As I sit staring out my window into the white tundra that is the eastern United States right now, I can’t help but laugh at the impatience of my situation. Of everyone’s situation who is dealing with this mess. We’re trapped in our homes, forced to binge watch our favorite shows on Netflix or post all day on Facebook while the storms rage outside. For me, it’s the ice and cold that keeps me indoors during the hours I am not at work.
And this made me consider the people from the era in which I write. The mid-19th century. They didn’t have huge snow plows or snow blowers, no salt or brine spreaders making passage safe. No improved performance snow tires or thinsulate winter coats. Nope. They had none of that. They didn’t even have internet or cable, so what did they do?
They shoveled. When they were able to they shoveled and carted the snow away, literally. Since there were no large vehicles or trains yet, they had to rely on good, old fashioned manpower. When that failed, they stayed indoors. And in some cases, people died.
I know it’s not quite period, but I recall stories told to me by my grandmother, who was born in 1923. She and her sisters would go out during the day and walk the railroad tracks to collect coal that had fallen off the engines and would bring it back to their home to heat for the winter. I realize trains weren’t part of the picture during the 19th century, but I am sure, in similar fashion, children were sent out into the cold to collect perhaps wood or any number of other items to burn.
Clothing was woolen and though warm in frigid weather, it can easy get soaked and freeze solid. This I know as fact since I remember having wool winter coats as a child in the 60s and that’s exactly what happened. Rubber goulashes were stuffed with newspaper to keep your feet warm.
I cannot imagine how hard life would have been in that day and age to deal with blizzards and frigid temperatures, but we all know from our history lessons that thousands died on the Oregon Trail, having being stranded with the carts in the snow with little more than blankets to keep warm and in London in 1890, extraordinarily low temperatures and uncommon weather had them cocooned in ice and snow for two months and is listed as the coldest period in their history.
And still, they didn’t have Netflix or the internet. They had each other to chat with, throw card parties and sing-alongs around the fire. It’s something we, as a modern society, will lack with the advent of social media. Nice as it is to talk to whoever you wish at a moment’s notice on a chat, you really can’t warm your hands on your monitor.
Stay warm and safe!