January 9, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History - Week 2: Winter

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog has yet another successful series on her hands: 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History.

This is Week 2 of the series: Winter. What was winter like where and when you grew up?  Describe not only the climate, but how the season influenced your activities, food choices, etc.

Growing up in New England Winters has always been a challenge for its inhabitants whether living inland, by the ocean or further up country.  I grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts.  Today that is about a 45 minute drive north or south to the ocean.  Lawrence is about a 35 minutes north of Boston and is situated near the New Hampshire border of Salem and Methuen, Massachusetts where I live today.

When we were children, my mother used to always tell us the snowstorms were nothing compared to when she grew up.  I think how much snow there "seems to be all depends on the era when one lived.  My mother grew up in the horse and buggy era then the trolleys and finally buses.  In her day few people had cars and they either found transportation to the mills where they worked or they walked.  Until the era of buses it seems my mother, as well as her parents and siblings who worked in the mills, most often walked to work.  I remember walking pretty much everyone when I was growing up.  We never thought about distance or time, we just did it.

When I was growing up it did seem to me that winters were colder and snowfalls greater but for some perspective, I was just a little kid looking up at big piles of snow and as that little kid, I probably felt the cold more than adults did. But then again, who knows for sure. 

We didn't go to the store to buy milk like we do today.  Milk companies employed "milkmen" to deliver milk to homes.  During the first half of the 20th century, milkmen delivered bottles of milk to their customers' doors and would take empty bottles left at the door from their last delivery.  All bottles of milk contained cream. By the time the bottles were delivered in the winter, the cream was frozen over the top of the bottle with stopper still intact. Back then, the stoppers were simply made of thin cardboard with a tab so it was easy to remove whenever we poured some milk from the bottle. 

The food we ate differed greatly from what we ate during warmer weather.  Summers were too hot to cook some of the things Mama cooked over the winter.  There was no air conditioning back then!  My mother would bake beans in a big crock pot every Saturday. It would take all day for the beans to bake and the aroma of beans baking permeated our home.  The beans would be ready by supper time then Mama would boil some Essem frankfurters to go with the beans.  At that time, Essem's was considered to be the best hot dog around.

Because we were catholic and could not eat meat on Fridays, Mama would fry haddock and french fries.  She would send me to the fish store, which was in our neighborhood, to buy a couple of pounds of nice fresh haddock.

It was pretty much like this all winter long - nice big hot meals, lots of soup to boot.  Soup was not in a package as it is today. It was cooked from scratch.  Some Sundays we would have a nice boiled dinner or roast beef with potatoes and carrots.  If we had ham, Mama would save the ham bone to make pea soup during the week. Again, making pea soup was a day long project.  There were no gas stoves.  Everything was cooked on the very stove that was stoked with wood or coal to warm the house.  I was quite young when my family was finally able to afford a gas stove. What a difference that made and Mama loved cooking on that stove! 

Before we had a gas stove, with one side that had burners to heat the house, at night there would be no heat in the house.  Once the wood or coal burned out late evening that was it until Mama got up very early next morning to heat the house before we children arose.

Now because there was no heat in the house overnight, Mama would pile a few warm blankets on our beds to keep us warm.  We also wore long flannel night gowns or pajamas and that helped to keep us warm.

As a child, the best part of winter was playing out in the snow and building a facsimile of a snowman. I grew up in one of four large tenement buildings that totaled 24 tenements (today we call them "apartments"). You can imagine how much fun we had.  Our playground was the yard we shared in the middle of the buildings with the yard in between two tenement buildings to the back and two to the front of the yard.  It was the best!  There was a bunch of kids to play with and all the snow would be shoveled into one huge pile in the middle of the yard so we could sled down that mound of snow.

You know, life was simpler then and it really didn't take much to make us happy.

Well these are some of the good memories I have growing up in New England winters.  There are many more but those will have to be shared at another time.  Thanks for asking!

All Rights Reserved
Lucie LeBlanc Consentino
Lucie's Legacy
2011 - Present


Greta Koehl said...

Your description of baked beans brought back memories! Even though we lived in warmer climes (Southern California and Texas), beans were a staple of our diet, probably because they didn't cost a lot. Now that I think of it, though, we did eat a lot more of them when it got colder.

Lucie LeBlanc Consentino said...

Thank you for your post Greta.

I just find it so interesting to think back on how we lived growing up. For us, potatoes, carrots and cabbage were always a staple and in warmer weather, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. Of course when I was growing up, there were many farms in this area so those farms provided for our needs.



A rootdigger said...

wow, that is a great review of Winter. I wish I had done more like you. I was glad to learn a little more about New England winter a place my Husband grew up. Not exact place, but still it was east.

Lucie LeBlanc Consentino said...

Thank you for your post rootdigger.

It really is interesting to learn about different parts of the country. To me there is no place like New England. I lived in a warm climate state for a couple of years and was so happy when I returned to New England where we truly enjoy four seasons during the year.