I usually post an item from the newspaper, but today’s weather prompted me to reflect on the day-to-day lives of our ancestors. While I sipped coffee in warmth and comfort, and watched the local weather report on my television, I pondered a few of the differences between my winter weather experience and what my great-grandmother might have endured. All too often we forget how much stronger and more determined our ancestors had to be just to survive. We can talk all we want about the stresses and problems of modern life, but in reality we just don’t stop to think about how easy our lives have become.
Let’s begin with warmth. For generations families heated their homes with wood that had to be chopped, stacked, stored, then retrieved and carried into the house as needed. Fires had to be tended and kept going day and night, no matter what the weather. I’ve read of families tying rope lines from the house to the wood stack so they would not get lost during a snow storm! And many homes were heated with wood long after gas and electricity were available. Gas was expensive and electricity was unreliable.
We were all advised of this storm at least a week ahead of time because we have weather reports and alerts and apps on a variety of devices. We could look on a screen somewhere and see that our temps were going to radically change from 70 degrees to 30 overnight! What did our ancestors do? How did they know to stock up on groceries or get the blankets out or check their stacks of firewood? And don’t think, as I once did, that the weather fluctuations we see now are all due to “global warming”. I have a copy of a bird watcher’s observations from 1883 that states: “a temperature of 74° on December 23 and freezing the next day; real winter from December 24 to January 27, with zero weather on January 5 and + 4° on January 24.”
When we got the news that this storm was going to be serious and might cause widespread road closures and power outages we all went to our local markets and home supply stores and stocked up on food and blankets and batteries and generators and lamps and candles and anything else we thought we might need for added warmth and comfort. Our ancestors literally had to be prepared for anything at all times. They had to keep extra food (canned or dried), extra wood, extra candles, and anything else they might need because they couldn’t drive down to the convenience store on the corner when the first snowflakes began to fall.
I got a phone call this morning from my doctor’s office. I had an appointment this afternoon and his receptionist wanted to know if I was going to try to go to town. I told her “no” and rescheduled. Even in the midst of sleet and snow, even with no hope of getting out of my driveway, I am still able to communicate with the rest of the world. I’ve heard from friends and family members and know that they are safe. We have our house phone, two cell phones, and a computer. Surely if we had a crisis we could reach out to someone for help. Imagine being in a house only four or five miles from town and having no way to know what was going on in the rest of the world, and no way to let anyone in town know what was happening at your house.
We take our plumbing for granted most of the time, but this week scores of people stocked up on water. The woman next to me at Walmart had six gallons in her cart just in case she ran out of drinking water. The news reporters reminded everyone to check their pipes and cover faucets this weekend. But what if your water came from a well in the yard? What if it wasn’t piped into your house? What if you had an outhouse instead of a toilet? The problems of a winter storm affected every aspect of our ancestors’ lives.
I’m sure you can think of many other things that make our lives easier, so take a few minutes to be grateful for your warmth and comfort today.