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Footprints in the snow
Oct. 18, 2019
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by Ivan Raconteur

It’s difficult for me to imagine what life was like for our grandparents and their parents.

People who lived through the Great Depression, assorted wars, and other challenges were tougher and had less of a sense of entitlement than a lot of people today.

While our parents may have had things slightly easier than their parents, I often see things that suggest people of my generation are softer than our parents.

Although I consider myself a reasonably responsible person, there’s no doubt I have an easy life compared to my ancestors.

This fact was brought home to me in a vivid way one recent Sunday afternoon.

I was at the bachelor estate doing laundry, along with some other domestic duties. I was feeling slightly irritable, as I often do when doing laundry.

It’s not the laundry itself that bothers me, although that’s not my favorite household chore. It is the trips up and down the stairs to and from the cellar that bug me.

I got spoiled by years of having first floor laundry facilities just steps from my bedroom in my last couple of houses. As a result, my current arrangement makes me bitter sometimes.

I was thinking dark thoughts about laundry, and stairs in general at one point when I emerged from the basement and happened to notice the snow coming down outside my kitchen window.

Suddenly, I was reminded of my mother, and all the years she spent doing laundry for her husband and five kids.

We lived in an old duplex when I was growing up. My parents lived on the top floor, and my grandmother lived on the floor below.

In order to wash clothes, my mother had to carry the laundry out the back door, through an enclosed porch, down a rickety outdoor staircase (my father later replaced this, but when I was young it seemed about as stable as a rope bridge over a ravine).

She then had to enter the basement through an exterior door and descend some more dodgy stairs.

The basement was unfinished and primitive in nature.

In the spring, the floods carried mud and clay into what served as the laundry room, so Ma sometimes had to clean up that mess before starting on the laundry.

The trip down the outdoor stairs was an adventure, as well.

Through summer heat and winter blizzards, Ma hauled laundry up and down those stairs, in all sorts of weather.

Despite those obstacles, I never heard her complain about her situation.

Ma and her sisters grew up in a rural area on the Iron Range in a house my grandfather built. They were no strangers to hard work, and they were accustomed to doing things for themselves.

When my mother and her sisters were young, the restroom facilities were an outdoor affair. Living with an outhouse in northern Minnesota is likely to make anyone tougher.

In my teens I started doing my own laundry, but in those early years, Ma did it all.

Washing clothes was just one small part of what she did. In addition to cooking and housekeeping, she did all her own baking, as well as baking cookies and other items to sell.

She baked and decorated fabulous wedding cakes for which she no doubt charged less than she should have.

On top of that, she found time to clean other people’s houses to earn money.

Mothers are amazing.

As I looked out the window watching the snow come down on that recent Sunday afternoon, I remembered the footprints in the snow on the back stairs all those years ago, and I decided I can stop whining about laundry day now, and start appreciating how lucky I am, and how easy my life is.


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