My Momma’s favorite saying these days seems to be “I’m not going to be around forever, you know.” Yes, Momma, I know. You’ve been telling me that for years. You tell me that so I’ll know where this or that is stashed, or so I’ll know what this or that is used for. But, you know, she got me thinking a few days ago.
See, I can cook. I can make biscuits pretty well, especially by the end of the winter. Biscuits are one of those things that require regular practice to make them both edible and pretty, though my Pop likes to tell me that it ain’t gotta look good to taste good. I don’t make a lot of biscuits during the summer—the oven heats up my house too much. But come late fall and winter, biscuits become a regular staple in both my house and Momma’s house. And it was a batch of biscuits that got me thinking.
I had taken my kids over to Momma’s after school on a Friday. They’d been cooped up for most of the week, with the weather and the oldest one’s school and all, so I figured a romp at Grammy’s would be good for all of us. My sisters and step-Dad weren’t home, so it was just Grammy, the kids, and me. And being the good daughter that I am, I was helping clean for Thanksgiving. You know what it means when you’re helping someone clean, right? It means you get the “fun” jobs.
For me, the fun jobs included taking the fruit and veggie scraps to the chickens and getting eggs. I’m terrified of chickens. Something about the noise they make makes me quake inside. I’m not a good country girl—or a good prepper—since my fear of chickens has kept me out of the chicken coop for a while. But no one else was home, and, well, Momma told me to do it, so I had no choice. I did survive, and I discovered that the chickens were more afraid of my big stick than I was of them. I might make it after all!
Since I survived the chicken encounter, Momma told me to cook. Now, I thought at first that it was just because my kids would be eating and only one of her kids was there. I figured out about halfway through cooking that it was because she wanted to teach me something. Or, rather, supervise while I practiced my prepper, end of the world cooking skills. The menu: biscuits from scratch and sausage (not from scratch—a cow’s higher on the list than a pig at this point, so Jimmy Dean took care of the meat for us). Oh yeah, did I mention that I was cooking on the wood stove?
Here’s the thing: as much practice as it takes to perfect biscuits, it takes at least that much more to successfully cook on a wood stove. I had practiced some this past January when we had a snow storm and we all weathered the storm at Momma’s. Cooking on a wood stove isn’t like cooking in an oven—the temperature fluctuates and there are way more variables, including all the vents, knobs, and kinds of wood that play into the temperature of the fire, and therefore, the wood stove’s oven.
Momma asked me if I had the recipe memorized. As in, “You’re going to do this without the book.” Luckily, I had it pretty much memorized, and she helped me with the right proportions of the baking powder, soda, and salt. She also gave me some tips to make the tops of my biscuits look better. Into the oven they went while I worked on the sausage.
I learned how to adjust the temperature on the cook-top—you move the skillet. And, when the oven temperature is over 500 degrees, it doesn’t take long for a batch of biscuits to get done. Not long at all. But, they were done all the way through, and the tops were a pretty golden brown. The sausage was a little burned on the outside, but not too bad. They were not hockey pucks, and they were done in the middle, so I was happy.
But here’s what I got to thinking about: even though I know how to cook, I still need Momma’s help. And she won’t be around forever. I may have to take over the cooking sooner than I want to. With her job, if things were to fall apart rapidly, I’d be at her house quicker than she would be, and I realize there’s a possibility that she might not ever get there, leaving the “Woman of the House” title to me. I need to know how to use that wood stove. I need to know what the knobs do, and I need to know how to cook as well on it as I do in the oven or on the stove.
That’s not all I need to learn, and that’s not all my family needs to learn, and Momma’s not the only one who won’t be around forever. Just off the top of my head, here are a few of the things we need to know how to do to survive: process a deer, cow, chicken, pig, rabbit, squirrel, etc, plan, plant, harvest, store, and rotate crops and/or gardens, care for and breed livestock, use “old fashioned” medicinal remedies, find water, start a fire with basically nothing, hit a target when you shoot, be it human or food, etc, etc, etc. The list of things we need to know is unending. You know that. I know that. Momma knows that.
We have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips in our parents, grandparents, and other people who have more life experience that we do. People who survived the depression and made it through the rationing of World War II and fought to stay alive in combat zones. People who cooked on a wood stove for ages, until a “modern” stove finally made its way into the home. People who fed Bessie one day, then had her for supper the next day, and she never saw the inside of a slaughterhouse.
Are we taking advantage of the living, breathing How-To guides we have in our lives? Sure, books and manuals are great, but nothing beats real life experience. Hands on experience under the supervision of someone who knows. Someone who has been there. Someone who survived. Someone who won’t be around forever.
I think, for me at least, learning more and spending more time with people who know things and have skills to survive whatever the future brings is high on my priority list. After all, I want my grand-kids and great-grand-kids to come to me and ask what it was like when I was younger and I survived. Because that’s my goal, and my Momma’s goal: to survive and to help my kids survive. To keep our family going. To ensure that future generations have a place, a history, and hopefully, the knowledge to survive whatever life throws at them. I won’t be around forever either, and just like Momma, I want my legacy to live as long as possible.
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