Not that I'm bitter, but I loathe magazines that depict an Olde Worlde where big cheery families were always happily sitting inside vaguely rough-hewn but immaculately clean wooden buildings, chatting companionably while a cheery fire lit their healthy, rosy cheeks with a warm glow-- up until contemporary life ruined everything.
They make it sound if all of family life was one big Hallmark card scenario until modern life stepped in.... Stepped in with what, exactly?
Do you really want to get rid of our silly, life-saving modern antibiotics and pesky vitamins? Our overly clean water and ridiculous reliance on lead-free utensils? Our rotten habit of properly cooking foods and ridding most meals of salmonella?
Articles about how great life used to be during earlier and simpler times make it seem as if stringing cranberries is an activity so spiritually and emotionally meaningful that in and of itself it would compensate for the lack of running water. As if eating by candlelight would be so romantic that nobody would mind the fact that it was 36 degrees inside the house.
Would wearing organic homespun clothing actually outweigh the lack of antiperspirant, deodorant, not to mention a whole other concept of what we would call in our horrible modern manner “basic hygiene”? This was a world without toilet paper, or for that matter, toilets. You had to pee in a pot under your bed at night and then bring it outside the next day. For some of us who don’t like to use a restroom when there’s anybody within six feet of us to act as a witness, what do you think it would have been like to drag your chamber pot down through the kitchen in the morning?
This was a world without tampons, people. This was not a fun place to be a girl.
Nostalgia, when rabid (and there was rabies, too, don’t forget rabies), would encourage us to believe that having a taffy pull for the whole family would keep us from realizing that very few of the family actually had their own teeth. (“Give that last piece of pork to little Martha. Her canines are still workin’ good. She can gnaw on that for the rest of the evenin’ and it’ll keep her quiet.”)
This is probably also the place to mention that having a big family was not exactly something you could prevent from happening. I mean, once you started having a family, you kept having family. There was no central heating. There were no indoor lights. No cable. And a person can only pull so much taffy.
Therefore, I am compelled to offer thanks for what we all too often take for granted in our gloriously modern age, including but not limited to the following:
--Flushing (not the city in Queens, but the ability to push a button or step on a handle—no woman has actually ever used her hand to flush a public toilet—and make It disappear)
--Mattresses, ones not made from straw (“Don’t let the bedbugs bite!” was once not a cutesy saying--it was a profound wish)
--Toothpaste, toothbrushes, and people who use them
--Hairbrushes not made from the bristles of large porcine creatures
--Soap not made from the fat of large porcine creatures
--Clocks you do not have to remember to wind (okay, maybe one is nice but the others should actually function like clockwork)
--Disposable tissues, so that handkerchiefs can be kept for both their correct uses: blotting ones tears prettily while watching “Wuthering Heights” (the one with Laurence Olivier), or attending the wedding of a male friend you might have married had life turned out just that little bit differently
--Pots and pans with handles that do not instantly heat up and take off three layers of skin when you forget to use a massive oven-mitt made from the bristles of large porcine creatures
--Ovens that don’t need to be stoked (actually, a life free from devices that need stoking is a leap forward)
--The absolutely adorable fact that certain groups of human beings are not legally enslaved to others
--The other absolutely adorable fact that certain groups of human beings are not legally burnt as witches, driven from their communities as deviants, or tarred and feathered as embodiments of seditious wickedness
--Mascara that you don’t have to brush out of that red flat Maybelline container your mother had to use when you were little, even though it was kind of cool to watch her use the little black brush on her eyelashes especially if she let you play with the tiny brush afterwards and maybe even use it for your dolls if you were good and promised not to play with it when she wasn’t looking (the brushes were probably made from the bristles of rather small porcine creatures)
--Votes for women
--Telephones that allow you hear who is calling before you have to pick up so that you don’t have to speak to your sister about her new weight-loss program (unless you really want to)
--A new generation of S.S.R.I.s, which might, if only she would listen to you, help your sister, stop obsessing about her weight
--The eradication of several childhood diseases, so that even if your kids don’t adorably trill “Look, dearest Mamma, at how sweetly Sister and I string popcorn not to mention cranberries as we sing carols by the fire,” they also don’t say “Too bad we both have rickets, caused by a profound lack of vitamin D.”
And for what do you give thanks, dear reader?