Frugal, Personal Finance, Saving Money

Pioneer Spirit

I grew up in the 1970’s. Looking back, I realize ever more what a really cool time that was. I knew people who had lived through the Great Depression and both of the World Wars. They had grown up through greater hardship than any we face today and they had learned to improvise to survive. My parents were born into that generation.

Although I grew up in a very comfortable home in suburban Boston and although my father was a successful dentist, my parents still relied on their own abilities to handle just about every household challenge. When something broke, my mother or father would find a way to fix it. If clothing ripped, my Mom would sew the tear and the garment would look as good as new. If a sock had a hole, Mom would darn it. If bricks needed to be laid, Dad would handle it. We rarely had contractors come to our home and if my parents did not know how to handle the issue at hand, they learned how.

Of course, my parents were far removed from the pioneer generation of a century earlier, but they still had a pioneer spirit – a spirit that they shared with most of my friends’ parents as well. Mom knew how to cook, to care for our house, to sew and mend, and to care for the garden. Dad could prune and hedge and cut down trees, build sheds and panel walls, lay carpet and other flooring and fix almost anything that was broken. They both could apply a perfect coat of paint, wallpaper a room and do any of a host of other household chores.

I watched my parents do all of these things, but only learned how to do less than half of them. If I were to set out to build a shed, it would not stand. If I tried to carpet a room, the room would be a mess by the time I gave up. I am much more likely to break things than to be able to fix them. And the one time I tried to darn a sock, the concept eluded me.

I know that I could learn how to do all of the things that my parents’ generation could do, especially if I had more time, but I wonder why it is that almost everyone I know seems to have lost the same skills that I have lost. What happened that those of us who live in suburbia or in cities probably would have hard time lasting more than a few days if we were transported back to the pioneer days of 150 years ago? I am pretty sure that our parents would have fared much better than we would.

What do you think? Have we lost the pioneer spirit? Have Americans lost the basic caretaking skills that sustained our forefathers during the Depression? Have you darned a sock or made your own clothes or handled any of the dozens of other tasks that so many of us now either forego or contract out?

9 thoughts on “Pioneer Spirit

  1. I think you’re right – most Americans have lost that pioneer spirit.
    But it’s never too late to learn.
    While I’ve never darned a sock, I have made some of my own clothes, planted a small vegetable garden, made and canned jam, painted several rooms in my house, changed out a few light fixtures, laid ceramic tile, etc.
    Being a fifty-something single woman, my only limitation is physical strength.
    But I’m willing to try almost anything that I’m physically strong enough to do.
    You would be surprised what you can do if you just do a little research and put your mind to it.

  2. Heh, speak for yourself, David! LOL

    My mother was appalled when I purchased my 100 year old house in St. Charles. I referred to it as my slum reclamation project.

    Many times I wished my dad was still alive to walk me through how to do something, but I learned how to repair lathe and plaster, do basic electrical and plumbing work, strip and refinish windows and floors, paint, lay tile, and a bunch of other things.

    I grew up knowing how to sew, knit, crochet and do fine needlework — as a matter of fact, my imagination was first let loose designing clothes for my dolls (the only thing I liked to do with dolls) and creating my own needlework designs. I still repair tears, sew on buttons and use needlework (needlepoint, crewel, crossstitch, etc.) to keep my hands busy when I’m not carving or sculpting.

    I’ve gotten great pleasure from refinishing tables whose surfaces were marred, repairing an antique needlepoint cushion for a chair that was my grandparents’, laying a path through my garden and building a brick/stone wall and am currently planning on building some structures — possibly an arch, definitely an obelisk — for my current garden.

    Seeing something being done and doing it yourself gives you a greater appreciation of what it really takes to accomplish something.

    That doesn’t mean that I haven’t hired painters, cabinet makers, plumbers, electricians, seamstresses, etc. Sometimes it’s worth the money to either have an expert do it or use my time to do something else, but I have a greater appreciation and understanding of how such things are done … and a sense of pride when I do it myself and it turns out well. And all of that is priceless.

  3. I feel the same way as you, David. We must be of similar age. My dad is very handy…can build and fix a lot of stuff, but some how I wasn’t able to pick up much of these skills. In his early 20’s he built his own stone fireplace in my parents’ home. They heat their house primarily by wood which they’ve cut from their own property. Now as an adult, I can’t imagine keeping up with this.

  4. I have to admit that my brother doesn’t know one end of a hammer from the other — appalling! LOL

    I’m in my 50’s and remember when home ec and woodshop were required courses. I think it’s a shame that those don’t seem to exist in schools any more. Kids don’t seem to be exposed to the pleasures of making something themselves from scratch… though I might be wrong!

    All the emphasis is on “team” but there’s a lot to be said for pride in individual accomplishment. Are we training this out of the next generation? Where will innovations come from, if people don’t learn how to explore individual accomplishment and make what they imagine come to life?

    Maybe I’m all wet, but just a thought. To me, it’s part and parcel of the pioneer spirit.

  5. Here in the UK we had our own ‘pioneering’ spirit. It is what people did because there was not the money and often not the technology to do any different.

    My aunts and grandmother could and did bottle ‘can’ fruit, salt beans, make jams, make pickles, make cheese. knit and sew all their clothes – including underwear – make ham and bacon, make wine and beer as well as mend clothes.

    It somehow skipped my mother, but I too can do all of these things.

  6. Yeah I think so. I have to admit – if I was thrown into a forest and let to survive on my own I think I’d die. I’m 24 years old and I don’t know how to do 100% of what my parents know how to do. Can’t cook, can’t knit, can’t saw – what I can do is spend money and pay someone to do it for me.

  7. I think many many Americans have lost the ‘pioneer spirit’ or call it the can do spirit. Actually I don’t think many have so much lost it as they never had it to begin with.

    During my lifetime, before I got to disabled to do them, I could grow vegatable and can and freeze them at the end of summer, made my own jams and jellies, baked all my bread from scratch. I still make most of my own clothes and my husbands pajamas (the rest of his things are bought at yard sales). He built the house we live in so when something breaks he usually can problem solve how to fix things.

    Many of the so called pioneering spirits thing to do are enjoyable activities. When I was in 6th grade (in the 60’s) I was already baking up a storm every Saturday. I could make anything I wanted as long as I cleaned up afterwards. I made bread and coffee cakes and cookies and cakes. By the time I graduated high school I could pull off cooking dinner for a crowd with ease. You never hear of young girls doing things like that anymore.

    I think it is sad that kids today do not seem to have any idea how to maintain a home, cook, sew, be frugal, care for a car, etc.

  8. Uh, the pioneering spirit is what causes people to try new, innovative ideas. No matter how innovative people get, they still need basic skills to build on and still have the need to eat, hence an innovative person learns to cook so they aren’t held captive by restaurants and frozen food sections of grocery stores. They can eat what they want because they know how to make it.

    The same with the need to wear clothes. Learning to sew your own garments takes you ahead of the pack because you can make what you need in the colors and fabrics that you want and you can size it to fit.

  9. i see what ur talking about but i believe that we should always be moving foward, and that we don’t need the pioneer spirit because we have inovation

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