Monday, December 04, 2006

How did they do it?

I grew up in the suburbs reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" series. I started reading it a year or two before the watered-down version showed up on TV (although Michael Landon was good). I often dreamed of myself as a pioneer girl, living out on the prairie and growing a garden and running through the grasses and gathering wildflowers. My mom even made me a long dress with matching sunbonnet. I guess I can count myself lucky I still had a mom that knew how to sew.

I also read "The Long Winter". At the time I could not imagine a family living out a blizzard winter in a building with no insulation, with nothing but some begged and borrowed grain to eat, and furthermore, burning hay in the stove for heat, spending long hours twisting it into sticks so it would burn just a bit longer.

Of course the question never came up: just where and how did they go to the bathroom during the long winter?

Now that I've lived through a few winters under what most would call fairly primitive circumstances, (just see my post on outdoor showers for a primer) I am still amazed. Today we have all kinds of modern miracles like electricity, and generators if you're not hooked up to electric service (been there done that), and fiberglass insulation, asphalt shingles, EPA rated wood stoves, and the like. Today was cold, hardly rose above ten degrees with wind that bit like lightning, and all I wanted to do was stay inside by the wood stove fire. We hired the neighbors to tend the horses and chickens and sheep for the week while The Hermit is at a meeting; I could not imagine doing chores after work, in the dark and cold. But still I took the day off work, mostly to get the laundry done (laundromat) and keep the house warm.

I know Charles and Caroline Ingalls mostly didn't have 8 to 5 jobs to tend to in addition to maintaining the homestead; that cannot be done. But still I am in awe of the fact that they did it. That all of our ancestors did it, and only recently did we invent central heating and grocery stores with deli counters.

I'm in a survival mode here; for the next few days it will be driving kids to school and daycare, tending dogs at work, and worrying about coming home to a cold house, then starting a fire and cooking. I know, we should have purchased one of those oil-filled electric heaters to keep on safely while we're away. Hindsight is 20/20.

But still, my survival mode is wimpy compared to that of 100 years ago.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a tough week up there. Hang in there! I'm sending warm thoughts to you.

Anonymous said...

Deb, I thought you had a propane heater to keep things at a basic temperature?

Ah, the good old days, when people died of cold. I'll have to look up a book title I read last year, about Ontario settlers and how they too frequently died during the winter. There was a book compiled in this area, too, of Native stories of the late 1800s. Whole families were lost during hard winters.

I've been asking myself too often lately - what the heck am I doing up here?! Best left to the moose!

Deb said...

lynne- thanks. When December hits hard, it hits hard.

madcap- Unfortunately the propane heater does not have a sensitive shutoff to know when it's done its job. I don't trust it more than I trust stoking the stove before I leave. Maybe it's me who has to learn to trust, but I don't leave my house (and my mandolin, and my flute, and my guitar, and my bouzouki) to chance. The Brittany pupy who is still not yet housebroken AFTER THREE MONTHS can be left to chance. Ahem.

lené said...

You're so right, Deb. Hope the week goes well and gets warmer!

Anonymous said...

That puppy business (pun intended) sounds like the last straw. Sending you best wishes.

I was shoveling snow today, indulging in a bit of pride in my work, and then marveling that women two or three generations before me in this area would have been working far, far harder. But I also got wondering, did they plow snow back then, or just pack it down with the sleighs? I read the Little House series too, but I can't remember anything about that.

Anonymous said...

Good luck! You do live a very brave life out there, even though it might have been more "standard" back in the days of Little House.

We just watched Frontier House (reality show set in 1883) from PBS (netflix) and it was impressive. Made me realize that we DO live in the lap of luxury these days. They didn't make those people face the winter, though!

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

you know. I don't think I would mind it so much. I think I would like it actually. a lot better than going to the grocery stotre and spending money that is already in short supply from my nine to five job or jobs as the case may be.

You don't have to suck up to a wood stove to keep it from firing you and your garden is going to grow for you if you take care of it, its not going to grow veggies for someone else just because it likes them better. Does it sound like I have had an overdose of office pollatics lately. I have, ha ha.

Plus pioneer people didn't have to worry about having enough money to drive to work because of rising gas prices or there employer dropping there health insurance and having to pay for it themselves. They didn't have to worry about taxes and insurance driving there monthly mortgage up so high they couldn't afford to pay for it or there kid being bullied and picked on because he isn't wearing the right kind of shoes. Give me the pioneer days anytime!!! I'll spend my winter huddled to a wood stove knitting my family socks and exchanging stories any day.

Sorry not meaning to rant. I'm just having a bad week.

Anonymous said...

If I froze to death. oh well I guess. better luck next time, ha ha.

Deb said...

lene- Going well so far, thanks!

arcolaura- I wonder too. They must have at least shoveled pathways, and there's a bit about digging the train out from an enormous snowdrift (and finally giving up until May) but I wonder if snow plowing as such didn't start until after the automobile was invented.

gtr- I enjoyed "Frontier House", but yeah it would have been interesting to see those city folks try to handle a bit of winter, maybe a day or two!

dragonfly- Yeah, this modern day world we humans have created for ourselves sometimes seems way more stressful than the one we left behind...all in the name of progress. Hope your week gets better!

If anyone notices the time on this comment, I was just up stoking the stove and watching rabbits under the bird feeder in the moonlight. :)

Endment said...

We lived out for a short time when our children were small - I really missed electricity!!!

You are a very brave soul

I am so glad for electricity, heat, running water, - So many of the things I do take for granted - thanks for the reminder :)

Anonymous said...

I found an article about the history of snow removal - I've linked to it at my place. You're right, snowplowing is a newer thing, but they did groom the roads for sleighs.