I was privileged enough to grow up with my mom’s maternal grandparents. They were in their 70s by the time I came to be and lived on a farm in the Ohio countryside. They lived in an old farm house with a wood-burning stove, curtain doorways, creaky floors, and an outhouse. They had a pot-bellied pig, peacocks, horses, a dog named Dopey and drew water from a spring out back. My great grandpa was a retired coal miner who picked ginseng to sell for extra money. Great grandma made homemade noodles for funny money and crocheted better than anyone I knew or have known. Even after going blind due to macular degeneration in her 80s, she continued turning out colorfully patterned washcloths and pot holders.
When I was 8 years old they struck oil on their land and bought a brand new mobile home with an indoor bathroom (which my grandpa refused to use until he became very ill). They got an air conditioner for the window and used a furnace. It was the only luxury they purchased with the oil money; they banked the rest. You see, they were not people of means, they never had been. For them entertainment was attending auctions in Amish country. After they moved across the road to the new place they entertained themselves with Wheel of Fortune (I was entertained by my geriatric grandfather making “comments” about Vanna White), westerns, and the news. They were simple people living a simple life and they were happy. They understood the value of a dollar, that things were not important, and how to work hard. I have been thinking of them as the holidays approach. I remember going to their house and sitting on grandma’s lap eating candied orange slices, smelling noodles cooking on the stove, and enjoying their company while we celebrated Christmas. As they were simple people, the gifts they gave reflected that. Often they were homemade, or practical. If we got money it was a $5 bill, which we cherished and that amount never changed through the years.
If I could pass one thing along to my children it is the importance of living life the way my great grandparents did … simply. It took me a long time to learn that lesson. I am still learning it, but I have my grandparents to thank for planting the seed in me. I feel like this world can be full of senseless stuff, immediate gratification, and “me!” perspectives. In this world of Kim Kardashian and her followers, it has become even more important for me to help my children unplug from the holiday season our culture has created. One day I hope my kids choose experiences rather than gifts. I hope they see the beauty of discovering a new place, a new person, and opt to leave the surplus of things behind. I hope they choose to visit a nursing home, or help serve the needy a meal, or sing carols to shut-ins. More than anything I want them to give something back; to realize it is about more than a stack of gifts.
My great grandpa passed away when I was 17 and my great grandma died when I was 23. I think of them and their little slice of heaven often. I think of them tending the garden, feeding the chickens, and mowing the lawn. I see my grandpa smiling without his teeth [he often bragged he never visited the dentist; that might be a little too simple], hear my grandma’s raspy voice, and feel her soft cheek beneath my lips. I miss them and I miss their presence. And isn’t that a much better present than anything wrapped up with a bow.
A few titles from our collection that offer tips on a simple lifestyle:
The Heart of Simple Living: 7 Paths to a Better Life by Wanda Urbanska
Lists to Live by for Simple Living by Alice Gray