Whidbey Island Roots

 This post was originally a comment I wrote on Ben Hewitt’s blog post “Faking it,” a discussion on what a real farmer is.  There seems to be an argument between those who make their living in agribusiness and those who raise produce and protein. I myself am looking into the urban homestead movement, but my debt load is too high to live off what we produce on our suburban vegetable garden AND we are not urban. Take a look at Ben’s post for the full context at  http://benhewitt.net/2011/06/17/faking-it/

While day-tripping on the Island one day, Ray stopped across the street from my grandparents Oak Harbor home. The gardens are gone and the apple trees have gone wild but the sturdy old place is still standing. There were trikes and toys on the walk way

I do not remember a single day (except Sundays and other church events) that I did not see my grandfather in overalls. He would be called a vegetable gardener I suppose. He and my grandmother lived on Whidbey Island before it became trendy. His home was “in town” on just a couple of acres of rich black island soil (what a shame that it is covered with condos and parking lots) where he grew food for the root-cellar and freezer. There was a small apple orchard (one of the first of dwarf trees) that grew a succession of apples from July for summer pie to late fall for the cellar and sauce. Long rows of Logan and strawberries, potatoes, dahlias, corn and I don’t know what else. The only animals I remember were my aunt’s horse and a house dog.

He had what was left of the family homestead in Greenbank, another part of the island, with two more large gardens, a hay field and “woods” that apparently were no good for farming, which is why he still had that portion. There were deer in the woods. They would have been in the garden if grandpa had not made a huge (to my 10 year old eyes) covered cage for the garden. My grandpa was a WW1 vet, a crack-shot marine sergeant who taught marksmanship to recruits until he was shipped to Germany. My father learned to shoot from his dad but does not remember grandpa ever pointing a gun at a living creature after the war. Hunting was apparently something he was not opposed to before the war, he just did not have it in him to take a life after he came home.

One thing I remember is that “town” was a post office and the “store” where my grandparents had a meat locker, which is sort of a rented freezer for pork and beef. They did not raise either pork or beef. They did not have chickens. I am left to assume that they “sold” produce to the store in exchange for flour, milk and eggs from other local farmers. No rugged individuals who just took care of themselves. They were not dependent on others, just exchanged goods for goods. My grandma drove a school bus on the island for extra income to buy dresses and the things that made life easier like the freezer. From the time I was aware of my surroundings to the day my grandfather died, I do not remember a single stick of new furniture, they drove the same pickup truck, pulled the same blinds closed, sharpened the same blade on the same lawn mower. A night out was to the old homestead after a day of fishing for salmon in the waters of the island, sharing a meal with families who put their salad and dessert on the long table and when the sun set the accordions came out. I wanted to learn to play the accordion like my aunt Lynn and my cousins Ann and Renee. Instead my dad taught me to Polka. That is kewl to me now but as a girl I wanted to be included with my cousins, who by the way, were teenagers when I was ten.

It makes a good story but at this time in history, who doesn’t enjoy killing time shopping and going out to lunch? That cannot be done on subsistence living. Wal-Mart exists to fill our home with imported stuff. No one wants to remember a birthday with just a favorite meal and cake, we want to give stuff in bright paper, invite the neighbor kids to go to the latest kid place, and sugar up. Cartels exist because hard work has no honor with our sons. Most have no desire to go back to such a life. But there are the rare few of us who remember the secrets of the seasons.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Whidbey Island Roots

  1. This was a note from my mom;

    It was a nice story you wrote. When dad was living at Greenbank they always had a cow, 2 pigs, and chickens. Grandma always made their butter, as did most everyone at that time. Grandpa was the first to drive the school bus. Then he went to work in the woods as a lumberjack. Then grandma drove it. At that time they owned the bus, latter the school district bought it from them.
    Have a great day, enjoy the sun.
    Love, Mom

    Just those few lines fills in a lot of the blanks….thanks mom!

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