Wherever they lived, Grandma Marje and Grandpa Amos cultivated the land. Their organic vegetables, chickens and eggs sustained their family and neighborhood through the Great Depression. In the 1950s, they came to live with my parents, brother, sister and me. Soon after, the whole kit and kaboodle packed up and moved to a place with more tillable land.
Together, we grew enough organic veggies to feed the east side of Cleveland year-round, re-built the chicken coops, re-wired the farmhouse, dug a new well and harvested apples, strawberries, cherries and big sweet black caps.
While Mom and Dad worked “real jobs” for money, Grandpa built our beds, wardrobes and china cabinets, ran new electric wiring and plumbed the water pipes running from the well to the faucets. We ate fish out of the creek and eggs from the hens. Grandma baked our bread, crocheted our rag rugs, sewed our clothes and preserved the harvest. When her fingers were too gnarled with arthritis for needlework, she spent most Wednesday’s at The Goodwill Store, combing through the bargain bins.
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In the spring, with her neck bent far back, Grandma stared long and hard at the black walnut tree. She was hatching a plan that would harvest every nut the tree could yield.
When the first frosts of autumn turned their husks green-yellow, I gathered the “tree-fall” nuts in a red wagon and dumped them on drying screens in the garage. Night after night, the family crushed and peeled the leathery husks so the shells inside could be dried, cracked and the meat dug out. Our fingers were stained black-green till the New Year.
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The snowdrifts were up to Grandpa’s knees and I was perched on his shoulders as he tramped from the kitchen to the south-facing hill where our cold-frames nested. The frames were constructed of old windows and lumber rescued from a barn we’d torn down. Through long afternoons, Grandpa had shown me how to putty the battered sashes and glaze the old panes. When finished, the cold-frames were large and tight enough that we had leafy greens all winter to supplement the carrots, yams, potatoes and onions stored in the root cellar.
It was Gramps’ and my job to clear the cold-frames of snow after a storm so the sun’s warmth reached through the glass to the lettuce and spinach. In a few weeks, we’d transplant seedlings grown indoors, but that morning, as he tramped through the drifts with me on his shoulders, we were cold and ready for one of Grandma’s breakfasts: fresh bread, eggs collected before sunrise and strawberry preserves that tasted of the day we’d picked the fruit.
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When I (and years later, my children) jumped off the school bus and ran toward the house, grandparents waited in the yard. Always, while parents worked at jobs that took them from home, we were greeted by grandparents tilling gardens, planting trees, laying stone, hauling wood, canning vegetables and baking bread. There was a center to our lives that we could trust, no matter what.
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My memories of a family that didn’t make a million dollars but provided itself with much of what it needed from what it had at hand are at the root of CottageWorks.
As a child, I yearned for store-bought clothes and toys. Even Grandma, for all her living and baking from scratch, lusted after Miracle Mix White Bread and chewy Archway cookies.
Today, I want a world where we value our shared labor and take no more than we need. Where money isn’t the only currency and barter is encouraged. CottageWorks is young but I hope it becomes a place where we preserve the old arts and the fruits of our unique labors.
In that spirit, when you have a chance to stop by CottageWorks, think of a skill or trade you can share. Email me your idea and I’ll bet we can make it happen. I’m interested in most everything from jewelry- making to dowsing for water so you’ve got no excuses.
Then, skip over to Domesticities & The Cutting Garden. Email or call Anne and Fritz about the “Story Booth” they’re putting together. Help them build a future that doesn’t neglect the past by recording your memories of the good ole days.