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?