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  • Melody Lager

Before Electricity


Recent storms plunged a lot of Iowan’s back into darkness, as electric lines were out. To the horror of children – there is no internet and phone chargers and TV when there is no electricity!


It brought to mind what our ancestors did without electricity, which wasn’t all that long ago! While they may have had a clock, chances are the sunlight and animals stirring was the first sign to get up. Breakfast – and all other cooking – was done over a fire pit, a fireplace, and if you were fortunate, a wood burning stove. The choices of food were slim, and if you didn’t eat, you went hungry. Ground corn may have made a mush, homemade bread a possibility. Eggs and milk were on hand if you had the animals. Meat that could be cured – ham, for instance, was also a possibility.


Once breakfast was done, no one complained there was nothing to do or that they were bored. Dishes had to be washed, dried and put away. Floors were swept and on laundry day there was plenty to get done! Water had to be carried in and heated before clothing could be washed (with home made soap) and carried to an outdoor line to be hung to dry. (Above is a washtub, washboard, and an agitator ready for laundry!) Making bread was an every day or every other day job.


Chores for the animals certainly took some time! The horses, so vital to getting anywhere or working the ground, had to be fed and kept in good shape. Just getting them ready to go to work took some time as harnesses were draped and buckled into place. Milk cows were milked by hand. Pigs were fed corn or “slop” (often ground corn and old milk) and both pigs and chickens got whatever kitchen peelings were to be found.


Fixing things or making new things was also a never-ending job. Men may have made their own furniture – beds, table, chairs. Fixing fences and breaking ground waited to be done. Women would mend clothing or sew new clothing.


And so the days flew by, and night time brought another round of chores. Dinner may have been served by lamp light. As the evening wore on, there may have been a book to read out loud (often a Bible), or a game of playing with a handmade doll or toy, while women would do handiwork. Soon it would be time for bed. In the winter the colds seeped in and in the summer the heat and flies and mosquitoes made sleeping difficult.


Sometimes the “good old days” seem a bit hard! And a few days without electricity makes us appreciate the efforts of our ancestors.

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