This is a blog for journalists, authors, and those who enjoy reading and learning. Here you will find a variety of posts about all forms of writing--from fiction and non-fiction to the news media and journalism. It is produced by a former foreign correspondent and journalism school dean.
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Those of us who write historical fiction are always striving
to make sure our characters are part of the time period in which our novels are
set. A farmer in 19th Century Kansas, for example, had to know how to hunt and
fish, how to forage and how to butcher livestock, clean chickens, and shoe a
There were no supermarkets, no computers or online shopping,
no clothing stores or malls. Yes, there were Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs
where women could order ready-made dresses and men could order pants and
shirts, but ordering from them was considered an infrequent luxury.
I recently received an e-mail from Ancestry.com, the online genealogy
service that asked:
"How old school
are you? Do you think you've got what it takes to live in your
I was intrigued by this question, having just completed the
first book in a trilogy of novels, the first of which is set in the late 19th
Century American West. As someone who spent time on a farm, who hunted and
fished and cleaned hundreds of chickens, rabbits and squirrels, I figured I
would be OK if I were suddenly transported to my great-grandparents' time.
But there was more to living back then than hunting and
fishing. Life was much, much harder and so were the people.
Take a look at what Ancestry.com had to say:
Our parents and
grandparents may shake their heads every time we grab our smart phones to get
turn-by-turn directions or calculate the tip. But when it comes to life skills,
our great-grandparents have us all beat. Here are some skills our
great-grandparents had 90 years ago that most of us don’t.
While your parents and
grandparents didn’t have the option to ask someone out on a date via text
message, it’s highly likely that your great-grandparents didn’t have the option
of dating at all. Until well into the 1920s, modern dating didn’t really exist.
A gentleman would court a young lady by asking her or her parents for
permission to call on the family. The potential couple would have a formal
visit — with at least one parent chaperone present — and the man would leave a
calling card. If the parents and young lady were impressed, he’d be invited
back again and that would be the start of their romance.
2. Hunting, Fishing,
Even city dwellers in
your great-grandparents’ generation had experience hunting, fishing, and
foraging for food. If your great-grandparents never lived in a rural area or
lived off the land, their parents probably did. Being able to kill, catch, or
find your own food was considered an essential life skill no matter where one
lived, especially during the Great Depression.
In this age of the
boneless, skinless chicken breast, it’s unusual to have to chop up a whole
chicken at home, let alone a whole cow. Despite the availability of
professionally butchered and packaged meats, knowing how to cut up a side of
beef or butcher a rabbit from her husband’s hunting trip was an ordinary part
of a housewife’s skill set in the early 20th century. This didn’t leave the men
off the hook, though. After all, they were most likely the ones who would field
dress any animals they killed.
Before the era of shopping
malls and convenience stores, it was more common to trade goods and services
with neighbors and shop owners. Home-canned foods, hand-made furniture, and
other DIY goods were currency your great-grandparents could use in lieu of
Before Clothes Dryers There was the Sun
Though it’d be futile
for you to argue with the barista at Starbucks about the price of a cup of
coffee, your great-grandparents were expert hagglers. Back when corporate
chains weren’t as ubiquitous, it was a lot easier to bargain with local shop
owners and tradesmen. Chances are your great-grandparents bought very few
things from a store anyway.
6. Darning and
Nowadays if a sock
gets a hole in it, you buy a new pair. But your great-grandparents didn’t let
anything go to waste, not even a beat-up, old sock. This went for every other
article of clothing as well. Darning socks and mending clothes was just par for
7. Corresponding by
great-grandparents didn’t text or email. However, even though the telephone
existed, it wasn’t the preferred method of staying in touch either, especially
long-distance. Hand-written letters were the way they communicated with loved
ones and took care of business.
8. Making Lace
Tatting, the art of
making lace, was a widely popular activity for young women in your
great-grandparents’ generation. Elaborate lace collars, doilies, and other
decorative touches were signs of sophistication. However, fashion changed and
technology made lace an easy and inexpensive to buy, so their children probably
didn’t pick up the skill.
Tatting, the Art of Making Lace
9. Lighting a Fire
Sure, matches have
been around since the 1600s. But they were dangerous and toxic — sparking
wildly out of control and emitting hazardous fumes. A more controllable,
non-poisonous match wasn’t invented until 1910. So Great-grandma and
Great-grandpa had to know a thing or two about lighting a fire without matches.
10. Diapering With
weren’t commonly available until the 1930s. Until then, cloth diapers held with
safety pins were where babies did their business. Great-grandma had a lot of
unpleasant laundry on her hands.
11. Writing With a
While it’s true that
your grandparents were skilled in the lost art of writing in cursive, your
grandparents probably were, too. However, the invention of the ballpoint pen in
the late 1930s and other advances in pen technology mean that your
great-grandparents were the last generation who had to refill their pens with
Thanks to Ancestry.com for sharing this. I hope it helps you
realize how easy you have it today compared to 100 years ago.
Here is a link to Ancestry.com's website: http://home.ancestry.com
Periodically, my blog participates in virtual book tours
which allow authors to showcase their books to a broader audience. Today I am
hosting fellow author Jeffrey Von Glahn whose non-fiction book "Jessica: The Autobiography of an
Infant," is available on Amazon. The blog tour is sponsored by
4WillsPublishing.wordpress.com. (see relevant links below)
Jeffrey Von Glahn
Jeffrey Von Glahn has been a psychotherapist for 45 years, and counting. He says that experience has been, and continues to be, more exciting and fulfilling than he had ever imagined.
Jessica had always been haunted by
the fear that the unthinkable had happened when she had been “made-up.” For as
far back as she could remember, she had no sense of a Self. Her mother thought
of her as the “perfect infant” because “she never wanted anything and she never
needed anything.” As a child, just thinking of saying “I need” or “I want” left
her feeling like an empty shell and that her mind was about to spin out of
control. Terrified of who––or what––she was, she lived in constant dread over
being found guilty of impersonating a human being.
Jeffrey Von Glahn, Ph.D., an
experienced therapist with an unshakable belief in the healing powers of the
human spirit, and Jessica, blaze a trail into this unexplored territory. As if
she has, in fact, become an infant again, Jessica remembers in extraordinary
detail events from the earliest days of her life––events that threatened to
twist her embryonic humanness from its natural course of development. Her
recollections are like listening to an infant who could talk describe every
psychologically dramatic moment of its life as it was happening.
When Dr. Von Glahn met Jessica, she
was 23. Everyone regarded her as a responsible, caring person – except that she
never drove and she stayed at her mother’s when her husband worked nights.
For many months, Jessica’s therapy
was stuck in an impasse. Dr. Von Glahn had absolutely no idea that she was so
terrified over simply talking about herself. In hopes of breakthrough, she
boldly asked for four hours of therapy a day, for three days a week, for six
weeks. The mystery that was Jessica cracked open in dramatic fashion, and in a
way that Dr. Von Glahn could never have imagined. Then she asked for four days
a week – and for however long it took. In the following months, her
electrifying journey into her mystifying past brought her ever closer to a
final confrontation with the events that had threatened to forever strip her of
her basic humanness.
This excerpt is from the Prologue. It describes how my view
of infants was changed forever by Jessica’s revelations about her own infancy.
Listening to Jessica during therapy sessions was the same as
listening to an infant who could talk describe in vivid detail every
psychologically dramatic moment of its life as it was happening. As a result,
my perception of infants was radically altered. I will never again think of
them as simple little beings primarily interested in eating and sleeping. They
are far more complex than I had ever imagined. When I am now in an infant’s
presence, I am acutely conscious that an active force in the world is before
me. What I say and how I act will be watched with great interest by a mind
that, though not as developed as mine, is probably more curious about the world
and definitely more sensitive to it.
Infants, especially newborns, pull me toward them with what
seems like an irresistible power.
Whenever I see one of these brand-new human
beings, I must fight my urge to drop whatever I’m doing and immediately rush to
its side. In my fantasy, I see myself slow down as I approach my goal and
unhurriedly cover the last bit of distance. I close in with the most incredibly
joyous smile anyone has ever seen. My eyes bulge in unabashed delight, while my
smile and eyes speak for me. They speak the language of infancy, a life rich in
feelings, hopes, dreams, potential, and an insatiable curiosity about the
world. It is a life as exciting and intriguing as anything adults can even
My eyes and smile express the words I would like to say:
Yes, I know how powerful your mind is. I know what new
information about yourself and the world you are trying to figure out. I know
what fundamental psychological processes are happening inside of you. If you
could talk, I know what wonderfully exciting details you would tell us about
My journey with Jessica seems—even now, after it’s over—more
a flight of fancy, an excursion into science fiction, than a real-life story.
Had I not been a fellow traveler who saw and heard everything with my own eyes
and ears, I would certainly exclaim, “How interesting! I wish I could think of
a clever story like that!”