“A dull day,” writes Grandma Ina in her diary over and over again between November and March -- “A dull day.”
“A dull day,” repeats Mike thoughtfully, and then concludes, “as opposed to a bright day.” However, Ina referred to a sunny day as “a good day.”
Winter days in this region are often overcast and “dull,” even if the temperature is moderate. We don’t have much sunlight this time of year. The lack of light affects our activities and for some of us, our ability to cope; it makes us feel dull, depressed, uninspired. Today dawned bright and sunny. As I drove a friend to the grocery store, she remarked on how wonderful it was to see the sun and how she would like more sunlight.
Back in the day when homes weren’t electrified, natural light was very important to the accomplishment of the tasks of daily living. For one thing, the dark sky shortens an already short day. For another, we just don’t see as well when light is dim. Lantern light is effective only in darkness and then it tends to be shadowy. So, any housewife without electricity would have to consider well the daylight hours available to her before beginning a task, especially on a winter’s afternoon. Truly, the housewife of yore had to manage her tasks well on short winter days.
I remember Ina sitting in her old overstuffed rocker by the big dining room window where she read or stitched by the natural light. She wore a visor with a green celluloid bill that filtered the light for her. Sometimes in my mind’s eye I can see her sitting there yet, the radio, her Bible, and her pin cushion within reach. Who needs ghosts? Or maybe that memory is the ghost.
As I sew here in our little town house this winter, there’s a time in the afternoon when my thought is arrested by the beauty of the natural light, especially if the sun happens to be shining. It seems like there’s a sudden burst of light as the sun approaches the western horizon. (Perhaps it’s just that the sun has come out from behind the shed.) “This is great!” I’ll think to myself, but it’s really the signal that daylight will soon begin to wane. Within a few minutes a dullness creeps in and shadows lengthen. I can hear my mother say, “We’re losing our light.” Once the sunlight begins to fade, it goes quickly. Well, if I didn’t have that electric lighting, I would have to clear away my sewing and gather whatever I need for the evening’s activities. Like Ina, I would bustle from room to room gathering the needful for my evening’s comfort.
Of course, I’ve never known a world without the magic of electricity. But when I was young we spent some evenings at the farm. It didn’t surprise me that my dad knew how to cope as evening fell since this was his home place. At dusk he gathered several kerosene lanterns for the kitchen work and stoked the wood cook stove. But what did surprise my child mind was that my mother also “knew the drill,” as it were, without any coaching. But of course, she too had known life prior to electricity.
[The picture of the back of the farm house was taken in 1918 during the first winter of its habitation. This side of the house has western exposure. Note all the windows to take advantage of the afternoon light. The photo of the dining room shows the Aladdin lamp above the table. Though Ina was proud of the Aladdin lamp, eventually it was replaced by a larger kerosene lantern that filled the room with light sufficient for evening dining and reading.] KW