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Things do change for the better

Somewhere in our future lies a new normal. Chances are pretty good that we may never completely return to life the way it was in the pre-COVID19 period.

But as is often the case, change is a good thing. Think of where we’d be right now if things never, ever changed. I use the following example….life in the 1500s:

Most people then got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell a bit, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths back then consisted of one big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, followed by the women and finally the children. The babies came last. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it, which prompted the saying, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”

Houses had thatched roofs – thick straw, piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the household pets lived on the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, “it’s raining cats and dogs.”

The floor of the home was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, “Dirt poor.”

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance way. Hence: a thresh hold.

In those days they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, one out of 25 were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (which led to the term: graveyard shift) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, saved by the bell or was considered a dead ringer.

See, aren’t you glad that things change!

Cal Bryant is the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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