I have reached the ripe old age where my stories sound like trudging through knee-deep snow uphill both ways, but back in the old days, life was hard.
Recently, I have been recording histories, typing journals, and transcribing old family videos and audiotapes. I am excited to have a computer program that does the work for me. For the journals, I just read the words and the computer types with amazing speed and accuracy. I remember when I was typing on a typewriter. It was tedious and if you made a mistake, woe be unto you. You had to start over. I was never able to type one page without an error. As a budding playwright, I always had to have someone else type the final draft because error-free was beyond me.
Modern technology has provided a way for the computer to transcribe video information into text with precision. Thank heavens for that. I have been gathering histories for years and dreaded the day when I would have to listen and type the information for posterity. It was a tedious process of listening, turning off the recorder, typing, turning it on, rewinding, listening for accuracy and checking, correcting and then moving forward to the next section.
It is amazing how times have changed, and technology has made our lives so easy. My children bought me a robot vacuum for Christmas. I smiled as I remembered my childhood and teenage years when I was floor cleaning Cinderella-style on my knees with a pan of water and a scrub brush. I remember my nails breaking and my hands chapping from the harsh soapy water, but I was glad to have a scrub brush and linoleum. My grandmother had a dirt floor that she swept and dampened with water to keep it hard.
Back in the day, my first laundry experience was a wringer washer and a huge tub for rinsing. You really had to be safety conscious with the rollers of the washer. When I was a toddler, my sister was carrying me around on her hip while she did the laundry. I stuck my hand in the wringer. The rollers squished my hand and forearm up to the elbow. My sister did not know how to release the rollers, so she reversed them and rolled my hand and arm back through the rollers to get me out. Fortunately, I was young and my hand healed quickly. The doctor and the emergency room were for serious ailments. We took care of simple incidents without a physician. Mom did not even have a wringer washer. She boiled her clothes in a tub of water over the fire. She used a scrub board that took your knuckles off if you were not careful. In the early years of her marriage, she washed laundry for a group of young men on a boys ranch. She would literally spend hours washing, drying and ironing white shirts for those young men to earn money to pay for a small house while my dad was in the military during World War II. Her automatic, environmentally efficient dryer was a clothesline that depended on solar and wind power.
When I was young, we ironed everything with an electric iron: sheets, pillowcases, pants, shirts and dresses. Wrinkles and holes in your clothes were shameful. You would not be caught in public in such attire. That was in the dark ages before polyester and permanent press. My mother used a heavy metal stove iron that was heated on the wood cookstove to give her clothes that new starched look of elegance. I cannot imagine ironing 100 shirts a week to earn money. I marvel at her stamina. She was only 16 at the time.
Food did not come easily either. We grew a huge garden; I mean acres and acres. Our summers were spent weeding pinto bean rows that extended for half a mile. We would rise at 4 a.m. to beat the heat of the day and be out until 10 a.m. We got on our knees and weeded corn, carrots, beets, squash and onion rows. At harvest time, we spent our days bottling all the vegetables and fruits we could find. We knew the supermarket option was out of the question. We lived 30 miles over a dirt road from the nearest one.
Our dishwasher was all hands on deck. Each family member took turns filling two sinks with water. One was for washing, the other for rinsing. We had a drainer, but most of the time we hand-dried the dishes and put them in the cupboard. Three meals a day, every day.
We thought we were in hog heaven living on beans, hot bread, stews and bottled fruit. Of course, every year we would kill a beef, pigs and some chickens, so we had plenty of meat. We bottled much of the meat and cured the hams. We had a freezer. In my grandmother’s time, she had an icehouse. They would gather ice from the ponds after the first freeze and put it in the icehouse. It would last all winter and into part of the summer. We were better off than Grandma. We had the old freezer that you had to defrost. That took all day; none of this self-defrosting stuff. We had to work at that too. Oh, and the oven! That was a chore with the scrubber and the stinky oven cleaner. We did not have rubber gloves, so our hands were sandpaper soft. Instead, they looked like we worked, complete with calluses and everything.
If this sounds like an up-hill-both-ways story, I am telling you that it is not an exaggeration. We lived with so much less and benefited so much more. When the Lord said, “Six days shalt thou labor,” (Exodus 20:9, KJV) He was not kidding. He expects His children to work and earn their bread by the sweat of their brows. We did. We learned that the joys and blessings of strength, endurance and self-reliance were hidden in the confines of work. When you finished a difficult task, you were always blessed with an exuberant feeling of satisfaction.
Would I want to go back to the good old days? No. Especially with my typewriter. I love the computer and the ease it gives me, but I wonder if we are shortchanging ourselves and our children by not teaching them to work.
When I was in college, I had a conversation with a philosophical young man. He asked me, “How do you think we are different from the caveman?” I thought it was a dumb question. Anybody can see we are infinitely more advanced than the cave dwellers were. I thought of computers, cars, houses, electricity, running water, fire and a host of other innovations. When I voiced my answer, he said, “Do you know how to make a car or a computer? Do you know how to survive without the supermarket?” I got the drift of his conversation. If you are not educated and self-reliant, you are no better than the caveman. Take the gadgets of modern technology away and what have you then?
It is worse than it was back in my college days. Artificial intelligence (AI) and robots are replacing creativity and art forms. The benefits of AI are phenomenal, but when you can ask a computer to write your term paper or create illustrations for your novel and even write the plot for you, I wonder what the future holds.
When is the point we are too dependent on other people’s expertise that we abandon the basics and revert to the caveman? With our dependence, will we lose our ingenuity and creativity? How long could we live without the conveniences we are accustomed to? I know how to wash dishes in a Dutch oven over a fire, but do my grandchildren? They only wash them in a sink with hot, soapy water. My neighbors have dishwashers. What about them? I know how to Cinderella clean, but do my grandchildren? I know how to raise a garden, but it does not turn out like my mother’s did. Her thumb, because of experience, is greener than mine.
When I think of my childhood, I am glad I learned to work hard. I am glad I had to walk uphill both ways in knee-deep snow, but I am infinitely grateful for the technology that makes my life so easy.