‘Homemade’ for the 21st century

I grew up when “homemade” and “homegrown” were still a standard part of life. I’ve long realized what a blessing that was. In the 1950s/60s it was essential that girls learn to cook, bake, sew, clean house, do laundry (including learning how to properly hang it on clotheslines). Boys – not so much! My brothers weren’t taught to cook, but at least they had to take turns doing the dishes; and my dad often made his own breakfast and cleaned up the kitchen. So I learned those skills at home, long before our Christian high school introduced a “home economics” class. I quickly realized that there is some art involved in doing well even those meanest of chores. And more, I discovered a truism: there is satisfaction in any job well done.  

We had a large garden and yard. My dad taught us to hoe, spade, rake; to run a push cultivator and seed drill; how and when to properly pick vegetables (and sell the excess to neighbors). We took turns mowing the lawn. I became aware of the growing seasons and habits of a range of vegetables, and of the names, needs and habits of common flowers. And birds! Today I am an avid gardener and bird lover because of the love my parents instilled in me as a child for those wonderful gifts from God.

My dad could fix pretty much anything. He taught me how to use hammers, screwdrivers, pliers, files, hand planers; and how to cleanly wield a paint brush. In teaching his youngest daughter such skills he was ahead of his time. (I suspect I was the only female student at Dordt College whose father gave her a set of screwdrivers to take to college in 1970!)

Another skill
When I was 10 years old, I was started on another skill: sewing. Most families we knew had a sewing machine. Ours was a sturdy, basic Singer in a wood cabinet. My Aunt Cory consented to teach a few of her nieces to sew. She was the wife of my dad’s no-nonsense eldest brother, a woman as austere as her husband. No child would even think of talking back to her, and I found her slightly scary, but I learned a great deal. When I was in my late 20s, my sister, who sews expertly, gave me her old sewing machine. It was a deadly heavy thing that I could barely lift. But it was useful to me for various repairs, and I was appreciative. It finally died a soggy death when our basement flooded. I still have at least one item my sister had made with that machine: a beautiful lined wool cape.

Last Christmas, Ed bought me a new sewing machine. I am now the happy owner of a sophisticated, computerized Brother machine which not only sews dozens of different stitches at the press of a finger on a touch screen, but embroiders as well. My mother would be astonished (at the machine, and at me continuing to want to sew!). Thus far, our cats are the beneficiaries of new pillow cases for their various bed cushions. I’m eager to continue to experiment with what else I can make. Yes, my sewing machine is far beyond my mom’s simple Singer. In that, it’s a blessing: it enables “homemade” for the 21st century. 

  • Marian Van Til is a former CC editor who lived in Canada from 1975-2000. She now freelances for journals and writes books. Marian is also a classical musician and the music director at a Lutheran Church. She and her husband, Ed Cassidy, live in Youngstown, NY.

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