Last night I taught my daughter how to sew. I wish I could write that sentence without a snort of derision. In 8th grade, I had a home economics teacher who was more concerned about being popular with the cool kids than whether or not she taught me. She held my shirt project up in front of the class and they all had a good laugh. One sleeve was two inches shorter than the other. From that point on, I believed that I could not sew.
The women in my family do not cook. Basic dishes can be made under duress – like four hungry children and a state mandate that they should be fed. I believed also that I could not cook. I did know, under the tutelage of parental OCD, how to clean the hell out of things. My hands look like a sharecropper’s, from the many hours spent dipping into scrub buckets of hot, soapy water. Cleaning was cheap and manageable and gave some semblance of control in a world of government cheese and subsistence living.
These days, I am middle class living below my means, but unlike gun enthusiasts, my apocalyptic preparations involve learning basic skills – how to grow my own food, cook meals from basic ingredients, sew and fix things. Sure, none of it will mean anything when the starving gun enthusiast steals all my stuff at gunpoint, but we share a similar institutional paranoia. The government has some ‘splainin’ to do about how it has manipulated our food supplies, set up regulatory entities that don’t regulate and allowed us to become so dependent on corporations that we can hardly open doors on our own.
Paranoia aside, there is something personally gratifying about knowing how to do things on your own. I am self-taught on just about anything domestic and it seems more important now that I have a child. In an age of information, you can find directions on how to do just about anything, but I want her to remember what her mother taught her – how to Google. Barely kidding. My daughter will know how to cook and sew for herself, though. She will know that she is capable of growing food. She will know what homemade means.
Last week, while getting a class on art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, I was amazed at the intricate and beautiful beadwork done by the Ojibwe Native Americans. No machines, no YouTube videos, no prepackaged kit – hand sewn and woven. The time and effort required must have been intense. And that is what it boils down to – time. We say we don’t have time for anything, but that’s rarely true. We have plenty of time, but the many ways in which we can spend it, diverts it into tiny fragments, the moment, the now.
I taught myself to bake bread. I found a recipe on the internet. After a few practice rounds, I modified the recipe more to my liking. It’s time-consuming, but only requires basic ingredients and an oven. I don’t bake our bread all the time, but enough so that I know the recipe by heart and my daughter will have images of her childhood that include a mother baking bread. It is weirdly important to me that she remembers more than mommy surfing the internet.
This spring, we will plant another garden. We’ve experimented over the years and have learned the hard way about growing things organically (damn you, squash bugs!). Our suburban yard is not a vast acreage, but every time growing season comes around, it seems like miles, as it teems with a wide variety of foods. We have a cherry tree, raspberries, blackberries, and Concord grapes that grow on the border of our vegetable garden. Each year we try new things. My daughter has, over the years, stood in the middle of it, alternately eating green beans and raspberries straight off the plants.
In an age when we barely have to climb stairs or pick our own food or sew our clothes, we become further removed from the making of the goods we use, wear and eat. I feel uncomfortable with that. A vision of a gigantic urban over-pampered baby comes to mind. Helpless, waiting for someone, dependent on whatever we are given. It’s unlikely I’ll be living “off the grid” any time soon, but even maintaining the slightest self-sufficiency makes me imagine that if I had to, I could.
Kirsten Whyte wrote yesterday that she’d like to un-invent automated doors, which got me thinking about self-sufficiency. Thanks for the inspiration, Kirsten!