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A View from the Attic

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A View From The Attic

Week of January 24, 2011


Fremont County Historical Society

Winter in the 1930's and 1940's

by Emily Bengtson


I was a teenager in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Several of those years I lived with my Grand Ma. Spending winter at her house was a glimpse of how people had passed the cold months for decades. It showed me how all the work in the summer to grow and can and pack away foods paid off.


Grand Ma would store vegetables and fruits in sand in the cellar (cave)--apples, turnips, carrots, onions, potatoes. All those vegetables and fruits stored in sand helped us enjoy great foods all winter. The carrots and turnips would be pulled out of the sand as fresh as the day they were packed. The apples were wrapped in paper. I remember my Grand Ma unwrapping the apples and only finding a few apples where the skin had begun to wrinkle. Those she would peel before slicing. Apples were used to prepared fried apples for a winter treat.


One big change in our diet was the number of onions we ate. My Grand Ma believed that onions kept colds from occurring. A bowl of creamed onions was a standard meal item. The onions were boiled in water and then creamed like any other vegetable such as corn and cabbage.


The living space in the house was reduced to the big warm kitchen except when company came. The pocket doors to the living room were kept closed. To help conserve heat, the bedrooms had just enough heat to keep them from freezing. Down blankets and home- made quilts were there for snuggling and forming our own cocoons. Only when company was coming or when it was very cold did the furnace get used. Everyday heat was from the big cooking stove in the kitchen doing double duty.


One of my jobs after school was to gather in corn cobs for fuel. One year in the late 1930s, corn bottomed out in price and everyone burned it instead of selling.


We had the radio for entertainment in the winter but for me I'd rather read in a wicker rocker by the stove in the kitchen. Many a snowy cold evening I lost track of time buried in a book. However, on the weekends, snowball fights, sledding and skating were the thing. We never thought much about the cold when we were outside because we were all bundled up, but it was so nice to go back inside and warm up with cups of hot chocolate.


Weather and potential storms are always a worry during the winter. The difference then was the lack of forecasting. Today we listen to the weather casters making predictions in late fall as to the upcoming winter being snowy and cold. Then my Grand Ma was always ready to predict what was coming according to signs. They included 1.) if there is a general fog, 100 days later there will be snow or rain; 2.) thunder in the winter means a snow storm; and 3.) if the wind was in the east then there would be a storm.


She had all kinds of sayings and sometimes I would try to decide if they were true. Some seemed to work like the wind from the east and the general fog. Then there were those that made me scratch my head such as 1.) a dog crying on his back indicates a change in stormy weather or 2,) a cat lying on its side and face upwards foretells stormy weather.