Skip to main content

My trendy grandparents

Posted by on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 in Editor's Column, February 2011.

No landline? check.
Free range chickens? check.

My grandparents were the trendiest people I’ve ever known.

As I read about hot new trends in how to live, I’m amazed at how many of these my Dad’s parents, whom I called Mamaw and Papaw, practiced decades ago.

Trend # 1: Not having a landline phone.

“Cutting the cord” and not having a landline phone is so common now as to be almost assumed among twentysomethings. But Mamaw and Papaw were WAY ahead of this trend. They were so far ahead they didn’t even have a cord to cut. They just didn’t have a phone. They didn’t see the need for one, and were uninterested in having one.

Whenever it was absolutely necessary to get a message to them, this was accomplished by calling their next door neighbor, Mrs. Jones, and asking her to go yell over the hedgerow that somebody needed to talk to them on the phone.

Otherwise, they were perfectly content to live their lives talking to people who came by to see them in person. This was easy to do because they spent a pretty large amount of time on the front porch. Neighbors could stop by, pull up a chair or have a seat in the porch swing and visit for a few minutes. One of their sons, my Uncle Boyd, along with my Aunt Louise and their daughter, my cousin Vicki, lived down the block. People were in and out of the house all the time. It was a real social network. Trendy!

Trend # 2: Living car-free.

Neither Mamaw nor Papaw drove a car. By the time I was growing up, Papaw was retired, but when he was still working his employer was the Southern Railroad and his workplace was about three miles from home. For decades he walked to and from work.

They would get a ride to the store or bank or wherever else they needed to go with somebody else, or one of them would walk to a neighborhood grocery (not a convenience store, a real grocery, just small and all locally owned) a few blocks away. My Dad even remembers that when he was growing up it was common to just have groceries delivered, so in those days there was no real need to have a car to get supplies.

My grandparents weren’t anti-car; they would ride with other people on Sunday drives to visit relatives in the country, or even on vacations. They just never felt the need to drive, and they lived perfectly fulfilled lives anyway. Imagine.

Trend # 3: Having a smaller carbon footprint.

Mamaw and Papaw had a fairly small house, and it was not air conditioned. This meant that in summer it could get pretty hot inside, even with the window fan in the bedroom humming. The only even remotely comfortable place on a hot summer day was the porch, and sometimes even that was no relief.

But this meant that for most of the year, their carbon footprint was only a small fraction of what most of ours is now, with our central air units cranking away. Don’t get me wrong, I like being comfortable. But if, as most experts say, in the future we’re going to have to figure out ways to reduce our carbon footprints, Mamaw and Papaw were there, way ahead of us.

Trend # 4: Eating eggs from free range chickens. And ducks.

Although they lived in town, in the West Haven section of Knoxville, Papaw enjoyed keeping bantam chickens. He called them his babies. He would call out to them and they would flock around him and he would throw them dried corn kernels to eat. There were other varieties of chickens and even ducks roaming the premises (they had a big yard). It was in their yard that I was first pecked by a chicken. It was in their kitchen that I first tasted duck eggs. I can’t recall that I’ve ever particularly had a desire for duck eggs since.

Local dogs, such as my Uncle Boyd’s mutt Petey and the neighbor’s basset hound Snuffy, did not bother the chickens and ducks. They wouldn’t dare.

Now, of course, it is a major trend for people to buy local eggs from free range chickens. But there, decades ago, were Mamaw and Papaw, trendsetters.

I’ll bet there are all kinds of hardcore enviro-hipsters who would endlessly brag to their friends about living this kind of sustainable life, with a small carbon footprint and free range chickens.

Mamaw and Papaw did not brag about living this way. They pretty much just viewed this as daily life, and wouldn’t have known what you were talking about if you talked about a carbon footprint or a sustainable lifestyle. I don’t even think they ever would have thought they had a “lifestyle.”

The truth is, to our eyes, and probably to them, the way they lived was sometimes hard and sometimes inconvenient. But it was, also in many ways, a rich and rewarding life. They may not have had a lifestyle, but they had a life.

And, if you’ll allow their proud grandson to say so, style.