One thing I’ve learned through my study of history is that times were tough in the past. We’re such softies, us 21st century Americans! (Maybe that’s why all these “reality” shows are so popular.) We really don't have a lot of contact with our environment—unless we are campers or hunters—and maybe, with our 4 season camping equipment and our RVs, not even then. There have been so many improvements in textiles—from Polartec© to Cordura© and Kevlar© -- as new methods of fabric production arrive and are marketed to the out-of-door minded—that it takes someone who has lived through the transition to remember.
Personally, I remember wet wool and frozen fingers inside frozen mittens, and so many stiff heavy garments in snow season, that, like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story, I could fall down and then be darn near unable to get back on my feet again because I couldn't bend. Plastic pants to be worn over diapers--before disposables--arrived during my childhood, but I still remember holding a friend's little brother on my lap who wasn't wearing those "new-fangled" things and the inevitable which soon followed. Oh, and nobody offered me a clean pair of jeans, either. It was summer, after all, and I'd soon dry out playing in their yard. As an only child, this "anointing" was a new experience, but hey, when in Rome...I didn't complain.
Baby wearing knit "soakers" 1945
Get into those old B&W movies and you’ll have another sort of glimpse into the past. For instance, I’ve always wanted to sit down and spend time with a class room full of kids while watching something ancient, like the Our Gang comedies, especially the silent ones, made in the early twenties. Here, you’ll see kids in cut down, rolled up adult clothing because “children’s clothing” was only for the rich. These movies also show old time remedies—goose grease for a sore throat--and a world in which kids could jump up on a handy mule and ride downtown along dirt streets. It's a place where for comic effect, you can wipe whipped cream from a pie on a dog's face and then have a laugh while the adults run because they think the poor creature's got rabies. Some of the kid’s escapades are likely, others not so much, but those broken down sheds and holes-in-the-plaster walls of run-down houses with no screens and open windows, those wash tubs in the back yard and chases that involve chickens, show us a world that our shiny suburbs with their manicured lawns have replaced.And here's the saddest part of the past, in the days before women had competent health care and the ability to get their health back before embarking upon another pregnancy--this is something you can find in any old cemetery. The adult gravestones that went with these three "infant" graves had been broken down, eroded by time, but the mother is usually right beside them. The little lamb, is quite old. Again, the names and those on the tombstones nearby, too, are washed away, but the innocent figure remains.
I wonder what melancholy tales are attached to these, all found in the oldest part of a local cemetery, in a place/time where English was not yet widely spoken, and where "born and died" was still "geboren und gestorben." Frau Mozart in Mozart's Wife, buried four of her six babies before they were a year old. When I wrote that story, I found myself thinking long and hard about what she must have suffered.