A Look Into The Past

There is nothing wrong with preserving the past. What is unacceptable is not telling your story. ~A.C. Rae

Have you ever wanted to live in a different time era rather than the one you grew up in and live in right now? I always have ever since I was a child. I have always felt misplaced like I was meant to be in a different time 100 or more years ago. I love colonial history, pioneer history all the way through the depression era and WWII.

What intrigues me? History, the stories that people told way back then, real life accounts about life, family, religious beliefs, and the facts of life that were passed down through story telling. My grandparents were magnificent storytellers. They captured my undivided attention when they would start to talk about the “good old days”, my imagination ran wild reliving in my head their experiences of growing up and being raised in very difficult times. To them, that was what life was all about. And of course, those who know me best know that I love to ask endless questions.

I also worked in nursing homes as a teenager and a young adult, the elderly fascinate me. Even those who were deemed “senile” were always telling me stories about their youth. I believed what they said because I thought they were reliving the “good old days” as their minds deteriorated presently from the unexplainable disease of Alzheimer. My friends included centurions (100 plus year olds) whose minds were sharper than a whip. These cute little old people were hard of hearing, but told amazing stories of horse-drawn carriages and living in sod homes, reading by oil lamps and candlelight. They never complained about their hardship but talked about how times were hard. A person had to work very hard to earn a dollar, you stretched that dollar to feed and clothe your family. It was a simple life, values and morals meant absolutely everything. A man’s word and a handshake was his honor; that is how he made his accord.

I also have inherited, over many years, family heirlooms that were once treasured and used by my family. The old sewing machine that great grandma used to stitch up great grandpa’s torn overalls from those hard laborious days farming. The Red Wing mixing bowl Grandma used to hand mix homemade cookie dough. I loved grandma’s vintage bread rising pan that she used for bread baking days. With her septuagenarian hands she would gently lay each spongy doughy loaf on a layer of lard in this pan and when the moment was just right, she would take out the risen dough, shape it into a loaf and bake it. You can just image the smell of fresh home baked, homemade bread wafting through out the kitchen. It was a real treat to lather each thickly sliced piece of bread with real home churned butter and homemade chokecherry jelly. I look at this pan now and wonder about what was on her mind as her little hands pumped up and down kneading the bread dough to perfection.

I have glassware, bottles, knickknacks, crockery, postcards, greeting cards, pictures, jewelry, clothes, christening gowns, personal affects, books, toys, furniture, oil lamps and quilts with the old “turkey tracks” stitching and assorted bedding and blankets and doilies. Back then, nobody threw anything away! It was all passed down. Of course, my favorites are the old photographs.

I love the worn out cookbooks and handwritten recipes the women referred to daily in the kitchen, almost like their bible. Grandma would have “pish-poshed” at the fact that “nowadays” we cook with convenience foods in a microwave oven. “That’s not cooking!” She would say with a laugh. “It’s got to be homemade. You need to put love and labor into it so when you eat, it is more enjoyable and you appreciate what is put into it.” One time after supper I was complaining about doing the dishes. Grandma said. “Dirty dishes are a sign that we have had something to eat.” Profound? Yes. She lived her young adult life raising children in the day when food was scarce and what was available was rationed. Have you ever heard of Victory gardens or canning and preserving your own food?

I dream of having a big ol’ country house to fill up with all this and more. Yes, I live in the country in a modest farmhouse. My dream home is much like you would see in the movie “The Notebook” or “Fried Green Tomatoes”. I love old houses like this; there is so much character, so much history. Houses talk and all one has to do is stop and listen. I want a big country kitchen with a big butler’s pantry and to cook from an old-fashioned cook stove while sipping wine brought up from the old wine cellar. I already enjoy cooking with home canned foods and homemade ingredients. My mother and grandmothers taught me how to preserve food, one of the most valuable and treasured gifts along with their storytelling they have ever given me. They taught me to be self-sufficient and to let nothing go to waste.

This love for “old” things brings me to my love of adventure into the past. I explore abandoned farmhouses, barns, buildings. One time I found an old car in a barn that had been shot full of bullet holes. I wanted to know what happened. Who “hid” the car away in this rural area? Was it an “old-fashioned” bank robbery? A lover’s quarrel and her “old man” found them in a fit of passionate ill-repute? I long to know the stories behind abandoned farms, homes, and buildings. Why did they come here, why did they leave? What were their dreams?

I love museums and can spend hours in one if I am allowed. I ponder over how people lived back at the turn of the century as I would wander from one antique of interest to the next or perusing old photographs, ledgers and journals. I was even privy, once, to have come across an old photo album. As I scanned each picture, I felt an odd sensation. Each person was dressed impeccably in their Sunday best and seated as if ready for Church or the yearly town hall Saturday night dance. Only then did I discover that I was looking at a post-mortem photo album, or, pictures of the dead. This was a practice during the Victorian Era where child mortality rates were high. Think I didn’t have questions at that time?

I am sure my ancestors would have given anything for our modern conveniences, but then would they really if they knew just how technically savvy we have become? Maybe medicine, no doubt about it as mortality rate was very high back then. In our families, we have had many young children die of influenza back in 1918, scarlet fever in 1922 as well as a 3-year-old toddler drowning in the well and many family members fighting against each other in Europe back in World War II.

Childhood disease took many lives early, as well as heart disease, cancers and communicable disease. With modern medical technology and its advances of today, we are no longer concerned about these. Our life spans have been greatly lengthened through medicine. My paternal great, great grandfather was a country doctor and was noted to have successful home remedies. One of his remedies people caught onto in this century, manufactured it and call it a Neti Pot. Hmmm. He also published a book on home remedies and country “doctoring”.

There is so much more I could talk about when it comes to the past, but that would turn into a novel. It is a fun subject to converse about, to be inspired through others stories and I feel everyone has a story to tell and to write. Storytelling has changed throughout our recent past. People almost never tell the old, old stories and we lose face of who we really are, were we came from and our roots. If you don’t know much about your story, learn as much as you can now and write it down for others to read. Pass them along to other family members and in turn they can tell their children and children love stories.

HOME is where your story begins.

~A.C. Rae