Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In Days of Yore

Modern technology has certainly made our daily lives easy. When you think about all the conveniences and comforts that we enjoy each day, it's a bit overwhelming.

Recently in a discussion with a few other women, the topic turned to household chores. Noting that our present weather had taken a very warm turn for late August, someone mentioned that in the "old" days, there simply was no air conditioning. This person had been raised in a family of 10, not particularly uncommon 60 or 70 years ago. The mother in that family had been required to perform many laborious tasks, in addition to simply giving birth 10 times.

There was laundry for a family of 10. This was likely a rural or at least a semi-rural environment, which meant work clothes, school clothes and probably "good" clothes for church and other social occasions. Kids needed shirts, jackets, pants, dresses, jumpers, petticoats, underwear and socks. Plus long underwear, lightweight jackets, heavy coats, mufflers, gloves, mittens, etc. Clothes alone -- even excluding linens -- meant a large amount of washing.

There was food for a family of 10. Three meals a day, perhaps including a lunch to be taken to school, mostly home cooked. That was a lot of food prep in the days before microwaves and packaged foods. There were cows to milk, eggs to gather, bread to bake and canning to be done. Even if the mom was fortunate enough to have some help either from a hired lady, a boarder who pitched in or kids who minded the cows, there was a lot going on. Pigs were raised and butchered, an enormous task which consumed at least a full day. The meat was smoked in the smokehouse and could feed a family for several months. However, the pork didn't find it's way to the smokehouse without some guidance.

Chickens were raised for eggs and for meat. Wringing a chicken's neck was not an easy task. As a child, I watched a neighbor kill and de-feather a chicken in the back yard. Suffice it to say that it made a big impression on me. It was a lot of work compared to visiting a local chicken shack for some extra-crispy.

These women often maintained large gardens where they raised vegetables to consume and can. So-called "putting up" veggies was also a significant task, requiring skill and many hands to make the chore worthwhile.

In the old days, there was no trekking off to the store for a loaf of bread when the supply ran low. Bread was made from scratch. It required flour, yeast and a few other ingredients. Once mixed, bread spent time rising. Then kneaded and prepared, it was carefully baked. Such work nearly dictated that sufficient loaves be made to warrant the effort. Bread was usually served with every meal and with a large family, just imagine how much baking was done.

Not to mention such tasty baked treats as cookies, cakes and pie. These were also made by hand, sometimes from freshly grown fruits and vegetables which happened to be around. That meant apple pie and cobbler in the fall, strawberry pie and shortcake in the spring and early summer, pumpkin pie after the first frost. The economical housewife did not waste treats which happened her way. She used whatever was available -- and all of it.

My great aunt loved to preserve the old way of life even into the 1950s. She made her own bar soap, large white rectangles which might actually have done the job, but were unscented, unattractive and generally unwelcome. But she had made the soap to preserve a lifestyle from the past and my mother graciously accepted and used each bar. It seemed like a lot of work for a small item easily purchased for a few cents at many locations.

That was generally the way of the housewife from years ago. They didn't know how rough they had it and so (hopefully) didn't whine too much. They had no way of knowing what would be coming their way in the not-too-distant future.

Strangest of all is the fact that most women in the days of yore loved their lives of pre-ordained domesticity. They wanted nothing more than having children and keeping a nice house. Women of today -- including me, of course -- are stunned at such comments. But I have heard and read time and time again that woman were perfectly content with darning socks and changing diapers. That was all women seemed to want.

Little did they know what was awaiting…

1 comment:

  1. Who says that these women "loved their life and wanted nothing more"? I think that they just didn't know any other way. That is what was expected of a woman in those days and society valued women for their homemaking skills.Women accepted this but that doesn't mean that they loved it!