Friday, April 17, 2009

A slight digression

I'm too tired this evening to write a poem or try to find an old one, so I'll write instead about a couple of other things.

First, I've recently been watching a fantastic PBS series. I first watched Frontier House. My dad reminded me of this show when I was telling him of my research into the 1880s pioneer/frontier life in Kansas Territory (Colorado today). Then I learned from my friend Sara that PBS had produced other projects in this series, so I just finished watching 1900 House.

The idea is to take a modern-day family and have them live in period dress, in a house made up just like it would have been in the historical period, and see how they adapt. So, in Frontier House, three different families traveled in a covered wagon mini-journey to Montana and had to scratch out a living with few resources and lots of hard work for five months. The five months ended in the early fall, and a panel of historical judges decided which families would be best prepared to survive the winter.

In 1900 House, one family lived in a house (more like a "rowhouse" as we Americans would think of it) in south London which was completely fitted in 1900 furnishings, appliances, etc. The women wore corsets and heavy layers of long dresses. The father shaved with a cut-throat razor. The thing the women missed most was leisure time and shampoo. For the latter, they tried all sorts of revolting concoctions like egg yolks and lemon juice, etc. in place of shampoo. It all sounded horrid. And the house was so dark! Gas lamps had been installed in the first floor, but they only had parafin candles on the second floor, but the heavy drapes and dark wallpaper and big, oversized furnishings made the rooms seem oppressive and gloomy--even in broad daylight.

The striking thing for me from watching both of these shows is just how much time we have for other things now. In both Frontier House and 1900 House, two of the women mentioned that washing machines seem like magic compared to the older ways of washing clothing. Having hot water within mere seconds on a tap flowing into the kitchen and into the bathrooms and into the tubs and! And having light in the evening makes such a huge difference. And those are just the basics. Of course, there was no TV, no computer, communication with the outside world was very limited. But taking care of the house--the cooking, the cleaning, the washing, the shopping--all of that would have consumed the housewife's day, and those days would mean heavy, difficult physical labor, only to have the energy at the end of the day to fall into bed.

There are lots of other projects in this PBS series: Texas Ranch House, 1940s House (in England, complete with bomb raid drills, etc.), Colonial House, and probabl others I haven't found yet.

On another note, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Cedarville Elementary just north of Fort Wayne this afternoon. I spoke to the K-3rd graders about my books, where ideas come from, and the writing process. It is always such a joy to visit with the children and hear their thoughts and questions.

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