Sometime before Christmas the local newspapers trot out recipes for the holidays and stories about how our rural-dwelling ancestors experienced the winters of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. It is all very entertaining until winter actually arrives; then we wonder how they survived.
The story tellers speak of large families more like than not and a welter of farm chores that seem all Greek to the modern urban or suburban reader. Great-grandpa rose at 5 a.m. to hand milk cows, with the steam of the milk rising from the bucket to envelope his face. Who knew? Isn’t milk always cold?
They had real blizzards compared with our media-manufactured blizzards that cast a foot of drifting snow as a statewide, if not nationwide, emergency that might even necessitate calling out the national guard. Newspersons deliver dire warnings about dangerous road conditions and flight and event cancellations.
Our great-grandparents would be puzzled. If the roads were bad, only fools went out on them, unless it was to fetch a doctor during a problematic delivery of a baby. There were no planes, and relatives mostly lived close by, not across three time zones.
If school is in session, students sit in front of a screen, flat or handheld, hoping the roads are too bad for buses, in which case school will be cancelled. Our rural great-grandpas and great-grandmas would have walked three miles uphill both ways to school, and a one-room school building warmed by a pot-bellied stove would have been their destination.
Each rural township was comprised of 36 one-mile sections of 640 acres, with section 16 usually designated with land for a school house. That means if great-grandpa told you he walked five or more miles to school his memory was playing tricks on him – or maybe you. No one should have had to travel more than three or four miles to reach the school house. But it’s hard to do that kind of math without a calculator nowadays.
A real blizzard meant stretching a rope between the house and the barn so no one was lost in white-out conditions. Maybe they were smarter back in the “good ole days.” Now the newspersons tell us about multiple car pileups because of white-out conditions on the Interstate. You’ll never hear great-grandpa relate how his father or grandfather was involved in a multiple buggy pile up.
As for those recipes passed down to today’s cooks, when great-grandma designated shortening, she met lard, not margarine or Crisco. Funny how none of them seemed to need a membership to the gym or one of those weight loss organizations.