April 16 ~
Having been brought up by my Grandparents, I suppose my general outlook on life and sensibilities are more theirs than those of my parent's generation. Evidence of this shows up in my inclinations to make things rather than buy them and to be fairly self sufficient. I remember, as a child, being fascinated with my grandparents medicine cabinet and with First Aid kits. I know...sort of weird. But, my adult life has been spent in focusing on health related issues.
The contents of the family medicine cabinet were as follows: Band Aids, bandages, gauze and tape, Tincture of Mercurochrome (STILL love that word "tincture"!---used for cuts/abrasions/stings), bottle of Coke syrup (upset stomachs), eye cup, Bayer Aspirin (adult and child), styptic pencil (bleeding from cuts and shaving), spool of white thread (much later found out that was for tying off skin tags!) and rubbing alcohol. That's it! That styptic pencil was especially fascinating for some reason. My grandpa told me it was made of a plant--which I thought was crazy because it was long, very hard and had edges--much like a pencil. Who knew it was super refined/compressed Yarrow??
There are a few things I do not now have in my medicine cabinet--like kids aspirin and the mercurochrome (though it worked really well). What I have instead is a much larger cabinet--with way too many choices of herbal preparations--but still very few store bought ones. When they wre still alive, I asked my grandparents about herbs they used as kids and they recalled most of them fondly--except for Castor oil and Asofoeteda (for constipation or late pregnancies...and contagious diseases, respectively). They started buying more newfangled remedies thinking they were more modern (though still continuing to eat squirrel pot pie).
My grandparents were country people, both growing up on farms. They learned to "make do".....nothing fancy. Grandma made soap--plain soap--which she continued to use long after my mom and I became "modern" and started using Ivory. I sometimes wonder what she would think if she saw all the homemade soaps being made today--like "Espresso Lavender" or "Mango Lime". Same with food. No gourmet meals on our table--just individual vegetables, some vegie salads (never a tossed salad), plain bread and rolls (not herbed or other exotic additions). We ate seasonally out of neccesity. When using herbal medicines, they were almost always "simples"--they knew what worked, so why use a bunch of herbs togehter? Synergy? What's that nonsense??
I grew up in the 60's/70's when all the cool, crunchy ideas began seeping into American life. The first herb book I read was "Back to Nature" by Kloss--lots of formulas and long herb lists for every health complaint, but I recognized the vey basic herbalism I had been exposed to. I Decided to wear all cotton clothes, became a vegetarian, turned against plastics, chemical ingredients, learned how to dye and spin wool (something even my grandma thought of as sort of "backward") and read all these books concerning the philosophy of why we should live a more basic and natural lifestyle. Boy, this is confusing. I grew up living in a much more natural way than almost everyone I knew...by default. But didn't realize it---or appreciate it until reading about why it is better to live that way as I got older. My grandma had my mom and aunt at home (in two different corners of the living room), but in just 40 years, when I was studying Midwifery and would go on to have a homebirth, my parent's generation was appalled, frightened...like it was the most unknown, weird thing to do. Same with our homeschooling--both my grandparents got very little formal education--went to one room schoolhouses and then only getting to 6th and 8th grades--but they were smart, well informed, active participants in the community, politics, read 3 papers a day. They understood our birthing and schooling decisions, but nobody else did.
So, I am not sure which generation I really belong to. My grandparents lived their lives mostly out of necessity, whereas I have the luxuryof CHOOSING which old school ways of doing things I want and which to discard (like doing laundry by hand--which we did until 6 years ago!!!!!). I giggle sometimes at the complicated healing methods I see suggested, but I have the ability to evaluate and mix and match remedies if I want. I can now have a really gourmet--but totally natural meal--though I often revert to the basic feel good foods of mashed potatoes and "meat"loaf (made with mushrooms and bunches of other stuff much better for me than ground beef). So, I guess...."what is old is new again" ...but with a different spin. Folks that live like we do are often called "environmentally conscious"--instead of "thrifty" or "crunchy hipsters", rather than "old timers". Being backwards is COOL--check out the new William Sonoma "Agrarian" catalogue.....and being backwards has also gotten surprisingly expensive. It is no longer doing lots of hard household work because there is no other option...it has become a really pricey CHOICE!
I embrace the modern reach back to the past--because I do think many parts are worth salvaging and continuing. If my grandparents were able to, they may have decided to give up a lot of their old ways because they did things they way they had always been done and did begin using some modern products. My grandma continued crochet/quilting/embroidery and tatting, but gave up making clothes--primarily because fabric became too expensive. She continued to do hand sewing and did mending and taught me to sew on her old treadle machine, but she and my mom got me a modern, electric sewing machine for my 11th birthday---which I STILL have and use (I still have and use the treadle machine too). My grandpa--and everyone else in his day were organic farmers because there were no chemicals--not because they made a moral decision about it--but as he aged, he started using Miracle Grow because he no longer had access to or the ability to shovel manure and compost. So, do not mistake my remembrances as over romanticized...though they are quite nostalgic. I do get a little disgruntled at how many feel like they just discovered living naturally, though. But I am kind about it because I had a unique situation of living in both worlds, being able to pick and choose and now, after years of being laughed at, dismissed as silly hippy types, actual research backs up what my sort has been saying about food, education, birth, the environment, misuse of chemicals and the therapeutic use of old homekeeping skills that are now defined as hobbies and crafts. So while I can choose, my "sensibilities" are still way back there from my grandparent's day. While I know some perils of modern medications, that is not why I use herbs. I use them because they are here...around us. I don't make things myself because store bought versions contain bad chemicals...I do it because it seems like the "PRACTICAL" thing to do--to create out of what is here and natural. I never considered myself a "hippie". I am a result of my upbringing.
Sometimes, I tie myself up in mental knots thinking of a new, cool name for something old or how to spruce up an herbal formula, or take way too much trouble to make a special meal.....then sense..and my sensibilities return and I can think clearly about who I am, and why I do things the way I do and I can be authentic and keep things simple..... not try to outdo or redo myself or keep up with anyone else. As I start a new season of working with herbal students, I hope I can pass this lesson on to them....to not copy me. The initial blast of herbal classes leaves students soaking up a million bits of fantastic information and often leaves them dizzy from trying to fit it all in one place and use it all at once. But, after a period of mellowing and common sense returns, I hope they can use the information I offer and inform it with their own authentic world view....to make it their own...to keep going the cycle of discovery and rediscovery.