I have often been told by people that I was born in the wrong century--I should have been born, they say, in pioneer days. Has anyone ever said something like that to you? It is true that I have felt out of place in time ever since I was a young mother.
When I was 19 my husband and I bought a log cabin built by a man who had worked for the CCC, with a large stone fireplace, homemade kitchen cabinets, oak floors downstairs and pine upstairs, a large back porch and small rooms. It was cozy, with those old 3-over-1 windows and we put in Dutch doors front and back so I could open the top but still keep the babies inside. It was quaint, and I loved it. We could not have a dryer or other conveniences with 60-amp, 4-fuse service but I had grown up in an old Victorian-era house so this was nothing new to me. We bought fresh eggs, then got our own chickens, baked bread, bought milk from a dairy down the road and made butter. I canned, cooked from scratch and was pretty happy. People in that suburban area of Washington DC said, "You are a throwback to some other time!" I took it as a compliment.
Then an encroaching subdivision ruined our little piece of heaven. And with 4 little boys under 5 years old, the house was rapidly becoming too small.So we moved here to West Virginia and I've lived in the same place for the past 40 years. At first there was no electricity, and we did things in an even more old-time way, heating with wood, learning to preserve food without electrical appliances, and so on. People said, "You're living like pioneers!" And so we were, to some extent. And I took it as a compliment, even when I sometimes detected a little puzzlement in the voices of those who did not understand why someone would choose to live in such a way when there were so many easier ways of living.
Over the years we've added most modern conveniences like electricity, a well, natural gas from a well on our property. The road has improved so much that even the school bus now runs our ridge. So I suppose our lifestyle is pretty much like that of any other country dweller who gardens, puts up food and raises chickens and so on. Yet still, I have that feeling of being out of my place in time.
The other evening my husband and I were discussing this and he admitted that he often feels the same way. But when would we have liked to live? When would we have fit in? Let's think about it a minute.
Let's see, late 1700's, after the split with England? Back then he would very likely have been poor farm workers or perhaps worked at some other kind of hard labor. I would have been hauling water, trying to keep a rough dwelling clean, dealing with cold and illness and probably would have lost some of my children to disease. As a woman my rights and my freedom to do many things would have been severely limited.
So, early 1800's? Our plight may have been better. Probably we would have ventured into the wilderness and staked a claim to some land. Days would have been filled with hard labor clearing land, building a house and fences and always being watchful for attacks from the natives. With no doctors, few neighbors anywhere near, it would have been a lonely, hard existence for a woman. Just keeping clean, keeping a family fed and keeping warm and safe would have been all there was time for. School for the children might have been whatever I could have taught them on my own.
What about the mid-1800's? The country was blossoming then although the rumors of a split between North and South would have been heard even in isolated backwoods areas. Life would still have been filled with the essentials of survival although perhaps there would have been more conveniences. Women's rights and freedoms were still limited though, and I think I would have squirmed under such restrictions.
Then there was the Civil War, a terrible time to be female, certainly. With the men all marching off, all of the work of providing for the family and maintaining home would have fallen on the women of those days. The men would have food and basic needs met by the military, even if it was poorly done. But the families they left behind had a difficult time indeed, and might have seen their homes burned, their crops destroyed and livestock stolen, daughters raped, sons conscripted, and the barest of necessities stripped from their lives. It was not so for all, but the uncertainty, danger and economic hardship of war would have been felt by almost everyone.
So, the Victorian era? But there was still dreaded epidemics of disease, there were still wars, and women's rights were still nonexistent.
And so it goes, one era after another. The Twenties were probably a good time to live in the rural areas as money was easy and so was the day-to-day life as more convenient ways to do things became available. Then came the Depression, and World War II. And then the fifties--which was when I was born! My memories of childhood are of safety, of quiet times in a small town on a street of courteous neighbors. We didn't have money but we had books and music and a porch and a big kitchen. It was in most ways an idyllic time. The 60's disrupted that with the social unrest and Vietnam and the struggle over civil rights. As a young teen I mostly observed and felt uneasy but not involved. Then I was married and having my own children and the world settled down into some semblance of peace. And I moved to the mountains and found an even more peaceful way of life.
Perhaps, then, I am living in the right time. My rights as a woman are almost equal to those of men. I can do almost anything I put my mind to, and I can choose how I want to live, and where. My sons could get educations and make their own career choices. Conveniences are available if I want them, and here I am, talking to the world in general from a small room in a small house in the middle of pretty much nowhere.
If I had to choose, I have to say that I am probably living in the best time of all. And I am hoping there are even better times ahead.
Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.