Grandma Essie’s Perspective on Living a Life from Scratch

Some days, all we need is Grandma Essie’s perspective on ‘living a life from scratch’.

a quilt top hung on a rod between two tables filled with quilting supplies

Taking on a new lifestyle can be intimidating. It looks good on paper. We think it sounds perfect for us. Our exhaustion that comes from keeping up with what society dictates as normal, acceptable behavior, likes, dislikes, and way of thinking is overwhelming. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t keep up.

So we think of slowing down. Decluttering. ‘Going back to the land’, so to speak. We read all the books we can get our hands on, scour the internet, talk to anyone who will listen.

But what we really need to do is listen to a pro. A person who has always lived that life. Someone who is living the cliché ‘Been there. Done That. Still use the wheelbarrow.’ To me, there is no better place to be than at the feet of Grandma Essie, listening to her perspective on living a life from scratch.

a wide brimmed straw hat resting on a pole in a vegetable garden

To help you out, I stopped by for a visit with Grandma Essie. As usual, we both took cover from the heat of the sun on her porch. Grandma Essie loves a good visit, but just because she settles into a rocker for a long talk, doesn’t mean she is still.

She takes seriously the old adage of ‘idle hands are the devil’s workshop’. Well, actually, she will tell you as fast as a ‘pigmy shrew’s heartbeat’ (her words, not mine), “Doin’ nothin’ all day is a waste of time. You need a break every now and again, but that’s what shelling peas on the porch is for.”

So while I talked with her to get her perspective on living a life from scratch, we shelled a small mountain of purple hulls fresh picked that morning.

Who is Grandma Essie?

elderly woman with short gray hair wearing a blue sweatshirt sitting on a bench by a pond

Grandma Essie is 80 something. Her silver hair is worn short to keep it from getting in her way. While outside, it is covered in a worn, floppy garden hat with a threadbare rawhide chin strap.

Her skin is beginning to wrinkle, but what loose skin there is drapes around solid muscles. And those muscles have been honed over the years from the physical labor she has put in ‘around the house’.

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‘Around the house’ to her means any place on her small farm. To her, it isn’t a homestead, a farm, a ranch, or anything else you want to name it. Instead, ‘the house’ extends from the front gate all the way to the back fence. It includes the house itself, the barn, the coop, the outbuildings, the pond, the pastures, and anything else that is settled between the fences. And every square inch of it is home.

“If you stay there, it is your house. Your home. Every portion of the place is just a different room that has different purposes. And if you stay there, then you need to live there. I mean, really live there.”

It is because of that statement I chose Grandma Essie to share her perspective of living a life from scratch. Go ahead. Grab a bowl, fill it with a double handful of purple pods, settle in a rocker, and listen in on our visit. Think about what she has to offer while you fill your bowl with those little green peas. And while your hands turn purple from shelling, you may just garner a little food for thought for your own perspective on living a life from scratch.

My Perspective on Living a Life from Scratch (Grandma Essie)

interior of an old cabin with a small wooden table filled with jars and bottles; a rocking chair with a quilt

“Oh, Mercy. Where do I even start answering that question? In all honesty, there are so many things involved in living from scratch. And to be honest, I don’t really like that turn of phrase. It reminds me too much of my childhood, with 10 of us all living in a tiny three room house.

“Back then, there was Mama, Daddy, Mimi and Paps, plus 6 of us young ‘uns. We didn’t have a dirt floor, but by the time the work was done in the evening, it sure looked like it. That was the last job Mama did in the evening.

“And we did ‘live from scratch’. Daddy worked for a cotton farmer down the road. Mimi and Mama grew a garden and did the canning. Paps tended the milk cow and the general farm work. We girls helped Mama and Mimi with the garden and housework. The boys were responsible for the chickens and helping Paps.

“And on occasion, we all traipsed down to that cotton farm and helped pick cotton. We managed to earn a little bit of extra money to help get us through the lean times. And even though we all came home with sore backs and bloody hands from those sharp bolls, we all knew it was a part of life and the difference between survival and starvation some years. There may have been a bit of complaining going on, but to the last one of us, we were grateful.

arm of a man wearing a tan work shirt milking a cow

“Folks today romanticize that life. But if they had to live it, they would be the ones with a whole new perspective. It was back breaking work, long hours, and there wasn’t any power tools. Everything was done by hand. We had hoes, shovels, and a well pump. Shoot. Paps used a scythe for cutting hay, as we didn’t have the money for a tractor. And let’s not even talk about that sledge and wedge for splitting firewood.

“We were at the mercy of the weather and the seasons. Daddy didn’t work in the winter and used that time to hunt and process the meat we needed for the year. If we had a summer of drought, we had to haul water from the well or the creek to give to the plants, and prayed we wouldn’t lose the garden. Several years I remember it rained so much we had to plant twice.

“Saving our seeds was a given. We couldn’t just run to the store and get seeds. Oh, they were available, but with 10 mouths to feed, even that nickel couldn’t be spared.

“But forgive my rambling. You asked me for my perspective on living a life from scratch. First, I don’t see it as ‘living from scratch’. I look at it as the freedom to live the way I want to, with a respect and nod from the life lessons I learned from Mama, Daddy, Mimi and Paps. To me, it is a better, more fulfilling life. A good life.

“But let’s see, now. Let me see if I can narrow it down to just a few things…”

Always Wear an Apron

green striped apron filled with assorted fresh eggs

“One of the most important things about living from scratch is to use your money wisely. By that, I don’t mean investing and having a savings account. Well, at least not completely. What I am talking about here is to take care of what you got, so you don’t have to keep going to the store.

“Wearing an apron is one of the best ways you can take care of the clothes you have. Putting clothes on your back is one of the quickest ways to drain your money. These days, they are so expensive!

“Aprons are good for a lot of things, besides protecting your clothes. They dry your hands and tear drops. You can carry eggs or a sick animal with them. They work to protect your hands from a hot plate or from freezing them when grabbing food out of the freezer. They work for a lot of other things, too.

“Me? I have several aprons, and some days, I double up. I have one basic apron that I use when cleaning up inside and when I hoe the garden. I have a heavier duty one I use when I work outside, like cleaning out the coop, hauling hay or processing meat. A friend gifted me with an egg apron, and I just tie it on over my regular apron when I feed and gather eggs.

“If you want to make an apron, check with Jen. She lives over at the Everyday Farmhouse. She’s got directions to make a good one.” (To get Jen’s apron pattern, click HERE!)

Carry a Big Stick

man in bright green tee shirt and denim overalls holding a walking stick

“Now, I’m not quoting that old president with this one. But carrying a stick is a smart thing to do. Paps taught me this one. A big stick is a great tool. It helps you keep steady when you walk across uneven ground. You can use it as a temporary fence post or garden marker. It works well to keep the cows from crowding you when you feed them. And waving it around the coop works great when a raccoon decides to come help itself to dinner.

“You don’t have to go buy one. Instead, go out and find it yourself. Choose a limb that is still fresh, and at least about 1” around, and about 4 to 6 feet long, if you can.

“Cut off any smaller branches as close to the main branch as you can, then strip off all the bark. Set it aside to dry for a day or two. If you want, you can leave it natural, or wipe it down with some of that polyurethane. Paps wiped his down with mineral oil, because that’s all we had. I still do it Paps way, because mineral oil is cheaper. But the other will work just as well. Just know that wiping it down with one of the two will keep longer.”

Worry Less, Sleep More

gray and white cat taking a nap on a cement bench

“This is probably my favorite perspective on living a life from scratch.  Why people spend all their time worrying is just beyond me. Worry is the biggest time waster there is. You can’t change or fix a thing fretting about it. Instead, just take a good look at it. Is it something you can fix? Then figure out how to do it.

“Is it something that is out of your control? Then hand it over to God, and get on about your business. We are only given 24 hours in a day. That time is better used being productive. And as it is, these old hands are callused enough than to add to them with all that wringing.

“And if you worry less, then you can get a better night’s sleep. Hard work will do the same. Think about it for a minute. If you sit idle all day, watching soaps or twiddling your thumbs, your body is in a constant state of rest. When it’s time to go to bed, you can’t sleep.

ecru crocheted tablecloth used as a bed covering

“If you spend all your time worrying, then your body screams for rest, but your mind is traveling a mile a minute with all those ‘what ifs’. And if you do finally drift off, you end up with nightmares, or tossing and turning all night. Then you wake up more tired than you were when you went to bed.

“When you do get a good night’s sleep, you have a whole new and refreshed outlook the next morning. You feel like you can tackle almost anything. Work doesn’t look as hard, your food tastes better, and your overall perspective of living a life from scratch just looks better.”

Get an Education

Successful Farm Business book by Joel Salatin; wooden cow bank and a ceramic chicken

“That doesn’t mean you have to go run out and sign up for a college degree. Having that piece of paper is all fine and good. But having a true education isn’t all about academics.

“The first step you need to take is to figure out what you want out of your life in the first place. Do you want to be a brain surgeon? Then you have no choice but to spend at least the next 15 years of your life in class.

“But if you want to be something that doesn’t require sitting in a formal classroom, you still need to do your homework. Take a housewife and mother for instance. It takes the same dedication as it does to be a doctor. You need to know how to manage your home, from cleaning, organizing, cooking, and more.

vegetable garden against a wooden fence and edged with stacked sticks

“It will also behoove you to have a garden to help feed your family, and to know how to preserve the garden leftovers. And toss some herbs in that garden as well. They make great friends for your vegetables, which means fewer pests, stronger plants, a larger harvest – and in my opinion, all those vegetables just taste better, too.

“One of my favorite people to talk gardening with is Annie, who hangs out over on the Road to Reliance. Just go down the road a piece, take a left by that old oak that was split in two by lightning, and you will see her sign post just a little ways down. She knows a lot about starting a garden.

woman in black plaid coat and red hat bottle feeding a black calf with a white face

“You want to hear my perspective on living a life from scratch? Then be sure to listen closely to this one. If you want livestock on your place, then learn everything you can about them. Chickens require different nutrition and care than cows; cows different from dogs; dogs different from sheep; sheep different from goats, and so on.

“Animals are living, breathing beings – and whether you want to believe me or not – have feelings. Maybe not like you and me. I can guarantee the cows aren’t worrying about how to pay the mortgage. But they can get their feelings bruised, and being sick can make them cranky. So can jealousy. I can’t give one cow more attention than the others without getting pushed and shoved.

“Like I said before, you don’t have to be in a formal classroom to get educated, no matter what your dreams are. But you still need to do your homework. You can do this by reading, talking to others, or even taking one of those classes, workshops or seminars that they offer these days.

orange speckled chicken with an emerald green tail perched on top of a stump in a chicken yard

“For that matter, you can probably find a lot of information on the internet. I don’t cotton much to spending all day in front of a plastic box, but I have been known to look up a thing or two when I need an answer to a question or a solution to a problem.

“What’s that? Oh. No, I don’t raise goats. But if you are thinking about it, I suggest you talk to Leesa or Kathi. Both of them raise ‘em, and they know what they are talking about. Kathi even shares some of her goat milk cheese with me from time to time, and Leesa has stopped by a time or two to teach some of my young visitors all about goats.

“Let’s see…you can find Kathi up the road at the Oakhill Homestead – take the left fork, not the right one – and Leesa lives up North a piece.  She calls her place the Better Hens and Gardens.”

Be Prepared

pond surrounded by catails and reeds

“I have to confess to getting a chuckle or two out of this one. I’ve read a few articles on ‘Survival Prepping’, and these folks make it sound like this is a new thing. In reality, survival is as old as the garden God planted in Eden.

“If you want to survive in this world, you don’t need five-gallon buckets filled with charcoal for filtering water or freeze-dried packets of food. Yes, if the Big One really does hit, these items will come in handy.

But folks have to survive today, and don’t need to go worrying and fretting about when and if it’ll ever hit. You need to put your hands to work and feed your family today.

“In order to survive, period, you need to learn a few basics. Shawna and I were talking about this the other day. She stopped by to ask if she could do some foraging in the back. Foraging for food is one of the oldest and most basic survival techniques.

“Now, it’s been a long time since I did this with my brothers and sisters, so I asked her to give me a refresher course.  We don’t have time to go into all the details today about that, but if you want to learn more, stop by her place. She’s about a mile past the old Marston place that burned down awhile back. I know she would love to visit with you more on it.”

“Go in the kitchen and get me my address book.” (I retrieve the book and hand it to her…)

“Let’s see…yep. Here she is.  You can find Shawna at Homegrown Self Reliance.

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“Now, back to what I was saying. True survival, in my opinion, is knowing how to grow your own food, hunt for meat, raise at the very least a few chickens, manage your money, and learn how to do things the old way, just to name a few.

“Test yourself every now and again. Instead of using your dishwasher, wash the dishes by hand. Own a clothesline and know how to use it. My hands are getting a twinge of arthritis with age, so I confess to using an electric milker. But every now and again, I milk by hand, just to keep in practice.

“Find some good directions and make your own cleaning products. You would be amazed at how well vinegar, baking soda, and ammonia works for cleaning.

“And for Pete’s sake! Get in your kitchen and learn to cook! There isn’t a restaurant or a ready-to-eat frozen dinner from the freezer section of the grocery store that tastes as good or is as healthy as home cooked!

“Oh, Mercy! I could really get off on a tirade about that…”

Learn to Sit a Spell

blue rocker with a pink book on the seat; black metal table holding a stack of books

“I do love that old saying ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’ This perspective of living a life from scratch speaks to my heart, especially when I have had a tough week. Like last week. I had to say goodbye to one of my favorite girls –Bossy was one of my best milkers, – but like all of us, age finally caught up with her.

“By the time Saturday morning rolled around, I was worn to a frazzle. It was also harvest week, and most of my time was spent between the garden and the kitchen. I was elbow deep in tomatoes and canning jars. It was hot, hot, hot, and by the end of each day my apron was as wet as the sink full of dishwater.

“I woke up with the idea in mind that today I deserved a ‘long’ weekend. Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have to tend to my chores. But the next round of tomatoes weren’t quite ripe enough to pick, and except for feeding animals and running a broom and mop across the floor, most everything was done.

rows of half pint jars of carrot cake jam with googly eyes on each one

“From my perspective of living a simple life, I had one choice, and that was to bake a cake. And while it was in the oven, I called my friend Dianne to come by for a cup of coffee. Dianne lives down on the Hidden Springs Homestead, and we often help each other with canning, especially at the times the harvest is really heavy.

“Now, just so you know, part of that ‘long’ weekend includes Sundays. I do take a day of rest on Sundays. That is my church day, and a day for spending time with friends and family. But just taking an extra day off to spend visiting with a friend is some of the best medicine.

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“And it is perfectly okay to do that. As long as you get your chores done in the morning, be sure you take a day off every now and again to enjoy life. Have a friend over for cake. Go visit a neighbor – they’re some of the most important people you could know. Definitely more important than those jumpin’ jelly beans they call ‘musicians’ these days. Or just take the day to enjoy something you love to do.

“Me? I love a quiet day and having an Afternoon Tea. I also enjoy a good day trip to go to a flea market, a craft festival, or even a good, exciting auction.

Now, you may like museums, having lunch with a friend, or going to a movie. It doesn’t matter what you do. The important thing is to step away from your normal, everyday life and explore the world around you. Get a new perspective. Leave the house, both physically and mentally.

“I promise. You will come back refreshed. Things will look better, brighter and more balanced than when you left. And if you are able to plan ahead for just such a day, the anticipation of going will lighten your step and for some strange reason, just makes the chores seem easier to me.”

This is Just the Highlights of My Perspective on Living a Life from Scratch

pitcher of lemonade laced with slices of lemon; mason jar filled with lemonade with a lemon slice on the rim

“Have Mercy! Look at the time! Child, we seem to have gone through a whole pitcher of lemonade with this visit. But at least all of these peas are shelled, and I much appreciate you and your friends being willing to help with that.

“But as much as I still want to visit, it’s time to milk, and I know you have other things to do as well. But I really do appreciate you stopping by. And I have to confess, I am a bit flattered that you wanted this old woman’s perspective on living a life from scratch.

“It isn’t so much a scratch life anymore, as I do confess to getting a bit of help from my friends ‘Gasoline and Electricity’ these days. But in my opinion, living a life from scratch isn’t so much of what you do or how you do it. Instead, it is a mindset and a lifestyle choice. I like just calling it a Simple Life, because that’s what it all boils down to.

“Let me offer this last little thing. You and your friends here feel free to stop by again. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have, or help you learn how to do most anything I know about on gardening, cooking, or whatever else you want to know about.

“But understand this. If it’s one of those busy days, we will have to work and talk at the same time. And you may end up getting some of that hands-on classroom learning I was talking about.”

Thank You, Grandma Essie

two women in period dress spinning

I want to thank Grandma Essie for taking time out of her busy day to visit with us. I hope you have enjoyed your visit with her as well and have gained a little insight to your own perspective of living a life from scratch.

And if you need to ‘sit a spell’, take some time to truly reflect on what is important to you. If you are more than ready for that simple life, now is a good time to get started.

black and white sheep peeking around the corner of a metal building

Looking for More Helpful Posts on Living From Scratch?

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Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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