My grandfather wound an old pendulum mantle clock every night before bed without fail. I can still see him, tall with his white hair neatly combed to the side towering above me – my gentle giant. That clock ticked rhythmically every day that I lived there, a gentle reassurance that I was home. It was the only clock in the house (other than an alarm clock) until my grandmother got a radio for the kitchen.
I am not sure the brand of radio my grandmother had, but it sat in the kitchen on top of the refrigerator (I am remembering how short the refrigerator was). It was a beige color with a huge clock face on the left and a round AM radio dial on the right. She listened to gospel music while she cooked.
She did have a freezer in the enclosed back porch. The stove in the kitchen was a standard 4-burner electric. No dishwasher, of course. I remember my grandmother teaching me to wash dishes. Hot soapy water in one sink, and clean boiling water in the other. Glasses were washed first, then rinsed. Then plates, each floated to the bottom of the rinse water, the edge of one plate used to tip the edge of another out of the boiling hot water. I cannot for the life of me remember how she got the glasses out of that hot water! Next silverware, then pots and pans. Dishes were always dried and put away immediately with the exception of glasses. They were air-dried so as not to leave lint from the towel inside the glass.
My grandparents slept in different rooms – my grandfather upstairs and my grandmother downstairs. Beside my grandfather’s bed was a Westclox wind-up Big Ben alarm clock. Man was that thing loud! I think now how I despise being startled awake, I cannot imagine having that thing by the head of my bed.
Homes were low tech. My grandmother’s house was heated by an old Siegler oil stove in the dining room. The brown stove stood about 4’ high and had a blower at the base. My grandfather fashioned a piece of tin to fit the blower so the warm air could be guided in a different direction. Other than the wood fireplace, it was the only heat in the house. You can see a photo of the exact stove here.
The front door of the house had a push button lock. When you wanted to lock the door, you must open it, push a button on the side of the door where the latch was, then close the door. I remember being fascinated once when the lock was not working and my grandfather used powdered graphite in a squeeze bottle to lubricate the lock. I would remember this all my life and used graphite to get my patio locks working on my own house in Florida when the humidity had caused them to seize up.
Of course there was no air conditioning at all. The house was cooled by opening the windows to allow for a cross-breeze. It was always a mad race when a rain storm blew up. My grandmother would yell “get the windows!” And we would all make a mad dash upstairs to shut all the windows so the floors did not get wet. The windows were low tech by modern standards. They were weight and pulley systems built in the sash. All was well unless the rope broke and the weight fell – thunk! And every spring, the metal Venetian blinds that covered them would go in the tub to be cleaned.
We eventually got a television set. It was a black and white television with rabbit ears. Of course they did nothing for us because we lived in a valley with mountains on all side. We depended on an antennae installed up the mountain with antennae wire strung back to the house. (I wrote about adjusting the antennae in this SoCS post Reflections in Black and White – SoCS Television). Eventually as television broadcast signals were stronger, we were able to pick up the closest local station within antennae on the roof.
We had a fuse box and the fuse would blow if the circuit was overloaded. Of course, if you did not have any more fuses, some people would put a penny behind the blown fuse to get the circuit back. Of course, that was stupid and dangerous, but people did it.
I look around my house at all the appliances and gadgets we seem dependent on. I can see why we have become so dependent on electricity. We were not so dependent in the low tech household.