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106 Still Working Performing Productivity through Gardening and Home Canning Danille Elise Christensen In 2005, Princeton University researchers reported that Americans stereotype seniors as “warm and incompetent,” “dear but doddering”—much like Winnie the Pooh, that silly old bear. In fact, these researchers found that the more inept old people appeared to be—the less independent, intelligent, skillful, or self-confident—the more endearing they seemed to college students, among others . Apparently, younger people in the United States view elders as no threat to their own status, seeing them through a lens of pity rather than with envy, contempt , or admiration (Cuddy, Norton, and Fiske 2005).1 This condescension toward elders is increasingly common. Medical progress and other demographic factors have led to large senior cohorts; in response, mandatory retirement ages have been imposed in many parts of the world, effectively institutionalizing obsolescence. Today, elders are also less relevant to the acquisition of knowledge, as population mobility takes young people out of the daily orbit of their grandparents and instructional media shift the ways that hands-on learning happens. In addition, “accelerated technological innovation” encourages continual procurement of new material goods, skills, and knowledge, rather than the application of familiar lived experience (Esposito 1987, 121; Myerhoff 1992; Cuddy, Norton, and Fiske 2005).2 Home food production and preservation is one area of cultural practice that illustrates these trends, their consequences, and their future implications. Historically , small-scale foodwork has been a way for seniors to remain physically, economically, creatively, and socially active, especially in rural areas where social 6 The Expressive Lives of Elders (2018): 106–137, DOI: 10.2979/expressivelivesofelders.0.0.07 Still Working | 107 structures have encouraged “complementarity and mutual dependence between the generations” (Halperin 1990, 45). In northeastern Kentucky, for instance, anthropologist Rhoda Halperin (1990, 45) has observed that “elderly people perform important management, production, and food-processing tasks,” especially with regard to gardening and canning; in many parts of the United States, these activities enact cultural priorities, including “a widely held value placed on selfsufficiency and independence” (Quandt 1994, 198). However, women in particular have had to contend with negative public perceptions of “the grandmother” and with expert discourses that actively construe women’s traditional knowledge as skill-less or even dangerous. Drawing on archived interviews and public discourse, this essay explores the motivations for pursuing food production after age fifty-five, suggests how these activities get mislabeled or disrupted, and highlights some interventions meant to encourage traditional forms of food production and distribution.3 “That’s the Main Thing: Work” In their book Successful Aging, John Rowe and Robert Kahn (1998, 169) define productive behavior as “any activity, paid or unpaid, that generates goods or services of economic value”—including tasks completed at home and in the community , such as making meals or keeping an eye on one’s neighbor. Yet, the often gendered labor of everyday carework does not command a wage or social respect on par with other kinds of productive labor (Brownlee 1979; DeVault 1991; Meyer 2000; Sayer, Freedman, and Bianchi 2016; Vanek 1979), and indeed these activities are sometimes entirely excluded from the category “work.”4 Variables such as age also affect the ways people conceptualize valuable work: even as many Americans assume that the old should relinquish their jobs to the young, we also imagine unemployed seniors as a burden, a population rooted in dependency (Antonucci et al., 2016, 52; Esposito 1987, 218–19; Morrow-Howell and Greenfield 2016; Rowe and Kahn 1998, 168). Still, many elders want to be up and doing, and they count work as a core value and obligation. Hershel Clay Hatton (b. 1936) of Estill County, Kentucky, said this about his college-bound grandchildren: “It tickles me. I don’t care what they do just as long as they work. That’s the main thing: work” (Hatton 2012, 9). He himself began paid employment as a teenager, first farming with horses, then taking jobs in a sawmill, as an electrician, in the oil fields, as a truck driver. And for more than fifty years, he and his wife, Wanda, had also kept a garden. “Hard work won’t kill you,” Hatton said, and he should know. “Still out here gardening,” mused the seventy-five-year-old in a 2012 interview (Hatton 2012, 11). Arlene Flynn Chaney (b. 1933), four years Hatton’s senior, was also born and raised in Estill County; she started gardening as a child. Later, as an adult fully 108 | The...


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