Secrets from Bear Canyon

July 10, 2016

My grandparents are two of my biggest heroes. Darwin and Barbara were married in 1951 at the ripe age of 22, after Grandma moved to Texas to “chase him ’til he caught me.” They raised their brood of 9 children in a charming mountain canyon home in Montana on 20 acres costing $600. They lived in a canvas tent and various stages of the house as Grandpa built it basically around them. To this day (65 years later) it is still their primary home in all its rustic charm.

It’s only source of heat (right, family?) is a wood burning stove and they raised those 9 amazing children in just a couple bedrooms and ONE BATHROOM. 6 of their children were girls. ONE BATHROOM. Grandpa taught school and he and Grandma both always had at least one extra job or business.

Here are just a few of their jobs or businesses:

  • They bought and ran a bakery for years in Bozeman requiring early mornings and late nights
  • They traveled to Alaska to work in the fish canneries. This was for the money but also for the adventure, in their 50’s by the way, when most people are avoiding adventures.
  • Teaching accordion lessons. Grandma stayed one lesson ahead of the students.
  • Paper routes
  • Security guards, in Alaska. My grandma is 5'1".

Despite all their hours of work they never had much in the way of money. But they were Warren-Buffet-wealthy in friends, family, faith and music. They loved their mountain home and welcomed hundreds of visitors into it each year for simple meals and treats.

Fortunate enough to grow up within a couple miles of them, the meal I remember most was baked chicken, a big green salad (often from ingredients grown in their shaded garden), homemade wholewheat rolls, baked potatoes, all doused generously with Grandma’s homemade ranch dressing. Treats included homemade cookies made with wholewheat and honey or popcorn.

The older I get the more I marvel at their lifestyle and approach to life. And in a hectic day of technology and getting, I at least need to often remember what they are still teaching me even without words. They are not mute, they just don’t go around giving advice and promoting themselves.

  1. They care very little about what people think of them or their possessions. Strangers and bare acquaintances are all just a friend yet to be made, someone to swap stories with and be invited to our annual family reunion. You should’ve seen Grandpa talking with Billy, a buffalo hide tanner guy we met at Robber’s Roost outside Sheridan, Montana (pictured below). He really could’ve spent all day getting to know the character and he has that kind of energy for every one he sees.
  2. Their possessions never owned them and thus they were free to travel for entire summers, help family and friends, and have grand adventures. They didn’t have to spend hours each week organizing their stuff, cataloging it, cleaning around it, buying more to complement their existing stuff, etc. ‘Nuff said.
  3. They knew early on that there are lots of wonderful things money cannot buy and this is where they invested their energies: books, music music music—each of them and all 9 children play at least one instrument, wholesome cooking and eating before it was popular, dancing, building stuff—ask Grandpa about his “Hardly Davidson” or any of his dozens of contraptions, walking in nature, simple entertainments—they didn't own a TV until approximately 2013. The present day takeaway for me is to be interested in lots of things that don’t cost money. There’s so much to be interested in and learn and do and almost all of us have gobs more free time than did Darwin and Barb. If shopping is your hobby, try replacing it with trips to the bookstore, exercising, picking up a new sport, getting outdoors, planting a garden, competitive origami, finding the best cinnamon roll in your city, and hoping your garden grows, to name just a few.

So…wherever you might be, take a look around and see if you need to redefine what “wealth” means to you and how rich your life might be by cutting back. And if you want to pick up playing the accordion, I bet Grandma would still teach you, staying gumptiously* one lesson ahead of you the whole time.

*Not a word, per spellcheck. But it fits and I like it and I shall thus use it.

Want more pieces like this one? Explore everything written pre-Substack here, and to get the latest in your inbox, join hundreds of others receiving the More to Your Life  

It's a newsletter for dreamers about work, money, and living a life of purpose, connection, and adventure.

No spam around here, just emails you hopefully thoroughly enjoy. Unsubscribe at any time.