The Way We Were

I guess everyone has a conversation that starts ‘when I was a girl’, I’m sure many of us will have many of them over the course of our lives. We’ll have them, because as we grow older the world around us will fail to look like the world we knew. We call it progress, or at least they do where I come from.

We think of it as the great moving forward. Moving with the times, the technology, the social trends. For me, and maybe it’s just the binge of Downton Abbey talking, but it’s almost like an international game of keeping up with the trendy upper class. The more ‘developed countries’ being the snobbish upper classes and the ‘developing countries’ being the lower of middle class, lusting after the lifestyle that seems so glamorous.

Progress, I guess, is fine. It brings better economics and a chance at attaining a better way of life. But does it? Does it really? Do we embrace it in a way that makes our way of life better? Do we really? Let me tell you why I ask. Let me show you how I mean.

What’s the difference between these two things? Look close, what’s the difference? Besides the absence of seeds? Well, on the left these are Guavas, still on the tree. We don’t know if they are sweet or sour, but we are going to try to pick the prettiest one, the one closest to yellow, because ripe means sweet we hope. We do this with the sun on our face, and the sweet sea air in our lungs, with fresh grass and earth under our feet, being aware of ants or whatever. This green thing to which they are attached is a part of our landscape and a source of snack. It was planted by someone I now and has a story. We value it. It also means that our mother will teach us to make guava jam, guava cheese, and guava nectar. For the cost of a few pounds of sugar, some coal and some water, we are going to have treats if not memories for a time yet.

On my right, I have a can, placed on a shelf by someone I don’t know, checked at a counter by someone with whom I’ll only say good day and thank you. Then I’ll go home, to a can opener and a spoon and no more possibilities.Not to mention the cost of a seedling, some sugar and coal is much less, than the cost of two cans or artificial sweetness and not authentic flavor  each week, even if I only buy them in the season. This is progress. Wanna play again?

So do you spot it this time? Right off the bat I’m guessing? You’re smart like that. So let us do this exposition in nostalgia again.

On out right, we have prepackaged rice pudding, or blood pudding if you will. It comes in a sterile container all covered in  plastic, it’s sold by the pound, a little exorbitantly if you ask me, and it’s tepid. Again stacked on a shelf by someone I don’t know, payed for by me to a busy stranger, and taken home, to a knife and my fingers in front of this laptop, as I type, watch, read something. It tastes OK, all the right spices are there, but there is something the other one has that it just doesn’t. Can you guess what it is? OK, I’ll tell you.

It’s missing….

8 SVF lady with sausage


Well, not her specifically, but someone like her. You get it? Right? No?…sigh…

She, at least for me, is the embodiment of the spirit of Saturday morning. A mature woman, well skilled, respectably mannered and familiar. She is a dying breed.

You see, on a Saturday morning this was the move, we would walk down the road to meet Aunt Babe’ we would pay 15 dollars for a few piping hot links of freshly made Rice Pudding and Maw. She would select the pieces she thought we would like, because everyone has that special piece they like, and ladle ambrosia into your cup or flask, because we generally had to bring our own container. She would marvel at how big I was getting and remind me to keep up the good school work, she would ask my mother about whatever was current and compliment my daddy on his girl. Not that I expect it in this day and age but she would feed three. Maybe and extra piece for my good manners and appearance.

You see? It was something that was part of our community, it added to our sense of community. These women, which ever one you went to, which ever one was in your village, or on that corner, or in that shop that is familiar to you, where part of the who and what you figured you were. They, no matter the one you claim, were all characters, and now very few of us, and even less of our children, are going to have them in their stories. I weep.

I learned to make Rice Pudding from such a woman, I remember her fondly. It pains me, that my children will miss the significance of this as more and more of these women disappear, and more and more the manufacture of a delicacy becomes a thing of unseen hands, unsociable consumerism, and generic packaging. Not that they are all gone yet, but fewer and fewer of us are taking up where they left off, and so, more and more of us, are forced to get what little of our culture we can from a carton or can.

We can’t wait on the few food fairs of cultural displays, as if our way of life is something to be marveled at instead of something we need to live on a day to day.

Is it so wrong that I should want our children to know the difference between these things? Between a band of friends, or cousins with buckets and baths headed off into the bush to bring back those containers laden with mangoes? To know the taste of fruit fresh off the tree, still warmed by the sun, and made sweeter by good company, conversation, adventure, and the welcome tired of work well done? To know this as opposed to the sweet chemically taste of progress? That I want them to know what it is to learn the skill of stealing a pineapple from it’s prickly parent plant, and pealing it without loosing to much to its skin? To learn the smell and color of ripeness? Is it wrong of me?

I know what you’re saying. “But Michelle, look at all the advancements? Michelle look at all the things this progress has bought us? Michelle you really want your kids running around in the wilderness the way the world is going? You really think it’s that important? Don’t you think it should be easier, especially now we have the means?”

And you make some good points, I do love the advancements, I love being a bed bunny author, I love being independent and able to do for myself. I do, I really do, but aren’t those ‘ye ole timey’ experiences what has given me this appreciation? Further, are we as a generation, the generation who experienced all this, all the more clever, and intelligent? More driven and able to adapt? More sociable and better mannered? More eloquent, more able to improvise, able to appreciate and enjoy the things that matter?

Aren’t we better people for it? Don’t we already see the lethargic entitlement of our young? Aren’t we all outraged at the segregation of our resources, namely our beaches, for the sake of progress? Not that we don’t want to progress, but in keeping up with the Jones are we loosing who we are? Is it a willing trade to achieve, what in many cases, is a kind of broken we didn’t have to worry about way back when? When all these new fangled fixations were simply a part of life and nobody really need a cause to know that people were people and that is really all that mattered?

Come to think of it, why does progress mean we have to forget? Why don’t we have cultural markets for people to visit, so when they come, they can see us? Why don’t we have fruit picking tours in the season, for local and tourist alike. Why is a little mixing not in order? Why don’t we have fresh pineapple, or fruit salad on every menu? Or tamarind Jam or a square of guava cheese or sugar cake at confection stands in cafeterias, or restaurant desert display cases? Why? Wha mek? Would utilizing those resources we are ignoring in the name of progress be more sustainable than importing Gelato and Caviar?

Maybe it is the price time demands for simply moving forward. Or maybe it’s the result of us not realizing the value in our cultural individuality. Maybe I’m just being overly nostalgic, yearning for a time when life was a bit more thrill and a bit less depression. Maybe this is me coming to terms with being the change I want to be, and needing to make the opportunities to preserve some of these things where I can.

What about you?What do you think about this? Where to you hail from? What do you miss, from when you were a girl/boy? What’s changed? What do you think we can do about it?


Any thoughts?

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