Monday, February 7, 2011

Wintertime In Days Gone By

If you haven't noticed, we've had quite the winter this year, whether you live in the north, south, or east. We've had more snow than we've had in a very long time, and the bitter cold temperatures never seem to go away. To help me deal with this harsh weather, I tend to think of what my life would've been like should I have been born 200 years earlier. Once one thinks in those terms, any complaints disappear rather quickly!
An excellent book I own - one that I mentioned a few postings ago - is called 'Our Own Snug Fireside' by Jane C. Nylander, and it gives wonderful descriptions of life gone by in a very entertaining and easy to follow manner. The author uses actual diary and journal quotes, detailed accounts of house expenditures, and numerous other testaments to give credence the information given.
What you are about to read is lifted directly from this book, though the sappy presentation is mine. I thought you might be interested in how our ancestors dealt with the winters similar to what we are having this year.

You know, we who are living in this year of our Lord 1861 have it so much easier than those from a generation or two before us. My 81 year old mother, who was born in 1780, mentioned to us the other day at supper, "Truly, the people of this age know little of the horrors of winter." She said this due to the complaints from my children of how chilled they were in our home, and commented on the fact that they had stoves in their rooms to warm them during these bitter cold winter nights. She told us of one December day in 1797 when, "The thermometer in our dining room with a good fire being about 48 degrees." And that, she informed, was warm compared to other winters! She went on to say that in the earlier part of this (19th) century there were winters that were remarkably cold, where "the thermometer in the back chamber registered at four degrees in the early morning and did not rise above fourteen indoors all day long. China cups cracked on the tea table from the frost, before a rousing fire, the instant the hot tea touched them. And plates set to drain in the process of dishwashing froze together in front of the huge logs, ablaze in the wide kitchen fireplace. My ink and things were frozen hard. Few of us could sleep."

Of course, my children did not quite believe her stories and felt she embellished them a bit until I spoke up and told of my own experiences from when I was a young lad in the 1820's. "I remember as a youth, myself, when my mother here - your grandmother - would hang blankets from hooks in the ceiling to make sort of a tent near the fireplace, of which my brothers & sisters and I huddled close for warmth." My mother smiled as she recalled those early days of raising a family.
"There were times," she added, "that in order to eat something as simple as bread and cheese was quite a chore, for we had to thaw out each before we could eat!"

And woe to us if the fire in our fireplace should go out! I gave an account on how my mother awakened on more than one morning to find the fire completely out, with nary a bit of warmth left to begin a new flame to heat for cooking. Lucifer matches were not yet invented, so I was awakened, given a pair of small light tongs, and was sent to our neighbor's house to get a burning coal for our fire.

"It was quite a happy day when your father brought home warming stoves he had bartered for," my mother said to me.
"And when Lucifer matches were plentiful to light our fires with!"
Children these days certainly have it easy when compared to my youth!
you had it easy compared to mine!" My mother laughed.
Imagine what they'd think if they knew how easy we would have it in the 21st century!



Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

We really are living in the best of times, and we do take everything for granted. I can't imagine living in such cold circumstances in my own home. I would probably have succumbed to the harsh weather, being not of sturdy stock! Thank you for sharing this.


Mrs. G said...

Ken, neat post! Obviously my life doesn't compare at all to your story, but I can tell you that living in a house without central heat or even an efficient woodstove, is a chilly experience. The bathroom is *cold*, like "you can see your breath" cold. Jugs of milk set on the kitchen floor stay refrigerator temperature. And when it's windy the heat gets sucked right up the chimney and you have to stay within a 5' radius of the stove to be warm. Our livingroom currently has the diningroom table in it because it's far too cold in the diningroom to eat out there and our bed is in the livingroom too. Can you say crowded? :-) We look forward to spring more than you can possibly imagine. In spite of all that we are amazingly healthy and happy. Actually, I think we're just too dumb to know how miserable we should be, lol.

Historical Ken said...

Pam - I bet you are tougher than you realize!
Mrs. G - One day I would love for us to come and see your farm. Dumb? I think not! happy - I am sure of this!

Richard Cottrell said...

Ken, I can relate. My Old Historic House, is very large. I have central heat on the first floor, none on the second. I keep the first floor on 50 and the bills are still more than I can afford. I know what it was like back then, as they only had fire places to heat with and most of the heat went up the chimney. I set at home with the dog on my lap and a fur throw over both of us. I wear about 5 lawyers. When I go to bed, you can see your breath, So this is not new to me. Thanks for sharing and thanks for the wonderful comment you left for me. Richard