Someone will fetch dinner and leave it by the door

Someone will fetch dinner and leave it by the door

I recently spotted and skimmed an article that proposed the idea we are all just lazy babies now, at least as Americans are concerned. I’m not talking about the “no one wants to work anymore,” which is silly Baby Boomer talk.

The article was talking about our 21st-century lives of delivery services and readiness to complain at the least inconvenience. I’m not sure that’s fair, but I’m pretty sure our great grandparents would find us to be insufferable couch dwellers.

When one thinks of the kind of work people used to have to do every day just to keep body and soul together, it’s pretty staggering compared to what we are still actively adapting to.

Men and women both worked hard, but I think women had the much longer daily chore list. Someone had to get up before everyone else and get a fire going in the stove before anyone could think about coffee.

Likely as not, water had to be carried in and heated for any task, be it face washing, dish scrubbing, laundry or baths. Somehow, all that used water had to be removed from the house and dumped somewhere.

If you wanted eggs for breakfast, you were going to the henhouse to get a few unfriendly pecks first. Chicken for dinner meant an entire ordeal none of us really wants to think about today.

I’d bet less than 5% of the American population, not counting first generation immigrants, would have the first idea how to take a live chicken and turn it into a plate of fried. No wonder old recipes for fried chicken are very simple dredge-and-fry-it affairs. By the time you got to the cooking part, you were tired of messing with that stupid chicken with a million other chores ahead before bedtime.

Come autumn, the work doubled with the endless task of cooking and canning vegetables for the winter. During the breaks from that, there were meats to be smoked and preserved, beef to be corned, cabbage to be salted, and hams to be hung. It’s something we rarely think about today, but most people prior to the early 20th century smelled of smoke, or more properly, smokes.

There was smoke from the fireplace, the smokehouse and the roll-yer-own cigarettes. Add that to infrequent (by our standards) bathing and owning few changes of clothes and it’s a wonder anyone ever hugged each other.

Before automobiles every house had some kind of barn at the end of the lot for animals. There would be at least one horse, a wagon or buggy, perhaps a cow and a pig or two, all of which needed daily attention, milking, feeding, medical care and cleaning up after.

Back to those 1900 people again, they probably guessed our biggest problem in 2023 would be what to do with all the manure and dead horses, huge and serious problems once upon a time and again, not even on our radar.

Floors couldn’t just be vacuumed. They had to be swept with a broom. Making the bed was just that: The whole lumpy mattress had to be reshaped every morning. You didn’t just buzz out and buy new socks. They were mended time and again.

Someone had to do all that work, every day, summer and winter, warm weather and subzero, all of their short adult life.

We get upset if the phone-charging cord doesn’t reach our chair. Dishes go into a machine that washes them while we sleep. The meats we consume are ready to skip straight to the cooking part, all nicely sanitized and removed from their grisly demise. Vegetables can be bought already prepared and ready to warm up in another machine on the countertop. No horse to fret about. Nothing to milk.

If we don’t feel like cooking, someone will fetch us dinner and leave it by the door. If we go out in the cold, our car toasts our tushy and doesn’t need its stall mucked out first.

Everyday life can still feel like a grind, and I would not trade places with great-grandma for anything. And she would be plenty mad about that.

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