Last week I mentioned our annual pilgrimage to my Grandma's house. My grandpa lived there too so I don't know why it always carried the name of my grandmother. Maybe it was because she was the one who kept up the regular correspondence with letters and cards.
The house was a two story white structure that sat at the end of a long dirt driveway. Even walking to get to the mailbox was farther than many walk in a single day so grandpa often took the car to get the mail. In the summers, when we arrived, on the right was the alfalfa field. Farther was the river that ran between the upper and lower pastures. The back drop of the house was a large hill. On the top the wheat fields were planted. The ranch was 160 acres.
One of the quickest ways to annoy my grandma was to call it a farm. She would quickly correct me and tell me in an authoritative voice that it was a ranch, not a farm. At some point I knew that this had something to do with the long standing battles between the farmers and the ranchers. The sod busters vs. the cattlemen. Rifleman was one of my favorite shows as a child so I knew the distinction was important though did not really understand why.
My grandpa's primary stock were the sheep. Their good friends the Lathrops raised cattle, horses, and pigs but grandpa mainly had the sheep. Often there would be a milk cow, chickens, and a couple of pigs. I would wake very early each morning to go "help" my grandpa feed and water the sheep. He was a very quiet man who spoke little but as long as I was ready and didn't bother him I could tag along with him and the dog Midge. He would drive his old car up the dusty hills and the sheep would be waiting in the big shed. We would put the grain in the troughs. If I was very quiet and moved slowly I could go up and down the lines and feed the sheep with my hands. Grandpa let me know that this was a very good and important thing because sheep would not trust just anybody. To gain the trust of a sheep meant you were a very good person.
After the morning chores were done we would head back to the house for breakfast which was specially fixed because of us being there. We had big pieces of good smelling bacon from the pigs, farm fresh eggs, peaches from the cellar, and sometimes biscuits and gravy. Mom said my grandma was not a good cook but as far as I could tell she was one of the best cooks in the world with the best food I had ever eaten.
Then grandpa would head out and do whatever he did until dinner and evening feedings and I would get to feed the baby bummer lambs. Every year there were a few that were kept in the back yard that had lost their mommas or sometimes the ewe had triplets so one would get brought home so there would be milk enough for all. The bottles were the traditional coke glass ones with a nipple stuck on. The bummers would come right up to gulp it down and if they could not get enough fast enough they would butt their little heads to make it come quicker. I loved this job.
Since I was a little Sunday School girl I knew it was all so important. Throughout the Bible it talked so often about shepherds, sheep, and pastures. For two weeks I got to live it and somehow it made me feel much closer to Jesus as I learned the names of the sheep and tracked the lost ones along the little trails on the hillside trying to find the holes in the barbed wire fences or scouting out a lost sheep.
There were also some really fun things about Grandma's house that were nothing like our rambler of the neighborhood suburbs. Just to name a few:
Bath day. Saturday night of course. Next to the washer was the biggest bath tub I have ever seen and grandma said they were lucky to have gotten it. All the water would be heated on the stove. I remember mom and grandma discussing who was the dirtiest. This was important because that was the order we would bathe in as we would all use the same water. Usually it would be mom first, then my brother, and I think I was last because I was always out with the sheep, walking the trails, and in the gardens. Grandma would take what she called sponge baths and it was said that grandpa would take a bath once every six months whether he needed it or not.
I found it all to be such strange and interesting things. There was more but I wanted to just touch on some of the highlights. They were some of the best memories in my life.
The years: 1963 - 1969. Or so.
Years later when I went through my own temporary months without running water or heat I was so grateful for the experiences at my grandparents house to draw upon. As a mother of three children it was not quite as fun as I remembered it. Without these experiences on my childhood vacations I would have been completely dumbfounded about how to get through it. Living in my own 100 year old home was different than visiting. More about that in the In The Trenches book if you are interested.
What is poor?
Since that time I have often asked and pondered the question: what is poor? Were my grandparents poor? I never thought so. There was always food on the table, a fire in the woodstove, and land beyond what my eyes could see. Yes, surely they worked harder to have those things. Yes, surely there were so many others that had more, especially more convenience. Is wealth measured in convenience?
The family had told me stories of when the three girls were growing up. They were poor and it was during the first depression. One time I noticed the big ugly scar on each side of my mom's leg. She told me that when she was a girl they were jumping in the hay in the barn. A pitchfork had been left in the wrong place by someone. It went in one side and out the other side of her leg. They pulled it out but because they had no money they were unable to go to the doctor so grandma had to doctor the wound herself. That sounded sad and poor.
My mother was often sick as were many. She had scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, and others I don't remember. My aunt told me that at one time she was so sick she almost died. They had no money so my grandpa begged the doctor to treat her anyway. The doctor obliged on the condition that my grandpa put himself into indentured servitude for one year. For you see, the doctor not only provided his services but paid for the hospitalization out of his own pocket. To pay the debt my grandpa had to leave home and grandma had to run the ranch and take care of the girls on her own. When the debt was paid he was able to return home.
Indentured servitude. A strange word and I didn't know what it meant until I did some looking on the internet and found that many new immigrants came to this country from Europe and became indentured servants for up to seven years before they were free to strike out on their own. This was the price of becoming an American and they were willing to pay it.
I must mention here that my mom went on to become one of the world's finest nurses. It was not in spite of her hardship but because of her hardship. There was much sacrifice to put her through nursing school. From her early poverty she gave the world great wealth. I say this not because she was my mom and not because of the awards she won though she did win some. I say this because I saw the looks in the people's faces when they thanked her. Patients at the hospital, neighbors, friends, family all recognized her contribution to their lives. What I saw was only a glimpse of the countless people she impacted and provided care and comfort to.
So what then is poor? I see pictures of people in foreign countries staving and it is no question of their poverty. They have no food and are dying from starvation. If this then is the definition of poor how does that compare to what we as a nation are currently going through?
How much should the government step in to help the American people? Especially when doing so is not from money we actually have but is creating a debt for our children and grand children to pay? And, in addition to that we are borrowing from foreign nations and we all know that the borrower is the servant to the lender. At what point should we allow ourselves to become the servants of foreign governments?
Is not having a cell phone poor? Is not having cable t.v. poor? Is not having a car poor if our cities spend large sums of money on public transportation? Are we making or contributing to our own condition of being poor by insisting on amenities we cannot afford?
One time I flew to Denver. I was amazed with the vast amount of undeveloped land within our country. The small towns are merely specks in expanses of trees and rolling pastures. So why then are people packed into highrise poverty apartments in Chicago like poor sardines? We have seen the pictures and heard the stories.
I have read a little about the old 40 acres and a mule government programs that provided land grants to people willing to move out and develop the west. What if we developed some programs that really utilized the resources we do have without borrowing from other nations? Would we be willing to work as hard and sacrifice as much as our grandparents did?
Habitat for Humanity has done amazing things by encouraging people to work together and although much has been spoken about Jimmy Carter's presidency the good of his founding of this wonderful program far exceeds any shortcomings he may have had as a president.
Why? Why? Why? Is it possible that sometimes it is necessary to take a step back before we are able to take a step forward, especially if we are going in the wrong direction? I have come to the conclusion that many of the answers to the why questions come because we are allowing career politicians and not folks with vision, common sense, and compassion to direct the course of our future of America.