When we are cold in our homes, we turn up the thermostat or flip a switch to start the fireplace. In 1939, if you were cold my parents needed to go down the basement steps, pick out some firewood and feed the big, ugly furnace. There was no forced air so we were dependent on the heat to rise to the main level through a register. We were lucky if the heat rose even further to reach the upstairs bedrooms through a grate in the floor. In the evenings, I would sit on the dining room furnace register and play jacks (onesies, twosies, upsies, downsies, etc.); I became quite proficient at the game as I kept warm.
But the bedrooms were cold most of the time (the windows were often frosted completely and sometimes you could see your breath), so the beds were equipped with feather beds on top of the straw mattress and yet another feather bed to cover us like a comforter. Mom would save the feathers from the chickens and geese she plucked in the summer and use them to stuff the feather beds. It was comfy to sleep on, very soft and cushy. We would dress in the flannel pajamas our mom made for us (usually a Christmas gift) and quickly jump into bed.
In the hallway was a chamber pot which we gladly used rather than making a trip to the outhouse in the middle of the night. However, someone had to empty that thing in the morning and it was usually my sister, the one who always got stuck with the mundane jobs.
In the morning, I would take my clothes to the downstairs bathroom (which held only a claw footed bathtub with no running water) and dress above the furnace register. Next step was a trip to the kitchen for breakfast.
Keeping the furnace and kitchen stove supplied with wood was a big chore. It started in the fall when my dad and uncle would go to our woods and find trees that had fallen during the previous year, cut them into burnable chunks and haul them by horse drawn hay wagon to the back of the house. The basement window was removed and my sisters and I tossed the wood through the window. Then we needed to go to the basement to rank it against the walls -- lots of cut wood for lots of fires.
There was yet another job for me each day after school. First I put on my denim jacket, then went downstairs and loaded my arms with all the cut wood I could carry up to the kitchen for the cook stove. It took several trips to fill the "wood box" to overflowing.
There was a "chimney cupboard" in the kitchen which encased the chimney to the roof. I loved opening the door to that cupboard for the most wonderful smoky wood smell emanated from it. The cupboard was next to the cook stove, so it housed the salt, spices and other condiments used in cooking -- all of which added to the wonderful aroma.
The animals were kept in the barn on most cold days. There was no heat in the barn but the warmth of the animals kept it comfortable and almost steamy. The silage that was used to feed the cattle had a sour, pungent odor which some people did not like but I did not find it offensive. Getting to the barn from the house could be a challenge on stormy days but there was always a path through the snow banks that led from door to door.
We wore long cotton stockings with garter belts to hold them up. We wore dresses (usually with a sweater over it) to school but we did have "snow pants" for outdoor work and play. In the spring, each of us was assigned to an orphaned lamb and it was our job to bottle feed that lamb until it could drink on its own. The bottles were large and had super big rubber nipples; those little lambs grew very fast. When they were grown and ready for the first shearing, we bought our winter coats with the money earned for the wool.
Those winter days were long and hard but there was something very special about working together to keep that farm going until springtime.
Laura W. Berglund