Stop Whining

Bill Neinast

History is a repeater.  Some cycles like the three ice ages take eons to repeat.  Others turn around in mere centuries.

A good example of the latter is the current lock down or shelter in place in most countries.  Step back a hundred years with me and look at our ancestors.  

My aunt and uncle, Mattie and Henry Fisher will be our guides. They were childless and lived on their small farm in the Rehburg community of Washington County.

This was before the Rural Electrification Administration of 1936 and Bluebonnet Electric Co-op did not get service to them until after WWII.

As there was no electricity for a well pump, there was no running water or indoor plumbing.  Hands and faces were washed in a small pan beside a bucket of water hand drawn from the outdoor well.  

When the water in the pan began to look a little dirty or scum from a number of uses, the water would be thrown out the door and the pan refilled from the nearby bucket.

Full body baths were taken on Saturday in a Number 2 tin tub with hand drawn water from the well.   One tub full served everyone in the family.

Cooking was done on a wood burning stove that kept some of the house cosy or toasty during all four seasons of the year.

There was no TV or radio for entertainment or the news.  RFD—Rural Free Delivery— was already in place, so they may have gotten the weekly newspaper to give them some contact with the outside world.

The primary source of news was the telephone. This, however, was not a fancy I-phone constantly on your ear.  It was a large box with a speaking tube and cumbersome ear phone hanging on the wall.

Many families did not have phones, and there were no telephone directories because there were no telephone numbers.  They were on party lines and connected to others by “rings.”  Mary’s ring was two shorts and a long. John’s was one long, one short, and one long.

When someone was called, every phone on the party line rang.  Those savvy enough knew every one’s ring and knew by the length of each long and short who was making the call.

So when Aunt Mat heard the telephone, she would know that Mary was calling John or Jane and would pick up her receiver to hear the latest gossip or the news of a dead horse, broken bone, or some such. 

Aunt Mat and Uncle Henry were fortunate enough to have a car, so they could go to the store in Long Point or to Brenham every week or so for groceries or other necessities.   Their primary social contact though was at church every Sunday. 

Had they been dancers, they could have gone to a dance on Saturday nights at one of the numerous dance halls scattered around the county.  There were no tables and chairs inside the hall.  Just some benches attached to the walls that were normally used to shelter babies on blankets underneath the seats.

Beer and refreshments were available at separate buildings, also without tables and chairs.  

Obviously dance halls were there for only one thing—dancing.  You stood and talked or danced and talked, but at least there was some socializing.  There was no rules to keep a six foot separation.

Weather permitting during daylight hours, Uncle Henry would be alone on his wagon or behind his plow while Aunt Mat was alone in her garden or in her steamy kitchen cooking and canning.  

At meal times and when the weather or lack of light kept them inside, there was just the two of them to look at each other and talk about something.  Who knowes swhat?

This has not been a description of just one family.  It details the United States in the 1920s and 30s.  Back then, the United States was predominantly a rural country.  Real urban sprawl did not begin until the  21st Century.

A century ago, a very large portion of the population was living just like my aunt and uncle.  They were in a virtual shelter in place.  Similarly, they were also in the midst of a severe depression with millions on the unemployment rolls.

Unlike today, however, there were no boisterous protests in front of state capitols.  They did just the opposite.  They went on to become or to produce the so-called Greatest Generation.

So here’s the perspective.

It is time to stop whining.  It definitely is not pleasant to be cooped up days on end with just the family.  But look at the TVs, radios, Computers, video games, I-phones. etc. to keep us entertained and connected.

I wish Aunt Mat and Uncle Henry could have had it so easy in their sheltering in place.



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