My grandmother spoke Swedish fluently. I speak none. Eddie’s dad speaks English, Mandarin, and Taiwanese. Eddie didn’t even know his dad spoke Taiwanese until his college years. Joy’s grandfather spoke Spanish, but no English. Joy speaks no Spanish, save to say “gracias” when he handed out little gifts.
With spoken language, the loss is clear; it is for the most part well documented in the family mythology. With other losses, however, I don’t think we understand what we’re losing, not even when we try to regain it by reading books or joining various social groups.
Some trades are one for one swaps: in place of Swedish, my mother gave me music. I can play the piano, I know what a sharp is and a minor 5th. Some trades are upgrades: in place of alcohol, my father gave me a little bit of organic gardening and a lot of car repair skills. I can do my own brakes, even the drum brakes in back.
But other stuff is just out and out disappearing. The old family farm in Ohio is down to 40 acres and at high risk of shrinking further, though the house my great-grandfather built is still the one my cousins live in. Here’s my list of
skills every kid needs to learn:
how to ride a bike, how to fix a slipped bike chain, how to change a flat bike tire / how to patch a flat bike tire, how to find a leak
how to swim, how to administer CPR, how to swim in rivers and lakes (I say that with some caveats in the back of my head, likely born of a recent visit to alligator country)
how to whistle, how to whittle, how to sew a button on, how to hem something, how to sew up a hole, darn a sock, sew on a patch, how to follow a sewing pattern
how to wash dishes, do the laundry, and clean the bathroom
how to cook the basics (variable by culture, for me it was baked potato and corn on the cob), how to cook something a little specialized (for me it was pie crust- did you know to put the liquids in the freezer for a few minutes to cool them down?)
how to change the oil on a car, how to change a flat car tire, how to jump a battery, how to check the radiator fluid levels when the car is hot
how to read music, how to speak at least a little of a second language, how to read ALL the signs on the bus (en todos los idiomas)
how to built a birdhouse or bird feeder, how to cook over a campfire, how to close a pocketknife
how to plant a tree, how to select the ripe fruits and veggies from the market, how to trellis a vine, how to plant a transplant, how to prune
how to identify the local poisonous plants, spiders, snakes, etc, how to compost, how to recycle
how to enjoy a little solitude, how to take public transit, how to approach a strange dog
Did I miss anything? Probably. There are a lot of experiences I think people should have, but I was looking this morning for skills in particular. There ought to be something from the parents unique skill sets too. And while I thought the list would end up including more farming and gardening skills, it turns out that though I regard that as basic knowledge I have a hard time expressing it as specific skills.
What are the basic farming and gardening skills that ought to be more universal? A lot of naturalist wisdom fell into that same knowledge vs. skills dichotomy, too. What are the other naturalist skills that need more breadth?
The goal here is both a physical competency and a cultural competency for both the current context and the inherited familial legacy.