Barter, garden, look out for one another: beautiful advice on how to weather tough times from a couple of 90-year-olds

This story in the CBC last month was heartwarming and felt worth sharing, as I’m thinking about the Mayor’s Task Force, and ‘what we can do to cultivate resilience and recovery’.

If there’s an elder in your life, please, ask them what helped them get through tough times in their lives. And share with us. We’d love to bring more elder wisdom into our daily conversation and news feeds.

I love these four points –

  1. Barter, garden and forage
  2. Rethink your grocery list
  3. Do it yourself
  4. Connect with your community.

They feel like solid life-affirming advice.

Anyone else?

The mother of all recessions seems to be looming. 

In May, the national unemployment rate rose to 13.7 per cent — the single highest level in four decades of data collection.

Roderick Deon, 99, and his wife, Frances Deon, 91, have lived through [many tough times and] have some advice..

Barter, garden and forage

First, consider bartering, gardening and foraging.

Mr. Deon stressed that it was impossible to find work during the ’30s, so his father would exchange carpentry work for store credit. His mother was a talented hat maker, and she would make “chapeaux” out of scrap fabric for ladies in the community. Everyone traded via their skill sets.

The family also grew potatoes, turnips, carrots and cabbages. They raised a pig each year that they would butcher in the fall. Foraging for blueberries was common, but they would also pick blueberries (and apples) to sell. And booze?

“We would go to the fields and pick wild sarsaparilla with my father. He used to make wine with it.”

Rethink your grocery list

Second, Mrs. Deon would remind you that meals don’t need meat. She stayed at home during the Second World War, while Roderick was in the navy, when rations and food stamps were exchanged for food. Most meat was sent to soldiers at the front, so her daily meals revolved around pasta, rice and a lot of pea soup. 

“I don’t think we missed [meat],” she said. “We were OK. I never remember feeling hungry.”

Do it yourself

Next, Mr. Deon recommends you make things yourself, wasting nothing.

“Everything was homemade. You took care of what you did have. We repaired things and reused them. You couldn’t just go to a store.”

Old fabric scraps were turned into matted rugs, quilts, and blankets to keep the cold out. His father performed all sorts of repair work.

Mrs. Deon stresses you can make perfectly good desserts without butter, eggs, or sugar.

“During the war, sugar was rationed, but sometimes folks in the community wouldn’t use their sugar rations and would give them away instead. Besides that, we learned to make perfectly good cakes without much sugar or butter.”

Connect with your community

Her mother would sometimes make tomato soup cake and had other recipes that could turn a little into a lot. Frances also learned to enjoy tea without sugar, and every generation of her family to follow has taken their tea black.

Despite the hardships, Mrs. Deon remembers a great sense of community and kindness.

“The farmers in our town would pop in for a visit and ask, ‘Do you need anything?’ The hard times didn’t stop anyone from looking out for each other. I hope people remember to be kind now. ”

Finally, Mrs. Deon fondly recalled Roderick’s father saying, “Put your vacuum cleaner down and have a drink of brandy.”

She used to laugh at the request, but now admits, “It was good advice.”


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