Aubrey Shepherd's focal point for display of Labrador retrievers, natural-resource conservation, English language word use, outdoor sports, recreational sports and athletics

Welcome to
  Town Branch
  News & Views


  Language Lane
  Louisiana Tech
of Arkansas
  Photo Albums
  About Us / Our
Friends / Family


February 18, 2003
Aubrey's Notebook:
Keep it real
Why buy a 100-year-old house to which indoor plumbing and electricity were added as afterthoughts?

Hardship. The watchword of pioneers and people who grew up or reared a family during the Great Depression.

Voluntarily accepting challenges and conditions that amount to hardship in today's America clearly can help people become responsible citizens and knowledgeable voters.

So 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.

Single space heater. Enough said. 1,700 square feet. Need any more explanation?

The 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.

The 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 drain.

That 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.


The 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.

The pair of rabbits that produce young worth the price of several months' food, if only you had the heart to sell them!

The 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.

The space for Labrador retrievers to run and play and even get a little retriever training on the half-acre lot.


Going 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.

Going 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.

Doing 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.


Being 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.

Watching 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 scraps.

Watching 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 morsels.


Having 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.


Knowing 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.

Americans 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.

However, 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.

Recognizing 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.

When 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 rocky one.

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.

A person must commit himself to a degree of hardship in order to experience it.

I 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.

Later 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.

However, 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.

NEXT 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?


[Click here to email Aubrey]
Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

Site design by Lauren Hawkins' LDHdesign