Historically Speaking: Fighting the elements and nature?s fury
Cold weather in the olden days was really something to endure, just as it is today. But then we were without much help as we battled long, cold winters with much fiercer storms and snows in winter and droughts and hail and violent thunderstorms in summer.
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 a 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 it was a cold place). We “made do,” as did all farm families in those days before plumbing!
Then came summer and warm days and nights…no more frosted windows, cold feet or foot warmers, And “blizzard” was a forgotten word, as were the trips into town for supplies (once a month) when we were stuck in snow drifts; no more cold walks or skiing to school, no more “hundreds” of trips to the wood pile to fill the two wood boxes. Spring and summer were very welcome, but along with this time of year came droughts, heavy rains, hail, severe thunder storms and high winds, hot stuffy houses, and hard work to keep gardens alive and productive.
The gardens had to survive all kinds of weather, as we depended on garden produce for the coming winter. During dry seasons, watering the garden to keep plants alive was a tedious job, as we carried buckets of water from the river. There were no hoses or irrigation systems.
As I said before, our house was not winterized, nor was it summarized. We did have screen doors, but screens only on the porch windows, and we ate on the porch in summer for his reason.
Fighting flies and mosquitoes was a daily problem. I can remember the “fly catchers” we hung from the ceiling; the flies were attracted to them and stuck tight. Citronella was necessary when working outside, or on a fishing jaunt.
High winds during a storm would result in several trees blown down (which eventually became part of our wood pile); roofs were damaged from hail and windows were blown in… much like the wind storms we have today. Repairs had to be made, and with so many severe storms, it was probably repeated several times in a summer. Of course, in most cases there was no insurance.
On hot days, wading in the river was one way to cool off. There were no fans or air conditioning, as there was no electricity. But even if it got very hot and humid, I preferred summer to the long frigid winters.
Weather, cold or hot, 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.