Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Warm Fuzzies And Strange Epiphanies And Lard On Potatoes

I have spent the last few weeks immersed in the past, peering into the world that belonged to my grandmother.

She was the family matriarch, she was my maternal grandmother and she loved her kitchen. The more people she could cook for, the happier she was. When I re-discovered her cookbooks, I had no idea where they would take me.

My foray into the past has evoked memories of things long forgotten. I did not, until now, give much thought to the fact that the memories, although submerged in the deep recesses of my mind, informed certain aspects of my life. I am not talking about the big stuff – about shaping who I am as a person or how I have lived my life (that’s a different conversation), I’m talking about little things that I “just knew”.

For example, I’ve always added sugar to the water when cooking turnips , put celery in the water when cooking cabbage, rubbed baking potatoes with shortening prior to baking, and so on and so on! If I was asked why I did that – I merely said, “just because” – I didn’t really know, I just did it. But as I read Grandma’s cookbook, there they were, tips filed under “household handies,” and the descriptions even gave the reason why: adding sugar to turnip water improves flavour, adding celery to cabbage water takes away the cabbage smell, potatoes rubbed with lard will not split when baking. That’s when I had my epiphany about memories, when I realized how much they had shaped me without my knowing.

Finding my paternal grandmother’s nursing book did not evoke wonderful memories. No warm fuzzies, no happy epiphanies. In fact the only memory it brought to mind was an event that happened when I was quite young (6 or 7). My father had a boil and grandma came to our house to tend to him – she put a hot milk poultice on the boil which caused 3rd degree burns - which only reminded me that I was glad she wasn’t my nurse!

I hope that when my grandchildren visit my memorabilia the memories that are stirred up for them are as illuminating as mine have been.

And to all the dear grandmas in this world, I pray your legacy is one filled with warm fuzzies.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Be Grateful That You Didn't Give Birth In 1906

Another day of finding lost treasure! Yesterday I found my maternal grandmother’s cookbooks circa 1930s – today I found my paternal grandmother’s nursing textbook circa 1906. I was particularly interested in the obstetrics section.

In Obstetrics the nurse is instructed that when she is called to assist at a confinement she must make sure the patient is ready and everything has been prepared for reception of the child. There must be five basins of sterilized hot and cold water, preferably china or granite-wear, all sorts of acids for sterilizing people and stuff, sterilized towels, sterilized sheet, sterilized bobbin (for tying cord), a large square of linen or muslin, blunt scissors, ice and a douche-pan . The labor bed should have a hair mattress which is protected by a rubber sheet.

The nurse should prepare the patient by giving her a thorough bath, an enema, catheterizing her if she can not void and, after all that is done , she should braid the patient’s hair.

The directions for vaginal examinations during labor were very detailed, with the admonition that dilation could be determined almost as accurately by “the character of the cry to which the patient gives expression”.

After childbirth, the patient should stay in bed for at least ten days. Nurses were warned the onset of insanity usually in the form of melancholia was not uncommon and was treated by removing the child and also any pictures or furniture that seem to disturb the patient. Nurse should keep patient quiet without the use of force and ensure regular evacuation of bladder and rectum.

It reads like a torture manual – how did the population ever grow??

Tomorrow should I discuss “care of the dead” from the nursing book or “how long to hang an elk roast” from the cookbooks?

I have discovered a cornucopia of useless and sometimes disturbing information – I’m loving it!!!