The Crossroads of Old and New

Carol Willis

Carol Willis

Etsy Shop Owner at The Clapping Oak
I am a mom and a grandmom. I shop at farmers’ markets and yes, I bake pies. I invite you to check out my Etsy shop, The Clapping Oak, - where I sell one-of-a-kind aprons I create using vintage linens. I’m also a writing tutor for middle schoolers through adults, as well as a freelance writer and copyeditor. Details on LinkedIn:
Carol Willis

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We Live In a Crazy Time.

That statement could take us in all kinds of directions, but here’s what I’m thinking:

  • We live in a global economy, but with a growing emphasis on buying local.
  • Mass produced items are everywhere, but artisanal culture is really hip. Witness everything from coffee to handmade paper.
  • We stare at our screens, while our souls are crying out for actual human contact. “As we spend more and more of our time staring at screens, there’s less time left over to look into people’s eyes — including the eyes of the people we care about most,” wrote Carolyn Gregoire.
  • Our supermarkets offer an overwhelming variety of products, but the author of In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan, points out that much of it is “what I would call edible, food-like substances,” created in a laboratory, not grown.
  • Americans tend to spend less time cooking than watching chefs on television, but at the same time we have the birth of a local/slow/organic food movement.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a reactionary. I don’t go around bemoaning the loss of the good old days. We have wisely left behind some of the baggage from our past. Who wants to go back polio epidemics, washboards, or outdoor toilets? I love my smart phone and laptop, thank you very much. When my internet is down I get cranky.

But certain aspects of the past would make for a healthier, more sustainable life. In fact, those responses I listed earlier to depersonalization and consumerism look a lot like life from an earlier era.

Grandma The Trendsetter

My grandmothers and my mom grew big gardens. Mom put vegetables on the dinner table that I had picked minutes earlier. I learned young to snap green beans and clean strawberries. Homemade pickles, peaches in mason jars, and frozen corn lasted at least partway through the winter. Because one grandmother had chickens, we had fresh eggs. Farm-to-table food? Nothing new.

My Grandma B. sewed professionally, first in a local dress factory and then doing alterations for a locally owned department store. Because of her skill and eye for color, design, and fit, my mother and I had the advantage of a customized wardrobe. Now a younger generation is discovering sewing. It has once again become a place where creativity and beauty meet thrift and upcycling.

My Grandma G. lived with us. We knew each other well. She was another adult to care for me, and she aged in place, contributed to our family life as long as she could and was surrounded by people who loved her. Win-win. With today’s challenge of affordable housing, some families are once again combining generations and discovering the benefits are more than financial.

In our fragmented, busy culture, recapturing some of these time-proven practices can have a profound effect on our well-being and our ability to form a life-affirming future.

Finding Our Way Again

Most of us go through times when we get a little lost. Life rolls over. Our nest empties. A marriage ends. Parents get sick and die. We lose a job and wonder how to go on when the world and our role in it is turned topsy-turvy. Who are we? Why are we here? What do we really want out of life? These upended times are ripe for looking back in order to move forward.

What grounds you in times like that? I was raised in faith and made it my own. That’s the bottom line. But when I make one of Grandma’s lemon pies and share it with someone, I am me without any question. It might not make me a living, but her rolling pin puts me back in touch with my core. So does creating something with fabric. So does reading – I’ve loved it since my dad taught me to read. So does playing piano, even if I’ve never been as driven or as skilled as Aunt Kathleen, who was my teacher.

Unfortunately, no one survives childhood without at least a few scars, some worse than others. That’s real, too, so not all connections and patterns are positive. I’m not a psychologist, but I understand that we have to find ways to work through those scars rather than avoiding them, if we are to become our best selves. Sometimes looking back can open the gates to a more hopeful vision of the future.

Yes To Meaning

Our world is hungry for personal connection and meaning. So yes – to urban agriculture and farm-to-table. Yes to small business. Yes to multi-generational co-housing. Yes to creativity that makes something useful and beautiful and sustainable.

And have you noticed? Both young and old are beginning to embrace these things again. Let’s mentor each other, both up and down the age ladder.  Let’s be bridges for each other, an unbroken chain connecting the past and the future.

I will for you if you will for me. Deal?


  1. Gergoire, C. (2013). The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

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2 thoughts on “The Crossroads of Old and New

  1. I love this perspective. Even though there are a lot of fantastic things in our modern world, we really have lost a lot of meaning and opportunities for connecting these days. Great things to think about.

    • I loved Carol’s perspective in this article. There are good things and bad things about both perspectives, but if we say yes to what is meaningful in our lives then we can find balance.