Today's post on Rhonda's blog Down to Earth has got me thinking.
She was writing about an article that said compared to UK immigrants, Greek and Italian immigrants to Australia after the war paid off their houses faster, even though both migrants worked equally hard. This was due to the fact that Greeks and Italians grew and cooked most of their own food, and made savings by preserving, recycling etc.
My first observation is that this isn't surprising. A lot of Greek and Italian migrants came from rural backgrounds so were well versed in growing and raising food. For them, if you didn't grow it, you didn't eat. Whereas it seems most UK migrants would have come from cities and towns and had already lost that connection with the earth.
As the granddaughter and daughter of migrants from Italy, I can say categorically that to them growing and cooking your own food is like breathing. It wouldn't have occurred to my grandmother to do anything but grow her food. Her backyard in Moss Vale was hardworking - chooks, fruit trees, vege patch. She had it all. She chopped her wood. She made her own bread from scratch every day in the wood stove. She baked. In her down time she sewed, crocheted and knitted. She was always productively busy, right into her mid-eighties. Man, what a woman!
My parents aren't as hardcore as my grandparents. They don't have a wood stove and don't bake their own bread. They live in Sydney, but on their block have chooks and vegies. Mum always, always cooks from scratch, and always has the wherewithal to make meals for numbers of people at the drop of a hat (with 5 kids, daughters and son-in-law and 9 grandchildren, she always cooks in numbers). And she is as talented a sewer and knitter as my Nonna.
Even though I knew money was tight for my parents as I was growing up, we always ate well, and were well dressed. Most importantly, every night we ate together as a family, and those bonds forged with my parents and siblings around the dinner table are bonds that I treasure today.
I grew up I took all this for granted. In fact, although I felt all the benefits of being cared for, I pretty much disdained the "domestic arts" being a bit of an academic girl and convinced I would never have to cook for myself! I'm not sure who I thought would be doing this stuff.
But now I look at my life and it is very different to what I envisaged. I am trying to recreate for my family what I grew up with. Home cooked meals, gardens and keeping chooks are only part of the picture. Behind these are values of simplicity, productive work and firm family bonds that drive what I do here. But most of all, I felt loved and cared for in this work, and am looking to do the same for my kids.
Rhonda's article mentions paying off mortgages quickly. My grandparents borrowed some money to buy their block of land. Then my grandfather built a two room dwelling (later the garage/garden shed), where a family of six lived while he built the main house by himself - after working as a builder all day on other houses - from scratch. He even made his own bricks. He only called in a plumber and electricity. I never met him - he died 5 years before I was born - but I am in awe of this achievement. What a bloke!