Saturday, December 28, 2013

We're really spoiled

My great-grandmother, Martha Haygood Smith.

I'm finally beginning to gain a deep appreciation and understanding of how difficult life would have been for even the generation prior to mine -- if one lived in the country -- and certainly the generation prior to that wherever one lived. This photo is typical of the time, which was the 1930's. Martha and her husband Asberry lived on a farm outside Rome, GA. Martha died from burns when her long skirt caught fire at the fireplace. No modern conveniences here!

However time-consuming it is to wash my hair and take a 'bath' without a hot water heater, I'm still incredibly privileged by comparison.  I don't have to chop wood to feed a wood stove that heats water (and cooks food as well). And I don't have to bring water in from a well, or even hand-pump it into a pail. I have a microwave and a good gas stove to do the heating and water -- albeit cold -- on tap. I also have a good washer that'll heat it's own water if I choose that cycle. Not to mention that I have good heat sources, instead of a fireplace.

I remember visiting some cousins in Rockmart when I was 18, and before that as well. Their house had electricity, running water, a washer-dryer, all the modern conveniences of that time. Next door, however, in the old farmhouse where my cousin's husband was raised, not much of that existed. They did have indoor plumbing and I'm not sure about water or heat, but they didn't have electricity. She could have washed her clothes in my cousin's washer, but instead, this wonderful old woman (who looked and dressed much as Martha does in the photo) did things as she'd always done: heated water in a huge black iron pot in the backyard, over a wood fire, stirred the clothes with a stick while they boiled clean. I watched her do this more than once, and this was in 1961.

My appreciation comes from the time involved to do what I'm used to doing in a quick shower. Washing hair has to be done in the kitchen sink, because I'm not going to kneel down in the bathtub. Besides, it's right next to the stove where water is heating. It takes time and makes a mess, but does the job.

To take a 'bath', I have to bring the 3-qt pot of water to a boil, heat more water in a pyrex bowl in the microwave, take it all into the bathroom along with a smaller pot used as a ladle and a large stainless steel bowl to mix cold water with the boiling water. The tub itself is cold -- big, old, cast iron with enamel -- and never gets warm to the touch even though the heat is always on in that room. I sit on the edge, or stand at times, wash myself with the microwaved water and soap, then use the larger quantity of water for rinsing. Then take all the pots and bowls back into the kitchen.

Not hard work -- and I'm not complaining or whining -- just gaining a new appreciation for the generations that came before.

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