Thursday, November 19, 2009

Things We Forget

A family posing in front of its sod house.

It is all well and fine to reminisce and celebrate a time gone by that seems more genteel, and surely I think of myself as a cultural reactionary. But it's always good to confront some of the things of the past that we are happy, living in modern times, to be without. For instance, I don't recall that Laura Ingall Wilder in Little House in the Prairie or Willa Cather in My Antonia, describing life in sod houses, ever mentioned this:

Clara had always hated the sod house, hated the dirt that seeped down on her bedclothes, year after year. It was dust that caused her firstborn, Jim, to cough virtually from his birth until he died a year later. In the mornings Clara would walk down and wash her hair in the icy water of the Platte and yet by supper time, if she happened to scratch her head, her fingenails would fill with dirt that had seeped down during the day. For some reason, no matter where she moved her bed, the roof would trickle dirt right onto it. She tacked muslim, and finally canvas, on the ceiling over the bed but nothing stopped the dirt for long. It sifted through. IT seemed to her that all her children had been conceived in dust clouds, dust rising from the bedclothes or sifting down from the ceiling. Centipedes and other bugs loved the roof; day after day they crawled down the walls, to end up in her stewpots or her skillets or the trunks where stored her clothes.
I'd rather live in a teepee, like an Indian," she told Bob many times, "I'd be cleaner."
--Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry


Thomas at My Porch said...

What a great post. And the excerpt from Lonesome Dove makes me want to read it.

When I think of my time travel fantasies to turn of the century London I rarely think about the cold rooms, itchy clothes, smelly sewers, pollution and cigarette smoke.

Val said...

You're completely right - we have such an idealistic, sterilized view of history. Sure, it would be fun to live in the last....until I think about the fact that I may not have lived to reach my current age. (25) I wouldn't have an education, I wouldn't have contact lenses, I wouldn't have a house that stays 65 degree F in the winter. Great post!

Merisi said...

Romanticizing the past is easy.
I remember with horror Ross King's description of 17th century London in his novel "Ex-Libris" (and I know that he is someone who does his research before writing). Just trying to imagine people in Europe living through two world wars during the last century. And on. No, I am grateful to live in the here and now.