Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reflections On My Childhood, Part I

I keep trying to understand my childhood. I look at it from different angles, through different lenses. While I reject many of my parents' beliefs, there are certainly gifts from my childhood that I am passing on to my children.

My mom taught me many of the skills I use every day. She was preparing me to be a "helpmeet" and a stay-at-home mom, so she made sure I learned to sew and cook and clean and care for children. She taught me how to manage menus, schedules and shopping lists, how to rotate clothing by seasons and organize closets. I could make curtains and quilts, bathe infants, entertain toddlers, balance a checkbook, and teach math to children. As a teen, I learned to execute a meal plan so that all the courses were ready at the same time. I could pack meals for three days that could be cooked in a hotel room using only hot water. As a young adult, I did the family grocery shopping, parking the first filled cart while I loaded the next one and discovering that the chilled orange juice could be more economical than the frozen concentrate.

Nutrition was always important to Mom. When the other kids in my class pulled out their packages of sugary, artificially colored fruit leather at snack time, I opened my Tupperware bowl and enjoyed homemade applesauce, or rhubarb sauce. Candy was strictly limited, chocolate frowned upon, and we sometimes got sesame-honey treats from the health food store in our Christmas stockings. I still casually refer to blue food coloring as "poison". With so many other cultural traditions being discarded on religious grounds, our family holiday celebrations centered strongly around the food. 

Momma wanted us to know about nature and where our food came from, about farming and gardening and even recycling. Sometimes she made our yogurt. Sometimes we drank unhomogenized milk from the dairy down the road, or raw milk from a friend's cow. Mom ordered minimally-processed natural foods in bulk twice a year: grains, beans, nuts, honey, dried fruit. She often had us pick seasonal produce ourselves. We would drive to orchards or fields where we gathered green beans into paper bags before they wilted in the hot sun, filled baskets full of fuzzy peaches that made our necks itch, lugged pails full of sticky red cherries, picked armloads of tasseled sweet corn, scoured a field for potatoes crusted with earth, and learned to select only the ripe berries. We blanched and peeled and pitted and canned and froze and mashed and sauced and juiced and dried anything that grew under the sun. We helped friends butcher cattle, deer, and chickens. Dad even tapped our neighbor's trees to boil off our own maple syrup. All winter long, we'd enjoy homemade jams, bowls of canned peaches and plums and pears, or maple syrup with hints of wood smoke on hearty whole-wheat pancakes and we'd remember longer, warmer days. 

These days I am more aware than ever of my connection to our planet, the cycle of its seasons, and my place in the universe. I try to help my kids celebrate nature, too. We have seasonal food traditions, we observe the Earth's cycles. We plant things in the earth, and appreciate what it gives back to us. My kids have picked cherries and berries and green beans. I take them grocery shopping with me and teach them to make informed food choices. Running a self-sufficient homestead holds no appeal for me, but my upbringing gave me a respect for farmers, a taste for real food, and a sense of responsibility.


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