February 19, 2021
It’s too Cold to Be Pretty
I live in an old home that was built in 1867 and various additions were added throughout the years. Everything was built with stone– and the walls are three feet thick. The thickness of the walls holds the heat away for a week in the hot summer and then it becomes an oven. The same applies to winter–keeps the cold out for a bit and then cold drafty temperatures prevail.
Sometimes as I type I wear fingerless gloves similar to the 19th century folks that once lived here only they had muffs. Apparently the Victorians paid attention to their hands first to keep warm and muffs were just the item to keep their fingers toasty. Of course the drawback which is the same with fingerless gloves is that once you have to do things with your hands other than sit there, smile and twiddle your fingers– it’s fruitless. You just can’t press that ‘delete winter’ button as fingers need to be free—cold or not.
One perfect thing about winter in an old home is snuggling under those warm blankets, not that I don’t have backup. Decades ago at an auction in Knowlton, Quebec my father bought me one of those long-handled bed warmers that they used to put charcoal or hot rocks in and rub the contraption over the sheets. But one must ask themselves how safe that would be today. I have never heard Martha Stewart say all is well with smouldering coals with her 300- thread- count sheets. As far as I know, and I could be wrong, she has also not come out with matching nightcaps and socks to accessorize her sheet line either.
Former owners of my home used to have a lift up hatch door in my living room floor for access to the cistern below. For all of you that have older homes you know a cistern is where they stored all the water caught in rainstorms. Using the roof as a rain collection surface, gutters and downspouts delivered water to the cistern. In the old days when the temperature dropped, water in homes began to turn into ice. I can’t imagine my first job in the morning lifting up that hatch to the cistern and break the ice up if we had not saved water from the previous day for cooking.
But then again we have a few spots in the house that have to have heaters running on them when it goes below freezing, or the pipes will freeze and burst. That in the old days was called being “frozen up”. It must have been pretty miserable in this home built by the first Scots in the area to be so cold. Come Spring, no one knew what pipe was going to break first when the thaw came and buckets and bowls were always ready to collect the drips.
Needless to say when we bought his home in 1981 we had no idea the cistern existed until 20 years later as they had constructed a stone wall over the entrance. Goes to show you how fed up they were with the cistern and they probably got sick of catching the fresh fish they stored in the cistern on cold days with an axe.
I read a lot of Victorians kept warm in an older home by living in one room during the colder days with a fire roaring. It did mean that people would have frozen if they had left the room, so I imagine they seldom left. One would likely assume that was when strong deodorant was invented or thought about.
Long drapes and fireplaces or wood burning stoves solved a huge problem in days of yore, but it’s not solving mine. I long to get rid of the daily uniforms of warm sweatshirts and sweatpants and sleeveless fun fur jackets. Today I took a photo of spring items I wanted to wear. A green and blue sweater and extra long vinyl baby blue elbow gloves. I laugh when I look at the gloves and realize 100 years ago I would have been cleaning the cistern with them. You have to admit they could clean a lot of floors with the length of them.
I look in the mirror at the white winter skin that gazes back at me in contrast to my black attire. Even though the outfit has been monotonous this winter it has kept me warm. Of course back then I probably would have been jokingly identified as a sickly Victorian woman who would not have made it through the winter. Stay warm my friends, Spring is coming.