Saturday, February 25, 2012

What Did Grandma Do?

Grandma on her birthday in 1972
            W hat did Grandma and other forebears do to deal with the challenges of life? We can learn how they coped if diaries, journals, or personal histories were left behind from which to glean clues. For instance, I raised a question while I was researching a paper on writing, art, and depression. Did Grandma or Grandpa ever feel depressed? If so, what did they do about it back in the days before there were anti-depressant drugs?  (Depression, brought on by mental or physical stress or distress of some kind, causing people to become sad—even  mentally disabled—was also called many things through the ages, such as “the doldrums,” or “the blues.)
Can we find clues about the coping methods of our ancestors that will work for us as well? This is what I learned about Grandma and her “blues.”
            Grandma lived in rough, hard times for Utah folk, so it follows that life wasn’t easy. She was also raised on a farm by her mother, with an often absent father, which means life was that much harder.  I know that her husband was killed in a car accident up Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, that she described to me. His brains were dashed out and scattered all over the road, and she gathered them up with her hands, and put them back in his head. She was left a young widow with four little children.
Over the years, she remarried, lost babies, and raised thirteen children through the economic “Great Depression” of the forties.  She had every right to be depressed, and I do remember her saying she had “the blues” periodically.
Here are some of the things I watched her do while fighting off the blues.
                        She found a job that needed to be done and worked hard at it.
                        She prayed and took her troubles to the Lord.
She found comfort in reading her scriptures.
She sang songs or hummed while she worked.
She did her “handiwork,” which was enjoyable and comforting. (It could be mending, sewing, embroidering, or crocheting)
She escaped into a good book.
She played games with the family or went to a movie.
She put on a record and danced.
She wrote in her journal.
She took a walk and paid attention to nature.
She gardened.
She looked for the humor in her situation and laughed.
Most often, she found someone in need and served them.
            Those are mostly things we still do now.
I checked other sources for indications that people dealt with depression in the “old days,” and I didn’t have to go very far to find out that they did. In an old book edited by Parley P. Pratt from the 1800s, there is the mention of some of the things people suffered with, including depression. Here’s what it says and what it names as the cause:
Indigestion, giddiness [dizziness], headache, mental depression, etc.,
are often the effects of greediness in meat and drink. Omitting one, two,
 or three meals, or more, allows the system to rest, to regain strength,
and allows the clogged organs to dispose of their burdens. (Home 
Economy, Etc., Second Edition. Compiled and Edited by P. P. Pratt. Copyright, 
1895, by P. P. Pratt. Printed at Geo. Q. Cannon & Sons Co., Salt Lake City.)
We may not blame too much food and drink as a cause of depression now, but they were on the right track, as generally too much of anything that causes a biological imbalance can cause a mental imbalance.
How lucky we are to have all of Grandma’s options for dealing with depression, as well as more options that put good literature, music, movies, games, and information at our fingertips through advanced technology.
 We now have proven research that tells us why serving others or doing something creative is an antidote for depression. (Surprisingly, we also know now that one of the best methods of self-help for depression is writing and doing expressive artwork—the very skills we use to do personal and family history.)           
As time goes by, people tend to lose track of their forbears’ solutions to life’s problems—some of which are just as well lost. But others remain timeless in combating life’s problems. That wisdom we glean, and the lessons we learn from Grandma’s written trail, may be the one thing that speaks to us when nothing else will—a good reason to record and pass on our own family history. 

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