Back no more than two generations ago, it was commonplace for people to make, and repair, many of the things they used in their daily lives.
Today, our popular culture (based on materialism) has now created a populace that mostly has no clue beyond going to the “big box store”. They buy products made on the other side of the globe, only to discard and replace (never repair) them when they (quickly) break.
People (mostly) just did not flaunt their consumption, social status, or wealth as openly and persistently as we do today.
Back then, people actually knew how to make tangible things, and were much more self-sufficient than today’s young adults. Even in her later years, when my maternal Grandmother had sufficient means to buy whatever she wanted off the rack, she continued to make most of her own clothes, drapes, and other household items.
Likewise, my grandfather, (a simple man) would never pay a repairman to do something “I can darn well do myself”, even if he had to buy special tools or learn techniques outside his prior experience.
My mother (a “Baby-Boomer” and prototypical member of the “me” generation) used to resent “how cheap they are”, and once free of their frugal principles spent her (tragically shortened) adult life in pursuit of “happiness through more things“. (She had a sewing machine too, bought as a wedding gift, but I do not remember her ever once using it.)
I spent a great deal of time with my grandparents. Where my mother reviled their ways, I was fascinated. Many days were spent watching one or another make things that other children had purchased for them by their “Baby-Boomer” shop-aholic parents.
During one of the extended on-and-off periods that I spent with them, I enrolled in Largo Middle School in Largo, Florida. At the time I resented that all students, male and female, had to take half a year of shop and half a year of home economics.
My 12 year old self felt sewing was “gay”. I really wanted to slap some bar stock in the lathe and make a nail punch, not a stupid fluffy pillow. But I’m actually glad for it now — the values my grandparents demonstrated at home, and the skills I learned in home ec. have served me far better in life than the beer can lamp I made later that year.
(Today, of course, this lamp would have grief counselors parachuting into the school courtyard to address the “substance abuse” mental trauma perpetuated against our young minds, but that’s a subject for different blog.)
It wasn’t until after they both died in the late 1990s, and my wife and I had children of our own, that the significance of this self-sufficient lifestyle hit me square in the heart:
My uncle and cousins were liquidating their belongings, and in the process mindlessly disposing of priceless mementos. Particularly upsetting was to see my cousins get in a heated dispute about who “deserved” the nearly-new TV set, while items like my grandmother’s sewing machine (and photo albums!) were placed at the curb as trash. That sewing machine was absolutely HER, but it wasn’t even worth a trip to Goodwill, based on my cousin’s materialistic perceptions.
Long story short: The machine (and the albums) came home with us. Nearly 10 years later I sat at Grandma’s same kitchen table, and used that same machine, to make another “gay” pillow with my (then) 7 year old daughter.
I hoped Grandma was impressed, even though the seams are crooked.