Would our ancestors say we have it easy?

By Stephan Drew

Staff Writer

Looking back over the past year, with all of its struggles, chaos and confusion, I thought about what life must have been like when America experienced our last pandemic – the Spanish Flu of 1918. I wondered about their lives, their hopes and dreams and the many struggles that they faced each and every day, even before the “plague” materialized to devastate the country and the world. If you can, try to imagine what life was like 100 years ago. Although the automobile had been invented, most people still traveled by horse (or mule) and wagon. Electricity was something enjoyed by businesses and “city folk.” Indoor plumbing and telephone service were the same – a luxury of “the few.” Radio was the newest novelty and silent movies were all the rage. Most people in this area were farmers who worked extremely hard from sunrise to sunset and never saw more than a few hundred dollars a year, if that much. They pumped their own water by hand, heated and cooked with firewood, raised ALL of their own food, and took one bath a week “whether they needed it or not.” They lived in woodframe houses and would stick paper or cloth in the cracks to ward off the chill in winter. During the summer, they usually slept outside on the porch to catch the cool night breezes. They had “wrap-around” porches so they could move to different parts of the porch as the winds changed. They could go into town or visit a well-to-do neighbor if they really had to use the phone for an emergency. They spent most of Sunday at church or spending time with friends. It was their only way to catch up on the news and local gossip. But, they led what many might call a “very primitive” life. So, I wondered, what would they think if they were to appear today and walk into our homes? If our great-grandparents could magically show up and see how we live today, just what would they say? I’m not sure but, I think it might go something like this: Being family, they would probably come in the kitchen door, so, the first thing they’d see is your refrigerator, stove, oven and dishwasher. I’m sure they’d marvel at several things. First, why you had to have so many appliances. They might not believe that you can set the time and temperature on your oven so nothing ever overcooks. They’d probably wonder how you cook without adding wood to the stove. They would be amazed at how much we depend on electricity and they might ask why we don’t have to trim the wicks in the light bulbs. After you explained what central heat and air is, I’ll bet they would question how you can set your house to one temperature and let it control itself to keep you completely comfortable at all times. Walking into the den or living room, they might wonder what that big flat thing is on the wall. You know, the one that looks like a huge picture frame with no picture in it? When you grab the remote and turn it on, they would be amazed as your television showed them people and events from all over the world. They might ask why you need one in every room of the house, though. When your cellphone rings, they might ask what it is and why doesn’t it have a cord? They would be astounded that each and every one of us has one of our own in our pockets. They would be shocked when you show them that they could look up any information known to mankind since the beginning of time. But they might also wonder why, if all that knowledge is at our fingertips, are we not much smarter? I began to wonder about all these things. They probably wouldn’t understand our obsession with grocery stores and shopping in general because most people back then grew all of their own food and made their own clothes. But they would definitely realize that the quality of life has greatly improved over the last century. With electricity, running water, telephone, cable, Internet capabilities, social assistance programs, food giveaways, science and healthcare, the poorest person in America today has a better “quality” of life than the richest Americans did 100 years ago. So, the next time you feel frustrated, overwhelmed or unable to bear it anymore, just think what your great-grandparents might say if they saw your life today. Would they say you “have it really hard” or would they laugh at you and say you’re living in a “golden age”?

Author: Rachel Howell

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