Saturday, December 28, 2013

We're really spoiled

My great-grandmother, Martha Haygood Smith.

I'm finally beginning to gain a deep appreciation and understanding of how difficult life would have been for even the generation prior to mine -- if one lived in the country -- and certainly the generation prior to that wherever one lived. This photo is typical of the time, which was the 1930's. Martha and her husband Asberry lived on a farm outside Rome, GA. Martha died from burns when her long skirt caught fire at the fireplace. No modern conveniences here!

However time-consuming it is to wash my hair and take a 'bath' without a hot water heater, I'm still incredibly privileged by comparison.  I don't have to chop wood to feed a wood stove that heats water (and cooks food as well). And I don't have to bring water in from a well, or even hand-pump it into a pail. I have a microwave and a good gas stove to do the heating and water -- albeit cold -- on tap. I also have a good washer that'll heat it's own water if I choose that cycle. Not to mention that I have good heat sources, instead of a fireplace.

I remember visiting some cousins in Rockmart when I was 18, and before that as well. Their house had electricity, running water, a washer-dryer, all the modern conveniences of that time. Next door, however, in the old farmhouse where my cousin's husband was raised, not much of that existed. They did have indoor plumbing and I'm not sure about water or heat, but they didn't have electricity. She could have washed her clothes in my cousin's washer, but instead, this wonderful old woman (who looked and dressed much as Martha does in the photo) did things as she'd always done: heated water in a huge black iron pot in the backyard, over a wood fire, stirred the clothes with a stick while they boiled clean. I watched her do this more than once, and this was in 1961.

My appreciation comes from the time involved to do what I'm used to doing in a quick shower. Washing hair has to be done in the kitchen sink, because I'm not going to kneel down in the bathtub. Besides, it's right next to the stove where water is heating. It takes time and makes a mess, but does the job.

To take a 'bath', I have to bring the 3-qt pot of water to a boil, heat more water in a pyrex bowl in the microwave, take it all into the bathroom along with a smaller pot used as a ladle and a large stainless steel bowl to mix cold water with the boiling water. The tub itself is cold -- big, old, cast iron with enamel -- and never gets warm to the touch even though the heat is always on in that room. I sit on the edge, or stand at times, wash myself with the microwaved water and soap, then use the larger quantity of water for rinsing. Then take all the pots and bowls back into the kitchen.

Not hard work -- and I'm not complaining or whining -- just gaining a new appreciation for the generations that came before.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Bhavana in winter.
Golly gee, what a restless day! I think 'travel fever' has taken hold, even though I don't leave until a week from today. My mind tends to transition itself on its own time schedule, and right now it's transitioning or transitioned to Bhavana.  I'm physically here, but the mind is doing its own thing. :)

So I'm restless. Meditation would be a good antidote for that, but I'm out of the habit and it's hard to restart without a push of some kind (I think two weeks of nothing else to do will take care of that!). Now, I guess I need to put the physical wheels in motion, although most of those are already handled in my mind too, and there's no point in actually packing bags this early. I wouldn't have any clothes left to wear around here!

I'm hoping the weather allows me to get there. Snow and ice there for the next few days, but it should disappear before next Sunday and right now there's no more forecast for that weekend. That forecast changes several times every day, however, so I'll continue to keep my eye on it.

I'm so looking forward to being at this wonderful place and seeing the smiling, familiar faces of the monks and staff once again. But, in the meantime I have things to gather and pack, a dermatologist appointment, a haircut (maybe) and a recycling run (all on one trip to Rome).

I think I need to find something active and useful to do today, since it's only 9am and there's a lot of daylight between now and bedtime!  Hard to gather much interest on a cold, wet and gray day.

I've been reading Pat Conroy's cookbook (the essay portions) this morning, but it's short and won't take long to finish. Yesterday, I finished his latest book, The Death of Santini, and was left wanting more, plus I wanted to revisit the recipes and see if there was anything in there I might try. Most are too complicated and/or too expensive for me to do. Primarily more expensive!

I admit that I'm somewhat obsessed with this man, and I don't even care. He's an incredible writer and I was hooked back around 1986-87 when I read The Prince of Tides -- first time I'd ever heard of him, I believe.  I thought I'd died and gone to writer's heaven, and nothing I've read of his since has disabused me of that feeling.

There's also some weird sense of connection to him that has no basis in reality -- although I've often thought that perhaps it's the shared 'military brat' background and the fact that we both hated our fathers from early childhood. Not to mention that we are both children of the South and have both suffered a lifetime of depression. In fact, I discovered in the new book that his mother was born and raised dirt poor in Rome  -- 20 miles north of here. Her parents were from Piedmont, AL, 25 miles west of here where some of my own mother's family settled a couple of hundred years ago. Unfortunately, I can't find any of his family names in my own genealogy database -- it would be cool to be a distant cousin. He's a couple of years younger than I, his parents/grandparents and mine lived parallel lives during the same time periods and may have even crossed paths -- his grandfather owned a barbershop in Rome at the same time my grandfather owned a barbershop in Cedartown, and my grandfather's brother owned a barbershop in Rome. These were small towns back then, so it's not out of the question that my great uncle would have known Pat's grandfather, since they were in the same trade. Possibly my grandfather as well, since he was from Rome. On the other hand, Pat's grandfather took his fundamentalist background a bit far, abandoning both his business and family to go out on the streets evangelizing, so the parallels end at that point.

Something else I find fascinating is that one of my other favorite writers, Rick Bragg, is also from the Piedmont, AL area, from another dirt poor family that moved in that same time period and that same arc from the Piedmont area to Rome and back, following ways and places to earn a living. Two great writers spawned from the hardscrabble life of Piedmont, AL. Who'd have thunk it?