How to Build a Fire

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Erin BriedSelf Magazine senior staff writer and author of How to Sew a Button and How to Build a Fire:  And Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew talks about everyday things "the greatest generation" knew how to do, from building a fire to negotiating a raise.

What did you learn from your grandfather that you use today? Share your wisdom here!


Erin Bried

Comments [19]

Gaetano Catelli from Oxford, Mississippi

My father taught me how to camp in the wilderness, including how to get a camp fire going.

Oh, and he taught me how to read and write.

Dec. 15 2010 01:14 AM
Helen Magrisso from Qeens

The widowed grandfathers I meet in various senior centers are totally lost in the art of feeding yourself. It is as though it is an alien skill only known to women. They breakfast on a bagel and coffee at a local shop and live on the high carb and highly processed foods served at the centers.

Dec. 14 2010 12:33 PM
john from office

Brian, you spent the 60, 70 and 80's getting rid of anything Macho, that boys like. We are to to be effeminate metrosexuals. To make the chattering class happy. That where all those skills went.

Dec. 14 2010 12:27 PM

Kate.. the Boy Scouts also teach something else. Intolerance. But I'm not sure they have a merit badge for that.

Dec. 14 2010 12:03 PM
steve from Queens

My Grandfathers taught me how to:

Behead a chicken (tied upside down in a tree and drawn with a small knife held between the index finger and middle finger).


Sharpen a knife (before #1 above)

Pick Rye (I swore I would never do that again).

Check to see that a level is reading level.

Cut down a tree

Butcher a deer

Shingle a house

Smoke fish

make sourkraut

make horseradish

Dec. 14 2010 12:02 PM
Michael Bartoli from Manhattan

Respect for the flag, or "Old Glory" as he called it. He lovingly hung the flag out every morning and brought it in at sundown every day.

Dec. 14 2010 12:00 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I agree w/Nora. In 2010 there's no reason to divide these skills as "boys'" & "girls'." And even in the grandparents' time, things like perseverance & dealing w/failure certainly weren't limited to men!

By the way, my mom taught me to drive a stick shift...after my dad messed it up (the lesson, not the car)!

Dec. 14 2010 11:59 AM
Jeremy from Harlem

Why is there an assumption that the younger generation does not know how to do these things, that these "skills" are being lost? And aren't some skills no longer necessary? Does this older generation know how to build a log cabin, drive a conestoga wagon, felt wool, or perform any of a myriad of tasks that are lost to history because they are no longer necessary for day to day living?
Why does the writer think that the man who was interviewed who "cut wood" was exhibiting a kind of grit and perseverance that has been lost?

Dec. 14 2010 11:59 AM

Let's not leave out the most practical knowledge that's missing today.

They knew that the way to economic recovery is to employ people in jobs that need to be done to preserve our country.
That's why the WPA, CCC, helped jumpstart everything until the then GOP put on the brakes.

And isn't it strange that the scholar of the Great Depression forgot that, Bernanke

Dec. 14 2010 11:58 AM
chris from Brooklyn

My grandfather was a gentleman rancher in Missouri, but knew and could do all the work nescessary to run cattle. Taught me how to saddle a horse and sting barb wire... classic PaGee line to my father as he was walking out to the field with the tack "Dammit Burr, you don't bring the saddle to the horse, you bring the horse to the saddle"

Dec. 14 2010 11:58 AM

I think there is something about America that makes people who come here think that everything they had do know before they came here is all in the past now and new rules apply here that don't have anything to do with those old-fashioned needs. I think it is misguided but I know it's the case for that generation of my Jewish immigrant relatives.

Dec. 14 2010 11:58 AM
Julie from West Village

How to go hunting for Black Widow spiders and swat them with a fly swatter at night by flashlight....

Dec. 14 2010 11:58 AM

A lot of these things could be learned in Boy Scouts.

Dec. 14 2010 11:57 AM

Nora is correct - my grandfather treated me like one of the boys, because I was much more interested in outdoor activities than dolls. He also honestly believed neither in evolution nor creationism in terms of humans, but that we came from early space alien colonies!

He was once confined to the bed and house after spinal surgery (maybe in the '50s?), and made two wooden and metal 3-d puzzles, one of which was passed down to me. I'm still blown away by this toy!

Dec. 14 2010 11:57 AM
Lavelle from Smithtown

Show's ending, so I'll be quick. I'm 26, and when I need to learn how to hang drywall, I check the internet, but a knowledgeable grandfather would be better.

Dec. 14 2010 11:56 AM
Lavelle from Smithtown

Show's ending, so I'll be quick. I'm 26, and when I need to learn how to hang drywall, I check the internet, but a knowledgeable grandfather would be better.

Dec. 14 2010 11:55 AM
Peg from Upstate NY

Unfortunately, my grandfathers were gentlemen (including through the depression). They were waited on hand and foot and they never did any useful thing as far as i can tell (unless you call endless criticism useful). On the other hand, many of my elderly neighbors have taught me many useful things. Thank you Al Inman - you taught me how to hunt, butcher, garden, and best of all how to make bacon.

Dec. 14 2010 11:53 AM
Tim from Nayck

My grandfather taught me how to tie a fly for fly fishing. I have taught me nephew and two nieces how to tie a fly. (And how to fly fish.)

Dec. 14 2010 11:51 AM
Nora Rocket from Queens

I notice that the book title makes no mention of "boys" being the target of this grandfatherly wisdom, Brian; why did you, in your lead-in just now, do so?

My grandfather taught me how to build a fire, how to bait a hook, how to split a log, how to drive a tractor, how to change a flat, how to jump a car. He taught my little brother the same stuff.

I don't fish, camp, split, or farm today, but what he taught me, at the core, was that I was *his* grandchild first and a "girl" second. That I could do anything I wanted and that I was loved and safe and supported. That my family is my true home, no matter where I live or what I do.

Dec. 14 2010 11:10 AM

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