Pondering Riches

I just read an excerpt from Ruth McLaughlin’s Bound Like Grass and I hope I get a chance to visit with her about it sometime. She writes poignantly and compellingly about growing up near Culbertson in the 1950’s and 60’s.

McLaughlin describes feeling oh so poor – her family had a milk cow instead of buying store-milk, her mother raised a garden, her father drove an out-of-style used car and the family ate what her brother called “peasant food” of mashed potatoes, canned vegetables and processed meat.

My husband, Steve, and I both were struck by McLaughlin’s description. At the Graham Ranch, we have Helga the milk cow and we thrive on her milk and cream; except for my 2005 Soccer Mom Explorer, all of our trucks were made in the last century and the best one is a 1979 Chevy Luv; the kids and I raise a garden; and we love to eat mashed potatoes, home-canned vegetables and our own beef.

We feel like we are among the richest people in the world, not the poorest. With or without cash — usually without much of it — we can take care of our basic needs.

Some friends of ours are among many who think America’s economy will crash soon, fuel prices will skyrocket, people will lose their jobs and chaos will reign.

“Don’t worry,” I say to them. “We have plenty of food, water and shelter, but we could use a little help around the ranch. So, if everything falls apart, just come live at our house. You can eat all you want and help us restore the barn.”

Our friends have yet to take us up on our offer – the barn needs some serious work – but we might have more bargaining leverage if their fears come to pass.

Mother’s Day brings introspection about a parent’s role in a child’s viewpoint. Do our kids realize our riches? Or do they feel poor, like Ruth McLaughlin? Thirteen-year-old Will and 4-year-old Abby don’t get the newest, latest, greatest gadget as soon as it appears in stores. They see Steve and me wearing patched jeans and watch us mend holes in our sleeves. Do they understand that we choose to live this way because we value thriftiness over pretentiousness and mindful self-sufficiency over brainless convenience?

We just started lambing, but still, even with our hectic pace right now, I worried about the kids’ interpretation of our lifestyle.

So I asked Will: Are we rich or poor?

His reply: “I don’t really care right now, Mom. I’m busy thinking about scientists.”

You see, Will gets to name the orphan lambs and this year his theme is scientists. So far, his list of names includes Asimov, Galileo, Einstein, Newton, Hawking and Schroedinger. (Schroedinger is considered one of the fathers of quantum mechanics who won a Nobel Prize in 1933. I had to look it up.)

Will squelched my fears for his mental health and brought me back to the important priorities of the season. Gone are psycho-doubts that seem to preempt Mother’s Day, immediately replaced by the relentless care and feeding of helpless lambs.

Thanks to Will, my biggest fear now is how to paint all the letters of Schroedinger across the tiny back of an orphan lamb.

Lisa Schmidt and her husband, Steve Hutton, raise natural, grassfed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad.
She has two children; Will, 13, and Abby, 4.

Lisa Schmidt