I read a terrific article on the last page of Family Tree Maker magazine, June issue.
It made me think about some of my ancestors and how different my life experiences are in many ways, some good some bad. I often try to visualize what life was like in the 1920s, 1890s, 1850s, and so on–actual day-to-day life–and I read alot of materials trying to get a sense of that.
It goes without saying that as African-Americans, slavery, racism, discrimination, disenfranchisement, Jim Crow, and overall physical and emotional violence was ever-present and of course I stand in awe of all that we have come through. I am also thankful that women in general have made strides giving me a choices in my life that some of my ancestors could only dream about (educationally, career-wise, etc.). But I can genuinely think of a few things I think were absolutely better about some of the past times:
—proximity of family. The nature of an agricultural-based life as well as earlier modes of transport made it more likely that people lived amongst their kin. Almost no one I know, including my friends, lives in close proximity, certainly not walking distance of family.
—food. I think raising your own crops and livestock must have been in many ways better than all this processed, antibiotic- and pesticide- filled factory stuff we eat today. Yes, the thought of cutting off a chicken’s head and killing a hog scares me now, but I’m sure if I was brought up that way, it would’ve been some good eating! I think there’s something truly spiritual about really living off the land. My maternal grandmother would often say how you’d only have meat if you had a hog to kill, and that generally they did not eat much meat, but mostly vegetables and lots of home baking.
—personal entertainment. There are certainly good things about Facebook and the internet and Twitter and all the new technology (after all, I couldn’t bring you this post without it). But I can’t help but to think when I listen to my elders discuss playing the piano and trumpet and singing with their family in the living room how wonderful it must have been to be so musical and really need that as a form of entertainment and socializing. Older family members often talk about how they would all break out singing in the living room and I think that must have been wonderful.
—church and religious life. The mega churches of today seem like a different animal than the small, rural, steepletop, frame churches and tent revivals I’ve heard and read about, and still experience when I visit my cousins in Tennessee. The fact that they still meet up in that back room after service, and have what appears to be Thanksgiving dinner every Sunday harkens back to a time when communities really were tied together.
—minimalism. My paternal grandmother said that when she went to college, she had 3 dresses, 1 coat, 2 pair of shoes, 1 pair of pants and 2 blouses. Obviously we can live a good life without so many material things. I am embarrassed by all the “stuff” I have that I just don’t need. Part of it is the capitalism-filled consumerism and I’ve certainly guilty. It must have been nice to live in a time before that had taken a firm grip on America.
Can you think of any other ways life may have been better in the past?