Although our youngest granddaughter isn’t in school these days, she’s been learning quite a bit since she left the classroom in March and never got to return.
Like school kids across the nation, our granddaughter has been home, her school closed, since the virus COVID-19 swept into communities from one end of the country to the other. During her enforced break from the classroom, she has been taking online instructions, so her formal education hasn’t been wiped away completely.
During the absence from school, she’s been learning basic life skills. Her mother, away from her teaching duties, has been giving our granddaughter lessons in cooking and sewing and even gardening. Everyone should know the fundamentals of such things, it seems to me.
Nancy and I have been on the receiving end of some of the baking efforts. Those lessons taste pretty good. We also have face masks, sewn by our granddaughter. They work like gangbusters. And the gardening project includes a few tomato plants in a plot of soil near our driveway. We’re waiting to see what sprouts.
(Nancy and I aren’t big gardeners. Years ago, we planted tomatoes in a patch near our garage in Pierre. The crop failed because of neglect.
When I was a kid, my folks wouldn’t have let me or my siblings get away with neglecting the plants in the garden my mom put in the ground. And, while the tomato patch Nancy and I tried to plant that time in Pierre covered only a few square feet of land, the gardens on the farm stretched across acres — or so it always seemed to me when I was assigned to pull the weeds, dig up the carrots or pick the beans. It really wasn’t that big, I suppose. It covered a piece of ground to the east of the house, south of the storm cellar, nestled against a tree belt my dad had painstakingly planted and watered by hand. It just seemed like a lot of land when I was on my hands and knees trying to tear Creeping Jenny out of the ground without uprooting young tomato plants, too.
A good garden takes work. I learned that early on. Anything worth doing, my dad always said. He seemed to think it was a splendid thing to see his kids out there, sweat-streaked and covered with mosquitoes, harvesting the bounty of the earth. He’d walk among the rows of vegetables sometimes, bend and pull a carrot from the soil, brush off some of the dirt and take a big bite. He said carrots straight from the garden had the best taste. I tried it a time or two and tasted only dirt.
I may have taken negative lessons from the gardening, but I learned important things about cooking from my mom. She could cook just about anything. I cook only basics, but I can feed myself if the need arises. I learned mostly by watching, first when I was too young to work in the fields and later when we’d get a rare rain delay. I’ll never picture my mom in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on a roast or taking a pie from the oven without hearing the sound of a ukulele and the voice of Arthur Godfrey. My mom listened to the radio as she baked, and if it wasn’t “Arthur Godfrey Time,’’ it was “Our Gal Sunday’’ or one of the other serials.
My mom taught me the basics of sewing, too, in a way. I was maybe 10 when I popped a button on my shirt. I took it to her and she said, “Anybody can sew a button on.’’ So I did. The thread color didn’t match the shirt, and I had so many loops through those little holes in the button it looked like I was lashing a battleship to a dock. But the shirt buttoned. And I can sew to this day. I could, anyway, if I could see well enough to slip the end of the thread through that little hole in the needle.
My mom’s teaching was less hands-on than my granddaughter is receiving. Even so, it stuck with me.