Thursday, March 5, 2009

Looking Back at Trying Times

We had a very nice Stake Conference last Sunday. The messages centered around Temple work, genealogy, and optimism.

I couldn't help, with these messages to think back on some of the family stories that I have been told, and have grown up with. My dad in particular was a story teller, and passed down stories to me in the great tradition of oral historians: He told them to me so many times that I know them almost by heart. And bless his heart for each one of them too.

When I look out at the imploding economy that we have, and the future that is unsure, but sure to be different than our recent, comfortable past, it is kind of comforting to revisit some of the stories of the circumstances that our ancestors lived through.

Looking back in history it is easy to romanticize it. The problems that our grandparents faced seem like smaller and cozier problems, the stories might have a scary part, but they have happy endings. And so we tuck our selves into bed and wish we had been born 100 years ago. At least these are my tendencies. You probably have more sense.

Dad told me a lot of stories about the Great Depression, and what it was like to grow up in those days. He almost always would tell me how poor they were, but that they didn't know it because everyone was about in the same boat. He was the oldest son of the oldest daughter of a family of 15 children. His father abandoned them, and Grandma had to live with her parents and brothers and sisters. Her parents had immigrated from Russia in the early 1900's, I think about 1905 or 1907. Grandma was a little girl when they got to America. They had to sell everything to come to America, and they were still trying to establish themselves economically when the Great Depression came along.

Dad was six when the market crashed, and while the only stock they had was live stock, the Depression reached throughout the country and made itself felt. I'm sure that G-Grandpa worried a lot about how he would feed all of those mouths. His solution was to raise almost everything that they ate in the garden, and then contract to take care of 80-120 acres of sugar beets for their cash income.

Some time I'll do a post on sugar beet cultivation practices before tractors and herbicides. Tonight I'll quickly run through the steps quickly just so you know how many times they had to go up and down the rows. I think that the farmer generally plowed, disked, harrowed, planted and marked the rows. G-Grandpa's brood/army would go to the fields after first irrigation and block, irrigate, thin and hoe, irrigate, hoe, irrigate, hoe, then the team would come through and lift the beets (October now) and then they would top and load them into wagons. Dad spent his time in the fields from May through October for most of his childhood years. It was unending, back breaking work.

They tried to live close to the farm, so they would move at least once each year. Dad said that a lot of the houses had dirt floors. Now think about that a minute. My shop has a concrete floor, but I doubt that any of us would consider living there for a night, yet alone on a permanent basis.

One of my favorite stories, and I think one of his as well, was the story of the 'Second Light Bulb'. You see, they moved to a house that had electricity in it, and they had a light bulb - just one, for some time. They would take it from room to room like you would a candle or a kerosene lamp. Then, wonder of wonders, they got a second bulb, and didn't have to move the first one so much. But, again, wonder of wonders, one of the bulbs was much brighter then the other. They couldn't figure this out. One bulb had a 40 on it.... and the brighter bulb had a 60 on it. Humble, humble beginnings.

Getting back to Stake Conference and the theme of having optimism in our lives. I don't think that means that we have to be blind to the troubles around us. Here is a quote that I like:

``Optimism of the soul, pessimism of the intellect,'' Antonio Gramsci

I would amend it to read: Optimism of the soul, realism of the intellect.

When there is so much bad news around us, and it sometimes seems that we are being overwhelmed I think it is important to look back to the things that our ancestors went through and to take courage from their lives, and then to go forward with optimism, knowing that we came from people who didn't always have things handed to them. These were people that wondered where life was going to take them, but people found courage in their religion and in their families. They are people that lived the stories.


AnnieOfBlueGables said...

Sweet Friend. You have such a great story-telling voice. I loved these stories. You need to write all the stories he told you down.
Its not oral history, but I think the written word lasts longer. I'm so glad for your blog. Thanks.

The Nurse said...

Yeah, great stories. I wish i could remember the stories that grandpa used to tell. I can remember the tone of his voice when he would start but being so young i didn't soak in nearly enough of him or his stories.

so, thanks. i love hearing your stories. they are some of my favorite.

Andrew said...

I keep wanting to move to a bigger home that's closer to work and praying for it to work out. Then I think, gosh, if I lived 80 years ago a 1500 square foot home with only four kids would be the lap of luxury!