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  • G. L. Gooding

Then and Now

Imagine for a moment you are in your late teens struggling with the mental anguish of daily life. Waking from a nightmare about a drop in likes on your Facebook page, you rub the sleep and take a deep breath happy to find it was just a bad dream. Then you notice that something is wrong. It seems you woke in a different room.

It is pitch dark, but you can literally sense the difference. Was that smoke from a fireplace? You don’t even have a fireplace. And why is it so cold in the room. Reaching for the lamp on the table next to the bed it isn’t there. Instead you knock something off the table and onto the floor. Groping around in the chill until she touches the object.

Cautiously, you lift it and place it back on the table. As your eyes adjust somewhat, you struggled to figure out what the object was. Then remembering the flashlight on your smart phone, you reached for where you had left it. It was not there. This was getting really weird.

Climbing out from under heaps of blankets the coldness struck fully. You start to shiver glad you had put on flannel PJs. Seeing light from under a door, you hurry over and throw it open. Looking back into the room, you see the object that had fallen on the floor. It was some kind of old-fashioned lantern. Nothing else in the room looked the least bit familiar.

Seeing a worn robe on the end of the bed you snatch it up and put it on feeling little relief from the cold. Was there no heat in the house? You decide to find out. Through the bedroom door you enter a long hall that leads to stairs. At a mid-landing you suddenly stop and look out in amazement to a large red barn with fields of oats and corn stretching to the horizon.

In the distance is a horse drawn machine. It is cutting down some type of grain as men follow behind stacking bundles of the crop into plies that look like small tepees. In the corn, a crew picks ears by hand and tossing then into a wagon pulled by two horses.

Continuing downstairs you finally find warmth in the kitchen where an isinglass stove is being stoked by a young girl in a homemade dress. A woman is standing at a cast iron stove covered with skillets. While you are still chilled the woman and girl are sweating through their summer weight dresses. The smell of eggs and bacon cooking make your mouth water.

Not knowing what else to do, you say hello to the women several times bit get no response. Suddenly, you realize you’re invisible to them. They work feverishly to prepare a meal. It is apparently for a large number of people judging by the places set at the enormously long and wide table. It was a good thing that the kitchen was so large as shortly twenty or so men of all ages, shapes, and sizes arrive. Most were in overalls without shirts in spite of the cool morning.

Soon your confusion and wonder is replaced with curiosity about this strange world. While waiting for this dream/nightmare, to end, why not check out more of this primitive world. Did people really ever live like this? So far you hadn’t seen a phone, lights, modern stove, or a good furnace. Thankfully, the day was rapidly warming up. You decide to shed the thread-bare robe and was shocked to find a dress made from flour sacks underneath.

Unable to contribute to the heavy workload in the field or kitchen, you decide to explore some of the ways these people managed to lived deprived of so many modern conveniences. The house had no gas or electricity. The only heat in this large house was the isinglass stove and wood burning stove both in the kitchen.

Over several hours you observe ways of life foreign, harsh, and sometimes disgusting to you. As the men leave the table and head back to the fields, you notice leftover food (which you seldom eat) being place in a heavy oak cabinet lined with some kind of metal inside. On the top shelf rested a large block of ice creating a cool, not cold interior. Was this an icebox?

Following the workers out you quickly find out about the outhouse. Apparently, there were no bathrooms inside. Some distance away, a line of men waited outside a small wooden structure with a half-moon cut in a single door, no windows, and an odor that explained why it stood well away from everything. You heard someone say they had to move this little building every few years.

Turning back to the house, you watch the woman pump water into a wooden bucket from a hand dug well outside the back door. You couldn’t imagine how they got water in the middle of winter. Pumping water for cooking and washing was just one of a constant array of manual chores.

While work in the fields resumed, you wander to the barn and pens to watch a pair of young girls join the older woman carrying for the animals. In spite of their ages, the youths ably assisted in milking several cows, feeding a coup full of chickens, collecting eggs, spreading hay for several steers, and throwing buckets of something called slop into a trough for some pigs. Just watching this routine exhausts you. Do they do this every day you ask yourself.

You found a root cellar filled with glass mason jars containing all kinds of fruits and vegetables. It was a room dug some ten feet into the earth next to the house with double wooden doors covering the entrance. You learned it was also used as a storm shelter during tornado season.

On the other side of the house was another small white building. It proved to be the place where the farm family smoked hams and other meats all year long but especially for the winter. Grocery stores (mercantile) were few and far between and getting to and from took hours by horse and buggy.

With a sigh, you realize that in the confusion of the morning, you had forgotten to use the bathroom. Now not far away loomed the only option available. Resigned, you head toward the moon shape in the door holding your nose. After announcing her approach without a response, a one-handed tug didn’t budge the door. Releasing your nose, you jerk with both hands. The door flew open hittin you square on the head. Then the world goes black.

When you come too, you find yourself back in your own bathroom on the floor. Looking around you realize the dream was over and you were back in the present. Relief fills you and you rush to grab you smart phone and text friends about your amazingly real journey to 100 years ago. As the phone comes to life, you pause in shock. The screen saver has changed. It is a picture of you in the flour sack dress with the farmhouse and outhouse in the background.


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