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14 Things Your Great-Grandparents Knew That You Should, Too

14 Things Your Great-Grandparents Knew That You Should, Too

Our ancestors grew up in a very different world than the one we inhabit today. More and more, our world is built around the Internet — an electronic world where we have instant access to entertainment, information and communications. But their world was built more around things that had physical reality, rather than just a virtual reality.

Their world wasn’t one in which things were just thrown away and replaced when they started getting old. Rather, they would repair things and reuse them, even re-purposing them when needed. I can still remember my grandmother’s kitchen, with its stacks of margarine, Cool Whip containers — her “Tupperware” — and a host of other re-purposed items.

What are these skills? The list is long. But some are more important than others. Let’s look at a few of them.

1. Patience

Patience really isn’t a skill so much as it is an attribute. But it can be learned and improved upon with practice. It is also something that modern society lacks. From fast food to microwave ovens, we are used to immediate gratification. But if we ever have to grind the grain in order to bake our own bread, we’re going to need lots of patience.

2. Thriftiness

This is another important attribute that has been largely lost on the modern world. The reason my grandmother used Cool Whip containers was because she had grown up during the Great Depression. She couldn’t waste money if her life depended on it. Yet today we think nothing of paying $5 for a cup of coffee. When all we have is what we’ve stockpiled, we’re going to have to be parsimonious in its use.

3. Sewing and mending

Hardly anyone sews on a button or repairs a ripped seam anymore — much less alter clothes when they don’t fit. Sewing isn’t that hard a skill to learn, but few know it.

4. Skinning and butchering animals

About the only people in the country who have any idea how to prepare a freshly killed animal for eating are hunters. Even there, their knowledge is usually limited to cleaning and skinning the animal.

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Butchering is something done by a professional. Improperly prepared game can be dangerous, especially if the intestines are punctured while cleaning it.

5. Curing hides

Our ancestors used the hides off of any animals they killed, whether rabbits or ‘coons or dear.

6. Canning, smoking and curing meats

Fortunately, canning is one skill that most preppers seem to learn. But what about meat? While dehydrating meat is a simple process, smoking and curing meats is much more complicated. They also require having the right equipment and supplies on hand.

7. Saddling a horse or hitching up a team

I’m going to take a chance here and assume you know how to ride a horse. If you don’t, might I suggest you take a few riding lessons? After all, if we ever encounter a time when there’s no gas, we’ll probably have to start breeding horses like crazy, so that we have some form of transportation.

14 Things Your Great-Grandparents Knew That You Should, TooOf course, there’s more to this than just riding horses. You’ll need to know how to saddle and bridle a horse, as well. If you are fortunate enough to have a wagon or buggy or can make one, you’ll need to know how to hitch a team to them, as well as how to drive the team. There’s really quite a bit here to learn — skills that most people don’t think of anymore.

8. Saddle and harness-making

Speaking of horses, where are you going to find a saddle, bridle and harness, anyway? Riding a horse bareback is a guaranteed way of giving the horse back problems, besides being extremely uncomfortable. Worse, you’re going to be stuck pulling that plow through the earth by yourself if you can’t harness a horse to it. But how do you make a harness? While there were saddle and harness makers in times of old, there wasn’t a farmer or cowboy that didn’t have a fair grasp of these skills, too.

9. Shoeing horses

My dad was actually an old-time ferrier, the kind who didn’t just use ready-made horse shoes, but made them out of bar stock. He was also a blacksmith. This is another skill that every farmer and cowboy knew, but few have the foggiest idea about anymore. But if you don’t keep a horse properly shod and its hooves properly trimmed, the horse can go lame.

10. Gardening

This one may seem a bit simplistic, as it’s probably something you’ve already thought of; but it is essential. Some of us (like me) are not natural gardeners and need to get better at this. That takes time, especially since it can be months before our errors bear fruit (or don’t bear fruit) and many more months before we get another planting season to try again.

11. Raising chickens

In olden times, pretty much everyone, except city dwellers, had chickens running around the house. You can still see this in many third-world and emerging countries. Those chickens are really free-range, running around the yard and eating whatever they find (and chickens will eat everything).

12. Starting a fire

The most common method of fire-starting in the past was flint and steel. Today, we have much easier methods — along with the reality that those will run out eventually. Learning to start a fire by flint and steel is a worthwhile skill to learn, even though I strongly prefer using a butane lighter.

Probably the most important part of this skill is recognizing and gathering good tinder. In olden times, people kept a tinder box, which held their flint, often sewn into a leather wrapping to improve grip, as well as whatever tinder they found and gathered along the way. That way, they always had the basic necessities for starting a fire.

13. Telling time by the sun

The modern concept of the importance of time is largely because of the railroads. Once railroad time schedules came out, people needed to know what time it was, so that they wouldn’t be late. In fact, the first group of people who commonly carried a watch (pocket watches) was train conductors. As the boss of the train, it was they who were responsible for meeting that schedule. So, the railroad would issue them a watch as part of their uniform.

14. The activity of wild animals

Few people really study nature anymore, not even the activities of animals they regularly see. But if we are going to hunt those animals for food, it helps to know their habits. Hunting in a post-disaster world won’t mean spreading some feed corn on the ground and waiting in a blind; you’ll have to find the animals where they are.

Wild animals can tell us a lot about what is going on around us. They instinctively recognize danger that we don’t. They also see the changes in the seasons before we do, starting their migrations or preparations. When we become attuned to their activities, they can become the best weathermen there are.

What would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below: 

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6 comments

  1. [3. Sewing and mending – Hardly anyone sews on a button or repairs a ripped seam anymore — much less alter clothes when they don’t fit. Sewing isn’t that hard a skill to learn, but few know it.]

    While you didn’t say anything about the items on your list being in order of importance, it was nice to see sewing as the third item anyway. My wife and I both sew for the public (I use treadles), and you’re right, few today know how to sew, and even many that do know how don’t do it anymore. I find that alarming. It used to be such a common, easy to learn, and money-saving skill that it was unusual if someone didn’t sew. I hope that folks someday realize that if the flow of imported clothing ever gets interrupted for any reason, we may have to go back to sewing and mending for ourselves.

    CD in Oklahoma

  2. Rich, your Dad was a farrier. If he was a ferrier, he spent his days going back & forth across the same stretch of water, aboard his ferry–or he would, if “ferrier” was a word. It’s usually “ferryman”.

  3. Hi, The lost art of rug making also and cleaning the rugs with rug beaters. And your right about sewing, you need warm coats in the winter further north you go. And what about making your own butter and using a churn, many things this generation will never know unless we clue them in! Maybe we need to teach the young ones some of our know how now, Hey lets have some classes and see if we find some who might be interested, instead of social media gossip, Just thinking out loud. I already teach crocheting and knitting to anyone who is willing and boy my students were from 10 yrs old to 60yrs and they can really do a fine job. Many called me years later to tell me they even handed down their knowledge to there children and friends. see it’s that easy, Thanks for the article, We all need to think ahead a bit more these days.

  4. Patricia Fleming

    Excellent reminders that we need to be prepared to fend for ourselves. Thanks

  5. Staying on time actually, to some degree, started in the late middle ages. The Church had a need to keep up with the time so they would know when to do their scheduled prayers. Most people lived within hearing of a church bell that would be rung to announce the prayer time. While it didn’t ring out hourly, it did divide the day up into sections and allowed people to meet at a specified time (such as “at vespers”).

    The Church did a lot to drive the development of clocks so that their prayer times would be more accurate (and not need a dedicated time-keeper keeping up with the time every day using more primitive methods). But once clocks came into existence, nobles, businessmen, and even trade guilds (the forerunners of unions) saw the enormous benefit they would have on their own production. “At sunrise” was a nebulous time that could include anything from when the sky began to lighten until the sun was fully over the horizon. It made getting started on work with a crew hard to do. (And if someone owed you a day’s labor, you felt like they were cheating you if they didn’t get there when you thought the day started. And the same issue repeated at sunset.) So the people who had the most to gain from putting everyone on a schedule started sponsoring the installation of clocks in churches and in city spaces. These clocks would ring out every hour automatically and anyone within sight distance could see the time and know how much time they had to get where they needed to go. Work became more coordinated . . . and regulated.

    Clocks, of course, came to the New World as cities were established, but people who went out to the frontier went back to having no way to tell time (not even church bells). It wouldn’t be until the coming of the trains–as you mentioned–that there was a real American time-keeping revolution. Europe, meanwhile, had had its about 400 years before.

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