What Grandma Knew

Grandma survived the great depression because her supply chain was local and she knew how to do stuff
Source Unknown

The above picture was used in a post at the reddit r/collapse site. I don’t know the source of the picture, but I assume that it was actually taken after the Great Depression (the 1930s). After all, it wasn’t until the 1960s that color photography became widespread. (If anyone does know the source, please let me know.)

Regardless of the actual date of the picture, the message it conveyed went viral within that sub reddit. Maybe it got such attention because the redditors at that site live and work in such a different world. Many of them are young, so they probably have jobs with titles such as marketing coordinator, social media consultant or global supply chain VP. Such job titles would have been incomprehensible to grandma, and I suspect that they will be incomprehensible to future generations.

The commentary added to the picture is somewhat misleading. Even in the 1930s supply chains were not all that short. Global commerce may not have been what it is now, but many of the tools that grandma used in her garden were manufactured in other States, and the bread that she and her family ate was made from wheat grown elsewhere. Nevertheless, she was a good deal more self-sufficient than most of us are.

It is important not romanticize those times. My grandparents lived through the Depression in England (they called it “the Slump”). My grandfather was head of accounting for a textile company that went bankrupt. The stress caused him to lose weight — eventually he was down to just nine stone. Their daughter (my mother) won a school competition of such distinction that the award was presented by royalty. But she did not make the trip because the family could not afford the train fare to London. Those were not the good old days.

Nevertheless, people then did have shorter supply lines, and they were more self-sufficient than ourselves. In particular, they were much less dependent on technology: no telephone, television, automobiles, refrigerators, central heating or washing machines.

What is the lesson for us in our time?

In future years our society will become much less complex than it is now. How that change will come about is a topic for much discussion. But it is going to happen — either voluntarily or because the change is forced upon us. Which is why one of the theological points I put forward for consideration is, “Accept and adapt”. In other words, we need to recognize that we cannot prevent the changes that are occurring — indeed many of them have already occurred. Therefore, like grandma, we need to learn “how to do stuff”. (The word “stuff” is important in this context. A journey starts with one step. We are not all going to become self-sufficient, permaculture farmers overnight. But anything that we can do to move toward a simpler and more self-sufficient lifestyle is something that we should be doing.)

What is the message for the church? One of the themes of this site is that the church has an opportunity for much needed leadership as we enter the Age of Limits. We are heading into difficult times and we will all need to become more self-reliant. Maybe the church can help with that transition. We are not going to leap straight from our SUVs into a Cistercian monastery. But, the more “stuff” we know how to do on our own and in our local communities the better.

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.

2 Corinthians 3:5

The picture below is of one set of my grandparents. It was taken around the year 1912. This was before the Slump, so they had personal, motorized transport. (And, no, I don’t know the name of the dog.)

Motorcycle year 1912



Author: Ian Sutton

Ian Sutton is a chemical engineer who has worked in the chemical, refining and offshore oil and gas industries. He is the author of many books, ebooks and videos.

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