TIMES TRIBUNE (CORBIN, Ky.)
Before dawn they fired up the grate (in winter) and the cooking stove (summer and winter), after carrying in the chopped wood or crushed coal for each. He went to the barn to feed the livestock; she readied to feed the children, and then emptied the chamber pots. After breakfast he harnessed the horses (or mules) to spend the day in the fields plowing, planting, weeding, and harvesting.
Her day confronted her with laundry on a washboard, mending, cooking, baking and canning with childcare throughout. Their evenings were enjoyed with supper and playtime with children. Each day’s routine was interrupted with trips down a path to the smallest building on the farm. Each week was concluded with a Saturday night scrubbing ritual — a tub of heated water sequentially shared by all family members. Days usually wound down with a husband-wife quiet time, sharing the woes and wonders of the day as they might enjoy the flames flickering in the grate or the cool of a summer evening breeze on the back porch. A Bible verse by an oil lamp might conclude the day.
Exhausted, they would quickly fall asleep under a multi-layer of winter blankets in a frigid bedroom or lie with no covers sweltering in the heat of a summer’s night.
Scarcely any of us have ever lived such a life. Yet, with few exceptions our ancestors did. Little House on the Prairie is about as close as many of us have ever been to this rustic life that still characterizes some billions the world over.
A few of us rural-reared octogenarians (and older) have a clear memory of living or observing the lifestyle as described above. My entire adulthood, however, has been spent one generation away from such living; what many would define as “the good life” of the “ The American Dream;” which entails a paycheck, electricity, a thermostat-controlled heating and cooling system, a refrigerator, an electric or natural gas fuel cooking stove, a microwave, a radio and TV, walls and roof that are insulated and windows that are thermal and yes of course — indoor plumbing with running water that flows into an automatic clothes washer that sIts beside an automatic clothes dryer. Finally and perhaps most of all, there is that automobile sItting in our garage.
Our days are not much for watching flickering flames, or even sharing the woes and wonders of the day, or watching children play, since we are more inclined to align ourselves with our children in the adoration of TV. There we tend to be captivated hour after hour sitting side by side in silent captivity and isolation. Today’s soaring electronic communication gadgetry in the hands of children and parents, nearly extinguishes family ties. Tomfoolery might be a descriptive term to portray us Americans seeking “the dream,” surrounding ourselves with the accruements that comfort, save labor and entertain.
Amidst all the pain, depravation and austerity of our forefathers, their making a little leisure time for conversation and relationship (with others and God) was cherished.
It behooves us, with all our modernity, to pursue the highest of all human activity — loving God and one another.
The Rev. John Burkhart Ph.D, is a retired Episcopal priest and professor of psychology
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