The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Outdoors

January 26, 2014

Cross column: Another polar vortex? Count your blessings!

(Continued)

But now, I’m a little older, a lot wiser, and on mornings when the thermometer reads teens-below-zero through the frosty window, I wonder: What were we thinking?

But when I start feeling a little sorry, I remind myself of just how easy we now have it compared to people who endured winters long past.

Certainly, winter was an exceptionally tough time for homesteaders in the 1800s, frequently a matter of life and death as they huddled in their sod huts when blizzards swept across the untamed prairie.

But as recently as the 1930s and even the 40s, when an arctic blast descended on the Midwest, life still wasn’t all that easy.

Prior to rural electrification, if you were a country dweller, there was firewood or perhaps a tub of corncobs to stockpile if you were going to stay warm and then only by hovering in the immediate vicinity of the stove.

A hot bath meant hand-pumping water and then heating it on a stove. A trip to the bathroom, likely as not, was a sprint through the snow to an unheated outhouse. That or a chamber pot.

City folks may have had it a bit easier, what with indoor plumbing. But they still probably had dusty coal to shovel into a furnace and then tend to if they were going to stay warm.

Regardless of where you lived, just as recently as 20 years ago, a car that started without fail on sub-zero days was something to brag about.

Today, we have efficient gas-fired furnaces that distribute wonderful warmth evenly through our homes with the touch of a thermostat, cars that reliably roar to life with the turn of a key.

When we do venture into the elements, we are protected by high-tech outdoor wear.

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