My early childhood years were spent in a boarding house with people older than my grandmother, except for my mother. It was a wonderful start to life.
These people had lived through the First World War, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, the Second World War, so history was part of everyday conversation. And oh, how I loved their stories!
They were, however, a pragmatic bunch – practical to the core. I followed the “owner” around lapping up her no-nonsense approach to life. Good thing, because my temperament veers toward the “dreamer of possibilities” more so that her grounded and down-to-earth attitude and praxis. I called her (and still do – though her physical presence is long gone) Aunt Lexie.
There was a rhythm to our days and our weeks and the seasons of the year. Monday was laundry day. She stripped the beds, put the bottom sheet into the laundry basket and replaced it with the top sheet and put a fresh sheet on the top. With our modern conveniences that sounds silly, but it was easier on both the laundress, the sheets, and the environment and far more practical than our modern approach in every aspect. Though, I must admit, it requires the use of only flat sheets.
My mother had spent her teen years growing up in that boarding house and all her life she “ironed” as if she were using a flat smoothing iron. Thump, slide slide, thump slide slid.
She baked on Tuesdays. And I was right at her side with an oversize apron tied under my armpits and a stool to stand on. I had my own little wooden rolling pin with red handles. I had a smaller “tart tin” for my own little tarts. I would cut out the circles of dough with a cookie cutter older than Aunt Lexie and carefully place each circle in the cups of the tin. Gently pushing each circle in the centre to make it fold into the shape of that cup. Then I would take a small spoon of jam we had made last Fall and drop it into the centre of each circle. That jam was a lesson in itself. That there was a continuum to life that flowed through each day. That every thing we did mattered.
We were making tarts with the jam that we had made in the autumn of the year. So each season had its task, but each season was connected in some way.
Mr. Cook, Aunt Lexie and Aunt Marion, even Prentice and my mum would eat those tarts I made with relish and compliments. And I knew that I was part of a little community that was part of a larger community that threaded through time. That I had a part to play in caring for that community and all its members. That I had value and worth.
As memory serves, the tarts I made were so overworked that you could use them as hockey pucks. Yet, I was proud to share my baking as an act of caring and nurturing these people I loved.
After supper and doing the dishes, I would curl up on Aunt Lexie’s lap and we would read her old childhood books. I cannot smell pastry on my own aprons without a small, sweet rush of memory of those times – though seven decades have passed.
Stories of families with girls named after flowers. The poetry of Emily Dickinson, Longfellow and Wordsworth. How she reminded me that Hiawatha was one of my ancestors. Sometimes even a snippet of modernity with A. A. Milne. And I still love that poetry – though hundreds of others’ poetry now lines my bookshelves.
We strongly influence those in our care, especially children. We especially impact character and sensibilities formation in those first six years and I believe I am proof of that pudding.
That said, I think that we influence others by what we do far more than through what we say.
Still, what I have is only words, drawings, and stories to, in some small way, influence you, my reader. To soothe your soul and lift your spirit as we traverse this new way of being in the world, together.
Wednesdays and Saturdays Aunt Lexie and I “marketed”. Sometimes we drove to the countryside in her Model-T and bought fresh produce by the bushels. Those Thursdays we “put food by” (an old fashioned way to say preserved) rather than baked because baking required other than flour, water, yeast, salt — we needed fruit, to make jam, to put into those tarts.
And as I was reading a Facebook post by Rev. Steven Charleston, on Friday, August 14th, I was buoyed and heartened to hearken back to times before even those of us who would be considered oldsters were born. Bolstered by ancestors’ stories and habits. Perhaps we have read their stories or heard of their habits and practices. Rev. Charleston used a model he called “spiritual canning” for a way to look at what we need going forward.
It is a good analogy since we are coming into the time when putting food by would be happening. Maybe you even know someone who is doing just that. I do. I have a friend who lives “up the Bruce” and has a bit of land. She grows much of her own produce and puts it by – she cans, dehydrates, freezes the harvest. It is hard work. But it is also deliciously hard because while you sweat doing it, the food you put by, will fill your belly, and warm your heart in the cold winter. It is like putting some sunshine “by” for a drearier day – a more challenging time.
I offer this analogy in an image I have drawn based on this idea I inherited – just like I inherited my rolling pin – which was the big one Aunt Lexie used when we baked a together.
I have many more spiritual canning / “putting spiritual food by” ideas to write about. If you have any requests, please make a comment, I’ll try to include your choices for “spiritual food” by.
Those memories keep me warm during wintery days and times more challenging than I would prefer.
I hope they inspire you to dip back into an ancestor’s history, those lessons you’ve learned by heart, or inherited by rote, to get you through the bumpy times that will come. And they will come.
Come what may, we will get through this, using the spiritual ingredients we put by.