Friday, September 03, 2004

A History Lesson

Next time you go to Starbucks and are disappointed that your Mocha Java Capuccino is not frothy enough, here are some facts to consider about the 1500's:
  • Most people got married in June, because they took their yearly bath in June and smelled reasonably fresh during the month. However, "reasonably" is not good enough for some events, so brides began to carry a bouquet of flowers to hide their body odor.
  • Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the first bath while the water was clean; then, all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children -- last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it -- hence 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 dogs, cats and other small animals (mice, vermin, etc.) lived in the roof. When it rained, the roof would become saturated with water and unable to hold its own weight and sometimes the animals would fall thru or off of the roof --hence the saying "it's raining cats and dogs."
  • Also, with thatched roofs, there was nothing to stop "things" from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could really mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.
  • Most people had dirt floors. 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 the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they kept adding more thresh until opening the door caused it to slip outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrancewayto hold in the thresh -- hence, a "threshhold."
  • In those days, people 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 making a stew to be eaten for dinner. All of the leftovers would left in the pot to get cold overnight and reused for the next day's meal. Sometimes the 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 people of the 1500's were able to obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, the man of the house would hang up the family's 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."
  • People of wealth had plates made of pewter. Food with a high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, often resulting in lead poisoning and death. This happened so often with tomatoes, that during this period, tomatoes came to be viewed as poisonous.
  • Most people did not have pewter plates, but had trenchers, a piece of wood with the middle scooped out like a bowl. Often trenchers were made from stale bread which was so old and hard that they could be used for quite some time. Trenchers were never washed and many times worms and mold got into the wood and old bread. After eating off wormy, moldy trenchers, one would get "trench mouth."
  • Bread was divided according to status. Household help got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or "upper crust."
  • Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination could sometimes knock one out for a couple of days--passing out along the side of the road. 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 day 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 soon people started running out of places to bury their dead. So a common practice became digging up coffins, removing the bones and taking them to a "bone-house"--so that the grave could be reused. When reopening these coffins, several would be found to have scratch marks on the inside which meant that the individual had been buried alive. As a result, families began tying a string on the wrist of the corpse, threading it through the coffin and up to the surface of the grave--tying it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the "graveyard shift") to listen for the bell with the possibility that someone could be "saved by the bell."

Class dismissed!