Jumping Off the Gerbil Wheel

Fascination with People who are Different

 Why? I don’t know, maybe because in some way we’re looking for a better life. We live on what I call the gerbil wheel. We are constantly running. Most of us spend our lives falling out of bed and immediately sm gerbils file0001315992044jumping on that wheel. We barely have time to catch a breath. The constant striving is almost out of hand. A better car, a bigger TV, a nicer home, a college education for our children, and a retirement fund so we can jump off the wheel in our old age. And no matter what we have, it’s almost never enough.

The vast majority of you reading this are living in a comfortable home, be it a single-family dwelling or a condo. You have a cell phone, a land phone, a computer, Internet, food for the table, your basic bills are paid, and there’s enough extra money for a pizza with the family once a month. A few of you are lucky enough to belong to the golf club, take a cruise, and visit Hawaii, Australia, South Africa, or Ireland once a year or more. And there are just as many of you who are wondering if you’re going to have Internet or if the cable company will shut you off if you don’t pay that bill by Tuesday, you pray that the car will start tomorrow, that your job isn’t going to be outsourced, and if one of the children gets sick one more time this winter, you’re going to be in big trouble because you’ve used up every sick day and vacation day you’ve got coming. We run, run, run, to have money to pay bills and we wonder why.

So we look at people who choose to live with a different culture and envy the simplicity of their life. I see this all the time with the Amish. Maybe because I grew up around them, I don’t envy them. It still blows my mind that there is this huge readership for Amish romance stories most of which are inaccurate. Go to the Amish market and you are assured organic produce, delicious bread, and shoofly pie. If you’ve never had shoofly pie with its thick gooey bottom layer, you are in for a treat. If you’ve ever made it, you know how difficult it is to collect all those fly shoes. Which is why mom didn’t make it very often, instead we went to the Amish market and bought it.

Life is hard on those kids from the time they are little until they die. They get up at the crack of dawn and do chores. The girls are judgedAmish buggy by their stitches, and their ability to bake. Most have absolutely no say so in whom they marry or when. They pray that whoever it is, is kind to them, and that they find love. If not, they continue to bake, sew, do their chores, and go to church on Sunday. For them, there is no outside, no choice, and no other life.

Fortunately, the American Indians are not as strict. There is a sense of community and culture. For many young people, the thought of leaving the reservation is scary. For others, it’s a new life to embrace. Now, more than ever Indians are attending universities and getting degrees. Some go home and some do not. But most do go back for special days and to visit their parents. They are doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, and accountants. They work for the forestry service, in chemical labs, and they teach Asian History on college campuses. They are raising their children in cul-de-sacs, in high rises, and in townhouses.

There’s a small reservation not far from me. The only draw for an outsider to visit there is the museum. You get off the main highway and take a few back roads to a wooden fenced area and a sign that says it’s a reservation. It’s farmland with a few houses. There’s nothing spectacular about the housing or even the cars in the driveways. Most hold jobs off the reservation. There’s a dock and ramp to the river near the museum, and like most folks around here, having a boat on the trailer means weekend fishing.

My husband and I had been there before. The last time we went was to take a granddaughter. We wanted to break the myths perpetuated in the movie Pocahontas. We succeeded. Our granddaughter was fascinated with the tools, the canoes, the clothes, pottery, and everything else. The docents were American Indians and the one woman was wonderful at explaining to so much to a young mind that was sucking it all in like a sponge. And when we were done, we went to the dock. There our granddaughter found two boys who had come with their grandfather to fish, and another man who brought his black Labs for a cool dip in the river on a hot summer day. And when we left, my granddaughter decided that they were really just like the rest of us. But she also saw the history from a different perspective and saw what they had lost. She got to hear and see first hand what a few modern skilled potters did to reconstruct old kilns and what they went through to “discover” the method used to create the clay for pottery based on bits of pottery that had been excavated from the historical sites in our area.

joustingMaybe we are looking for a way to escape the gerbil wheel even if it’s just by hiding in a book and reading about something different. Maybe the lure of a jousting tournament, or even washing clothes on a washboard by the river sounds better than a forty-five minute commute followed by eight hours of high stress. We forget that appendicitis, tonsillitis, and strep throat killed, and childbirth was the leading cause of death amongst women. There was no microwave, toaster oven, or even a washboarddecent coffee pot. No comfy pair of sneakers, no disposable diapers or sanitary pads, no decent shampoo or deodorant, no real birth control, or toothpaste, oh yeah, the dresses were pretty, and you owned two, an older one and the new one.

The meat wasn’t refrigerated. The cow or deer was hung and the flies 1900climbed all over it. If you wanted butter, you churned it. (Today, we can make it in the food processor if we’re so inclined.) You saved the ashes from the fireplace and made lye soap – don’t get it in our eyes because it could blind you. You froze in the winter, and melted from the heat and humidity in the summer.

No thanks. Life isn’t perfect, but it sure is much better than it once was. Pard’ me while I toss my jeans in the washer and grab a cup of yogurt from the refrigerator. I’m spoiled by all this modern stuff.

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