Monday, February 26, 2024

Keeping The Old Ways Alive

Thoughts on a late February day ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"If you could build up any muscle to be a historian,  I'd say it's the empathy muscle.  
Go out and do empathy exercises..."
David McCullough  (1933 - 2022)  historian and historical author
I love this quote!
"...put yourselves in their shoes..."
We do...and they fit perfectly!
Every time we visit what I call the colonial frontier cabin at the Waterloo Farm Museum  (links at the bottom of this post),  we do wear the shoes of those from the founding generation.  Which all ties in with this  quote:
"We are tellers of stories,  we history folks.  
Our decorative and utilitarian objects are not merely things,  
but clues to tales of our past as a country."   
Tess Rosch - Publisher Early American Life Magazine

And it is up to us history folk to become tellers of stories,  true stories without an agenda,  through words,  through action,  and through demonstration,  or all of the above.  
For instance,  I came across the following on a Facebook page called  "Saving Castles,"  and it so very aptly describes a door,  of all things,  but in such an intriguing manner.  I then searched the  'net for the original writer of this poetry and found the author's name to be Marianne Tioran  (a  "scientist turned impassioned bible student" - her own words).  If Ms.  Tioran happens to come across this post and wants me to remove this portion,  I will,  though hopefully she will not mind me using it.  
Okay,  now,  before we get to the wonderful poetic description,  let's get into the proper frame of mind:
aside from material used to build them,  doors in general have changed little since their invention dating back to about 3,000 B.C.   They open,  and they close,  allowing folks to enter or leave.  They also allow for privacy and protection.  
Simple without a thought,  right?
That all goes without saying.  But never have I read such a wonderfully mesmerizing account on a door - a door in time - until I saw the following verse:  

In the heart of time's tapestry,  there stands a weathered sentinel,  a door to the ages past – a portal hewn from the ancient embrace of wood and time.  This medieval castle door,  with its gnarled grain and venerable scars,  whispers tales of knights and fair maidens,  of battles lost and victories won.
This Medieval door has a story to tell~
The wood,  once vibrant and full of life,  now carries the weight of centuries in its grain.  Each knot,  a testament to the storms weathered,  each crack an echo of forgotten whispers.  It is a silent witness to the passing of kings and the rise and fall of empires.  The door,  with its stoic resilience,  guards the secrets of a bygone era.
As one approaches,  the creak of heavy hinges becomes a symphony of antiquity,  a sonnet sung by the passage of time.  The locks,  aged and proud,  hold the mysteries of generations,  their clasps and bolts forged in the fires of yesteryears.  With every turn of the key,  one can almost hear the echoes of knights preparing for quests and the rustle of velvet gowns in candlelit chambers. 
The patina,  like the strokes of a masterful artist,  tells stories of dawns and dusks,  of shadows dancing in the flickering candlelight.  The grains seem to recount the rise and fall of kingdoms,  the ebb and flow of history etched into its very fibers.
This portal into the past beckons with a melancholic allure,  inviting the curious traveler to step beyond the threshold and immerse themselves in the whispers of forgotten epochs.  As one reaches out to touch the ancient wood,  there is a connection forged with the souls who have tread these stones before – a communion with the spirits of chivalry and romance.
Oh,  the tales this door could tell!  Of battles waged in the moonlit courtyard,  of banquets echoing with laughter,  and of sorrows whispered to the stars.  It is a doorway not merely of wood and iron,  but a passage to realms where time itself is captive,  where the past lingers like a fragrant perfume.
In the silence that envelops this relic,  one can almost hear the heartbeat of history,  steady and ancient.  The castle door stands not as an obstacle but as a guardian of the ages,  inviting those who dare to turn the key and venture into the embrace of centuries past.
Marianne Tioran - author
This is exactly how I try to look at historical objects.   
Thank you,  Ms.  Tioran. 
The door to the 1750s Daggett House.
If doors could talk,  what stories this door could tell...


I found a meme - an actual meme - that seems to have answered a question that I have been plagued with for quite a while:  
A Facebook meme that actually answered a question I've had!
Yes - - it's true.   In fact,  here are the first two sentences of my very first-ever Passion for the Past blog post from way back in November 2007:
Why is it that the past enthralls me so much?  I have asked myself that question many times but I have no absolute answers.  
Perhaps,  that is,  until now:  
to keep the old ways alive.  
This certainly makes a lot of sense to me. 
As I have read elsewhere,  when we study history,  we learn how we got where we are,  and why we live the way we do.  It's the study of us—of humans and our place in an ever changing world.  Without it,  we wouldn't understand all of our triumphs and failures,  and we would continually repeat patterns without building forward to something better.
And,  as living historians,  we  take that study a bit further - we  "experience our research."  which ultimately can give us a better,  deeper understanding of the past.  I believe that's where every historian's interest should lie.
But for many of us...the study and presentation of history can simply be just plain old pure enjoyment.
Processing flax and then spinning it into linen using the 18th century ways.
I think that if,  in 2004  (when we began living history in earnest)  my wife & I could see ourselves twenty years later and what we've accomplished,  I believe we would both be very pleasantly surprised.
And even doing flax demonstrations for the public!
By definition,  the shaving horse is a simple foot-operated vice that allows you to hold a piece while having both hands free to work.  A shaving horse is relatively easy to build and extremely useful to anyone who uses hand tools to shape spindles for turning,  chair legs,  barrel staves,  shingles,  and the like.  Other typical usage of the shaving horse is to make a handle for an ax,  hammer,  shovel,  or broom,  for just some examples.  They are also used in other crafts as well.  'Twas a very important combination of vice and workbench - a tool for the farmer and wood worker.
So,  what do you suppose happened as I learned more about the shave horse and seen it in action?
Well,  this is what happened:
here I am working on a shave horse that I purchased
and my first attempt to make a broom handle.
Experiencing the past - - living history.
Keeping the old ways alive...
And in a period setting to boot!
So I have been experiencing the chores and occupations of the past,  and it's been a dream come true.  It's my hope to continue in this manner and even expand.  
I also have been trying to give my grandchildren some experiences as well.

Teach your grandchildren well...
Here are my three oldest grandchildren,  all interested in flax and the flax break.
Note the hats all are wearing!

My grandson and my granddaughter gave the
shave horse a try,  and both did very well.
Top picture shows Ben...
...and in this bottom picture we see Addy working the draw knife.

Writing with a quill pen and ink was also
something they enjoyed doing.

My grandson enjoys candle dipping.
I believe he was seven years old here.

Look how proud my grandson is,  
holding the first candle he ever dipped!
As he should be!
I hope my grandkids will continue this interest.  Their other grandfather,  who is a jack-of-all-trades,  also guides them,  though in a more modern way.  How cool!  Best of the past and the present.
We also tried to teach our own children well when they,  too,  were young...
Here's my daughter at age seven dipping candles
at the 1760 Daggett Farm House.
She is now an adult.
"It is in this way we can be reminded that history is much more than a strictly educational process.  Truly understanding the past is a matter of  experience as well as knowledge;  it is a striving to make a spiritual,  emotional,  poetic,  dramatic,  and inspirational connection with our forebears.  It is about our personal reactions to the challenges of living in previous centuries and earlier cultures,  and our understanding of what makes one century different from another.  We know what love,  fear,  pain,  anger,  grief,  sadness,  and anxiety is like today.  Those in the past knew as well.  This is the human relation we have with our forebears."   Ian Mortimer - Author


We tend to think of changes in the past as we do with change today:  instantaneous.  Almost overnight.  But that simply was not the case in those ancient days.  Not even with the somewhat more recent industrial revolution  (if you want to call 200 years ago  "more recent").  All things took time to catch on.
As I continue to study the B.C.  and early A.D.  periods in human history,  it becomes more and more apparent that early history was very slow to change.
An early wheel made of a solid piece of wood.
Not sure of its age.
We need to remember that change,  which is at a lightning pace in our modern world  (often occurring daily),  went at a snail's pace centuries ago.  If you research world history,  you'll find inventions generally did not get around very fast.  For a great example,  let's look at the wheel.  Most tend to assume that when the wheel was invented,  it was used for moving things from one area to another...for transportation.  But the first wheels were not used for transportation.  According to various early world history books,  evidence indicates they were created to serve as potter's wheels,  and this happened around 3500 to 4,000 B.C.  in Mesopotamia  (in Lower Mesopotamia - now modern-​​day Iraq),  where the Sumerian people inserted rotating axles into solid discs of wood for them to spin in helping to make bowls and drinking vessels out of clay.  It then took about 300 years more before someone figured out to use these spinning pottery tools/wheels for mobility on chariots.  
Three hundred years!
Fascinating...(HERE is an excellent post - for kids - on what is thought to be the wheel's basic history).
You can look up how people lived 5,000 years ago or 2,000 years ago,  and there is not a great difference.  Oh,  mind!  That's not to say there aren't some  differences,  but not anything that would be extremely noticeable.  Time just seemed to move slower...


One more quick one:
Not long before I retired from my parapro job at a local high school  (2023),  I asked the students in my class:
"Who do you think is smarter - people of today or people of the past?"
In general,  most of the kids said the people of today,  with their reasoning being we had cell phones,  cars,  travel to Mars,  etc.
So I nodded in somewhat agreement and asked,  "So...who here has ever started a fire without a match?"
Not one student raised their hand.  In fact,  aside from turning a knob on the stove,  how can anyone start a fire without matches?
I then said,  "People of the past could.  They used flint and steel.  Looks like you'd all freeze to death if you got zapped into the past."
Then it all clicked.
They got it.
I then said,  "People of the past were every bit as smart as people are today.  They just lived in a different time."
The head teacher then told me,  "Mr.  Ken,  I love the way you think and teach!"
And that's what I miss about my job.

A history book to some is like an adventure novel to others;  while engulfed in the story,  the reader may find themselves immersed and transported in the words written and might often dream of what it would be like to be on such an adventure,  whether in a battle,  traveling with Lewis & Clark,  or riding the rails with Thomas Edison as a young lad.  The thing is those of us with a strong interest in history can become living historians and oftentimes take the words in our books off the pages and make them come alive in a more personal and active way.
For me,  living history is my dream come true.

Until next time,  see you in time.
And remember:  history is not black & white - - it's only shades of gray.

Many thanks to all who have helped and guided me to my journey to the past and helping me to keep the old ways alive.  You know who you are.

I turned a portion of my mid-20th century home into an 18th century home.

Interested in ancient world history?  Then I think you might be interested in what I have here.

Here are the links to all of our colonial frontier cabin day experiences  (so far).  These  "experiments"  of living in the past have been the most gratifying and full-filling living history excursions I've probably ever done:
To read about our 2020 autumn excursion at the cabin,  click HERE
To read about our 2021 wintertime excursion at the cabin,  click HERE
To read about our 2021 springtime excursion at the cabin,  click HERE
To read about our 2021 summertime excursion at the cabin,  click HERE
To read about our 2021 summer harvesting of the flax at the cabin,  click HERE
To read about our 2021 autumn excursion making candles at the cabin,  click HERE
To read about our 2022 winter excursion at the cabin,  please click HERE
To read about our 2022 spring excursion at the cabin,  please click HERE
To read about our 2022 summer excursion at the cabin,  please click HERE
To read about our 2022 autumn excursion at the cabin  (Pioneer Day),  please click HERE
To read about our 2023 winter excursion at the cabin - Candlemas,  please click HERE
To read about our 2023 spring excursion at the cabin - Rogation Sunday,  please click HERE
To read about our 2023 late spring - more planting at the cabin  (& early farming history),  click HERE
To read about the 2023 early summer weeding at the cabin  (and a timeline event),  please click HERE
To read about the 2023 autumn Pioneer Day event we participated in,  please click HERE
To read about our 2023 Thanksgiving celebration in early November,  please click HERE
To read about our 2024 winter excursion - upping our game & Candlemass - please click HERE

And it's at the Waterloo Farm Museum where the cabin and other historical buildings are now located.

 ~     ~     ~


Mary, Windy Meadows Farm said...

So true...keeping those fires alive for the next generations! I have a loom and spinning wheel, I will commit to learning - no excuse with all the videos online. So great that your family is sharing the past with the grandchildren - kids are always eager to learn!

Historical Ken said...

Please keep me posted, Mary!
I look forward to seeing your spinning and weaving results!