Dishwashing thoughts


The nineteenth century brought us nostalgia, the yearning for an earlier, simpler time when everything was better. The holidays are an especially potent time for nostalgia, as we (or at least I) imagine a Christmas in a small house with a large family, in which the tree and greenery are cut fresh outside, gifts are handmade, relatives get along, children are grateful, and we all need the extra calories.

I’ve been re-reading Farmer Boy because it’s the Laura Ingalls Wilder book that is the least terrifying to me. Laura’s own story is, at this point in my life, a little too gritty for pure enjoyment. I prefer Almanzo’s comfortable house, big barns, financial security, and varied diet. The workload and intellectual stultification are still plain, though. The whole family work like dogs and could lose everything in a minute–a tornado, fire, or flood.

No, nostalgia for “simpler times” is just nostalgia. It’s an emotion, not a valid desire. I like living in the age of plastic and penicillin. I like to have books to read and time to read them; I like having television to watch. I like having the leisure to play with my daughter, and to let her play. I like having insurance. I like having hospitals comfortably staffed with certified doctors and nurses, and well-stocked with modern drugs. I like having a car. I like having big box stores.

And to tell the truth, a lot of American Primitive stuff creeps me out.

One thought on “Dishwashing thoughts

  1. Prim stuff freaks me out, too! And I feel you on the nostalgia. I once worked at an open-air museum where nostalgia took the place of real history. Tried to give it a more realistic portrayal, but the institutional inertia was just too much. I ended up leaving for another museum. As a historian, I struggle with nostalgia. On the one hand, we all like to think about kinder, simpler times, even if they never really existed. On the other hand, holy crap was life in the 19th century brutal for the average person. Domestic abuse, child slave labor, all kinds of fun illnesses due to poor sanitation, rampant racism and xenophobia, 10-18 hour workdays, etc. My favorite quote about history is “The past is a foreign country.” One that I would like to visit, but dear god not to live in. I’m with you on the penicillin. And hot running water. And the internet.

    Doesn’t mean we can’t sometimes do simple things by hand and get joy out of them, though. Maybe even more joy than 19th century people because we choose to do them instead of doing them out of absolute necessity? Farmer Boy is my favorite of the books too, mostly because of all the food descriptions. And maple sugaring and ice cutting which, now that I live in New York, I understand so much better now.

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