a 100-year-old house to which indoor plumbing and electricity were
added as afterthoughts?
The watchword of pioneers and people who grew up or reared a family
during the Great Depression.
accepting challenges and conditions that amount to hardship in today's America clearly
can help people become responsible citizens and
what is special about a 100-year-old farmhouse? The bathroom is
small. There is no heater in it. Because there is NO central heat
in the house, the only way to get warm air in the bathroom is to
open the door when the single space heater in the house is on.
space heater. Enough said. 1,700 square feet. Need any more explanation?
kitchen is small. The first owners probably had a separate kitchen
out back. The existing kitchen was cut in half when indoor plumbing and city water came and the south half became a bathroom.
washer and dryer are outside the original house on an enclosed back
porch with no insulation in its walls. The washer freezes when the
temperature goes below 30 degrees for more than 24 hours. If a person
gets anxious to do the laundry and doesn't give the washer two days
with a temperature above freezing before trying to use the washer,
damage occurs. A likely outage is the pump that sends water to the
means $100 minimum to a repairman or nearly that for a new USED
washer at the Salvation Army store. Or driving around town and finding
one sitting by the street that still works. Spend two days' take-home
pay or spend a week driving the streets and looking. Sometimes,
a renter leaves one that works and the landlord puts it by the street.
Poor folk get lucky now and then.
little hen house, maybe 12 feet by 12 feet, out back. The laying
hens that were here when the place was bought. Their rooster, who attacks people's legs only during his first 10 years of life and
finally mellows out and retires his spurs.
pair of rabbits that produce young worth the price of several months'
food, if only you had the heart to sell them!
already-seeded ambrosia plants that come up from seeds each April
and grow to 25 feet by September, thanks to the chicken manure,
before turning to seed and attracting hundreds of songbirds to the
back yard throughout the fall.
space for Labrador retrievers to run and play and even get a little
retriever training on the half-acre lot.
out and feeding the rabbits and bringing in their water bottles to
thaw during winter or giving them fresh water daily in summer because
they drink so much.
out in snow or rain or 100-degree weather to give the chickens corn
and fresh water before turning them out to keep their identify as
free-range laying hens.
the same in snow and on ice and in the mud of the rainy season.
Noon and midnight, usually, because of the work schedule that pays
for the privilege of playing at farming and for the privilege of
living with hardship.
surrounded by dozens of cardinals, doves, robins, sparrows, mockingbirds, thrashers or thrushes, sometimes
hundreds of blackbirds and many representatives of species such as cedar waxwings and Carolina Chicadees and various woodpeckers or house wrens or other speces not easily
identified because they show up for only a day or two as they migrate —
somehow learning where the suckers are that put out all the corn
chops and allow apples and cherries and grapes and berries to go unharvested — and then bringing their progeny when they migrate the following
year to enjoy mulberries and hackberries and blackberries and the berries of the nonnative China and Japanese honeysuckle at various seasons. And with predators such as red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks constantly lurking about and tree frogs and box turtles and climbing skinny green snakes and king snakes occasionally showing up all summer.
a mocking bird tilt almost upside down to drink from a 5-gallon
white-plastic bucket sitting next to a 25-pound white turkey while
wishing for a camera. Having a wild-born young male turkey come
within 5 feet when you practice your clucking or scatter bread
a 12-year-old Labrador retriever wrestle with his 3- or 4-year-old
progeny and then roll up and start checking the ground for tasty
no choice about going to the backyard several times a day, and always
at least two times, to feed and water rabbits and chickens, to play
with the dogs and bring them indoors so that
they will sleep peacefully and harmlessly while the chickens and
turkeys and songbirds enjoy the yard.
that all those living things, not counting the several cats that
hang out on the front porch waiting for feeding time, depend on
you for survival. Many things that people accept as responsibilities
for the sake of a job are absurd, either don't matter or don't really
need doing or, in far too many cases, are simply WRONG or HARMFUL.
However, caring for other living things, human or non-human, is
always the RIGHT thing to do. The satisfaction of it makes up for
a small, inconvenient kitchen, a cold or in summer too hot laundry
room where the equipment often fails and a cold bathroom that offers
none of the joy of the ones in big, modern houses.
now and at many periods throughout the history of our nation have
been able to avoid hardship because of the availability of modern
conveniences or slave labor.
generations that lived in the earliest settlements on the continent,
whether 500 years ago or many times further in the past, would laugh
at the idea of hardship during the Revolutionary War or the Civil
War or the wars of the 20th century or even the Great Depression.
the fact that our ancestors developed the character and determination
and strength on which Americans pride ourselves because of constant,
unrelenting hardship in their daily lives, many of us have chosen
at least a sample of hardship over total comfort in order to learn or at least to try to understand
the reality of the difficulty of the life our ancestors led.
one chooses to hoe the tough row, it would appear that he could
choose to stop working that row and step over to a new and less
To benefit from the
experience of hardship, however, one has to commit a significant part of his life to it.
Retaining the option of being able to step outside the bounds and call timeout isn't good
enough. A privileged person able to drop out of the game really
isn't a player.
person must commit himself to a degree of hardship in order to experience it.
remember a time when I was so wrapped up in my plans for academic
success that I actually suggested that maybe everyone should be
required to complete a Ph.D. before being registered to vote. That
absurd notion passed quickly.
in life, I was so wrapped up in the joy of surviving and overcoming
hardship that I suggested that maybe everyone should be required
to suffer hardship in life before being registered to vote. That
absurd notion also passed quickly.
I still believe that everyone should learn as much as possible before
voting and that every voter should continue to learn as much as
possible. And I do believe that living through hardship makes human
beings wiser and better voters. On the other hand, I can't say anyone
should be forced to suffer hardship for a lifetime.
TIME: Heating and cooling an ancient two-story house. CAN YOU
SPELL ENERGY EFFICIENT? What do you mean you decided to cut down
the big shade tree on the south side of the house?