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Looking out my Backdoor: Back to the future?


Last updated 5/28/2020 at 9:03am

One must make one’s own decision, must do what each figures is best for self and family and community. As for me and many of my friends, we choose to continue staying home, having no touchy-feely (sigh) communication with others.

We are retired. It is easier for us to hole up, to forego the little extras, the advantages of modern life to which we’ve become accustomed, as if those things are our due.

Have any of you elders noticed how living this pared-down life in self-isolation is similar to life in the ’50s?

Listen up, young’uns and I’ll tell you about it.

I think the main difference between now and then is that we had more alone time. We did not have organized summer sports or year-round activities such as yoga or martial arts, Zumba or pedicure parlors. Gym was at the high school. We swam in muddy water. We did not dare get bored. We had parents watching every nuance.

We got in trouble. You did not invent fast cars, booze, cigarettes or sex. We had the drive-in theater.

Can you imagine, those of us who are older, imagine our parents motoring through Hot Shots to order a daily dose of skinny salted-caramel latte venti, double shot at $5? I can see my dad’s expression as if he were in front of me as I ask that question, a mix of incredulity and horror.

We lived on a farm. A daily shopping trip would have been incomprehensible. Even for town dwellers, shopping demanded thought and planning, picking up necessary groceries for a week, that item at the hardware store and socks for Junior, all in the same trip on “sale day.”

Trip? A trip for me was to ride my bicycle down the mile-long lane to the mailbox.

If we ran out of an item in the kitchen we did without. Not that we ever ran out of any staple. We bought baking soda before we emptied the box, flour in 50-pound sacks.

The only emergency requiring an unscheduled trip to town was when a piece of farm machinery broke down. Dad taught me to drive at twelve so I could make those trips, unlicensed, terrified of being “found out,” in a community where 8-year-old boys regularly drove to the parts store or the John Deere or IH garage.

Dining in a restaurant? That was a luxury my family never enjoyed. A special dinner meant Sunday roast or fried chicken, after Mass.

A vacation? A weekend jaunt to Glacier Park? Not even in my family consciousness.

Do you see how rich we have become, how we live with a wealth of possibility?

A piece of my own going backward to go forward is my new bucket garden. Never thought I’d be planting vegetables, other than year-’round herbs, lettuce and a few stalks of corn. Not me! I plant flowers. In hand-made clay pots because I am a clay-pot snob. No plastic for me!

Since my investments evaporated and with prices of everything on the upshot, I’ve gone practical. Pinto beans have doubled in price in two months, from 20 to 40 pesos a kilo. Frugality rules.

Josue helped me collect a gathering of buckets, empty of paint and building materials. Plastic, ugly, practical. David from Centro Vivero delivered bags of tierra. Leo drilled holes in the buckets, filled them with rocks and dirt. With hope, I planted parsnips, squash, turnips, beets, chard and cabbage, carefully settling three or four seeds in each bucket. Potato in one, sweet potato in another.

Michelle brought me mystery-tomato starts garnered from their compost heap. Leo begged pepper seeds from his neighbor who works at a greenhouse. With farmer’s luck I’ll be regularly supplementing my meals with my own produce.

Don’t let anybody fool you that life in the ’50s was paradise. It was not. It was differently miserable and differently wonderful.

Living here in this paradisiacal piece of Mexico You might say my everyday life is a vacation. And it is. But I’ve spiced up daily drudgery (PT—ugh) with imaginary road trips on my stationary bike. Today I pedaled to Durango without leaving my patio, crossing that engineering marvel of a bridge between Mazatlan and Durango. Tomorrow I’ll go from Durango to Monterey. Mountains are no obstacles in day-dreams.

I admit, my tablet is a handy aid to imagination. Back in the olden days I used to pull “Around the World in 1,000 Pictures” from our bookshelf and dream of travel to foreign lands. You might say I still dream the same dreams.


Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem but spent most of her adult life out of state. She returned to see the Hi-Line with a perspective of delight. After several years back in Harlem, Ashton is seeking new experiences in Etzatlan, Mexico. Once a Montanan, always. Read Ashton’s essays and other work at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com/. Email [email protected]


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