Nellie believed that everything she owned was superior to Laura’s because it was store bought and everything Laura owned was inferior because it was handmade. When I was eight, I didn’t really understand the nuances of this idea. I understood that Laura was poor but happy while Nellie was rich and not.
Looking at that dynamic with my adult eyes, I look at Laura’s Ma, and women like her, with awe. These women had skills! They cooked everything from scratch, made everyone’s clothes, tended to animals and kitchen gardens and kept house without any of today’s modern conveniences. Pa knew how to farm, do woodwork, even entertain the family at night with his violin. They produced everything they needed for themselves and knew how to fix things when they broke. Pa even built their house. Their life was hard, but I would argue rewarding, not that Caroline Ingalls would refuse a modern day washing machine and dryer if given one, and could you blame her!
For Nellie’s mother, working with her hands was beneath her. She could afford to pay someone else to make what she needed. Her pride came not in the item itself but in what it represented - money, which is why her things were so important to her but didn’t make her happy.
In 2013, how much has changed? How many more Nellies than Lauras are there, today? Store bought is still considered better than handmade. Why would I go through the effort of making something when I can go to the store and buy it?
I would argue that we build a relationship with what we make with our hands. A relationship that instills respect and appreciation and worth, all things that are missing from our casual relationship with store bought goods. We will care for what we make and repair it when it breaks because it’s worth is more than monetary. Can we say the same for our store bought items that are built with redundancy in mind? We throw them away at the first sign of disrepair. There is no expression of uniqueness when all our friends own the same thing. There is nothing of us in these items. When we create with our hands, we learn through the process, our skill levels increase and we feel pride of ownership.
Today, skills are being lost. The life skills our grandparents knew are not being passed down and are no longer taught in schools. I was taught basic cooking, sewing, woodworking and money management in school. My kids have not. It is up to my husband and I to teach them. The emphasis is always on money, earning more of it and then spending it. Of course you need an endless supply when you have to buy everything you need.
When I deliver produce from the Master Gardener project I volunteer at to food banks, I am saddened by the workers comments about the vegetables. They and their clients not only don’t know what the vegetables are, but have no idea how to cook them. Dinner from a box is what they are used to.
I am not advocating a return to pioneer life, but I feel we have lost a lot, and our planet is suffering a lot, because of our consumer culture. Shannon Hayes, the author, has written about the idea of producing more than we consume. It was an ah-ha moment for me; an idea that I find challenging and inspiring.
What did I produce today verses what did I consume? I continue to work on answering that question. How about you, do you feel that homemade is worth the effort?