small grassy clearing around the house. Paper wasps made their home in the carport. As my great grandfather said, “if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you”. The house had old linoleum floors and worn area rugs. There wasn’t too much stuff, but what was there was well worn and comfortable. It wasn’t spotless and sanitary, but it was clean, uncluttered, and cared for. The only passing nod to modernity was the refrigerator, a small television and a Sears catalog. That same catalog was still in that room on my return trip 10 years later, it gave us kids something fun to play with looking at all the old fashions.
What has always struck me in my adult life about my great grandparents is that they didn’t HAVE to live like that, especially towards the end of their life. They chose to. They raised their 6 children, and saw a parade of 20 grandchildren and even more great grandchildren visit that house. Now I think I understand better the appeal of that “shack”. It was a home. It contained everything they needed to make them happy. Their lives were slower, simpler, and for the most part happy. They didn’t need new “stuff” to do that for them. Everything was used until it simply wore out. I now aspire to this level of simplicity of life.
Ruth & Bill
My Aunt Ruth and Uncle Bill were actually my great-great-aunt and uncle, Aunt Ruth was my great-grandmother’s sister. They lived in a nice moderately sized house in central NJ. While they had no children of their own, they were always happy to entertain the generations of children in the family. I think anyone who knew them would use the words “kind” and “generous”. Where I think they gave was not in money, but instead in spirit, in service. My uncle loved to tease all us kids, grabbing an ankle and hoisting us up, not letting go until Aunt Ruth pleaded “Buzz!” (his nickname) and reminded him of his heart problem. He always joked and played and we ate it up. I remember his laugh vividly.
More ennobling for me than their spirit was their true dedication and love for each other. In a family where my parents were divorced, all 5 of my mother’s siblings and my grandparents (her parents) were divorced, they were the best example of what a marriage SHOULD be: love, devotion, humor, true partnership. I’m glad I had that example, to know that what I have now reminds me of what they shared and I’m on the right track.
While the years may have dulled my memories and cast a rosy sheen on my view of these people, their lives are making powerful ripples in the choices I am making now.
Is there any “elder statesman” who has influenced your life?