I had such a wonderful visit with Grandma Essie the other day. But as I thought about our conversation, one thing kept coming back to me – she interacted quite a bit with her neighbors. This intrigued me, so when I decided to go back and ask her to explain, she offered wisdom on how important it is to become a part of your Village.
As usual, we gathered on the porch. Since it was raining, she settled in her rocker with a basket of mending that needed to be done. I brought a Christmas gift project I was working on, and after inspecting my work, she nodded and settled in to answer my question.
“You asked me last time about what it meant to live a life from scratch. What most folks don’t realize, is that becoming a part of a Village is a very important part of that type of lifestyle. When you become a part of your Village, your scratch living works better and more smoothly. Let’s talk about what I mean by that…”
Grandma Essie’s Take on How to Become a Part of Your Village
“Before you even think about how to become a part of your Village, you need to know what a Village is. I tell anyone who will listen to be careful joining any group. Some are healthy, and can help you grow. Some aren’t – and can land you in trouble or in jail.
“But in this case, and for the most part, you want to become a part of your Village because folks just can’t do everything themselves.
“You actually have two different Villages that, if done correctly, blend into one. Think of it as a city and a suburb. Your ‘city’ is the main Village and is made up of your neighbors. The ‘suburb’ is the surrounding community.
(The rain on the tin roof goes from a hard pour to a soft musical tapping. She stops rocking and her needle stills as she stretches her neck to look at the sky…)
“Looks like the rain is gonna lighten up in a bit, so for today, I am going to tell you about your Village. We can save talking about your Community for the next visit.
What is a Village?
“Like I said, your Village is made up of your closest neighbors. In a real city or suburb, that may be the people on your block, or the apartments on your floor. Out here, we don’t live close together. As you know, my nearest neighbor lives down the road a piece – probably about a half mile.
“So I am gonna tell you about my Village. I never lived in the city, so don’t know how they do it. But I imagine it is pretty much the same.
“For the most part, we live our lives and learn to do for ourselves. Our lives depend on our land and what we produce. Our animals depend on us for feed and care.
“But occasionally, we run into something we either can’t do, or need an extra set of hands. Like building a barn, or getting sick and unable to cut hay.
“Every person – young and old – in a strong Village is quietly standing by, ready and willing to pitch in when it’s needed. And, to have that strong Village, it is important to have willing folks. To become a part of your Village, you need to return the favor.”
How to Become a Part of Your Village
My interest in Villages increased, so I asked Grandma Essie what it took to become a part of a Village. She gave me this list:
Meet the Neighbors
“If you want to become a part of your Village, the first thing you need to do is get to know your neighbors. You can do this in couple of ways – invite them in when they stop by or go to their house for a visit.
“And never go empty-handed. Make it a small gift, like a fistful of flowers from your garden, a plate of cookies, or a jar of your best homemade jam. Just something simple that’ll make ‘em feel welcomed.
“I remember when Cammy moved into the old Lipscomb place. Now, several of the neighbors had already stopped by her place to give her a welcome. But I had come down with a cold and hadn’t gotten by there yet.
“She beat me to the punch and stopped by with a plate of cookies. (Some of the best Snickerdoodles I ever ate, I might add.) She said one of the neighbors had told her about me being sick, and she wanted to introduce herself.
“I had to admire her. She also gave me one of those old-fashioned calling cards that had her name, new address and phone number on it. She said it was just in case I needed her for anything, or if Jackson, her big old German Shepherd, decided to stop by for an unwanted visit.
“Now, that girl knew how to become a part of her Village. Hear tell, she even has Old Miss Viola wrapped around her finger – and that woman doesn’t cotton to strangers, much less city folk. She even hates dogs, but Ms. Thelma was telling me the other day that Viola had been caught making some homemade dog biscuits. Huh…”
To Become a Part of your Village, you need to Have a Skill and Use It
“Oh, I know I rag on Miss Viola, but she is a vital part of this Village. Shoot. Folks actually look forward to getting sick, because they know Miss Viola will be by with a jar of her famous Chicken Soup and a loaf of her bread.
“But that is Viola’s skill. She is probably the best baker in this Village. Oh, most of us can cook and bake. That is almost a requirement out here. But some of us just do a better job, and Viola is the best.
“She uses her skills to feed us when we need it. If someone is sick, she starts cooking up a pot of her Chicken Soup. If someone dies, they are gifted with casseroles. When Pops Martin broke his leg, she called us all up and got a Food Rotation going. Each of us took a different day to fix his meals.
“And now, apparently, she is taking care of Jackson’s needs by learning how to make dog biscuits. That woman may be a bit of a grouch, but she doesn’t let a single solitary thing go hungry.
“John Ratcliffe is another example. Now he can’t cook to save his soul, but if it needs to be fixed, he can do it. Electricity, plumbing, motors, tractors. You name it. John can fix it. And if it is something minor, he is also willing to teach you how to do it.
“Several years ago, I dropped a ring that my Mama gave me on my sixteenth birthday down the drain. I called John. When he heard the problem, he told me he could either get it for me or teach me how. I like learning new things, so I chose the lesson.
“I learned how to do basic plumbing repairs that day, as he also stuck around to show me how to fix a leaky faucet in the bathroom. But when he offered to teach me to tear down the tractor to fix the clutch, I decided I would call him to handle it. There’s just too much involved in that.
“When you meet the neighbors in your Village for the first time, it helps to let them know what you are capable of doing. No matter what your skill set is, it can be used to help someone else – whether by doing it, or teaching it.”
Know How to Barter
“Didn’t we talk about this one time before? Ah, my memory isn’t what it used to be.
“If you really want to become an important part of your Village, you need to know how to barter. Around here, we do that a lot. It may be bartering things for things. For instance, I make a delicious Squash Pickle. Since Lemon Squash is one of my favorite things to eat, I usually plant an extra row.
“Clarice, on the other hand, grows the sweetest carrots I have ever tasted. Has to be something in her ground over there, but they can’t be beat. So, each year, I swap her several jars of Squash Pickle for a basket full of her carrots.
“But sometimes, we swap services for services. Janell and Bess both have kids. So they swap babysitting services. Pops Martin does my hay baling in the summer, and I clean his house from floor to ceiling three times a year.
“And bartering also works if you want to swap items for services. Some folks in this Village cook meals or share their home canned food for things they need done.
“But before you even start thinking about bartering, you need to know a few things about how it’s done. I read something once about how to go about it. Let me see…Oh! Here it is. Read THIS to know what I am talking about.
Hang Your Attitude at the Gate
“If you really want to become a part of your Village, you need to learn to hang your attitude at the gate before you even open it.
“What I mean by that is, no one wants to deal with hot head, a constant complainer or a know-it-all. Humble yourself, child. Learn to be kind. Be quick with a smile, and slow with complaints. Daddy used to tell me you caught more flies with honey than with vinegar.
“As for those know-it-alls, there is no real ‘right’ way to do anything. For every person, there is a way to do something. Take for instance feeding chickens. Now, I feed mine every morning. I toss scratch outside, unless it is too cold and wet. Kitchen scraps are spread outside.
“Miss Viola has three feed containers inside her coop – one for scratch, one for laying pellets, and a separate one for scraps. She waits until they finish the scraps so she can wash that bowl out.
“Cammy – you remember me telling you about her, she’s the newest member of the Village – she created this fancy coop, complete with curtains on the windows, and a couple of pictures on the walls. It is the cutest thing you have seen.
“My coop, on the other hand, is basically a big wooden building. I have nest boxes lined up on two walls, and hanging feeders in the middle, for the days its raining too hard for the chickens to go outside. There is a walled off section for storage. It isn’t fancy in the least, but it keeps my chickens safe and dry.
“Cammy and I have two very different ideas about chicken coops. I don’t want the chore of keeping hers clean and looking that charming; she thinks mine is too plain for her tastes. But both of us have healthy happy chickens that are protected from predators.
“And neither one of us tells the other we are wrong.” (After saying this, Grandma Essie looked up at me with one raised eyebrow – I guess to make sure I got her point…)
“The constant complainers really get to me. If you want to become a part of your Village, knock it off with the complaints. No one ever said life is fair. And if you have something to complain about, then you also have something you need to accept, fix or work on.
“In other words, don’t come complaining to me about the weather. There isn’t a soul on this earth that can change it. All you can do is work with it. If it is raining, sit on the porch like we’re doing and get some mending done. If it is snowing, start a fire and get your housework done. And, as they say, make hay while the sun is shining.
“If you come complaining to me about someone else, get prepared for what I have to say. If you have a problem with someone, then you need to take it up with them. Find a way to work things out, make amends, or whatever you need to do to get along with each other. But taking your complaints to others is just another form of gossip. And this world has too much of that already. Don’t get me started on that…
“Complaining about not having enough time, or that general ‘nothing is working right’ complaint is what personally drives me crazy. All that tells me you need to hush up and get to work.
“If time is your issue, figure out where it is all going. Rearrange your schedule, or limit what you do. We all just have 24 hours in our day, and it is better used productively, rather than waste it complaining and not doing anything about it.
“And if nothing is working for you, then it tells me you aren’t learning. When things don’t work around here, I spend my time figuring out why. I study the situation and look for other ways to make it work. If it’s due to that time issue, I look for things that I do that aren’t necessary, and either stop doing them or setting them aside for later.
“If it is a repair issue, I stop and think about how I took it apart, or how the thing is supposed to work in the first place. If I still can’t figure it out, I ask for help.
“Now, you know how much I love to work on my crafting projects. But there is one I truly couldn’t figure out. I am not very good with knitting. I have a problem with getting the needles to work right. It got me frustrated, so I took a step back from it. I figured out that I didn’t really enjoy it in the first place, even though I loved working with yarn. So instead, I picked up a crochet hook and asked Mrs. Jack to teach me how.
“So now, if I gift you something made from yarn, it is either gonna be crocheted or woven. I still have my needles just in case, but for now, I didn’t complain about my lack of ability to knit – I just gave it up altogether.
“And if you are complaining just to be complaining, get over yourself. Like I said, life isn’t fair. Quit your whining and go to work.”
Learn to Get Along
“The biggest issue when you become a part of your Village is dealing with the different personalities. Not everyone was cast using the same mold. We all have our passions, likes, dislikes, and ways of doing things.
“Learn to accept folks for who they are. Love them in spite of. You know, that’s what that Bible word ‘Agape’ means – loving in spite of. Or at least, that is a simple definition, and one that works for me. And it’s one of the most important parts of things if you really want to become a part of your Village. God said for me to do it, and He doesn’t just talk to hear His head rattle. He means it, so I try my best to do it.
“Acceptance is a big part of living within a Village. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to accept things like hatred, bigotry, mean-spiritedness, and illegal behavior. If you come across folks like that, then it’s best to just steer clear of them. But learn to accept differences. In fact, you really need to go so far as to celebrate people for who they are.
“But keep in mind. Even those mean people need help from time to time. If it’s at all safe and possible, show them kindness, too. Who knows? Maybe it’ll help them to change their ways.
“And remember this. You may not be the cat’s pajamas to everyone you meet. And because of that, they have to learn to accept you, too. Make that a two-way street. When you become a part of your Village, those words will carry you a long way.”
After the Rain
“Well, it looks like the rain has quit. I see the sun trying to peek out behind those clouds. I hope I answered your questions.
“If you want me to boil it down a bit, just remember these things to become a part of your Village:
- Play Nice, be considerate, and keep honey on hand (for the sweet words you need to use)
- Learn a skill and be willing to share it
- Make fair bartering practices a priority
- Love your Neighbors – in spite of…
- Be willing to step in to help
- And learn to make dog biscuits. I understand Jackson loves to visit his neighbors
Become a Part of Your Village
Grandma Essie and I had a great visit. And thanks to her, I now have a better understanding of Village life. Are you a part of your Village? How did you become a part of your Village? If you have thoughts and ideas, please share them in the comments below.
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