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Historical Novels -Bobi Andrews

Saturday, May 10, 2014

90's the new 60's -- The Longevity of our Ancestors

The fastest growing segment in our population is the individuals
entering their 90th (and above) years.  My previous blog, "Amazing, Really 
Amazing" highlighted such an individual. You need to know more about 
Bernice Steele! 

She and her daughter visited my sister, Rose, recently.  They got to
talking about Dear Mama, Love Sarah.  We have to remember
individuals entering their nineties were born sometime in the early
1920's (many years before electricity), with some born as far back
as the turn of the century.  Taking into consideration they knew their
parent's and perhaps their grandparent's lives brings alive a unique
perspective into how our forebearers lived.  This insight indeed lends
credence to how Sarah ( Dear Mama, Love Sarah) lived.  I could
write an "addenda" to my story based on Bernice's personal revelations
of the times.

--She remembers the days they ground horseradish with a hand
grinder.  The entire house stunk something terrible.  (I knew that
making soap was disagreeable, but not about the horrors of grinding

--With ten children in the family, Bernice did every kind of work,
often outside shocking oats in the field.  Her mother would bring
out ginger water which consisted of ground ginger, vinegar, sugar
and water from the pump well--no ice.  She remembers it tasting
great on a hot afternoon.

--Bernice remembers her mother as always being pregnant.  (With
Sarah's thirteen children it would have been no different for Rilla
and the other children of the Simpson story.)

--The rare treat of opening up a jar of home canned beef.  One
can only imagine the amount of work that went into preserving
beef in a jar.  Pickled hog's head (head cheese) was a treat in the
winter.   An entire meal could be put together from food stored
in the cellar.

--Her family consistently went to church on Sunday. Bernice's
mother would get up early and make three pies and put a
roast in the oven before they went to church.  Her dad always
invited people from church to come and have dinner with them.

--Because of their large family, her mom made ten loaves of bread
every third day.

--Her dad and mom made their own beer and root beer.  (I
remember my dad telling his story of his home-made root beer
exploding in their attic on a hot day in Nebraska.)

Because there was always so much work to do, Bernice's social life was
limited. The first time she "ate out" she was with her boyfriend.  She was in a
complete dither when he asked her what she was going to order.  The
dialogue went much as follows:

            She stammered, "What are you ordering?
            Upon his response, she answered, "I'll take the same."

Bernice related that with all her responsibilities, she didn't have time to
be creative or grow her own interests.  Even though the family consisted
of ten children, each child was wanted.  The work load, however, fell
on older brothers and sisters.

Bernice at 98 years is alive and vibrant to this day.  Today, we believe
that beyond the genes we inherit, our longevity is largely based on modern
medicine, our chosen way of life, diet, and exercise.  To many, faith in
a higher being strengthens our years on this earth. 

Discovering Bernice's life's journey, I can't help but draw some parallels
relating to "diet and exercise" so promulgated today. They didn't need 
to take the dog for a walk or join a fitness club.  Let's take a look:

Their food was largely "organic"--straight from the garden to the table. 
Don't suppose they did much "bug spraying" or find foods loaded with
preservatives.  (From my own ancestors' causes of death, there was
too  much "lard" and other cholesterol-producing meat and fat products.)
During many earlier periods, sugar was not always easy to come by,
but any decent supper included "dessert".    (My parents didn't have
canisters of sugar or flour, but had entire bins where sugar and flour
were bought by the 25 pound sack.  Some of our clothes, particularly
pinafores and aprons, came from printed flour sacks.)

Our current YMCA "Silver Sneakers" or other popular exercise programs
do not come close to the exercise regime of our mothers and grandmothers.
Take a chart of recommended exercises and see what I mean:

 1.  Churning butter                                 Exercise of the arms and forearms.

 2.   Scrubbing clothes on a washboard   Exercise of back and arms

 3.  Hanging wash clothes on a line         Stretching of the back 

 4.  Scrubbing floors on hands and knees  Exercise of the back and arms

5.  Making beds                                     Stretching arms and shoulders

6.  Kneading bread                                Stretching fingers and wrists

7.  Walking a crying baby                       Exercise and balance of legs and

                                                                 thigh hamstrings 

8.  Shocking barley and oats                   Lifting and muscle development

9.  Milking cows                                      Arm, hand and finger exercise

10.  Peeling apples                                  Finger exercise and coordination

11.Sweeping                                            Arms and shoulder coordination

12. Scooping chicken feed                       Arms, shoulders, back exercise

13. Spading a garden                               Every muscle in the body

14. Stooping to pick beans and peas        Back muscle development; squats

15. Digging potatoes                                Back and arm muscle development

16. Spinning                                             Arm, foot, and eye coordination

Our ancestors theme of longevity was often Eat well, Work hard, and Bless the Lord!


  1. Hey, I know those beautiful ladies--that's my grandma and great-grandma! Thank you for writing this, Bobi; it's really quite special. I've heard most of these stories over the years, but I'll be sure to ask for a glass of ground ginger, vinegar, sugar water when I see them next month! Your analysis of the disparate exercise regimens is fascinating, and right on the money. Again, thank you for writing this. It was thrilling to read.


  2. Thanks, Angie, for your comment. I, too, believe that they are fantastic ladies!