HOW DID WE EVER STAY WARM?
By Marilyn Kratz
Frigid winds howl around the house, burying everything in a blanket of snow. As I turn up the thermostat and step into an instant flow of steaming water in my shower, I wonder how we ever kept warm when I was a child. We didn’t have an oil furnace producing a constant flow of warm air or water heaters to give us hot water at the turn of a tap. We didn’t have electric blankets to welcome us into a toasty bed. In fact, we didn’t even have electricity!
But I don’t remember ever feeling cold as a child. Have I forgotten, or did other sources keep me warm in those long ago days?
The farm house in which I grew up was a typical wooden frame house of the era with a kitchen and dining room/parlor on the first floor and two bedroom upstairs. It had no insulation in the outer walls. I’m sure the windows were drafty.
A big iron cook stove, fueled with corn cobs, warmed the kitchen during the day. Heat radiated up through a register in the ceiling to the bedroom above it where I shared a bed with my two sisters. I suppose we kept each other warm on cold nights.
Mom told me the water in the tea kettle she kept on the stove was often frozen in the morning, so I imagine what little heat we felt when we went to bed was long gone by the time we got up. I remember grabbing my clothes and running downstairs to dress in front of the open oven door on the cook stove.
In the other downstairs room, which was the “company” space, a kerosene-burning stove provided heat when the room was in use. That room also had a register in its ceiling. However, if the stove wasn’t lit, there wasn’t any heat to rise up to my parents’ bedroom above it. Good thing that room was on the south side of the house.
We dressed for the cold, whether we were inside or outdoors. Although it was still the style for little girls to wear dresses to school, in really cold weather we pulled on a pair of slacks under our skirts.
For outside activities, we bundled up in warm coats, thick mittens, and head shawls. Mom made the shawls from large squares of flannel cloth. We folded them into triangles, covered our foreheads with the straight edge, and crossed the ends under our chins before tying them snugly at the back of our necks. Admittedly, you could hardly breathe, but you kept your head and neck warm.
Looking back, I realize we must have had cold toes and fingers once in a while, even indoors. But all I remember is playing rousing games of Parcheesi with Dad and my siblings on cold winter evenings, the aroma of Mom’s freshly-baked homemade bread, and making paper dolls with my sisters when school was called off because of snow. Maybe the warmth generated by growing up in a loving family erased any feeling of being cold.