GROANING BOARD

We should all watch more documentaries. First of all, they are educational. I have learned more about social issues from documentaries than I ever have from reality television, that is for sure. And history? Shoot. Documentaries beat textbooks every time.

Now that the holidays are approaching, our thoughts turn to food. Especially the holiday table. Facebook and Twitter are full of recipe suggestions, all of which involve either sticks of butter, bags of marshmallows, or both. All of this holiday eating (oh, and drinking—don’t forget the drinking) stems from our long human history of very hard work and the need to forget the drudgery and live it up for just one freaking day a year.

Here is the rub, however: Based on historical evidence from all the documentaries, here is what a typical day was like way back when:

Get up. At around four in the morning. Put on as many clothes as you can in winter. In summer, don’t. Go out into your barn and feed a bunch of animals. Grab a pitchfork and gather up all kinds of manure, and trundle it out to the manure pile. Fill up multiple buckets of water at the well, and carry each one weighing about forty pounds to a stall so said animals can drink. Then feed the animals.

If you are a woman in the house, get dressed and start the fire, because it is probably freezing in the house. In the summer, it isn’t, but you need the fire to cook. You have to make everything from scratch, so it will take you hours to make bread, fry up various meats, go out and kill a chicken for dinner, and then pull out all the feathers and things. You also will need to haul water.

Breakfast is at sunrise. Everybody eats as many calories as possible, because there is a full day ahead of working in the fields, mending fences, or boiling up lye soap. The children have to do their chores, which consist of assisting with the animals, crops, and other menial but physically exhausting activities. Then they walk ten miles to school in scanty clothing.

If you have clothes, the woman makes them. If you have a house, the man builds it. If you have food, you grow or raise it. Not much heat. No air conditioning. Baths? Maybe one a month. Otherwise, it is washing your face and hands in cold water from the well. After all, heating up enough water for one bathtub takes hours. And the whole family shares the water. No wonder the youngest children always looked grubby—they got the water after everyone else had their baths.

So on holidays, everybody got to take a day off. People were nearly always starving anyway, so having turkey, biscuits, boiled potatoes and sweet potato pie was such a treat. And then there was rest. Just sitting and talking. And napping. No wonder nobody really cared about Christmas gifts—a day of ease was gift enough.

Think about this as you plan your meal of abundance, wondering how many gym visits it will take to work it all off. Perhaps we need to go back to those days of hard work and a single tangerine in the Christmas stocking.

I take it back about the documentaries.

 

 

 

 

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