Monday, January 31, 2011


My mother was very organized. Among other things she was a list-maker. She kept separate lists for “To Do,” and “To Buy” on a chalkboard handy for quickly writing down any shortfalls in the household inventory she encountered so that when it came time to shop, she knew precisely what we needed.

Her “To Do” list was endless. As one task was accomplished and crossed off, it seemed as though at least three more were added. She was a gardener. She baked bread. She was the pre-Betty Friedan “traditional wife, mother and “homemaker.” And she detested the term “housewife,” proclaiming she married a man, not a house.

She enjoyed her role as homemaker –at least until Ms. Friedan pointed out the inherent disadvantages of it—and things like “sexist,” and “feminism” and “equal rights” crept their way into (raised) consciousness vocabularies. That is not to say Ms. Friedan’s ideas were not valuable to mother. Once she realized she was being treated “unequally” by society, she became an activist. At that, however, cracks began to appear in the façade of domestic tranquility especially when she decided not only to join, but to become the local president of The League of Women Voters. My father to his dying day, called it The Plague of Women Voters. Does that tell you something?

At the heart of it all mother was a conservationist. With uncanny accuracy, way back in the early 1950’s she predicted boldly that someday, people would shop, not for what they needed, but rather as entertainment. At the time, her projections were the butt of jokes. Today, were she alive, I believe she would experience some satisfaction that her prediction was spot on. But I know, too, that her sorrow at our consumption-based society, today, would be great. She was also ahead of her time as she spoke of manufacturers engaging in “planned obsolescence.” Back then, the term was not widely understood.

My father and mother took pride in their low, two-digit membership numbers in REI. They joined when nobody knew what REI was. By comparison, MM's and my membership number is above six digits. My parents were mountain climbers, having climbed most of the significant and challenging peaks in the Pacific Northwest. They were even featured in the Seattle Times for several of their feats.

At seven years of age, I was taught to shoulder a pack and hike between them on the Hoh River trail and the Duckabush River. This was long before Californians discovered the Pacific Northwest. My Duckabush hike was a total of seven miles if I recall correctly—somewhat arduous for a little tyke. Throughout my childhood, we were always enjoying the out-of-doors in this bountiful nature’s paradise, as we alternated between the razor clams at the ocean  or a mountain lake filled with rainbow trout, or even staying at home on the waterfront at Dyes Inlet in Puget Sound. But…I digress.

As I said, mother was a conservationist.  Have any of you heard the word “conservation” mentioned in the halls of Congress, lately? Or uttered from the White House? It’s almost as though the English language has completely eliminated the word from the lexicon. C-O-N-S-E-R-V-A-T-I-O-N. Say it with me:


With her lists, Mother paid attention to the small details of personal activism, living by example.  In quest of the most economical use of gasoline, back in the early 1950’s my mother PLANNED her bi-weekly shopping route by mapping out the anticipated trip to town. We didn’t make frivolous trips to the store. So, the trip had to count.

 Before we went “shopping” we had mother's  list of all the things we NEEDED (as opposed to “wanted”), and we had a kind of roadmap that nominated the stores we would visit in the order of our travel, both going and coming home. If we had to stop at Sears, for example, to pick up our catalog order, it was sandwiched with the dental appointment in the morning (and it was on the same side of the highway), my music lessons at Mrs. McKey's place, and the final stop at TBM (Ted, Bill, and Mack’s) grocery on the way home, (it was last because mother didn’t want meat to warm in a hot car, vegetables to wilt, etc.. Mother's list was the locus point of the whole process, and god forbid if we somehow left the list at home.  (That was probably the only reason for returning home:  to retrieve a forgotten list!)  Once home from Bremerton, the final stop in Silverdale would be the gas station to re-fill the 1941 Chrysler’s tank in readiness for the next trip.

If, when we arrived back home, we discovered we had forgotten something, we would simply go without until the next shopping trip. Asking my father to pick it up on the way home from his job at the shipyard was a strict no-no. After all, he carpooled with four other men and he would not suffer the embarrassment of their having to wait while he gathered forgotten grocery items for his wife.
Compare the process I have just described above with what most do today: run to the store. Lists? Who needs a list?! Shop till you drop. Map? Who cares! Running here, running there, running, running everywhere based on single purpose trips! 

Out here, JOTOLR, MM and I "measure" our trips carefully and cram as much into one trip as possible.   Shopping is not recreation for us.  It is a necessary evil.  And yes, I have a list each time we to to town, of all the items we NEED.  It's geographically arranged, just like mother's was, and we try our best to conserve.


  1. Your mother was a very wise woman and her insight was right on...I detest recreactional shopping (and Wal Mart). I too am organized and try never to make a trip to town for only one reason and I always have a list. Growing up on a farm gives one a different set of values than today's society. Linda

  2. I do believe the women in your family and mine would have got on splendidly well! Nana kept a list in her kitchen by the overworked cake mixer, Mum keeps hers by the phone for everyone to add to and I've always got several on the go. Perhaps it's something we learn with rural living?
    I could never imagine going into town for just one thing - especially when I used to live over an hours drive from them. People from all around our little village would hear someone was heading into town and give them their lists which often meant doing the grocery shopping for 2 or 3 households and picking things up on the way!
    I pulled out a list as I was walking into the supermarket on Saturday and got some odd looks and strangers often comment when they see me shopping with a list. My best friend learned quickly when we flatted togther in our 20's when I came home from shopping one day without her favourite chocolate biscuits - she never put them on the list so of course I never got them!
    Here's to lists, activists and country living!

  3. How can one live without lists?

    Nice post -- your mother sounds like a good 'un.

  4. What a rich heritage from your parents, Elora! You are very fortunate. I feel very blessed to have grown up with parents (as well as aunts and uncles) who went through the Depression. They taught me conservation...and it has served me well. I've tried to pass it on to our children, but it's more difficult in these days of careless and unthinking material consumption.

    Great post.

  5. Growing up on a farm (I did not, but grew up "country")does give one a different value system, Linda. You are so right! Pragmatism and frugality come to mind, but isn't it interesting how the "modern world" tends to denigrate such words as "conserve, frugality, "penny-pinching...can't you just feel the sneers???


    What wonderful ideas and ideals you shared with us!!! My, you are so far ahead of us, it's humbling. How I would love living closer! We found your Take A Break (thanks to High Speed Internet and Google Earth) Bed and Breakfast there in New Zealand, girl! What a pretty place, and I sure hope you plan to get that blog up and running again when fall and winter comes down south! And I know we'd all get on famously. In fact, I believe everyone who responds to this blog would truly enjoy one another! Here, here!! (lists, activists,and country living!!)

    We CAN'T live w/o lists, Vicki. Mom was, indeed, a good-un! I believe I owe my good health to her, too. Never smoked, no alcohol during her two pregnancies, and insisted I have cod-liver oil in my milk every day! Yuck! Yellow milk that tasted hideous, but --knock on wood--I've never been hospitalized for anything as an adult, ever.

    Beth, me, too re: Depression. It's a different value system, as Linda said, isn't it. And, we're going through one now. This so-called "recession" isn't going to end any time soon. People need to get used to having less, I guess. And growing a garden! Wonderful role models are those who came through the Depression. We can learn a lot from them! How's your writing coming?? Love you, girl!

    Thank you everyone, for sharing and for visiting. How I wish we all lived closer to one another!!