Historically Speaking: Fighting the winter elements
Cold weather in the olden days was really something to endure. We were without much help as we battled long, cold winters with much fiercer storms and snows, it seems, than we have today.
Homes were not usually insulated, and very few were winterized with storm windows. So winter weather meant feeding the kitchen range and the front-room heater constantly with chunks of dried wood (or maybe coal). The kitchen range was important for cooking, of course, but also for heating water for washday and baths and keeping the kitchen eating area warm.
In the old house, we did not have a furnace as some people did, but we had a good heater in the front-room area which did, to some extent, help to heat the bedrooms. If it was possible to bank the fires to keep embers during the night, it wouldn’t be necessary to get up so early to get the stove going, as some dry kindling would be used, and then chunks of wood, circulating the heat gradually to all corners.
Since there were stove pipes exposed, we had to be very careful not to overload the stoves. The pipes were cleaned out regularly, as soot accumulations could start a devastating chimney fire. Some kinds of wood were known to deposit of lot of soot and residue, and this had to be watched closely. My father was very wise about this and tried to provide “good” wood for the wood pile, and thus prevent that problem. We never did have a chimney fire, and I believe it was because of his knowledge of the wood he provided seasonally.
The wood pile out in back was replenished each winter. My father would use the toboggan to haul fallen trees into the yard, and then they were sawed and split for drying and use the next fall.
Ashes had to be emptied regularly, and were usually placed in the garden area, as they fortified the soil.
I have some “cold” memories of getting dressed in front of the open oven door of the kitchen range. I do recall my foot warmer, which was a flat rock that was kept on the top of the heater during the day and wrapped in wool flannel at night and tucked into my bed about a half hour before bedtime. It kept me warm all night, and by morning was still slightly warm. My brother didn’t have a “rock” as I did; he claimed I was cold-blooded!
The windows were usually completely covered with frost; I still recall the scenes that Jack Frost painted on the windows! Do you know that some of the scenes on the frost-covered windows had perfectly shaped trees and scenes?
Our well was under the house, but even so, it would freeze in constant below-zero weather. My father would thaw it out as soon as he was able, but in the meantime, we used melted snow or water from the river for some of our needs. But drinking water had to be carried from the next farm, about a mile away…and I can tell you that water is heavy! This wasn’t done too often, just maybe once a winter during a long cold spell.
Toilet facilities in those days usually consisted of an outhouse (no pipes to freeze or septic tank problems…but is was a cold place). We “made do,” as did all farm families, in those days before plumbing!
Weather is something we cannot control, but I am so glad that now we are more equipped to endure whatever weather brings to us. We shall enjoy each and every day, and be thankful for the conveniences we have today to offset the extremes in weather.