Saturday, February 19, 2011


I only have so many stories, you know. I say that's what makes me believable. At any rate, I make that comment to explain that I've posted this paragraph before, but I love it for all it says about Ina and life on the farm in the '30s.

On February 16, 1936, Ina wrote to Vance:
"Well, I wish you were here right now. The hill east is a marvelous pink and the shadows fall blue to its top. We have about three feet of snow and it is cold. It began piling up week before last and we have had sub-zero weather off and on ever since. Week ago Friday at 9:30 p.m. it was 12 degrees below. That is the coldest we have noted. The last few days are colder – yesterday a.m. it was 8 degrees below, this a.m. 6 degrees below and the highest today we noted was 4 degrees above. Dad keeps a lantern in the cellar 'of a nite' and nothing has frozen. At Musser’s it registered 19 degrees below. Reports from Saskatchewan are as low as 55 degrees below, Montana 40 degrees below. I dread to think of Pearl [living the farm life in Alberta] . . .  The front door is corked up. We have been using the dining room evenings this cold weather. It is so much warmer, but I’m going back to the other room as soon as possible. I make a little fire in the bedroom every evening now and then the bed is warm. I hang up some things by the stove so keep comfortable. . .   Now I must go and build the fire in the bedroom and wash my late dinner dishes and do all the little things to make the evening comfortable. . ."

Ina opens her letter by talking about the play of light and shadow on the eastern hill. Obviously, the sun is setting and casting shadows, so I know she's writing at about 5:00. Apparently they have already had supper. Perhaps there's just enough natural light for her to start this letter at the dining room table.

Two weeks ago it snowed, she says, leaving an accumulation of three feet, which is significant in that locale, and on the heels of that an extended arctic chill set in. She knows the region affected by the cold is extensive -- through Canada and into Montana -- and she worries about her daughter in Alberta, undoubtedly affected by this same chill.

Jack, she says, puts a lighted lantern in the cellar at night to keep their food stores from freezing, and this treatment has been successful. What food would spoil if it froze, I wonder to myself. I suppose root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and beets. Maybe apples and pears.

Next, Ina describes how they manage their daily activities in the house. They "corked" the front door, then shut off the living room -- front door and all -- from the dining room by means of the pocket doors. Thus, they were basically living in the kitchen and dining room, but Ina allows that she doesn't like this arrangement and will use the living room again as soon as she can. And so I learn that Ina loved to be in the living room. I also sense that perhaps she's under some pressure to keep the living room closed.

Then she excuses herself from the letter in progress and says that she will go "to do all the little things that make the evening comfortable." Perhaps she'll stoke the fire and light a lantern or two.

What little things do you do to make the evening comfortable?

[These photos were all taken in the great winter of 1936. The first is the view to the north, much as we see from the kitchen window. The second is from the yard toward the pond. Ina calls our attention to the fact that Jack was shading the camera for her with a newspaper and she caught it on film -- probably disappointing then but rather interesting now. The last picture is of Julian in the yard.]


Leah said...

The newspaper at the top of the photo is great. People made mistakes with photos long ago and knowing that makes them seem more real.

I think when Ina talks about hanging things by the stove, she might be talking about their pajamas and nightgowns. What a wonderful line, "do all the little things to make the evening comfortable."

Hallie said...

I agree with Leah. Warm up the jammies and maybe some slippers. I bet there was a pot of hot water for tea and maybe a hot water bottle.

Where was the cellar that's referenced???

Kathy said...

The cellar was just off the kitchen porch. I found myself writing on and on and decided the cellar can just be the subject of another post. Maybe I can find a picture.

Leah said...

My mother kept canned goods from the garden in our Missouri cellar in the 1940's. There were lots of jars of tomatoes. Oh, I'd love to hear cellar stories from Jack & Ina's house.

Chris said...

What do I do to make the evening comfortable? I pull the drapes, turn on the lights (probably in reverse order), make sure the kitchen is cleaned up after supper, and then I totally relax. The day's chores are over (unless I remember stuff in the washer and dryer. Then BUMMER!). Time for reading, maybe some TV and often sewing as Dan has things going on at least three nights a week. Then it's off to my super comfortable bed. :-)