The Old Order Hath Changed.
Wow! How the old order hath changed, for with the first nippy air heralding the coming of winter, I realize again that people “don’t get ready for winter” anymore.
Not too many years ago (Come on, now, who’s counting?) but this area was very rural, and, “Hello, are you ready for winter?” was the common greeting. And, as a kid at home, it seems that one of Mom and Dad’s first considerations of late summer was “to get in the coal”. How else did one cook and keep warm?
At one time we had a coal shed and it was piled clear to the rafters when “the coal came”. Later on, with house reconstructions, Pop had it slid into the basement coal room, but either way, with the first blast of winter, everyone wanted to have stored all the coal they’d need for the long months ahead.
Mom always bought flour for the year, too. I still don’t see the wisdom of this, but the big 50 lb. sacks of flour would arrive (of course everyone baked their own bread) and my parents would carefully store the flour in the cool attic on a special framework Dad had made for them. Maybe flour and coal were cheaper in the summer. I don’t know and who is there now left to tell us??? I can only give hints.
Putting up fruit kept our mother in a turmoil of work for at least six weeks in the late summer and early fall and it was this child’s delight to step to the basement and see the long shelves filled with the glorious colors of the fruit, pickles, sauces and tomatoes she ‘bottled’. To me it meant good eating in the months to come and I was always glad when it snowed, for until then, Mom wouldn’t let us start using that good stuff. It was food for winter, not summer or fall.
Pop built outside Root Cellars, too, and they were common to this area then. Long trenches were dug, lined deeply with fresh clean straw and then vegetables, winter pears and apples were stored. More straw covered the raw food and a deep layer of soil went over the top. “Chimneys’ were built to ventilate the warm, buried food.
The idea was to keep everything cool enough to stay crisp but warm enough not to freeze and the idea was great. The trouble was, however, that in the dead of winter, getting through a foot of snow, to that frozen over-lay of soil, then through the stiff, frozen straw and finally to the goal of it all, the vegetables snugly buried safely underneath.
It was a good trick also, to go for carrots, delve down through the three layers of snow, soil and straw, into the depths for where you were positive the carrots were, and instead find you had ‘hit’ parsnips, apples or cabbage. Somehow nothing looked the same once snow arrived and the markers put up so carefully in the fall had a different look in the middle of January.
Besides that, it was always so darn cold that no one (well, it was always Dad’s job) wanted to take time to really survey the place. Just dig, grab, cover again in the right order and then get back into the warm house. And, something no one spoke of, but by the time winter was over, everything ‘down there’ tasted and smelled like the protective straw. Oh well.
Just the same, to the child that I was, listening to the adults talk, I felt winter was a terrible threat that was held in abeyance only by Dad and Mom’s preparation of getting “ready for winter”.
Mom, with her chests full of clean quilts and blankets, basement shelves filled with fruit, and for heaven’s sake, I almost forgot, our winter long-arm and long-legged underwear, dresses, jackets, coats, hats, pajamas, and mittens (not gloves), boots and whatever else cold weather demanded.
That phrase, ‘Getting ready for winter’, was a safety buffer to me and I felt nothing could harm me when I’d hear Dad say, “Yes, we’re ready,” in reply to some neighbor’s query. Upon hearing those three simple words, some spot within me relaxed for with them I knew all was right and safe with my world.
When you’ve been raised that way, that question was hard to put aside, for without all that work, preparation and storing away, who and what was to protect one from that Demon called Winter??
And, today, I watch two of my neighbors (their tie to past is their own business, not mine) but it’s satisfying and gives me a good feeling to know that there are those who, in their own way, still follow the customs I once knew so well.
And by the way, “Are you ready for Winter”? Or do you even give it a thought? Much less a ‘second thought’.