Life was hard for our ancestors — much harder than it is for us today. Most of them didn’t have running water and electricity to make their lives
easier. These modern conveniences have changed our way of life, to the point where we often forget what people had to do throughout history in order
We look at survival today as something needed in a time of emergency, but to many of them, survival stared them in the face every day of their lives.
That was especially true in the wintertime, when it wasn’t possible to glean what you needed from nature. Basically, if you weren’t ready for
winter, you didn’t survive.
So our ancestors all became experts in stockpiling. They’d spend the warmer months preparing, so that when the cold winter months came around,
they’d be ready. You could tell a lot about a family’s wealth and industry by that, as there were those who struggled through the winter and those
I remember my grandmother, who lived though the Great Depression. She was a hoarder if you ever saw one. While her home wasn’t one you’d expect to
find on one of those reality shows where they dig through a house filled with junk, she didn’t let things go to waste. If there was any utility she
could get out of something, it didn’t go to the trash; it was saved for that proverbial rainy day.
Not everyone saved all the things that my grandmother did, but I imagine a fair percentage of those who lived through the Depression did. Even those
who didn’t knew the importance of stockpiling for winter. The idea of “saving up for a rainy day” wasn’t just a figure of speech — it was a
way of life.
So, what did they stockpile? Let’s take a look.
Of course, the most important thing to stockpile for winter was food. Everyone would “put up” food — canning, smoking and drying it. The modern
grocery store is actually rather new, with the first real supermarkets opening exactly a century ago. Before that, you could buy foodstuffs from the
general store, a local butcher or a local greengrocer (produce only). But there weren’t grocery stores as we know them.
The majority of the population at the time was involved in agriculture. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that the vast majority of the
population shifted to the cities. And while people who lived in the cities have always had to depend on store or market-bought food, before that time,
they were in the minority.
Feeding yourself wasn’t enough in those days. You needed to be able to feed your livestock, as well. Even people living in the city had to take this
into consideration, as many had horses and wagons.
Early garages weren’t attached to homes, because they were converted barns and stables. Before the automobile became common, that’s how people
moved around. So, they’d have a stable behind the home and had to make sure the loft was filled with hay and grain to feed their horses. Granted,
they always didn’t harvest that themselves, but they still had to buy it and stockpile it to take care of their horses.
If that hay and feed was the “fuel” for their transportation back then, and they stockpiled it to get through the winter, perhaps we should follow
suit. While our modern cars won’t run well off of hay, few of us have enough fuel to keep them running for more than a day or two. In a blizzard or
power outage, that could prove to be a costly mistake.
Cutting wood for the fire in the wintertime is much more difficult than it is in the summertime. So our ancestors needed to take advantage of the
warmer weather to cut their wood and stack it for winter.
Granted, living in the city made that hard for some, but cities were smaller back then.
They could still take a wagon out to the country to cut wood, if they didn’t want to pay someone for it.
It would take several cords of wood to make it through the average winter, and – prior to electricity — there wasn’t any other option. That is,
unless you happened to live in an area where you could heat with coal. Coal produced much more heat per ton than firewood did, making it a great
improvement; but you couldn’t cut or mine it yourself.
In addition to the firewood, our ancestors always made sure they had a good stock of tinder. It’s all but impossible to find anything that can be
used as tinder in the wintertime. So, most families filled up their home’s tinderbox to overflowing during the warmer months. That way, they could
always start a fire if it went out.
4. Extra blankets
Keeping a home warm was difficult, especially a larger home with lots of rooms. Few actually could afford a fireplace in every room, even if they
wanted one. So they’d heat the main living area of the home and leave the doors open to the bedrooms. Whatever heat managed to make its way in there
was all that they’d get.
Since they didn’t have much heat in the bedrooms, they counted on body heat to keep them warm at night. That was part of the reason why kids would
sleep together — so that they could keep each other warm.
But the other thing they did was pile blankets high upon the beds. It wasn’t uncommon to have a chest at the foot of the bed, which was used to
store these extra blankets in warmer weather. Then, in the wintertime, they’d be brought out and piled on the bed. A good quilt was laid on top to
make it all look good.
That’s part of why goose down quilts were so popular. Not only are they warm, but they don’t weigh a ton. It’s much nicer to bury yourself under
a couple of goose down quilts than to have the weight of six wool blankets on you all night long. So save those goose feathers; it’s time to make
Most people kept a pretty good supply of medicines in the home — not the medicines that you can buy over the counter in the drug store, but home
remedies. Doctors weren’t all that common. Some communities only had a visiting doctor come by a couple of times a year when he was making his
circuit. So, they needed to be ready to take care of themselves. That’s why home remedies were so important. When that’s all you’ve got, you
want to make sure you don’t run out.
Candle making was a summertime activity. You had to make them when the bees were active, collecting pollen and making honey. That meant you made them
during the warmer months, when there were lots of flowers in the fields and on the trees. In the winter, bees stay in their hives, living off the
honey they stored up in summer.
Harvesting honey, for those who had hives, also meant harvesting the beeswax. That meant it was time to make candles. While some were made by
professional candle makers, it wasn’t uncommon for people to make their own, especially those in rural communities. Those candles would have to be
enough to get them through the winter.
7. Reading material
Wintertime was a time to stay indoors as much as possible. The harvest was in and it was too early to think about plowing for spring. So, people would
work inside the home, repairing harnesses, sewing clothes and reading. Few had time to read during warm weather, as the work on the farm kept them
going from “can see” to “can’t see,” but in the wintertime, gathered around