The Grandmother Project
remembering our stories, connecting our lives to history

Citation Links:

Illahee lecture series:

The Millenium Project

Paul Ehrlich: The Population Bomb, The Dominant Animal, and other books

 Interview with Bill Mollison, "author" of the term Permaculture:

The Grandmother Project

March 2009:

Here are some questions for you.  If you don't know the answers, see if you can find someone in your family, or church, or school district, who does.

1) Do you remember the Great Depression?  Where was your family then?

2) What was hard about those times?

3) What was good? 

4) How did your family get what you needed?

5) What did you do for fun?

6) Where did you turn for help, or for ideas and resources? 
(books, people, church, libraries, clubs ... who did you ask?)

7) Do you remember any experiences that changed your life, or your outlook on it?

8) Did you help raise children during that time?  or were you a child? 
What were the most important things when raising kids at that time? (things to know, ways to behave, dangers to avoid)

9) What were the abilities that people took for granted in those days?  What was everyone expected to know, have, or do?

10) What would be different now?  Do you think people could use the same lessons to survive?  What else might today's young people need to know to live through hard times?

If you get any interesting answers (even a few), even if the stories are free-associated into whole new realms of interest or information, send 'em here.

stories at or


January 2009: Paul Ehrlich in a recent Portland lecture suggested asking social scientists to contribute their understanding of human behavior.   Natural scientists can describe the problems of overpopulation, threats like climate change, stray nuclear weapons, and recombinant toxic chemicals.

But what do we do about it? Perhaps, he suggested, it's time for a massive study of human behavior similar to the natural sciences' "Millenium Project." What if social scientists undertook a similar "Millenium Study" of human behavior and motivations, would they be able to tell us what can be done about such self-destructive patterns?

The few social scientists I've met were smart people, and acute observers, but ....  To predict - and provoke - actual human behavior? Arguably, advertisers might be better.  

Or grandmothers.  I'm routinely impressed by the insights of grandmothers. Most importantly, they have a (tactful) way of letting you know when you're barking up the wrong tree altogether.

Do you have a grandmother who'd be willing to share her perspective on human behavior? 

Do you know a social scientist who'd be interested in working on a "milleneum project" to understand human behavior in cooperation with local elders?

Do you have a question that, in your experience, tends to get a Grandma talking about interesting, relevant, and insightful stories?

Are you a grandmother, or grandfather, who has ideas about what it would take to avert the above-mentioned disasters, or a surprising suggestion as to why we're looking in the wrong direction altogether?

I assure you that I'm quite comfortable with baffled looks, and laughter, and being made to feel foolish just when I'm spouting off.  I teach elders about things they might have forgotten already, or are only now finding the time to experience.  And they gently remind me when to tie my shoelaces, and not take myself so seriously.  Usually with an unembarrased tact that I quite admire.

So I'm opening a call for submissions to "The Grandmother Project." Responses can be emailed to , including requests for telephone or in-person meetings.  I'm happy to do all the typing.

The stories (or links to them) will be published here, and also on other websites as partnerships become available.

Yours sincerely,

Erica Wisner

granddaughter of Granma Enid McCaffery Ritter, Grampa Ray Ritter, Grandaddy William Campbell, and Gran'Mary Coolidge Campbell.

Author's note:

I began studying permaculture a few years before moving in with my paternal grandmother Enid Ritter.  Living with her and caring for her,  I gained some perspective on how our family relates to land, to each other, and to big events like the Great Depression, WWII, and the Chemical/Cancer Age. 

I began to cherish those stories and memories that get passed down from before we were born.

I began to hope that by collecting stories - of how things were done, of the kind of memories that scar for life, or are cherished even after death - we might build a better understanding of how to live in the present day, and to hope for a future as bright as our past.

Oldest Memories:

My oldest second-hand memories:

My great-great-grandmother Anne McCaffery, a homesteader in Wisconsin, swore skunk grease made the best boot-polish.  (via Enid M Ritter)

My great-great-grandmother Granny Cole was against women's sufferage, saying "any woman who couldn't tell her man how to vote, wasn't worth her salt." (via Eleanor C Ritter)

The last suviving Civil War veteran, moving slowly along in the memorial day parade in Stanley, WI, made a point to stop and tell the orphaned Phyllis how pretty she was, "growing up to look just like your mother."

Do you have an "oldest memory" that's older than you?