This is a picture of my father four years ago at his 80th birthday celebration.
He was a remarkable, unusual man, very intelligent, very private and shy. He had to be free and was incapable of confinement to others’ agendas. He didn’t like being interfered with in any way – had some spectacular crises of illness at various stages in his life because he couldn’t countenance the idea of submitting himself to medical investigation at an earlier stage. He always cut his own hair, and hated going to the dentist – when one of his teeth fell out he super-glued it to its neighbour; served him well for several years.
He was the soul of kindness but very inaccessible as a person – so I had very little to do with him through my life, but felt his love and concern emanating vaguely my way as from some desert island none of us could reach.
He travelled the world through his working life (he had an extraordinary gift for languages and was fluent in several), and was rarely at home and never for very long. When he retired and had to live permanently at home with my mother, he moved out into a cottage of his own. They stayed married, and spoke on the phone several times a day, went on holiday together and did lots of things together – he just wanted to live by himself; and he wanted to live simply. I felt very at home in his cottage, which was comfortable but plain and unpretentious. The heart of his home was his little dog, whom he loved, and the birds (and inadvertently, the rats) he fed every day in the garden.
Just over a year ago he died – quickly, neatly, suddenly, without fuss and with no preceding illness, just as he would have wished. My mother and I found him dead in his cottage the morning after his death when we called by to visit him.
To me and my sister he left his estate: his cottage in the quiet English countryside, and a modest amount of savings. My sister loved him very much and wanted to keep the cottage that had been his home, so she threw all she had at buying out my share; and his money was divided between us.
This has been a wonderful gift, and a key element in our household’s journey into simplicity. The money from the sale of his cottage is in the bank ready (it is the exact amount we need) to pay off our mortgage on the house as soon as we can do so without penalty this summer (to do so before would cost more than waiting). Having mortgage-free accommodation is the crucial thing that allows us to choose our occupation. It allows me to work as a writer, Hebe as a letter-cutter, the Badger to work as a publisher only because he loves his job not because he is shackled to it, allows Fi the freedom to explore and travel and do a myriad different jobs and keep us all afloat at home in between time, and means that Alice’s bread-and-butter job at the library while she does the things that really speak to her soul – making stained glass windows, writing, textile crafts etc – is something she could walk away from and explore new possibilities if she chose.
The money from the cottage allowed us to pay off the mortgage, and this in turn allowed us to sell the small house we owned, that Hebe, Alice and Fi lived in before we all moved in together, to Grace and Clay and the Wretched Wretch at a price affordable to them on husband’s salary only – a vitally important thing, because it allows Grace to be a stay-at-home mother, and will in turn allow her to home-school the Wretched Wretch (hooray!)
So, a bit like Jesus’s picture of the seed that falls into the ground and dies and yields a rich harvest, in his death my father passed on to us the gift of the freedom he loved – freedom not to accept the ways of the world and the agendas of mainstream society. It was a wonderful thing he did for us.
I should say as well that the little house Grace and Clay and the Wretched Wretch now live in was bought from money my mother gave us. She was also a stay-at-home mother, raising sheep and organic fruit and vegetables, working every hour of the day, investing every bit of money that came her way into our home, so that gradually, buying shrewdly, buying low and selling high, she acquired two or three houses. As she downsized and sold them off, she shared the proceeds with me and my sister. Her gifts and my father’s legacy have given us both freedom and security – they have been Christ’s Good Shepherd to us whom they loved, allowing us to go out and find pasture, to come in and find rest.
Then of course the Badger has thrown all his resources and energy into the project, adding his savings and working hard to finance a considerable mortgage in the interim.
So our journey into simplicity has long taproots – it flowers out of the lives of parents who lived simply, frugally and thriftily, and have given us the gift of the opportunity to do the same.
But there was more. In addition to the proceeds from his cottage, my father had his nest-egg of savings. And this has allowed us to put photo-voltaic panels and tubes that harvest the sunshine to heat our water, on our roof. They have just been installed, and the day they were connected we switched off the gas boiler that ran the central heating and hot water. During daylight hours we now have electricity from the sun to fuel our household needs, and enough over to export a steady supply to the national grid. We have enough hot water for the needs of five people – washing, washing up, washing clothes – all from the sun.
I always dreamed of having access to technology, but never imagined I would be able to generate the funds to do so.
Like my father, I do not fit in well to this world and its ways. I live an odd, shy, retired life, and have never been able to find my way in to any kind of belonging. I communicate with the world through the books and blog I write, and have found that it’s best kept that way. So I have never been wealthy; I cannot fit in to the employment structures well enough. The idea of having solar panels on the roof seemed like a far-off dream that only rich people could have.
All my life I have tried to teach and tell people about caring for the earth and living naturally but, though people have listened to me courteously, the only converts I’ve made have been my own children! Now, however, I don’t need to try to persuade. They will buy the green electricity because we are exporting it from our own roof :0D Result!
So that’s another step we have made in the direction of simplicity – our washing machine, our computers, our iron, our water heater – the sun runs them now!
And somehow it’s all the more wonderful that this came to us through the mindfulness of my parents’ way of living. They knew what to do with what they had and, when they passed the baton on to us, we knew what to do with it too.
It also pleases me that instead of waiting to inherit in their turn, because we all share and live together, it is possible for the generation of grandchildren and great-grandchildren to benefit simultaneously with the parents and grandparents – for my mother who was so generous to us benefits in her turn; this morning her bedsheets have been through our washing machine and are hanging out on the washing line in our garden to dry in the sun, for though her apartment has a beautiful view over farmland and woods it has no yard of its own for a washing line, and tumble driers have never been our way.