The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

November 19, 2012

‘Things were simpler back then’

Home to the Hills

By Ricky Pack

— It is dimly lit and there is a small chill in the living room; the power is still off. I closed off the room with a sheet to keep some heat in. I have roughly 20 candles lit that are not only giving me some light, but are providing some chill-breaking heat. The dogs don’t seem to care that it is a bit cold, at least not until we wrestle for the covers.

I thought about my grandparents and the times they went through. Oh sure the generation after them and then the generation after them, etc., say that “back in those days, times were hard.” I would venture to say that was wrong thinking.

We are a generation of spoiled ungrateful people. Kids are grateful for what they have for six days until their interest wears out. Adults are just as bad. The 2002 Chevy, that is still mechanically strong, just doesn’t look as good as the 2013 model.

Pop would get up long before the rooster would crow. Daylight was still hours away. He’d start the wood- and coal-burning stoves. He always had coal and wood stacked nearby so he wouldn’t waste time wandering around in the cold.

They didn’t have electricity, they had oil lamps. Have you ever tried to see by the light of an oil lamp? It is near impossible. I have and let me tell you they are hard on the eyes. They give a yellow glow and if the wick isn’t trimmed just right, they smoke like a diesel truck.

The lamps burned kerosene. Most times the old mountain men called it “coal oil.” If you have ever been behind a big truck that has an old engine pouring smoke out of its stack “black as coal,” then you have some idea of what they had to smell every morning until they got electricity 30, 40, 50 years later.

Off to work Pop would go. Since it was still dark outside he carried a lamp. Just how fast do you think a man carrying an oil lamp, walking up a mountain, was able to see any danger that came his way? My goodness, there were bobcats, rattlesnakes, copperheads, cliffs and many things a man could get hurt on, or dare I say killed, all by the light of an oil lamp.

Go ahead, take those pretty oil lamps down off of the fireplace or those pretty, pretty hangers and try walking in the total darkness. No fun I tell you!

Grandma would cook Pop his breakfast by the light of one or two of those oil lamps except Pop had started the fire in her wood-burning stove. There is another blast. Have you ever been in a house where the woman cooks on a wood-burning stove? The room was always so hot that it was almost unbearable, except on those frosty cold mornings. Ladies, there were no knobs to turn on to the perfect setting, or clock, or smooth glass top. Grandma knew instinctively just how much wood to put into the stove to turn out the best biscuits ever made. Her gravy was perfect, her bacon crisp, and her eggs always cooked the way everybody liked them.

Then Grandma would get to the chores of the day. Do the dishes, sweep the floor, stoke the stove, feed the chickens and gather eggs, milk that ornery cow that had a devil spawn for a calf, and many others. Want to know what time she milked the cow? Always in the morning just before the light of day, and in the evening before the sun set, except in the winter. Then it was always in the dark, freezing cold, and snow on the ground and by the light of one of those oil lamps. No Wal-mart to run to. That cow had to be milked twice a day.

One time Grandma got gored by that cow. Again, with mistakes there are consequences. Pop sawed the horns off. No horns, no problems.

My grandmother could recite chapter and verse from the front cover to the back cover of the Bible. This godly woman read the good book many times her entire life by the light of an oil lamp. No flashlights, folks, oil lamps and lanterns.

Here is the kicker; I guess you would say the morale of this story. I never heard either one of them ever say that it “sure was hard back then!” I did hear them say that “things were simpler back then.”

(Pack may be contacted at rickypack@peoplepc.com. Letters to the editor regarding his column may be e-mailed to ckeenan@register-herald.com.)