Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Nothing has Really Changed"

A friend of mind recently observed how tired she gets having to come up with ideas for meals everyday. "I get so bored with cooking," she sighed. "Honestly, for all the talk about women's lives being improved, nothing has really changed since the end of the 19th century."

Of course, my friend was venting out of frustration. Cooking and meal planning can be drudgery, especially because they occur three times daily, day after day after day.

But her comment got me thinking about how lucky we are to have modern materials and technology to help with nearly every household task.

My maternal grandmother was married prior to the end of the 19th century and bore three children during the first decade of the 20th century, just before World War I.

Comparing her life to that of today's homemaker is an interesting contrast. In my grandmother's day:

1. There was no central heating. Heat was provided by a "pot-bellied" stove in the small living room. Winters were cold and dressing took place either in front of the stove or hurriedly by the kitchen stove.

2. There was no air conditioning. Electric fans were becoming popular but were basic and provided little relief from summer's heat. Many public buildings, like churches, provided cardboard fans to visitors. These were equipped with a wooden handle so that the individual could fan himself in an effort to keep cool.

3. Women dressed in layers of long-sleeved clothing, petticoats, corsets, cotton stockings and high button shoes. They even wore cotton tunics, pantaloons, stockings and caps while swimming. Going to a public event usually included wearing a hat.

4. Women rarely went to the doctor. Medicine was still relatively primitive and few procedures were performed in the area of preventative exams. My mother and her siblings were all born at home. There was little "down" time for the new mother and lots of household tasks were left undone during her recovery.

5. Cooking was done on a wood-burning stove and nearly everything was made from scratch. Bread was made at home (without a bread machine). Many kitchens had sinks which were equipped with short-handled pumps for water. Families either butchered their own meat or knew someone nearby who did. A slaughtered pig could mean miscellaneous cuts of pork, plus pork chops, roasts and sausage for months.

6. Very few women worked outside the home. The homemaker's job was to tend to the family. That mean she would cook, clean, launder, iron, sew and perform other tasks as needed.

7. Grocery shopping was carefully planned and done only occasionally. There was no dropping by the store for one or two items. Her life eventually became easier as more "prepared" foods were available. But my grandmother made her own mayonnaise and marshmallows, plus many more items which we now pick from the store shelf.

8. There was no radio until my grandmother was an adult and no television until she was elderly. Entertainment was relegated to church activities or an occasional movie. However, these events were infrequent.

I'm sure you get the message. We complain a lot but our lives are a great deal easier than our ancestors. It's sometimes easier to whine about things than to really think about what we are saying. Life -- well, housekeeping anyway -- is a breeze compared to the "good ol' days."

No comments:

Post a Comment