The day when a family provided all, or most, of their needs is precariously remembered, so far back in time has it retreated.
Women no longer carry “pen knives” in apron pockets to trim the goose quill writing instruments or shape candles to expose wicks.
Ball point pens are cheap and sometimes free as advertising and women rarely cook. Microwavable meals aren't messy. Few women wear aprons since microwave cooking is done in disposable containers.
Energy for heating and cooking was harvested with a two-man cross-cut saw. After notching a tree to control the fall and with a man on either end to pull, a tree was felled and cut into manageable lengths, eighteen to twenty-four inches long.
Smaller logs were cut into lengths using a bow saw.
The finishing work of splitting wood with an ax or a wedge and maul was done piece meal. Most wedges were made of dogwood shaped into a flat point. Dogwood is hard and durable. I have some dogwood wedges decades old and I occasionally add to them. The maul is also an all-wood hammer sometimes called a mallet.
The most desirable fuel for cook stoves was fast burning rosin-rich pine or “fat lighter,” “pine knot,” “heart pine.” Mid-Westerners used corn cobs.
Oil lamps, so called because they originally used whale oil for fuel, burned well on kerosene when it became available in the mid 1800's. A nickle container of kerosene lasted a week.
We are dependent upon the electrical grid or natural gas system and if either shuts down huge populations are stuck in the dark and cold as we recently saw in the Northeast.
It is possible to live “off the grid” but solar electric power is not here yet due to cost but solar water heating is reasonably available.
Natural gas is mostly methane and a home “methane digester” can be made from scrounged parts. I know of a guy who built one and sold his propane tank. His family now cooks with home-made methane.
Many families are off the water grid and use a well for their household water supply. Only a few have a manual pump so if they lose electricity the faucet goes dry.
Raising food during the growing season was sufficient for most families. Canning fruits and vegetables on a wood-burning stove in glass jars with rubber rings and glass tops was a lot of work but saved produce for cold weather.
Root crops, such as turnips, squash and potatoes, over-wintered well in cellars. Pickled cabbage, a rich source of vitamin C as kraut, stayed in large crocks until used.
Families used a smokehouse to hang meat, mostly pork, from autumn on.
Transportation was slower by horse or mule power but it was not dependent upon the price of gasoline. Fuel came from the corn crib.
It is unfortunate that we have become dependent upon our collective society and industry to just “get along.”
Those who still have the skills and patience to be self-sufficient are probably richer than all of us.
Joe Phillips writes his “Dear me” columns for several small newspapers. He has many connections to Walker County, including his grandfather, former superintendent Waymond Morgan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.