Tuesday, April 26, 2011

When Do Luxuries Become Necessities?

Life has been busy here on the mini-farm. Our central air conditioning went out on us in the beginning of April – again! So, to punish the antique system, I decided to leave it broken until it promised to behave – or until we could afford a new system. Unfortunately, the sticky heat of summer is coming upon us at an alarming rate, while the funds for replacing the system are moving at the rate of continental drift. I fear that being the only one in this staring contest with eyes, I’ll be forced to blink first.

It’s annoying to think how quickly we’ve come to consider air conditioning in the South to be a necessity and not the luxury my grandparents regarded it. I’ve thought a lot about my grandparents and great-grandparents lately and I’ve been grateful for this century plus old home that was built long before the days of air conditioning. With high ceilings and windows poised to catch even the slightest hint of a breeze, my old home has been far more tolerable without air conditioning on these ninety plus degree afternoons than our last home, built in 2003 would have been. And thanks to my friend Renee Stewart, I was able to identify the hidden treasure of the functioning whole-house attic fan that not only vents heat from my prodigious attic, but also sucks in cooler air through the open windows, filling in for absent breezes.

I fell in love with this old house sight unseen. Its wide front porch and high peaked roof reminded me of the charming house on South Fifth street in Easley, South Carolina where my great-grandparents lived until the 1980’s. To me, a house just didn’t feel like a home unless it had uneven floors, large windows with wavy glass, and a bathroom that was obviously tacked on as an afterthought to its construction.

As I bustle around in my large country kitchen with ancient cabinets, washing dishes by hand in my sink under the window, I pause in the evening to catch a hint of the cooling breeze across my face. I can’t help but remember Mama Boley’s kitchen, larger and wider than mine with a lovely walk-in pantry. If I close my eyes I can smell the jasmine from the vine just outside my back door, standing wide open to chase the heat from dinner preparation from the house.

I can’t help but be amazed at how today, we take for granted so many of the little luxuries that amazed her generation. Born in 1888, Annie Pearl Cox and her husband John Patrick McCoy were born into a world without indoor plumbing, without electricity, without airplanes, without automobiles. Granddad said more than once that in his lifetime he’d seen many wonders, from indoor plumbing to men landing on the moon. The things we take for granted today as necessities, were unimaginable wonders to people of their time. And just since my great-grandfather passed away on Father’s Day 1983 at the ripe old age of 94, modern technology has lunged forward at a rate no one could have imagined (though we still have yet to be offered flying cars.)

When my husband and I had children, our experience with the spoiled, technology-addicted youngsters of our acquaintance soured us on the need to keep up with the Joneses, or to provide the latest gadgets for our offspring. By mutual agreement, we decided to keep our lives and the lives of our children simple. Television and the Internet are our modern vices. We were both raised by people impacted by the Great Depression. We both understand how quickly life’s little necessities can be recategorized as luxuries with a change in circumstance. The PS2s, Wiis, i-Pods and Droids that our friends and their children can’t seem to live without have yet to find their way into our lives. Although for the sake of full disclosure, I did go find an inexpensive MP3 player to use at the gym when my ten year-old Sony Discman finally ceased to function.

My children read. My oldest son takes great delight in reading stories to his younger brother and sister. They go outside and get dirty. My children dig up the yard, they exercise their imaginations, they plant trees, flowers, and vegetables, then eagerly wait to show off the fruits of their labors. My children gather eggs in the evening, feed the chickens, the horse, and the dogs. They play on the Internet after chores are done, mostly watching You Tube videos. Noise and restlessness in the house get them kicked out into the yard – on a regular basis. Mama Boley was an advocate of children playing outside in the fresh air and sunshine. She believed that children should run and play and get dirty and I follow her example. My children are happy, creative, self-sufficient, and they don’t feel they’re missing out on anything by not having the latest, coolest gadgets.

So as I sit here and write this, with my windows open, the afternoon sun shining in, a warm breeze stirring the air and the trusty attic fan humming away, I look around. I see the computer and other modern electronics sitting beside large wood frame windows with wavy glass, and I marvel at the melding of old and new and I wonder how my children and my grandchildren will redefine luxuries into necessities. Then I wonder how they will cope when they’re forced to do without their little necessities.

No comments:

Post a Comment