THE HAPPINESS FACTOR #1: STAYING CONNECTED WITH FAMILY
When I was a child, every year I would stay with my grandparents in Texas for the summer break. Some of my fondest memories were from this time; I thought they were the richest people in the world. It wasn’t until much later that I realize how little they had.
Even still, as I thumb through the memories of seven people crammed into a two bedroom apartment, my mind refuses to see poverty. This is largely due to my grandmother’s gift to mask her frugality in a way that kept her children from ever worrying about being poor. The reason why we didn’t use the A/C wasn’t because the utility bill would be too high, it was because the freon gave my grandmother headaches. We didn’t walk miles to the local video store because we couldn’t afford another car payment, she just preferred to walk. The reason why we always had home cooked meals wasn’t because she couldn’t afford to feed us any other way, it was because the white people who owned those restaurants didn’t think she was good enough to eat there when she was a child, so she sure as hell wasn’t going to give them money now. A lack of money was only an issue back in North Carolina with my parents, but in Texas I wanted for nothing.
As I settle into life at Blue Rock Station, I have begun to recognize that a lot of the things I am getting into a habit of doing here are things that my grandparents already do (e.g. canning food, planning meals, eating together, freezing leftovers, conserving water/electricity, gardening, and composting). I had read quite a bit about sustainability before arriving here, but I somehow missed that connection. For many people my age, our grandparents already know how to live happily with less. However, somewhere during the rise of the consumer culture, my parent’s generation developed a phobia to frugality. Instead, they threw money at all their problems (because it freed up time to work more so they could throw money at other things). In a similar fashion, my generation would go on to accumulate $1.2 trillion in student loan debt in an attempt to learn what our poor, uneducated ancestors already knew. And while I acknowledge that it is unlikely that I would have come to this conclusion without coming here first, I am a little disappointed that I felt more comfortable driving 1000 miles to do an internship than I did asking my family for help.
Much of my discomfort likely derives from how disconnected I have become from my family, and I know I am not the only one. White culture says that when you become an adult you are supposed to leave home – it doesn’t matter where, but no self-respecting adult should stay home (most likely so you can make room to accumulate more shit you don’t need). Independence is great, but if we’re severing connections prematurely then we are constantly missing opportunities to learn from the people most like us. Instead, we create this distance between our family, only to see them on special occasions. What’s even more unfortunate is that on these special occasions, everyone gets thrown into this chaotic environment where on the inside we are stressed, annoyed, and then relieved when it is all over.
This is something I will work on when I return home. I have felt my ancestors reaching out to me for years; I’ve just been unsure how to reach back. Sustainability would be a great place to start, as it is clear to me now that I have enough of a foundation – given to me by my family – to reproduce what has been reinforced in me while at Blue Rock Station.