Celebrating the amazing life skills of mothers
Happy Mother's Day to all mothers in Bermuda.
Moneywise has an invitation for readers. Please send me your mother/grandmother stories, recipes, and narratives of their wonderful survivor skills for the Bermuda Islander Survival Handbook. Every single family has a story to tell of how their mothers helped them get along in our isolated island environment.
You can use family names, or request to remain anonymous. What better way to remember your family.
The first draft of Bermuda Islander Survival Handbook can be read by clicking on “Related Media” next to this article. There is much more to be added.
Our mothers, especially those of the last three generations, were innovative, imaginative, survivalist-minded ladies. They were the ones in control of the domestic domain, the preparation of meals, the tidiest rooms, the best decor, the whitest of laundry, the garden production, the animals, and most important, the childcare.
Before the adaptation of so many time-saving, ingenious appliances and household conveniences, mothers were the world's foremost authorities on good, simple living and refinement.
Mothers still are, except that now most mothers also work full-time in and out of the home. Statistically, they are challenged more, in managing a homogeneous environment, than their spouses.
Their amazing life skills. The amplification of reduce, reuse, recycle.
BARTERBarter between friends and neighbours was mutually satisfying — with everyone participating, the cost almost gratis. The finished exchanges were then redistributed back to generous neighbours, many of whom could not do for themselves.
A favourite was access to nature's wild bounty by the season, with whole families marshalled out to capitalise on the gatherings. Any produce consumed on the job was part of the promise, even if one ended the harvest with a horrendous bellyache.
The same philosophy applied to the families' and friends' domestic gardens, and the then plentiful sea. Ploughing, planting, weeding, growing, harvesting, catching and culling the wealth of the land and sea that was shared, satisfyingly, in spite of the immense hard labour required.
Bee hives abounded — the consummate breakfast treat, honey still intact within a piece of honeycomb. A never forgotten unbelievable treat.
Cooking/harvesting marathons brought forth more thriftiness. Glass containers of all sizes: baby food, jam/jelly jars, pickles, etc, were sterilised and reused for the new growth crop largesse.
Bay grapes, Suriname cherries, loquats, pawpaws, bananas, paw-paws, all culled from surrounding fields, were turned into marathon days of jams, jellies, chutney, piccalilli, relish, and other family traditional delicacies, then sealed with paraffin, and stored for the future.
Assorted Vegetables, meats, sauces, and other fruits were “put up” in more jars, then “canned” in a labour intensive boiling process to preserve the efforts from spoilage, an absolute must with no freezers.
Herbs, fruits, meats, and fish were also dried and salted for necessary protein preservation.
NUTRITIOUS HOME COOKING FOR MAXIMUM PROTEIN CONTENT
Wheat berry, highly nutritious grains, were tediously hand ground (not like today's highly processed product) to provide a superb bread flour of the day. Ditto for cornmeal and other grain/rice products.
A chicken for every pot, said the US President Herbert Hoover, during The Great Depression of 1928-1933. Who do you think took care of that?
Chickens, ducklings, turkeys, guinea hens — did in, never having seen a bit of saran wrap. Dressed, hung to dry, plucked, roasted, community-shared, with community and ceremony.
Want bacon and unprocessed real ham, sausage? Dressed, salted, cured, and smoked — nothing laden with extra sugar and injected seasonings.
Fresh fish for dinner? Start with a line and a hook. Caught, gutted, scaled, skinned, breaded and fried — preferably in bacon fat. The inedibles simmered with spices and sherry peppers for that famous Bermuda fish chowder.
Mussels, lobsters, crab, find them, shuck them, trade for them, prepare them, succulent with butter and steamed.
Soups, puddings, casseroles, custards, cheeses of all persuasions, using home milk, home eggs, prepared from leftovers, and scraps — nothing ever wasted.
Libations: wild grapes, grape juice, elderflowers, dandelion wine in gallon jugs
Cows milked, eggs gathered, sheep, pigs, horses, all animals fed and groomed. Everything grown, raised, prepared, and made by hand. No such thing as picking up saran-wrapped meat, cheese, and other items on the way home from work.
All these prepared on wood or other primitive cook stoves, which was a fine cooking skill in itself with no thermostat involved.
Quilts, clothes, diapers, furnishings — revised, remade, recycled, woven, sewn, wove, knitted, crocheted, wool blankets, sails made and mended for boats, the only source of transportation.
Handmade soap conjured up using neighbours' residual cooking fat contributions. Soap produced using lye and fat was a true art form with great cleaning power: ironically, today, it is an upscale cachet with prices to match. Laundry washing was a lengthy process requiring stamina and support. Home made soap lathered; sheets stuffed in a massive pot of hot water on an outside fire pit. Stirred and scrubbed, then the entire sheet drained by two people twisting ends in a tight knot. Baby diapers, hundreds of them a week in large families, sailing on clotheslines, sterilised and dried by the ever glorious sun, picturesque, but never reflecting the work entailed.
SHOPPING, IF AT ALL!Bargain shopping was pure entertainment. Our mothers rigorously tracked “sell by dates” and supply amounts in food and other items. Success was the arrival of half-price necessaries bought, you guessed it, on expiration day. Oh, the gleeful satisfaction of pennies saved.
SIMPLY AMAZING WOMEN
Just listing the tasks undertaken by our mothers, grand and great-grandmothers, in one ordinary day is exhausting. There is the cooking, cleaning, childcare and home education, sewing, knitting, personal care — haircuts, gardening and other productions, raising animals for food and sustenance, milking, butchering, hauling water, felling trees, chopping/gathering wood, tending home and hearth in a never-ending cycle of life. All the while, keeping up appearances and endlessly caring for faith, family and friends, often with child, or a baby drooling all over one's clean clothes, and a three-year-old hanging off a skirt insisting he/she has to go to the bathroom “right now.”
Mothers, today, still have the greatest influence over generations to come and the future of this planet.
We are them!
So tomorrow, celebrate the memory of all those great women who have gone before.
And all mothers of today, challenged like never before to work, care for and teach children, manage relationships and finances, and a household — God bless you all.
Note: This litany of tasks, which is not even beginning to be all inclusive, are all true anecdotes from Moneywise's family, friends, and Royal Gazette readers.
In memory of our mother, Anna Clarine Sawyer Harris, 1918-1997.
• Martha Harris Myron CPA JSM: Masters of Law — international tax and financial services. Pondstraddler Life, financial perspectives for Bermuda islanders and their globally mobile connections on the Great Atlantic Pond. All proceeds earned from this column go to The Bermuda Salvation Army. E-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org