In the rural homes I remember before electricity was available (and in some instances into the 1940s) houses were dimly lit. Light was provided by the sun in the daytime and kerosene lamps at night. I distinctly remember how lamps cast scary shadows on the walls and left many pitch black areas in the rooms, probably a source of many ghost stories. I also remember mom and dad trying to read or do anything else useful in that light.


Houses were heated by coal or wood burning fireplaces and stoves. These sources for heat and cooking were not at all efficient. Coal or wood was carried into the house every day and ashes had to be carried out every day - chores that usually fell to the kids in a family.


I scooped up many a bucket-full of ashes. Using a small shovel, ashes from a fireplace or stove were scooped up and deposited into the empty coal bucket (it was also a cold job - the fire was out when you cleaned the ashes away). This produced clouds of ash dust that settled all over the house, thick enough that using a finger you could etch out your name on the furniture. This made dusting the house a necessary daily chore. When sitting before a fireplace in cold weather, your face burned while your back froze. Remedy? Turn around.


Summer heat was avoided by staying in the shade, if possible. There wasn’t any air conditioning, city or country (there were electric fans for people fortunate enough to have electricity). Houses had no insulation in the walls so the icy cold winds of winter or the hot dusty winds of summer found easy entry.


(I began writing this in 20 degrees daytime temperature last January. Today, in late July,  our temperature is supposed to rise to 100 degrees and experts are asking older people to stay inside with air conditioning. In the houses I remember in various cities there was no home air conditioning in any of them until about the late 1950s and even then most of those that had an air conditioner used a window unit. I never owned any kind of air conditioner until about 1969 and that was a big window unit that I installed in a wall.) 


Cooking on a wood or coal stove was a big chore that kept the ladies busy. The cook stove had to be prepared before the food could be prepared. The stove firebox had to be cleaned out and new combustibles added. A fire was built and time had to pass before the stove was hot enough to cook food. If you think about this as being preparations for cooking the dinner meal, that’s one thing. But if you think of it as cooking breakfast for a farmer and his helpers or a carpenter such as dad, well, that all happened before sunrise and if the temperature was below freezing outside, it was below freezing inside - houses were not insulated.


So now the stove fire is burning. What next? Who can cook without water? Before much cooking could be done, someone had to bring a bucket of water from the well for washing faces and hands, brewing a pot of coffee, washing dishes after the meal and so on. That sounds simple enough but use your imagination: it’s 4:30 a.m. in mid-January. The well is located twenty feet or more away from the back porch, it’s dark and cold outside and you have to draw a bucket of water from the well. Get the picture? Feel the cold wind? And that’s not a one-time event. It’s every morning’s chore.

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