Dateline: 17 July 2013
I've written here before about when Marlene and I were married back in 1980, and we lived in a small apartment in the rural village of Moravia, in central New York state. Our rent was $155 a month. We both had jobs and we were living frugally. Our goal was to save enough to buy a small section of land, then build our own home and and pursue a more self-reliant lifestyle. We were focused and serious about achieving the goal....together.
Before long, we had saved the money to buy a 1.5 acre lot on a quiet country road, six miles out of the village. We built a shed on the land, bought a Toy-Bilt rototiller, and started gardening.
We wanted to can a lot of our homegrown food so we bought an All American pressure canner. It was an expensive purchase for us at the time but the All American canner was a homesteading tool that looked like it was made to last a lifetime.
Marlene thinks we paid around $65 for it. I seem to recall it was more like $100. Whatever the case, the same All American canner now sells for $200. Marlene found an identical All American canner at a yard sale a few years back and paid TWO DOLLARS for it. Canning with two canners is a lot more productive than just one.
We learned together how to use the pressure canner in our little apartment. We started with green beans. I remember the thrill of hearing the lids snap as the jars cooled down. And it was a good feeling to see the shelves I put in the kitchen all filled with our canned goods.
Back in 1980 Marlene and I had the vitality that comes with youth and shared goals. I marvel now at the stamina and physical ability I had, and what I was able to accomplish in my 20's and 30's.
In 1988 our first child was born. Two more followed. All boys. We poured ourselves into the work of raising our children. We all worked together as a family to make our little homestead fruitful. The All American canner really got a workout in those years.
In that raising-a-family stage of our life, Marlene was a devoted homeschooling mom and I worked a regular job as a home remodeler to keep the bills paid. They were financially difficult days, but good days, because our family was all together.
Then came the stage of family life where the boys got cars, and jobs, and girlfriends. It wasn't the same. Our children became more independent. They didn't need us like they once did. And they weren't around to help with the work of the home nearly as much.
Around the same time, my mother got sick. Much of our time (especially Marlene's time) was focused on helping to care for my mother. Shortly after my mother died, my stepfather started needing more care, and, again, Marlene stepped up to the plate to help. It takes a lot to help care for a sick family member. There are continual doctor appointments and various emergencies that arise. I'm sure that many who are reading this can relate.
Those years of self-sacrifice, helping to care for sick family members, took their toll on Marlene and our home life. The old canner didn't get as much use because there wasn't a lot of time.
These days Marlene is now spending a lot of time each week, away from our home, helping to care for her 98-year old mother. When she isn't doing that, she helps my sister who has advancing multiple sclerosis. At 43 years old, with no husband, no children, no parents, no home, no job, and no money, my sister is going through a rough time. And maybe you thought you had it bad?
So life is much different these days. As other people's difficult situations (and I haven't mentioned them all) merge into our lives, we are dealing with responsibilities and concerns that are physically and emotionally draining. We are less connected to the work of our homestead. We find ourselves relying on the grocery store more than ever.
The good part is that we—Marlene and I—are, like a pair of old workhorses, still harnessed and pulling the load of life together. We are thankful that we have each other. We are thankful for a home that is a quiet refuge in the midst of turmoil and difficulty. We are thankful that we have the ability, the resources, and the time to help others. We are thankful that God has orchestrated our life the way He has, though we never dreamed it would be this way back when we were first married, back in our little apartment, learning how to can green beans.
These thoughts came to my mind the other day as Marlene was canning some chicken stock. She had the pressure canner going early in the morning, and shut it down before she headed off to her mother's house for the day. On the way out the door, she told me to watch the pressure gauge—to make sure I released the valve and removed the jars when the gauge dropped down to zero. She didn't have to tell me how it was done. I know the routine.
All of which is to say, I suppose, that each season of life has it's challenges, and "livin' the good life" isn't always peaches and cream.
Today's post brings to mind another essay I wrote here back in 2006: My Christian Agrarian Reality