Those who know me well will tell you that I am not sentimental nor am I nostalgic. I don’t pine for a bygone era nor do I wish for the return of an earlier time.
I do however spend time reflecting on the past, primarily to see what I can learn from it and to determine what I might take with me into the present and beyond. I believe that we can harness a lot from those who came before us; sometimes the worst that we don’t wish to repeat, more often, the wisdom that helped those with more time and less money, and out of necessity or reverence, develop creative and sustainable solutions.
The longer my mother is gone, the more I recognize how clever she was, how much she valued simplicity and how universal and timeless her ideas. As time marches on, I find myself reaching back to that wisdom and to the solutions that might work just as well in 2019 as they did in 1969.
When we were children, there was very little money. A small family, only five us in the country, meant we depended on each other, without support from others. That sense of imposed isolation, while difficult at times, has the ability to inspire good thinking, perseverance and self reliance. And while I am more a proponent of inter dependence than independence, when you don’t have the option, you learn to make do.
When I was a child, waste was not welcome. My mother had a sink next to her washing machine, connected by a large grey rubber hose where she washed in order, starting with whites, then the colours, and finally the dark and dirty. The water from all but the last load, was returned via that rubber hose; there simply wasn’t the money to use more water, nor as my mother advised was there a need to waste perfectly good water that could be reused.
The same logic she applied to clothing, was also applied to people. We bathed as a group on bath days, although one at a time. And while there wasn’t a shower in our house, I’m not sure we would have used one, my mother couldn’t understand the concept of water ‘simply running down a drain’. It made much more sense to her to fill the tub once, and as with our clothes, she washed us from cleanest to dirtiest. The water changed colour and lost its heat from bath one to bath three, but luckily for me, my brothers were often filthy, which meant my cleanliness was rewarded and I bathed first.
There was also no dishwasher, well not one that plugged in anyway. And even if the money had been available, I don’t think my mother would have opted for one, she would have seen that too as wasteful, as well as a missed opportunity for the kid connection. We took turns washing and drying and fighting over whose turn it was to do which. We washed our dishes just like we washed our clothes and ourselves; glasses, cups, cutlery, plates and then pots and pans, in order of cleanliness, always in the same sink, and no rinsing allowed. While I never looked forward to doing the dishes, I do have fond memories of tea towel wars, laughter, and the odd dishwater fight.
As we look forward and prepare to build a house for our life’s final chapter, our desires and our design have been shaped by those childhood memories. Well aware that we have less available water on the planet than my mother might have ever imagined, we have chosen carefully and consciously. We are going to harvest the gift that is the rain, live without a dishwasher or a bathtub and even consider ‘composting’ toilets. Grateful for what will pour from our ‘low flow faucets’ we will continue, as my mother did, to revere water, all the while remembering that in 2019, one in ten worldwide are living without clean water.