Modern conveniences meet pioneer women
Today I washed clothes, baked cookies from scratch, started a batch of yeast rolls from scratch, boiled a chicken so we can have scratch-made chicken and noodles tomorrow, made the noodles and cooked lunch for six, as I do most every weekday in summer. I felt accomplished. Then I thought about it and contrasted it to the lives of the pioneer women.
I have a rural water system flowing into my home and a water heater; she had to haul water from the creek or a well then heat it on her wood range or, if she was lucky in summer, on a fire built outside her home. I buy my clothes soap at the store; she had to make hers well in advance of needing it. The process was lengthy. She had to take wood ashes and soak them in water; the runoff water contained the lye. Tallow or fat from a butchered beef was added to the lye water in a big kettle and it was boiled together. After it thickened the liquid soap was poured into objects that would give it shape as it cooled and became solid. After it was solidified it was removed from the molds, cut into usable sized pieces and given time to further harden.
I used two different electric mixers, a rice cooker, a microwave, an electric skillet and a gas stove as I worked in my air-conditioned house. She may have used a hand crank beater or a spoon to mix her recipes. She would have been fortunate to own more than four cooking utensils and a non-temperamental wood range. It’s a sure bet her air conditioning depended on the breeze through her open windows — if she even had windows. Sometimes all they had was oilpaper over the windows to keep the flies to a minimum.
I finished the dishes in a flurry by loading the dirty ones into the dishwasher. She had to haul more water and heat it on the stove before she could wash her dishes.
Their work output was astounding. They fixed a hearty breakfast, baked all the bread for the family at least weekly and made pies if they were lucky enough to have fruit growing nearby and could beat the birds to the picking.
Though it was the accepted way of life and simply the way things were once they got to their homesteads, I truly wonder what those who lived in a proper house in a city or town before moving into a soddie with a dirt floor, thought about their way of life.
How many of my generation would have had the fortitude to live like the pioneer women? I imagine we all would have because we currently do whatever is necessary and use whatever tools are available. That was also their attitude at the time. Perhaps in another generation or two, women will look back at how we live now and think we had a difficult life but it’s pretty cushy to me.
Peggy writes from the family farm in southwestern South Dakota. Her internet latchstring is always out through email@example.com. ❖
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