By Lily Kongslien, Special to the Star Journal
In describing the “modern” conveniences of yesteryear, we will start in the kitchen. There was a large cabinet for dishes and in the bottom were bins for flour and sugar. Flour was purchased by the 50-pound bag mainly because twice a week Mother baked eight loaves of bread, one pan of rolls and one pan of sweet rolls. We carried sandwiches to school five days a week and bread was an important part of each meal. We churned our own butter in a large gallon glass jar with a metal cap and wooden beaters attached. Oh, how I remember the taste of rich buttermilk!
Cottage cheese and clabbered milk (served with sugar and cinnamon or nutmeg) were special treats; we drank milk every day, three times a day. One special snack I enjoyed was a cottage cheese ball, seasoned with salt and pepper and placed in the warming oven of the stove to dry. We carried the treats in our pockets and ate them when we craved a chewy snack. In the fall of the year after all the other vegetables were either canned or stored in the root cellar, the big old barrel came out of hiding and the cabbage heads were gathered and the sauerkraut making began. We had a kraut cutter, so preparing the cabbage was fun—but the best part was the smell that came from the barrel as the cabbage fermented in its own juice as we stomped daily the contents of the barrel with a wooden “stomper.” The barrel was kept in a corner in the kitchen and we could hardly wait for it to be ready to eat! The first meal was always spareribs, dumplings and sauerkraut!
Moving to the parlor– front room, living room or whatever it would be called by each particular family. Most of the winter evenings we sat around the table in the kitchen doing homework; my father reading and my mother doing some sort of handwork. In the winter the parlor was closed off and not heated, although we had a fancy chrome-plated heater which was used on special occasions. In our parlor we had an old phonograph which played 78 rpm records (it had to be wound each time a record was played, and sometimes even before a record was finished). We spent many hours playing and replaying old favorites.
An old treadle sewing machine stood in the corner and was used a lot by Mother, and later by me as I made some of my own clothes. We had a type of stereoscope for postcards; we enjoyed looking at these cards that our parents had collected from all over the U.S. and Europe. These pictures were very life-like and almost 3D.
An old wooden carpet sweeper was used to clean the carpet in the parlor – the only room with a floor-covering (other than linoleum or scatter rugs). It worked with a series of brushes that rotated as it was pushed over the carpet and did a fair job of cleaning. Once a year, however, during house-cleaning time the carpet was brought outside and draped over the clothes line and a rug beater was used to get all the year’s sand and dirt removed.
The outdoor toilet was a distance from the house in the midst of a grove of white birch trees. Mother kept it very clean and limed it several times a year. Of course, the old catalog was there, mainly to look at as we occupied a seat; we did have toilet paper available in later years. It was a cold trip in early winter mornings and also on dark nights when the owls hooted in the woodlot. Chamber pots (sometimes these were called “thunder pots”) were used during the cold winter months. We did not have indoor plumbing as yet, although there was a vacant room in our house which was to be our future bathroom; however I left home to attend high school before that became a reality.
Most homes did not heat the bedrooms during the winter. We usually heated the sleeping rooms in the fall until around Christmas, but during the coldest months there was no heat in any of the bedrooms. We always dressed and undressed in front of the warm friendly kitchen stove. I was a kid who always had cold feet, so I was provided with an oblong smooth stone that was kept on top of the range all day, and at night was wrapped in soft woolen cloth and placed in my bed an hour or two before bedtime. As I jumped into bed in the cold bedroom, my feet found that warm spot immediately. How good it felt!
We had no telephone, but at Fredrich’s filling station and bar there was a telephone available, and it seemed all the families in the area took advantage of their generosity. Only in emergencies did we use their phone – no social calls. I recall using their phone several times as I called from the home in town (where I lived and worked while going to high school) to get a message to my father that I had the weekend off and could he come and get me… the message was delivered to my father and he would drive into town to bring me home for a weekend. I guess I didn’t realize as a kid how neighborly these folks were and how they added to my happiness.
I guess you could say from the descriptions I have given of my early life in the rural area that we were behind the times. This was definitely not so. Even though we lacked modern conveniences, we received a daily paper, a Sunday paper, several magazines and we had a battery radio that we listened to faithfully. My father was an avid reader and we had several bookcases of books – classics and many textbooks on science and nature.
I have given you an insight into my early rural life in northern Wisconsin; perhaps you can relate to some of the things I have recalled to memory. I do hope that your memories are happy ones and that together we were a part of the making of history…each in our own place and time. Happy recollections!