The recent severe cold weather brought some things to mind that I had
not thought of for many years. In the days when houses were heated with
wood or coal, our upstairs remained unheated, at least during the
winter. Stairways leading to those upstairs rooms were enclosed and the
doors to them were tightly shut to keep heat from escaping to the upper
level. The difference in temperature from one side of that door to the
other was marked.
Some of those news stories of people without
electricity reminded me of how it was when we were children, living in
rooms that were not heated. In our old house the bedroom faced the south
and west so when prevailing winter winds roared our unheated bedroom
was cold. Once in bed, the mound of blankets kept one warm throughout
the night, but often the hard winds and blowing snow kept one awake.
houses creaked and groaned under the onslaught of those winds and the
blast of snow scrapping against the side of the house was noisy. It was
the same when we were children at home. It’s easy to remember the cocoon
of warmth you experienced underneath the blankets and quilts breathing
in the cold air of the room just prior to getting up. To delay actually
crawling out of bed, you blew your breath out and watched the steam
rise, testing to see how cold it was outside of that bed.
You were toasty warm and relaxed and had that feeling of well being
and home. But you had to prepare for that first initial process of
throwing back those warm covers and actually getting up. It took some
stamina. These were unheated bedrooms with linoleum floors that burned
on the feet when you bounced out of bed in the morning and raced
downstairs to warm your feet beside the coal burning stove. Once you got
toasty, you raced back upstairs to get dressed as quickly as you could.
Then it was back downstairs to warm up again by the stove.
took just as much stamina to go to bed in the evening. After all day of
cold air, those beds were frigid and took some time to warm up once you
crawled in. Sometimes flailing one’s feet quickly back and forth warmed
up the bed by friction, often with a snap and a crackle that produced
colored green arcs of static electricity. Sometimes we moved our hands
on purpose just to watch those colored streaks of static electricity
light up. But soon body heat would have that cocoon heated up enough
that sleep could claim us.
We never suffered from sleeping in a
cold room; you learned to cover up to your nose and keep everything
underneath the covers. Chances are some of those blankets were crazy
quilts made up from scraps of material left from making us clothing for
school. With the pieced top first, a layer of batting and a flannel
backing these tied quilts made warm blankets with little cost. They were
also good at producing that static electricity.
during the cold of winter was the chamber pot. When we were smaller, the
chamber pot made that last call before bed a bit warmer than it would
have been going down the path to the outhouse. These enamel pots with
lids were standard objects in bedrooms of that day. This, of course, was
before the advent of indoor plumbing. It was the same era that had us
taking a bath in a huge galvanized tub in the kitchen beside the wood
Now, I don’t remember ever waking up with snow on my bed,
but my Dad spoke of this phenomenon when he was a child. That was back
when houses did not have tight or double windows. It just added some
insulation between you and the cold air. The blankets must have been
good insulators, as well, or the snow would have melted. Either that or
the bedroom was that cold!
Our ancestors had the initiative to
invent bedpans, long-handled pans with lids filled with coals from the
fire, which were used to warm beds prior to slipping under the covers.
When our children were small I warmed bricks by the fire, slipped them
in a fuzzy casing and put it at the bottom of the bed to warm their
feet. It felt good to find something warm underneath the cold blankets
and helped warm up those cold beds.
Now one can buy electric
blankets, heated mattresses, heated water beds, heat pads, all to keep
you warm in a heated house. So, I guess cold is relative. Those of us
who remember those times didn’t think anything of the idea of cold beds
and bare feet on cold, linoleum floors. Most of us would have a bit of
trouble going back to that after sleeping in the warmer rooms of today.
it make us healthier and give us more fortitude? Perhaps it did. I know
it did not hurt us at all. I also remember that it was not constant.
Before long winter was replaced with spring and windows were opened to
bring in that fresh air and summer would soon follow when those bedrooms
became almost too hot to sleep in. Cold was relative, here today and
gone tomorrow. But, while you were experiencing those cold days and
colder bedrooms, you appreciated that heat just a little more.
Roediger has lived on a family farm all her life, first as a farmer’s
daughter and now as a farmer’s wife. She writes weekly for the Times
Bulletin and enjoys gardening, quilting, cooking, bird watching and