Oldies But Goodies

One of many lovely places I’ve visited in Scotland is Stirling Castle, which has been a royal something-or-other (chapel, burgh, castle, residence) for going on a thousand years. Before that, because it overlooked the most southerly ford for the Forth River, it was a busy commercial center. One of the messages pounded home when you tour the kitchens there is, “Here, they ate better 500 years ago than we do now.”

Almost everything was locally produced (and organic of course). The diet was plant-based, bodaciously fresh, and included surprising variety given seasonal limitations. Fresh water oysters by the bushel, all the fresh-caught salmon you could want, game, eggs most days, a dash of dairy, fruits, greens, honey… picked fresh daily was the norm.

I forget what workshop I was at when somebody pointed that of course all those grand folks in the Regency and Georgian portraits looked lovely. EVERYTHING they wore was bespoke, chosen for the colors, fabrics, and specific fit that made the wearer look and feel great, from handmade shoes to specifically fitted eyeglasses. Even a poor child was dressed in handmade clothes that his family altered to suit his specific size. In a sense, those old guys and gals dressed better than we do.

My eye was recently caught by Salvatore Basile’s new book, Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything. Basile chronicles how an invention that we take for granted now was actually slow to catch on, in part because we had so many other measures for dealing with excessive heat–sleeping porches, siestas, parasols, swimming holes, hand fans, sunken basements, cold meals, iced drinks…. we were pretty savvy about keeping our cool. Not like now.

In a recent Facebook post, I asked readers what they might enjoy about a Regency lifestyle, and the answers included a darker night sky, greater abundance of all natural life, birdsong, scent and spice gardens, peat fires, sun-dried laundry, letter writing and exquisite penmanship, personal libraries of real books, live music everywhere from street corners to pubs to concert halls to family drawing rooms, farm-to-table menus by default… the list was long and varied.

In a time when we are faced with some tough problems–climate change, a pandemic, social media toxicity, an unregulated internet, global wealth concentration–it can be tempting think tech which is part of the problem) will solve all of our problems, and we just need to science our collective behonkis off, and we can make this all come right. I value science (see dad, two brothers, a sister-in-law who ran a Nobel-prize winning lab…), and I hope tech can become more of a blessing than a curse.

But I’m also struck by how often the solutions we had–eating locally and fresh, napping through the heat of the day, making music together instead of creating posts for privacy-mining social media platforms–were arguably better for us and for our planet than the ones we’ve adopted today.

Do I want to live without vaccines, TP, or my bedroom window unit? Nope, but neither do I want species extinction to continue at its present rate while the planet cooks, and social media suffers no consequences for engaging in purposeful, profitable, evil.

Is there any aspect of past lifestyles that might suit you better than modern alternatives? Any old-fashioned habits you keep close or would like to take up? To one commenter, I’ll send–irony alert!–a $50 Amazon e-gift card.



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18 comments on “Oldies But Goodies

  1. I try to eat as local and in season as possible, keep my A/C at 80 degrees (it would be higher but humidity is a problem and my partner would prefer 75 so this is our compromise), prefer reading to watching television.
    As it happened, I did live without A/C for almost 2 weeks while waiting to get ours fixed (an unhappy saga) and I was uncomfortable but fans kept me going. My partner had to move to a hotel for a few days because he just couldn’t stand it but my father’s family is native to central Florida and I grew up coming here in the middle of summer, staying at my grandparents’ house that didn’t have A/C, and playing outside. It is a bit harder as I age but I did okay.

  2. I think storytelling is a way to keep our family’s history alive. I remember my grandmothers and uncles telling stories and laughing at memories. Now, we have Ancestry.com

    And photo albums..it’s nice to flip through them and see the smiles, the vacations and family holidays.
    Everything seems digital now- texts, FaceTime and iPhone photos.

    And family cooking recipes. I love to bake and cook…my daughter has no interest in cooking. She loves take in.
    I’d like to return to simpler times..family gatherings, Sunday supper and baking bread and making dinners.

    And to be honest…I don’t think I could live without my a/c, it lulls me to sleep.

  3. Hand knit socks! I love them and knit most of my socks. Yes, they are cheaper to buy at a big box store, but don’t fit nearly as well or keep my feet as cool in summer or warm in winter. I also get the enjoyment of hand-dyed yarn and wool from different breeds of sheep.

  4. I have been known to dress as my grandma and her sisters—I LOVE the fashions of the 1920s. The silhouette of the clothes, the shoes, the cloche hats and the makeup—youzer, it’s the Cat’s Meow! Every formal dress (as a singer—sopranos be sopranoing) I own is reminiscence of the 1920s and I feel glamorous in a way I’ve not felt until I embraced my Inner-Flapper.

    In 1999, I decide a Bob was MY hair-spirit animal, had it cut into a Bob, and have never looked back. The Bob is always in fashion, goes with almost every style, looks stunning on almost everyone and, if you let it grew out, just a teeny bit, you can twist it or pull it back. I get compliments all the time.

    Like you, I would not like to give up TP or AC or vaccines for GOODNESS SAKE. But I do love a breeze moving the curtains on a summer afternoon or eating a veggie at the PEAK of it’s season and perfection. And I truly miss the family grocery stores which were popular all through my childhood–supermarkets are surely super but they don’t have that Mom*n*Pop feel of service to the customer.

    Have a wonderful week, Grace!

  5. I wouldn’t mind homemade clothes!! My grandma and great-grandma both did a lot of canning, homemade pickles
    Tomato sauce!! I can’t give up my eyeglasses or modern medicine

  6. I wish our built environment used materials and designs that kept us comfortable. I have had the great pleasure of spending time in places that quite effectively mitigate the weather with traditional architecture. There may need to be a siesta so you aren’t out in the hottest times but inside you stay comfortable without using any resources to cool (of course it was expensive and resource heavy to build but it lasts and lasts plus no toxic materials) which as the world heats seems more and more important. Of course the thick walls etc do also help keeping heat in in the cold, but I must say that giving up central heating would be rough. Although there are also some ingenious traditional heating methods distributing heat through the floor for example, I love forced air central heating.

    I also try to eat local, I love going to our small farmer’s market and choosing the vegetables for the week. I try to use or compost every bit.

  7. As much as I love the look of Regency and Victorian era clothing, I don’t think I could put up with the whalebone stays that the styles required. I was a teen in the 60’s when women wore girdles and garter belts and that was more than enough confinement for my not always svelte body! I did live without AC for many years. We had a few window mounted units, but rarely used them (I have always been frugal). We kept cool by taking dunks in the ol’ swimming hole (OK. It was really an old above ground pool in the back yard!), and found that a mid day swim really did keep us cooler for the rest of the day. I guess if there’s anything from the “good old days” that I would love to see more of today it’s the closeness of extended family living in the same ancestral pile, all in each other’s business, sharing meals, entertainment and fun with each other, as well as being there for each other in times of crisis or stress. Though I don’t live all that far from my kids, busy life often gets in the way and I don’t see them nearly as often as I wish.

  8. I have reverted to my mom’s Appalachian roots (of the sugar was a rare luxury days) for both budgetary & health reasons. Meat once a week, stone ground non GMO corn flour, nut flour or red heirloom rice cooked in “bean sop” for flavoring & fill up the hungry with a variety of veggies, as local as possible. Steel cut oats sweetened solely with a little fruit. Honey used solely for baking to feed the yeast.

    Unfortunately A/C is now a necessity for safety as a single woman with open windows & no alarms is an invitation to villainy. I miss my childhood when the latch went on the screen door at bedtime to let the neighbors know visiting hours were over.

    As a descendant of highlanders, I’d adore handmade clothing as it’s a struggle to clothe my six foot frame, especially in a world where “ankle length” is Bermuda shorts length on my 34” inseamed legs. I spend an exorbitant amount of my income on natural materials – cotton, linen, & wool – on the items I do find to buy as they’re comfortable & last more than a season.

    But before we get too far into the “good old days” & nostalgia, I’d have spent my life as a blind dependent without the benefit of LASIK, laser surgeries, cataract replacement lenses & glaucoma meds. I’m also eternally grateful for modern dentistry as I remember all too well the family members born around the 1900s who struggled with bridges, dentures, or a very few teeth remaining in their eighties & nineties. Most hit their early hundreds both legally blind & toothless.

    My goal is to hit my early hundreds with teeth, vision, mobility & a functional brain. Who’s with me?!

  9. I miss living in a small town where I knew the people I saw frequently. We now have a lot of rentals around us and people come and go frequently.

    I miss having arable land where I could plant flowers and have a small vegetable garden. We got big tubs instead and my husband planted beautiful flowering plants so we have enjoyed those all summer.

    Please offer your gift card to someone else. I have been lucky to be employed during the covid crisis and am still working full time although I hope to retire soon.

  10. Years ago I mentioned to someone that my mother would buy whatever fruits and vegetables were in season at the grocery store. Yes, there were other options available, but she always bought what was in season. This was the result of her upbringing on a small farm in Germany. A fresh pineapple was a special treat, while canned pineapple was used for desserts. Same with many other canned fruits. My father always wanted nuts at Christmas time. This was a tradition from his childhood. I recently listened to a presentation on Ayurveda. One aspect that the presenter stressed was fresh, seasonal, local eating. The pineapple wouldn’t even fit into this model since it isn’t local to my area of the country. I need to see what the view is on canned foods. My grandmother had a huge garden and canned most of what was grown. I don’t believe that I would be the best farmer, I seem to have been cursed with being allergic to practically everything outdoors, but to have grown most of what you consume gives you more control over your eating habits. And to have clothes made just for me would be wonderful. Sadly, I am not a credible seamstress.

  11. We’ve spent the summer without AC – we haven’t been in Texas but up in Idaho where it does cool down at night even when it gets into the 90s during the day. Because of the heat we relied on a lot of grilling and tried to avoid turning on the oven. I spoke to a farmer at the farmer’s market and he said he’s been doing the seista thing with the unseasonal heat. If we’d been without AC in Texas, It would have been miserable.

    I’ve enjoyed having plenty of wonderful local foods while here – things we can and do get at home, but the fruits and veggies are different. I have loved the lower population and much lower light pollution – seeing the milky way at night and imagine what it would have been like in the past with zero light pollution! I could live with that!

  12. Natural treatments for illness. I use lavender oil for the itchies. There’s something about slathering on cortisone and other steroids that makes me nervous. I use eucalyptus oil for stuffy heads and tight chest when all I have is a bad cold. Boil a pot of water, add a few drops of eucalyptus oil, cover with a towel and breathe deep. I recently started using goat milk products on my face, and holy cow (goat?), my skin looks better than it has for years! At 57, that’s saying something. I’ve learned that my regular tonsil infections will abate in the same number of days without antibiotics as when taking antibiotics. Of course, sometimes the tonsils do get really nasty, and then the antibiotics help. I don’t use them every time I get an infection so they’re more effective when I need them. Mother Nature gives us so much from the earth and garden, I really don’t need manufactured assistance most of the time.

    I am extremely thankful for treatments for cancers and other serious health conditions, but for my not-so-serious illnesses, I prefer natural remedies.

  13. Haha: “irony alert”

    I would love firelight and candle light instead of blue light-emitting devices and subsequent poor sleep.
    Also a slower schedule sounds lovely.

    But, modern medicine and electronic books at my fingertips in an instant are not things I would give up.

  14. OK, this is really corny, but I will tell you a secret. I can’t stand waste. This is the cause of my tendency to hoarding because I hate contributing to the land fills and oceans full of plastic. So here is the secret – I darn the holes in my socks. Seriously. I know I am not the only person who does this because all of the supplies and materials are available commercially, but I am fairly rare I believe and I don’t tell many people because it flies in the face of the tidy up systems (which would help the hoarding) but I enjoy it and feel really happy when I do it.

    All the beautiful night sky, Healthy eating etc. are all things I would love, this little quirk is unique to me.

  15. I love the slowing down of life… learning at a pace that doesn’t outstrip our brain’s ability to take stuff in… birdsong and stars… sounds so lovely!
    People were not not busy, though. They worked enormously hard and long hours. But, it seems like community banded together… and books were expensive. I like the idea of having books and libraries and everyone can, and gets a chance to, read for pleasure.
    I don’t know. I don’t think the Industrial Revolution did us any favors (I woulda been a Luddite for sure!)… but I also know, as much as I hate it, I’ve benefitted tremendously from medical technology… and air conditioning is a dear, dear friend. *sigh

  16. I think I’d like a lady’s maid to do hair, make-up, mending, tailoring, ironing… Maybe I wouldn’t live in a bathrobe with my hair in a messy bun?

    Sue, I was taught to darn socks and do occasionally.

    Mostly, however, I am happy for modern conveniences, perhaps plumbing especially.

  17. I guess I already enjoy keeping the past I like in the present. I’d not change anything in my life. I go old fashioned when I want but love new technology.