Turning off the Grid- “Things were better before there was television.”

Canning for Survival

Last week, the RV park gathered for their monthly donuts and coffee breakfast.  About 20 old-timers sat around over glazed donuts and talked about their world; knitting, beading, quilting, RV roof sealer, which vendor had the best deals on lawn chairs, and on, and on.  The women all gathered on the porch and showed off their latest creations and the men stood around the coffee pot and talked about cars, politics and the weather.

When I say old-timers, I’m referring to the median age of 70 and up.  I’m the youngest by 40 years or so, which makes the conversation even more interesting for me.  It fascinates me to think of the time span my fellow breakfast mates have lived through and the moments of modern history they experienced.

Happy J's RV park residents gather for their monthly soup luncheon.

Happy J's RV park residents gather for their monthly soup luncheon.

“Things were better before television,” one tiny little lady commented when the conversation drifted to stories of their childhood.

“We didn’t have electricity until I was in high school.” Another lady stated.  High school- can you imagine?  I always proudly state, “back when I was in college, we didn’t have cell phones or email.”  But wow, no electricity, and many of the ladies agreed with her.

“We didn’t get hot water until I was 16,” stated another woman.

“One summer, when I was 15, they pulled me out of summer camp to go home and can for the summer.  Mom was sick, and they came and got me and I had to can all the vegetables for the coming winter.  Took me all summer.  If I hadn’t canned the food, we wouldn’t have eaten at all that winter.” Carol the quilter made this statement and I just had to pause and take that in for a moment.

If I had to can my entire family’s food for the winter, we’d be in serious trouble.  I can’t even bake a loaf of bread properly, that whole patience and baking gene was not passed down to me.  Imagine the summer when you were 15 years old.  Canning vegetables for survival couldn’t be any farther removed from my reality at that age, or even now.

From the Great Depression to the Great Recession

The irony in so many of these folks lives is that they entered the world during the time of the Great Depression and now they are beginning to leave this world under the time period of the “Great Recession”.  But they know survival, they know sacrifice, they can create and they can endure.

And when I look at my generation and our troubles and woes through their eyes, I don’t quite know what to think.  On the evening news tonight, a story about long-term unemployment spoke to the rising trend in my generation of people who will spend years in unemployment.  And as I’m listening to this in the same room with my 87 year old uncle, who has spent a lifetime starting small businesses and making a living any way possible- and doing a great job of it.  I can’t help but wonder about our motives from his perspective.

Granted, we are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but politics aside, what does his generation think of a younger generation that sits around and waits for someone to hand them the same job they just lost?  When you spend a summer canning vegetables for survival, what runs through your mind when you hear about people spending 2-3 years or more out of work and resigning to the inevitability of joblessness? And, I guess coming from a service industry background, I have to wonder why we can’t just go get any job when the one we want is not available.  I know it requires swallowing quite a bit of pride and shoving aside our egos, believe me, I’ve done it, often.  But when we did we become so beholden to inevitability, rather then just changing our reality and seeking our own solution.

Conversing over coffee before the soup luncheon at Happy J's RV Park.

Conversing over coffee before the soup luncheon at Happy J's RV Park.

Finding our Survival Skills

When did we lose our survival skills?  When did we resign our fates to our bosses and supervisors and CEOs?  Why are we so afraid to seek the unknown and find a new skill or a new profession?  Why are we unable to just shift gears when troubles arise and plow forward into the unknown?

What will we do if canning food in the summers is our only means of survival?  I wonder if one day, we’ll be sitting around a table of donuts and pots of coffee reminiscing about the time the televisions went away and we learned to can our food and generate our own power.  I wonder when we are approaching the end of our years if we’ll sit around and compare our masterpiece quilts and handmade jewelry and talk about what life was like before cell phones and recessions.

Or will we be talking about the time we lost our jobs and failed to seek a better destiny for ourselves?  Will our conversation drift to the time when our government failed to function and we turned to ourselves for survival?  The time when we returned to community, farming  and family and rebuilt lives filled with sustainability and self-reliance. Lives where the television was turned off- permanently- and we learned to can vegetables from our own garden, build our own homes and knit our own sweaters.

I wonder if we’ll sit around our coffee and donuts at the end of our lives and say, “life was better after the television went away.”

authors note: I wrote this article Sunday evening during a windstorm with the RV swaying in the gusts and tried to publish prior to bedtime but could not access the internet. The following morning I wandered over to my trusty outpost with wifi only to find that the entire town had lost its internet, phone and ATM capacity during the storm.  Oh, the irony!


  1. Pat McDonough says

    I’m thinking a log home with stone accents is in the works! Moose hanging in the freezer and salmon put up for the winter. Fiddleheads, blueberries and smoked duck. And don’t forget those halibut fillets! Plus the home grown veggies, canned like your friends mentioned. Survival mode takes on many faces. Watch ‘The Book of Eli’ for an interesting perspective. Your writing inspires me. Keep up the good work!

    • says

      Thanks, Pat! A log home sounds wonderful- off the grid, of course! And lots of good food in there as well! No one said survival mode can’t be a fabulously creative and tasty endeavor- assuming an apocalypse isn’t barreling down the door! I’ll check out the movie. Thanks again and take care!

  2. says

    Crystal, I LOVE this article. You are a great writer and it really speaks to me. I feel the same way. People need to rely on themselves more and really make an effort, even if it means taking a job that is less “important” than what they had in mind or even start their own business. Super cool that you got to have that conversation. It seems like older folks always have something interesting to offer and our generation must not take their words for granted.

    • says

      Thanks Jenny! So glad you enjoyed the article and I agree completely- our generations can not take the old-timer’s words for granted. So much wisdom, knowledge and perspective is wrapped inside their words and actions. Returning to bartending last year after a 5 year hiatus while studying at UNC was such a refreshing break from trying to accelerate my freelance career. I had vowed not to return to the restaurants after studying photojournalism, but, after swallowing that pride, I found that I truly enjoyed bartending- and the stories people tell me as a bar keep! Fabulous! Keep plowing forward with your photography- looks like you’re into some interesting work, Jenny! Take care and thanks for reading and commenting!