Pearls of wisdom

At the Ashland library, I ran across the book, "Pearls of Country Wisdom: Hints From a Small Town on Keeping Garden and Home," by Deborah Tukua, and I immediately thought of my neighbors who grew up in a time before big-box stores and Internet commerce. Their families survived the depression, or as one neighbor put it, "were so darn poor we didn't realize there was a depression."

My neighbor Bill, who is 75 years old and grew up in the mountains near Santa Cruz, Calif., is fond of telling me that when his family needed something, they made it.

"We couldn't dash off to Walmart and even if we could, we wouldn't have been able to afford anything," he said.

Bill and his family made everything from meat smokers to radio antennas. They hunted for their meat, made their own toys, and he and his brothers invented several frighteningly dangerous games which I have forbidden him to ever mention to my children. It was from these self-reliant folk that we learned to make our own all-natural insecticide from garlic juice and dish soap.

In 1995, Deborah Tukua and her family left their suburban home in Jacksonville, Fla., to live in rural Tennessee. When they arrived, Tukua smartly turned to neighbors and locals for any advice they might be willing to share. Farmers, midwives, herbalists, shopkeepers, and new friends all offered tips over the years. Tukua's handy little book is a compilation of their tried-and-true techniques for making do, re-using junk, and saving money.

The book is divided into chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of home life such as cleaning, cooking, home remedies or animals. Each chapter begins with some personal anecdotes, which, to be honest, are not very well written. Tukua uses a lot of incomplete sentences and exclamation points. Just skip that part and go straight to the tips, of which there are 737 in all. They range from common sense to usefully clever to truly ingenious, but some are ridiculously impractical. For example, for those who want a root cellar but don't have a cellar, she suggests bulldozing a giant hole in the yard, burying an old bus there, and filling it with root vegetables. Huh?

With the exception of these few head-scratchers, most of the tips will be handy to someone. Tukua suggests turning old boots into bird feeders, applying roll-on deodorant to a fever blister to dry it out, and making a cough suppressant from apple cider vinegar and honey. I especially liked the home-cleaning ideas. I doubt I'll ever make my own laundry detergent or take the time to pin dirty socks together before washing them (my younger son prefers mismatched socks anyway), but I do want to try cleaning wall paper with a slice of rye bread. Apparently, the gluten in the rye flour is often used in wallpaper cleaning solutions. My kids would jump at the chance to rub food on the wall.

My neighbor had already suggested tip No. 62 to me earlier this year, which was to let my older son explore his wood-carving interests by starting him out with a bar of soap. Soap is soft and has no grain, making it great for small carving practice, and now my son has a use for his new pocket knife that won't end in blood and tears.

"Pearls of Country Wisdom" is part of the "Eat Local" display at the library, and is well worth a browse as you pass by. It's not a work of literary genius, but it's fun to read and has a good index for those looking to solve a particular problem. The best thing about the book is that it offers a reminder that small-town neighbors are often great treasure troves of information and experience.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at

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