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For Two City Slickers, Survival Of The Savviest

Rhoda Janzen is the author of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress.

Recently my friend Peggy and I decided to make a jaunt from my house in Southwestern Michigan, across the state to Detroit. We took her car. At day's end we pulled into my remote driveway on Lake Allegan. It was then I realized that didn't have my keys. They were in fact, hanging in the little key box in my laundry room.

Oh no.

I had no way of getting into my home.

Ah, how dependent we are on modern conveniences for survival. Peg and I prowled the perimeter, rattling windows like hoodlums. The house was locked tight as a drum. Finally we gave up, deciding to drive back into town for a satisfying ahi tuna salad.

Getting locked out of your house in 2011 isn't such a big deal, but my predicament remained on my mind. What if I never got back in? Could I survive with only the contents of my purse? Peg and I put our heads together and pooled our collective resources.

In her purse we found Chapstick, a nail file, and the kind of gum that squirts when you bite it. My own bag yielded some flushable wipes, a low-carb snack, and an Italian dictionary. We didn't even have a toothbrush between us.

This naturally led us to discuss in some detail the 10 products we would take back in time, should we have the opportunity to follow the Oregon Trail in a Conestoga wagon.

Later, taking refuge overnight in Peg's parent's house, we were still on the topic. After a whiskey soda, our discussion seemed to gather larger significance, commenting on our self-esteem as well as our knowledge of American history.

In this way I moved from cursing my idiocy to congratulating my fitness for survival. Why, I grew up Mennonite! I already knew how to sew, make cheese, and dip candles! I may be unfit to manage home security circa 2011, but am I squeamish? No, I am not. Give me a chicken and I will pluck it. Give me a yam and I will hoe it. Give me a gaping head wound and I will stitch it.

May I suggest that we all get in touch with our Inner Pioneer? This is an admirable way of lifting our spirits after we realize that we carry all the wrong stuff in our purse. Sure, we've got an expired coupon. Uh-huh, we've got a nice baggie of almonds and five brownish apple wedges.

We may not have soap, or Kleenex, or a hairbrush, or dental floss. But we have skills that would be really useful in 1868. Yes, we may be missing some key hygiene products from our cosmetics bag, not to mention lip gloss and a pair of tweezers, but think how good we'll feel if we select ten modern amenities to tuck into our wagon.

Just in case you, like me, propose a cherried-out, bullet-proof Airstream trailer kitted with an iron stove, signal flares, an UZI, and an oxen hitch, you're out of luck. Peg said, "No, that's not realistic!" But she did say okay to the 1000-thread-count sheets.

In the end, I didn't have to call on my survival skills. My real estate agent had a spare key to the house.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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