Just last night, my wife Carol and I discovered something nifty that we didn’t know we could do with our iPhones. That wasn’t the first time that’s happened — almost every week, we’re learning something new about our latest gadgets and toys. Er, I mean tools of our trade. That’s it.
But it seems like for everything that’s learned, something is lost. It makes me a little sad to think of the gems of knowledge, once deemed critical, that are now relegated to the dusty attics of our brains reserved for trivia until, at last, they vanish forever.
That’s why I was delighted to discover Lost Lore: A Celebration of Traditional Wisdom at my beloved Blue Elephant Book Shop in Decatur. Want to know how to send or read smoke signals? Looking for the Christmas traditions our ancestors enjoyed? Or maybe how to navigate with old-school maritime instruments? Well, likely not, I suppose. But anyway, you’ll find all that, and more, in this treasure chest assembled by authors Una McGovern and Paul Jenner. You’ll even find a section on letter writing, another gentle art vanishing in the age of instant communication. I found the letter writing section especially fascinating. I now want to go out and buy sealing wax with a custom seal, fine paper, and scented ink. If I can’t find the scented ink, no worries. Lost Lore tells me how to make it.
The book is divided into sections like Health and Wellbeing, where you will find everything from time-honored cures for drunkness (plunge the whole body into cold water, the excitement of a git of anger, terror, or even a “good whippping.” Frankly, I’d rather stay drunk.) or headaches to tips on natural first aid and long life (eat sage in May and have a gentle temper). Other sections include Household (for example: soap making, laying a fire, dyeing, living thriftly), Outdoor Life (Working With the Moon and Tides, Seafaring, Foraging for Wild Food), Education and Knowledge (Using an Abacus, Using a Slide Rule, Using Mnemonics), and Socializing and Celebration (Celebrating the Seasons, Wooing and Courting, Making and Taking Tea, Predicting the Sex of a Baby, and Writing by hand).
Granted, you’ll probably never need to know most—or, franky, any, of this stuff. But it’s a delight to know that you can. And besides, life is uncertain. You never know.
In any case, the text is an absolute joy to read. The entries are consise but wonderful, offering brief but absolutely fascinating peaks into the past—not at its great events, but at its minutiae, the tiny details that made life rich. More, the book is beautifully illustrated, designed, and bound. It’s as much a pleasure to hold as it is to browse.
There is a wealth of knowledge that my great-grandparents never passed down to me. There is little need now to properly stack wood in the fire chamber of my kitchen range, alas. What they knew is all but lost. Nonetheless, I find it oddly comforting to know that the subtle and delicious details of their everyday lives are preserved, especially in so handsome an edition. I’ll browse through it often, I’m sure, during the winter months when the holidays seem to turn one’s mind to the past.
Co-author Una McGovern has put together a companion volume as well: Lost Crafts. I look forward to picking up a copy soon. Another volume, Lost Wisdom, is forthcoming.