Yesterday morning, as I savored a bowl of stewed rhubarb fresh from the garden, I mused on our homestead, and commented to Michelle that I wished that Grandpa Zeiger could visit us, and predicted that he’d be very proud of her gardening efforts. That led me to wonder, what would my late grandfather really think of our homestead?
Perhaps my greatest wish is that certain family members who have passed on might have had an opportunity to see the homestead, or, in some cases, even know that we’d found and moved to it. Chief among those are Michelle’s Uncle Jim, my mother, and Grandpa Zeiger.
Ernest and Leata Zeiger, my father’s parents, made a truly formidable couple. They led their large family with wisdom, intellectual curiosity, faith, and discipline for many years. Both taught school for many years, and inspired me to pursue lifelong learning. Grandpa taught high school science for a time, experimented and invented on an amateur level, and, perhaps above all, gardened.
Grandpa’s garden inhabited the back section of their small property in Puyallup, Washington. Shaded by fruit trees, he cultivated it naturally, with profusion and lushness trumping neatness and order. To my cousins (one of which lives there now with her family) siblings and me, it appeared to be a jungle, full of mystery, danger, and delight. The compost bin served as the high altar of this world, a place to which the morning’s table scraps should be carried in high procession each day, to be ceremoniously draped with fragrant grass cuttings.
This aspect of Grandpa’s life as I knew it dominates my thoughts as I speculate on what he would think of our homestead. No doubt he’d see much of his own garden reflected in our compost bins, grow boxes and green house. I’m sure he’d admire or efforts at self reliance, and our emphasis on family over material gain. I’m sure he’d be pleased that we lived in Haines, home of a Presbyterian Church that he and Grandma served for a time as interim lay leaders.
But, as ever, I’m wary of projecting too many of my feelings on to his. Grandpa, probably more than any other, shaped my love of a good, critical debate. He and I enjoyed agreement on many points of view as I became an adult, but on some issues we had to respectfully disagree (or, I respectfully disagreed; he commanded too much respect for me to use that term for his attitude). Most of these came at the point at which Grandpa could not reconcile critical thinking and logic with his own stern moral code and/or generational zeitgeist. He might admire our decision to live a simpler life, or he might think we’re crazy. Michelle’s Grandma Sarah, who raised her children in a log cabin in Washington’s upper Skagit Valley, thought we were nuts to step back from modern plumbing and other conveniences American life offers. Grandpa, her contemporary, might easily feel the same way. I don’t know if he’d approve of us taking responsibility for our own waste as composted humanure. I know that as a scientific thinker and a composter, he’d recognize the usefulness, need, and safety of such practice, but, as a product of his generation, he could well be emotionally repelled by the idea. He may see our life without standard, steady employment inspiring, or it may offend his Protestant work ethic. He may applaud our lack of television, or try to suggest ways that we could bring in satellite T.V. He could even go so far as to offer to finance such a set up. He would probably enthusiastically support Aly’s unschooling, but perhaps, as a former teacher, he might not like the idea? It’s all very hard to say.
Whether he liked it or not, whether he decided to express his opinions on our lifestyle, or keep them to himself, I think I can predict what he would have said. Almost certainly, he would have viewed it all with his calm, benevolent smile, then comment quietly, “Well. Isn’t that something?”