Guest Blog: How Listening to My Parents Has Changed My Life

If you need a little dash of thoughtfulness right now, you’re in the right place. I am honored to share a lovely piece about family written by my talented friend, Ollie Carlson. I met this incredible human back in high school, in a writing class of course, and we became fast pals. She is also a farm kid, loves the outdoors and is a person I truly admire. I hope you enjoy her piece!


My parents are by far the most awesome, talented, good people I know. Only I didn’t see that until now.

They encouraged me and my siblings to be fairly self-sufficient, hard-working kids who could manage without supervision. But my parents were always there. Always.

I remember vividly the rare occasions when we would truly find ourselves alone at home. And besides sneaking in a little time for a movie my brothers and sisters and I did exactly what we would have done if my parents were home.

Mama and Papa were, simply, present. Available for anything we needed, they would answer any question we had, offer any help they could, or teach us anything they knew. They knew a lot. Like most of my siblings, I rarely took them up on the offer because I was sarcastic and crabby and too “smart” to need their guidance. I had this, all on my own.

 

Ollie’s parents

 

And then you meet people that help you realize you want to be a better person.Someone who cuts through the sarcastic, crabby, dry wit to inspire you to be the best version of yourself.I met Thomas when I was twenty-three and immediately I felt a fire of passion ignite in me. I wanted to be more.I wanted to grow a garden, cook good food, and preserve what was left.I wanted to build, salvage, and repair things, all sorts of things.I wanted to be a prepared, reliable, practical person.I wanted to be a good human.I really just wanted to be a hell of a lot more like my parents.

About twenty good years of readily available life skills classes were hurriedly passed up by myself because I couldn’t see the value in what my folks had to offer.Papa is a master carpenter, farmer, electrician mechanic, roofer, plumber, and a professional tinkerer.His patience is unending and because of that, if it can be fixed he will fix it.Mama was a midwife for thirty-seven years, has a memory like a steel trap, a mind for mathematics and minute details, not to mention avid reader, writer, and editor.Plus, the best damn bread-maker I know.Together they birthed nine healthy children, worked for themselves, grew gardens, bought a farm, and raised those nine kids into a pack of decent people off doing their things in the world.I have so much to learn from them but I’ve learned a lot just by observing them.

Use what you have or use something used.

My gut reaction to learning a new skill is to go out and buy specialty stuff I “need” for the endeavor of the moment. Like when I bought a brand new sewing machine because I wanted to sew my own clothing. And then I never used it. Or feeling too good for second-hand clothing. Everything I have ever witnessed growing up was that my parents just made it happen with what they had. And if they really couldn’t already use what they had thrift stores were visited, Craigslist was searched. Only as a last resort was some item purchased new, one with quality behind it. Growing up I felt like the frugality I witnessed from my parents was a symptom of being poor. Now I realize it was nothing of the sort – it was purely far more practical to spend some time looking around, seeing what you have at the ready, and using that to make do instead of rushing out to spend money on unnecessary things. My mother is a well-dressed, beautiful lady and you wouldn’t know unless I told you that she exclusively dresses in second-hand clothes. My father might be closer on the spectrum to pack rat than most but he is insistent on keeping things that still have use. He remembers what he has and unearths things for projects sometimes years or decades later. Think a barn full of wood (really nice wood) or a wall full of various mails, screws, bolts, washers, clips, motors, or electrical equipment. I am currently spending my Sunday’s building a bed frame from myself with Papa and every board he goes searching for and pulls out of the stacks has a story that he remembers from a job he was asked to do five, ten, or thirty years ago. I cringe at all the thrifts stores I didn’t want to go in and all of the good useful things I tossed away.

 

Ollie

 

Know how to feed yourself. Grow a garden. Preserve and store food.

Mama and Papa have always had a large garden. The garden they grew when living in town was bigger in footprint than the house that all eleven of us lived in. And when we bought a farm several large and still growing gardens and orchards were installed. They weren’t enough to fully supply everything we ate but certainly, a hefty chunk was on the gardens back. Our pantry was lined with rows of glass jars filled with all sorts of canned wonder and wooden bins filled with potatoes, onions, and other root veggies stayed dark and cool. I was too sulky pulling weeds and tending beds to appreciate the skills I was learning. You don’t realize until you’re an adult that not many people know the difference between a fresh shoot of a pea (or bean, or pepper, or pumpkin, or potato…) and an emerging weed.Not many people know how to manage a compost pile or why it’s so important. Growing food you will consume yourself is one of the most powerful ways you can connect yourself and the earth. It’s humbling and rewarding. And I used to roll my eyes when Papa would talk excitedly about black gold, the water cycle, or worms. I’d disappear to my room when Mama started pulling out the canning supplies. All they were trying to teach me was that the only difference between me and the dirt beneath my feet was my belief that I was better than it. I need that dirt. It sustains me and you and everyone. It deserves respect and care. Your food will taste better if you understand the effort it took to reach your table. So I text Papa for tips and thoughts about what I should use for building my raised beds and Mama gives me advice on canning over breakfast Sunday mornings.

Know basic repair.

I couldn’t begin to count the number of times Papa ranted and raved about how I would need to know how to change a flat (find a stud, change my oil, use a table saw, understand fractions, make a fire, change out a light fixture, or jump a car). I would listen with one ear and let my mind go free in thought. And anytime someone asks me “hey, could you help me jump my car?” I think sure, I’ve seen Papa do it a thousand times… But I was too self-absorbed to actually listen so I guess I’ll google it. I can do a small fraction of the things my parents insisted I would need to know how to do in life like work hard, don’t complain, make a fire, change a flat, and be a willing student (that one came later rather than sooner) but I have every intention of slowly learning now what I could already know. And yes, this means frequent calls to Papa and Mama as I vaguely describe the nature of a problem and they expertly guide me through exactly what I need to do.

Always dress weather appropriately.

My parents wear long-johns when it’s cold, boots when there’s snow, raincoats during drizzles or storms, and hats during high noon sun. What they wear is a direct reflection of the weather outside. For whatever reason, it seems to be a shared struggle of teenagers and ladies to be well-dressed and warm or dry. All too often you see people who seem oblivious to the fact that their comfort is in the control. It’s no wonder winter makes people miserable when they insist on wearing flats, tennis shoes, or high heels. They couldn’t wear layers because that would ruin the sleek, elegance they are shooting for. And that one guy that wears shorts year round. Just, why? Papa would tell me not to complain if my toes started to freeze or my sweatshirt soaked through if I was poorly dressed going out for chores. I remember rushing out to meet the bus and hearing my mother say questioningly, “that doesn’t seem very warm” or “I think you’ll end up soaked in just that” marks most mornings of my teen years. My equally ill-dressed siblings shivered next to me without proper layers, all trying our hardest to look “cool” and not like farm kids. Now the coolest thing I can do is be prepared for the day’s conditions. I have a full head-to-toe rain suit and I wear it when it rains. I have thermal layers, wool socks, good mittens, scarves, and hats, coats, and boots that keep me toasty and warm even during the most brutal winter days. I see the wisdom in my parent’s practice of actually dressing for the weather because it is so satisfying to get to where you are going and being comfortable the whole journey. It feels good to walk from home to work in a blinding downpour dry or warm on days when they advise you not to be outside due to windchills and see my co-workers soaking wet or thoroughly chilled from the sprint in from their cars. You know what’s out there, dress for it.

Help people who need help.

Mama and Papa stopped when someone’s car broke down, they helped people who looked lost or confused in stores, and they were waiting to help those they loved whenever asked. When you see that someone is struggling, do something. Help the person that got their car stuck in the ditch, grab the gas they need to get to the next station, hold the door, or hand over the change someone can’t find to be able to cover their groceries. I did not learn this quick enough and I still struggle to go out of my comfort zone to help those in need but I am working on it. My parents wanted their kids to be good people and this is the most basic lesson too many people haven’t learned.

I did not grow up with money. My family never went on vacation of any kind. I can’t recall getting new toys or clothing until I was almost out of the house. We didn’t have cable and we weren’t allowed to watch tv for the most part. But what I did have then, I only appreciate now, looking back. My parents were always there, whenever I needed them. I ate three home-cooked meals a day, including a packed lunch when I was in school. I learned how to work hard at things that matter. I saw, even if I didn’t learn then, what it was to live a simple, conscious, practical life and how good and beautiful that existence is. Now if you’ll excuse me – I should call my folks. I have some questions they can answer.

-Ollie Carlson

You can see more of Ollie and her husband Thomas’ life at www.ofbranchandbone.com.

 

This is blog 25 of 28 of the #28DaysOfBloggingChallenge! See the Day 1 post for more details on why I’m participating!

Would you like to document your family or farm with heirloom photos and a written story to share with your family, friends and future generations? Contact photographer and writer Alyssa Bloechl for more information at abloechlphoto@gmail.com or call at 920-445-8727.

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