A Mother’s Wisdom
What Mom Can Teach You About Being Prepared
I learned about preparedness and survival kits from my mother. She was wisdom personified and always seemed to know what to do, no matter what the occasion!
I truly regret it took me so long to realize it. As a fledgling Boy Scout, my troop was going on a long-awaited and unprecedented early spring camping trip. At last, I was going to join the older guys whom I not only admired, but secretly revered. The last thing I wanted was to be embarrassed by being unprepared.
Preparedness Tips Passed Down from my Mother
When I asked Mother what to take on my extended outing, she replied in her soft-spoken manner, “You need to wonder what could happen and be willing to pay the wages of going into the wilderness. Take some water, Wranglers®, weenies, wipes, warm clothing, weather protection, a weapon, a wayfinder, whatever, and keep a watchful eye…”
Did she ever have a way with words! Let me elaborate on her guidance. Evaluate these points in relationship to your own emergency preparedness.
Mother was suggesting I ponder what part of my intended experience I might not be able to control. It was the beginning of my education to learn to assess what problems might occur in the field (or in my life), such as:
- to which wonders of nature (read: disaster) I’d be vulnerable
- to what other creature––man or beast––I might encounter, and/or
- to the kinds of personal problems I might have in the wilderness…
She wanted me to plan for the worst, hope for the best, and be able to deal (eventually) with whatever happened.
That meant that I must be willing to pay the price to make this trip––time, effort, and risk. From the available alternatives, was this the most practical, prudent, and provident undertaking for me? I had to decide if it was the most intelligent thing to do at that moment—and what about the longer-term consequences and implications of my actions? Even at that early age, I had already been made aware of the consequences of being unprepared. Mother was indicating the price of not being prepared for the future eventualities in my life.
Mother told me to take water. She knew you can’t live very long without drinking water. She made sure I carried extra water and told me how important clean drinking water was to camping health. My WWII metal canteen my Uncle Jimmie brought back from the Army was my fountain of trail health. Mother made me repeat to her how to obtain and purify additional water for drinking and cooking. She was very certain I understood that daily water consumption was necessary for health and sanitation purposes.
That meant having appropriate clothing for the occasion, depending on the environment. In my youth, jeans (we could afford the name brand Wranglers® only after the harvest was in the barn) were the working-class clothes in our ex-urban community. They were sturdy, longwearing, tough, easily maintained, and could be worn for man’s work––and that certainly included camping out! This admonition was also meant to include a regular change of underwear. I’m sure all of us were taught about that bit of hygiene….
That was a reference to the need for nourishment. My mother knew my penchant for hot dogs, potato chips, and pork and beans. Her instruction to me was to take food that I:
- would eat even under the stress of being away from the well-spread table she prepared for the family;
- could easily prepare in the boonies; and
- would normally enjoy.
Personally, I would have opted for her barbeque pork and creamy cole slaw––but that would have been totally impractical for the camping environment. Mother packed a supply of extra food just in case of some unexpected emergency that required no cooking, was comforting and familiar, easily digestible, and stored well without great care under adverse conditions. She included some homemade beef jerky, nuts from our backyard trees, hard peppermint candy, homemade granola, and home-dried fruits. Having familiar food to eat gives us comfort far beyond the cost of the food. Don’t take anyone else’s opinion about your emergency food supply––store what you like to eat and you’ll eat what you’ve stored.
Intimated that if I ate during this camping trip, eventually the natural necessity for wipes would occur. Not to mention tissues for a runny nose from staying out overnight in the humid wilderness! Wipes were indeed essential then for any trip away from home––and still are! This was also meant to remind me about the need for good personal hygiene and grooming––a little soap and elbow grease to remove the dirt and smoke odor from my body. There is no greater comfort than being our best self––putting our best foot forward––handling whatever we encounter with panache and style.
How can anyone be prepared if the elements are ignored? Today we have modern technology––so many new fabrics for clothing and camping gear, equipment for and supplies to help in this life-saving necessity.Of course, let us not forget the need for fire to cook food, purify water, and provide warm water for bathing. I carried the supplies for starting an emergency fire in virtually any weather. Mother had some handy fire-starters: candles, chemical heat tabs, and some canned heat from her chafing dish. Fire-starters were essential for igniting wet wood quickly to make a campfire––especially in an emergency situation. With a butane lighter, wax-coated matches in a waterproof container, a magnesium match, some lint from the lint collector in the dryer, some blocks of wax-impregnated fire-starter, you could start a fire anywhere!
This was the need for adequate shelter from the unpredictable spring weather in North Carolina––a tent and some waterproof matches. Mother also insisted on some kind of poncho or plastic cover to protect me from the rain and wind. Today, you’d probably opt for a large plastic trash bag with holes cut in the sides for your arms. Or, you could buy foil-like space blankets, those reflective emergency blankets that are never large enough to cover your arms and legs! It also meant having sunglasses, sunscreen for the lips and skin, and clothing for protection against the hot sun.
That meant a brand-new Swiss knife attached to my belt for all to see––talk about proud! Nobody was going to mess with me and the complete arsenal at my fingertips. I was prepared for even a bear! Besides, it was a miracle-making tool just waiting to be unleashed, whether for opening a can of beans or soup, shaving a stick for fire tinder, or carving an X on a tree to mark the trail. It was absolutely important––a veritable rite of passage––that every Scout have his own knife for first aid, food preparation, minor repairs, and a sense of proud ownership. Because they occupied little space, mother put extra shoelaces, safety pins, needle and thread, fine baling wire, extra adhesive tape (before duct tape!), a hank of small rope, and some razor blades in an old aspirin tin––just in case.
This meant having the appropriate equipment, such as a wrist compass and a local area road map. At least I could find my way back to the camp, home, or anywhere on that map, should I become the victim of a snipe hunt with the senior scouts. Make sure you have maps of local streets, as well as maps of your destination, if you must depart from your home.
Today, you can go online and get a detailed topographic map of the area you plan to visit––and carry it in a plastic freezer-grade zipper bag. Add to your compass other navigational tools, such as a GPS receiver. At www.earth.Google.com you can see it all from satellite––virtually live!
This category included the need to have a flashlight of some type, and because batteries and bulbs wouldn’t last forever, mother put spares of both in a little sealed plastic bag. Today, technology has made it much simpler––cheap battery-, solar-, and crank-powered lighting devices, so kerosene and propane are no longer the only lighting choices.
This part was a little bit trickier because it was somewhat more philosophical, but I know it meant being prepared for any emergency. I practiced until I was compass-trained and ready to take the fifty-mile hike. I was also required to learn all the first aid information, up to and including how to cut the X for snakebite treatment. Thank heaven that treatment has been superseded since then!
It is indeed fortunate the Scouting programs put particular emphasis on first aid and emergency treatment. We always carried––and were trained to use––a first-aid kit. Likewise, we were also advised not to be lulled into an attitude of having a false sense of security. Mother was quite clear about staying away from danger instead of flaunting our bravery. Her take on that was a rule of ABC’s she repeated often, Avoid Bravado Constantly! That meant that I should do whatever was prudent to avoid injury or sickness in the first place.
This category was for anything I wanted to take that wasn’t in the proscribed categories previously mentioned––like my genuine silver-plated Duncan yo-yo!…or the latest Marvel comic book… or jacks and marbles––whatever was important for my comfort and pleasure!
This meant caring about the others on the camping trip. This was a quality my mother had in bountiful supply––she really cared about others, constantly on the lookout for someone who needed a lift. Her good neighborpolicy was in full force at all times. She practiced the true spirit of caring about the community at large, the neighbors, and her family.
So, my mother’s instructions sent me scurrying enthusiastically throughout all three floors of the house (including the dark basement where all those veggies grew in Mason jars!), looking for the equipment I needed to impress the older Scouts in the troop. As the seemingly essential items were located, I placed all the pieces of equipment and supplies into little piles on my upper bunk, and then called her for approval. This is where I learned how to choose what is essential, and how to focus on economy, efficiency, and personal well-being. Mother regarded all the gear and paraphernalia I had assembled. I remember her saying quietly, “All that pep without purpose is piffle!” She gently (well, not so gently that I soon forgot!) instructed me to sort all of my stuff into three piles. I was to place in the first pile the items I couldn’t do without, a second pile for stuff I thought I might need, and a third pile for the things I’d like to take with me. After I had arranged my piles as instructed, mother looked at the three piles carefully and made a couple of corrections in my selection. She then told me to return the stuff heaped in the second and third piles to the drawers and closets––and to place in the camp bag only the items in the first pile.
You know, even years later, mother’s words were my guidance when I traveled more than a million miles as an international business traveler. What I eventually learned is that the quality of any trip is being able to do without a great deal of non-elemental stuff.