Changes in Living

Someone a hundred years ago undertook to compare ways of life before then with their present. Some of these practices many of us can remember.

Food is always a subject of interest. Many people today, young and middle aged, eat no breakfast, drinking a cup of coffee only for the day ahead. In days past there were three meals a day. Breakfast in winter was salted ham and hot cakes. New Orleans molasses, very black and thin, was the common “sweetin” ‘ for buckwheat cakes. Refined molasses was scarce. In early teaching days I remember my astonishment when I saw my landlord eat a regular breakfast of, pork chops and pie — always pie for breakfast.

Bread was made at home, the regular item, not just for a treat. Coffee was ground afresh each, morning. The sound of the coffee grinder and the penetrating odor of the drink preceded the morning meal — experiences drinkers of instant coffee do not have.

Meals were heavy — pumpkin pie, codfish cakes along with salt salmon, pork and beans, corn bread, succotash. More meat, more grease, more hot bread, more heavy dishes, and more liquor at meals, summer and winter. Little importance was given to the necessity for good digestion or a period of rest afterwards. The diet was the same and surcharged with grease.

Thus when spring arrived, “spring fever” and biliousness came also and doctors prescribed a blue-mass pill, a dose of calomel, sulphur and molasses, or pin-cherry-black. Children were given castor oil, rhubarb and senna leaves. It was a day of strong medicine. The strong recovered, the weak died, and the mediums suffered.

People did not live as long then, and health was not as good as it is today. Dyspetics and consumptives were common. Disease and death were alluded to as”dispensations of Providence.” Tombstones had larger epitaphs and more verbosity engraved upon them. Coffins were plain; burial caskets unknown. Young people deemed it a privilege to sit up nights with, the “corpse before burial. In many cases it was a welcome diversion.

Country dry goods stores renewed their stock from the city twice a year. The arrival of “new goods” created a sensation. Stores were filled for two to three days until all the women in the village had seen the new styles. It isn’t too long ago when even village people bought flour, sugar and crackers by the barrel.

Business letters were more voluminous and formal than now and written in a precise, round hand.

Lightning rods had made their use. Many opposed them on the ground that they were insult to Deity and that it was an interference with the works and will of Providence.

Bank bills were of state banks and the farther West their locality the shakier they were.

Some household hints were: Place camphor gum with your silver to keep it bright; tobacco tea will kill worms in flower pots (not too long ago people were blowing cigarette smoke on plants for the same reason); vinegar will remove lime from carpets; rats and mice avoid chloride, of lime.

And so it went “in the good old days”.

Doris B. Morton, Town Historian – Whitehall Times – February 8, 1979