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Andrew Wyeth: On Her Knees, Helga (1975)
"Self reliance has little to do with standing on one's two feet …"

Almost everything used to be Homemade. Now, only exceptions are. The transition, largely accomplished over the last century and a half, proved traumatic as well as transformative. Our GrandOther wants nothing to do with learning how to sew, for instance, once considered an essential skill. The Muse dedicates a whole room as her sewing room and even fabricated a tailor's dummy of her own body to enable her to design her own patterns and better fit her creations. Almost nobody does that anymore.

I spent yesterday afternoon on my knees sanding the margins of our grand staircase.
While there, contorting my body into unlikely shapes, I reflected upon just how humbling making Homemade often proves. I swear that I've climbed those stairs on my knees so many times over our Refurbishing effort that I long ago lost count. Up them to pull and cut the edges of the wall-to-wall carpet and its tack strip. Back up again to take out the middle. Back up again to remove the wall paper there, and again to remove the tar smeared on each step. That crawl necessitated my latest, where I repaired the damage done by the paint remover I'd used to take off the tar. I've spent more time OnMyKnees than the typical penitent pilgrim crawling to some shrine.

Doing it yourself often ends up as doing it yourself on your knees. Almost every craft seems to insist upon the crafter humbling himself before his task. He's gonna at least get some of whatever he's creating on himself. He'll quite often gain a callous. He might permanently stain his jeans. There's just no way around it. Humility's always required. If you can't bring yourself to kneel in its presence, you have no business attempting to do it yourself. Go get store bought. If you want the benefits of having made it yourself, it seems you'll have to sacrifice a little self-importance. For the duration of my sanding effort, our stairs became more important than my dignity or my comfort. Our future trumped my present on the speculation that one day, I might proudly claim a unique kind of ownership, that I created that myself or at least contributed. I did not just buy it off some shelf.

That such effort becomes ennobling seems the most unlikely possible outcome, but it does eventually elevate more than it initially humbles, though it does insist upon humility as the price of admission. I grew up in what might have been homemade's last gasp. My mom made everything from lye soap to root beer and canned anything without fur. I preferred a TV dinner to one of her Homemade casseroles, which were the one thing I ever knew capable of making my father cringe. I ached to go to a McDonald's (if only one had been available), and avoided the burger places claiming Homemade menus as too old fashioned, not modern. The industrial food complex was busily bulldozing through our culture, controlling portions as well as passions, creating citizens who honestly preferred cakey Wonderbread® to the real alternative. My mom baked bread, too. I swear my mom lived on her knees.

I outgrew my dalliances with industrial food. I grew up into a more humbled citizen capable of making Homemade using little more than my two hands and living on my knees. My quality of life has expanded exponentially since those days when I'd proudly pick my way through pre-packaged choices which had been sanitized for my protection or something. I did not need to be so safe. I proved more capable than I imagined. Self reliance has little to do with standing on one's two feet, I suspect, but much more about learning to gratefully take to one's knees. Almost nobody does that anymore.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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