Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Ginger's View of Housekeeping Then and Now
Next time you have to clean the toilet, thank God you have one. Our pioneer sisters didn't have the comfort of having an "on-suite" bedroom, so those treks to the outdoor privy, especially during the winter months, could really be the pits.
How about your vacuum cleaner? The best a pioneer women could do was gather fresh straw and make a new broom. They may have owned a rug or two, (handmade of course), but dirt or wood floors were the norm. No wall-to-wall carpets for them. Sometimes just sweeping the dirt smooth was the best a gal could do.
Can Openers? Yeah, some of us may still use the ones you have to "manually" twist, but I've moved on to the one you set on the can and it does its magic all by itself. Imagine using a knife blade to open a tin? I'd probably be covered with Bandaids. Hey, did they even have those back in the day? I don't think so. Torn scraps of cloth were some of the best first-aid tools available.
Stoves? Some of the richer pioneers had them bought from the local mercantile. They were huge and weighty pieces that took up a lot of room, but a vast improvement over bending over the hearth to stir soups and stews suspended over the fire. With a turn of a knob, we have flames. Even their modern stoves required wood, and that meant a lot of chopping and carrying to keep the supply plentiful.
Ice houses are buildings used to store ice throughout the year, commonly used prior to the invention of the refrigerator. Some were underground chambers, usually man-made, close to natural sources of winter ice such as freshwater lakes, but many were buildings with various types of insulation. During the winter, ice and snow would be taken into the ice house and packed with insulation, often straw or sawdust. It would remain frozen for many months, often until the following winter, and could be used as a source of ice during summer months.
I'm back. *smile* You didn't even know I was gone, did you? All the thought of iced tea made me thirsty, so I took a break in blogging and went for something to drink. As I gazed around my awesome kitchen at the automatic coffee pot, the blender, the toaster, and all the other things that have spoiled me rotten, I opened the refrigerator and noticed the bottled water inside. Although a few pioneers enjoyed a new-fangled indoor water pump, most had to trek to the well or river for water. Something as simple as bathing for the early 1800 dwellers, consisted of several trips and buckets full for them in order to fill perhaps the same tub they used for washing the clothes. Boy, do we have it made or what?
Oh, and just to give you a taste of how one might incorporate some of the housekeeping chores in a book, I invite you to share this except from Prairie Peace, my debut novel. It's listed with all my books, on my Amazon page.
It was apparent why the previous occupants had left behind the odds and ends of furniture. The table and bench were made out of wood so rough, Cecile imagined picking splinters from her behind if she sat. A chair with a broken rocker rested in the corner next to the fireplace, and beside it was an old crate where a rusty lantern perched precariously, most likely to provide light for anyone brave enough to risk the broken chair.
What had she done to herself? She pictured her mother’s living room with its matching furniture and crisp pleated draperies and fought hard to hold back tears. Her mother had never really prepared Cecile for being a wife or housekeeper, requiring she only do minimal chores around the house. She surveyed the challenge set before her. This was going to be a learning experience she'd have to endure on her own. Her days of being spoiled and pampered had ended.
She took a deep breath and dug in, trying to wash away the accumulated dust and grime.
What she hated most was dealing with the various prairie creatures that thought this was
their home. “Oh dear…I hate spiders,” she proclaimed as one skittered across the floor.
Wiping a trickle of sweat from her forehead, she glanced around the room for something
to shuttle the insects outside, and spied an ancient broom in the corner by the fireplace.
Although missing most of its straw, there was still enough left to use. Looking at the dirt
and grime around her, she wondered why the broom looked so worn. How long had it been since anyone used it?
The floor had dried and warped with age, and the cracks between the planks had widened
to reveal the ground below. Cecile vigorously swept several times, trying to get some of the dirt and dust to fall through. When she finished, she wore most of it. Tossing the broom across the room in disgust, she peered at herself through the cracks in the mirror, barely recognizing the reflection staring back. Her hair hung in unruly strands around her face, and her complexion was gray from the coat of dust. She emitted a loud sigh as the looking glass revealed the sagging and dirty mattress behind her. Who or what had slept there before? Clearly, the bedding needed a thorough beating and airing out, and it was
her glorious job to do it.
The tears welled again. She prodded herself to stay busy, believing work would keep her from dwelling on her disappointment. With great effort, she dragged the mattress outside, and for some reason, every whack of the broom against the old tattered thing made her feel better.
She struggled to get it back into the house and onto the bed frame. She refused to call Walt for help because he was busy outside, cleaning the yard and hauling junk from within their poor excuse of a barn. Silly emotions and false pride were not about to get the best of her. She wanted Walt to be proud of her, and she was determined to make the best of this, even if it killed her. Besides, she was tired of sleeping on the hard ground with nothing but a thin blanket between her and the dirt. Even this ugly mattress had some degree of appeal.
As soon as they moved into the house, she’d cover it with the blankets from the bedroll and bring in the pillows still stowed in the wagon. Using the barn as shelter left her worrying the whole thing would fall down and crush them to death in their sleep. So many boards were missing from the walls, she was amazed it remained standing at all.
Note: The piece of "mirror," hanging haphazardly and cracked, was mentioned in a previous paragraph.