I was raised in one of the poorest counties in North West Arkansas, where my ancestors settled in the 1850s and scratched a living out of poor, rocky hillsides. They raised their families, fought in the war, battled famine and drought and came out ahead, leaving their children small, improved farms. They taught them the joy of being independent, finding solace and comfort in hard work and a job well done, and the importance of passing these things to their children. They were proud, hard working toilers who expecting nothing from anyone save like treatment and despised government intervention into their affairs, much like most of the Southern mountaineers and settlers. The NW corner of Arkansas was poor in money, but rich in character and natural resources. Here they would make their stand.

Of course, my experience was different. By the time I came along in the late 80s, my Great Grandparents were aging, but they kept up the old ritual of gardening and canning until they were physically unable to do so anymore. To this day the cellar at their home (which they built with their own hands and completed in 1956) is stocked with canned goods. Growing up I was intrigued by what they did, but didn’t get involved outside of maybe walking the rows of corn behind my great Grandmother (my Great Grandfather died when I was 10). My Grandparents raised a little garden, but mainly subsided on what they bought or got from their Grandparents. Ditto my parents. We had a token garden, living in the country, but didn’t place great importance on it, though it was oft discussed how important it was. But words and actions are two different things.

Fast forward some years and I marry into a family in the county North of us (even closer to MO), and we begin having children and starting a home of our own. My lifetime of knowing gardening and like things were important is still with me, and becomes more clear to me as I lose the older generations about me. My Great Grandfather passed, and then my Grandfather and his brothers. Soon my link to the past is all but gone from me. Though I long ago accepted I was the family historian, being blessed in growing up literally across the creek where my 4th Great Grandfather homesteaded (and survived an assassination attempt during the war, but that’s a story for another time) and collected pictures, interviews and documents, the practical side of traditions was sadly lost upon me. However, my wife had a very different approach.

Her family were farmers, and dedicated to what today is referred to as ‘homesteading’ and she practiced it with a dedication bordering (admittedly, at times) psychotic (don’t you EVER tell her I said that). She soon had me helping in the garden and I began to enjoy the weed pulling, harvesting, and planting that went along with the declining grocery bill (not to mention the healthfulness of eating what you grow over what you buy in the local supermarket). But it wasn’t until we got into strawberries that it really hit me.

We planted two rows of ever-bear Strawberries to try to do something different. We also got into fruit trees at the same time, but that’s an in the future project. When they started producing (and Lord, did they produce), we began picking nearly daily. We started involving the children in the harvesting, since it was a lighter task, and we both agreed it was immensely important that they begin to learn such things for use in their lives. One evening after we harvested a bucket of strawberries, (and MAN those things are amazing; I always said I didn’t care for strawberries because all I’d ever had were store bought ones) we settled down on the patio in the shade to relax and have supper. It was right about then that it hit me; I have spent so much of my young life chasing material things, and still am guilty of that, but I had never truly picked up on the physical, here and now concepts of what is truly important. I am giving my children what my ancestors taught their children; the concepts of planting, harvesting, and the joy and reward of a hard day’s work. My wife excels in canning and processing food, and we always have a stocked pantry of food for a ‘rainy day.’ My Grandmother tells me that my Great Grandmother would’ve absolutely loved my wife, had she lived long enough to meet her, because their outlook is so similar.

But, cheesy as it may seem, life is truly about the simple things. You family, your community, the ability to have independence, even if it’s a small scale (producing your own food), it’s still a good start. Traditions that I worked to preserve I have, but this is one that was never taught to me, and I nearly lost it. Keep that in mind with your children and your family; these things will die if not passed on. Sitting there, in the cool of our patio, watching my children enjoy their strawberries, I could close my eyes and see my Great Grandparents do the same as they watched the children who became my Grandparents enjoy the fruits of their labor and the land. Blood and soil is a real concept, and it is still there for the taking. God bless you and yours, and may Dixie’s eternal light, and the light of our strong Southern families, perpetually shine.

Lose not faith; but when you become down, or get frustrated on something you can’t change, work on something you CAN change. Start small, and you will work forward to larger things. Keep your faith, your family, and your hope!

Travis Holt

Travis Holt is an independent farmer and historian in Arkansas.

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