Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Our generation has lost so many important talents and skills. Technology makes it easier for us, but in some ways, it takes away our independence. Maybe that’s one reason we love to read (and write!) historical romance. We can go back in time vicariously without having to live through all the hardships and trials of everyday life that our great great grandmothers faced, experiencing only the top layer of what must have been difficult, by our standards, every moment. I didn't pick just one woman to talk about today. I wanted to talk about a whole generation (or two!) of women who helped their men settle the west.

Does anyone know how to cut up a chicken anymore? My mother did. I remember her getting out the wickedest looking knife I’d ever seen every Sunday and cutting up a chicken to fry. They had started to sell cut-up chickens in the store, but they were more expensive. Mom wouldn’t have dreamed of paying extra for that. By the time I began to cook for my family, I didn’t mind paying that extra money—I couldn’t bear to think of cutting a chicken up and then frying it.

It’s all relative. My mom, born in 1922, grew up in a time when the chickens had to be beheaded, then plucked, then cut up—so skipping those first two steps seemed like a luxury, I’m sure. I wouldn’t know how to begin to cut up a chicken. I never learned how. I don't want to know how.

Hog killing day was another festive occasion. Because my husband was raised on a farm, he and my mother had a lot of similar experiences to compare (this endeared him to her in later years.) Neighbors and family would gather early in the day. The hog would be butchered, and the rest of the day would be spent cutting and packing the meat. When my husband used to talk about the “wonderful sausage” his mother made, I was quite content to say, “Good for her. I’m glad you got to eat that when you were young.” (There’s no way I would ever make sausage.)

Medical issues? I was the world’s most nervous mother when I had my daughter. But being the youngest in the family, I had a world of experience to draw on. I also had a telephone and I knew how to use it! I called my mom or one of my sisters about the smallest thing. I can’t imagine living in one of the historical scenarios that, as writers, we create with those issues. The uncertainty of having a sick child and being unable to do anything to help cure him/her would have made me lose it. I know this happened so often and was just accepted as part of life, but to me, that would have been the very worst part of living in the historical west. I had a great aunt who lost all three of her children within one week to the flu. She lost her mind and had to be institutionalized off and on the rest of her life.

My mother was the eldest of eleven children. She often said with great pride that her mother had had eleven children and none of them had died in childhood. I didn’t realize, when I was younger, how important and odd that really was for those times. My great grandmother had a younger sister who was born under a tree in Indian Territory, in the heat of July. She already had three other children. My great grandfather stopped for her to have the baby, spent the night and the next day, and then they were on their way again in their covered wagon. My father’s mother had five children, two of whom died as children, and two more that almost died, my father being one of them.

It was a case of my grandmother thinking he was with my granddad, and him thinking three-year-old Freddie was with her. By the time they realized he was missing, the worst had happened. He had wandered to the pond and fallen in. It was a cold early spring day. Granddad had planted the fields already, between the pond and the house. A little knit cap that belonged to little Freddie was the only evidence of where he’d gone. It was floating on top of the water. By some miracle, my granddad found him and pulled him up out of the water. He was not breathing. Granddad ran with him back to the house, jumping the rows of vegetables he’d planted. The doctor later told him that was probably what saved Dad’s life—a very crude form of CPR. This is a picture of my dad at about age 18 or so, with his little brother Kay, who's around 7 or 8. Probably taken around 1940.

Could you have survived as a historical woman in the old west? What do you think would have been your greatest worry? What would you hate to give up the most from our modern way of life? I’m curious to know, what skills or talents to you think we have lost generationally over the last 100 years?

I’m not sure I would have lived very long, or very pleasantly. I know one thing—my family would never have eaten sausage that I’d made.

I've written two time travel stories, a short story, "MEANT TO BE" that appears in the 2011 Christmas Collection from Victory Tales Press, and a novel, TIME PLAINS DRIFTER, that received a 4.5 review from Romantic Times. In both of these stories, the heroine travels back to Indian Territory during the 1800's. They have to learn to cope with doing things the old fashioned way. Does love really conquer all? Will each of them stay in the past, given a choice? What about a man? Would he cope as well, if as a federal marshal of the 1870's he was catapulted forward into modern times? I think the hero of my sequel to TIME PLAINS DRIFTER, Cris d'Angelico, might find it very hard to give up driving fast cars and playing video games, once he's tried it. TIME PLAINS GUARDIAN is the exciting sequel to TIME PLAINS DRIFTER--availabe in 2013!

For all my short stories and novels, click here:


  1. Cheryl, I love reading and writing historical novels, but I would have made a terrible pioneer. I would most hate to give up the medicines that save so many lives today. My mom insisted I know how to cut up a chicken, but I could never kill and pluck one. I know if we'd been born when that was necessary, we probably wouldn't thinkk it so horrid. But I remember the horrid smell when my grandmother plucked a chicken. Ugh! Did they have vegetarians in pioneer days? ;-)

  2. Fun post Cheryl.
    I can cut up a chicken. Growing up we raised and butchered fifty chickens every year. I hated the killing and plucking and refuse to do it today but I can and do cut up chickens.

    While I wouldn't have loved to do all the housework the women did back then, I think I would have been able to cope. I wasn't a mother who worried over my children. If they got hurt I cleaned it up and sent them on their way unless it required stitches. When they were sick, I gave them what I had and sat with them. Raised by a nurse who hated to see healthy people who believed they were sick come into the doctor's office and waste their time, I never and still don't go unless someone has something I can't cure.take care of.

    I'm a person who makes do with what I have so I think I would have fit in.

  3. Caroline,
    My husband will not eat chicken to this day, and when I used to make it for the kids, he would turn green smelling it. One day we were in the vet's office and the vet was talking to another man as he was leaving his appt., and that's what they were talking about. The vet said the same thing--it was his job to kill and pluck and he couldn't stand the smell of it and didn't eat it even now. Yes, like you, the medicine would be the hardest thing for me to give up, I think. Especially with sick kids.

  4. Paty, it sure sounds like you would have made it back then!
    I think most of us would just have to make do, but we have so much more to do that with today than in those days.

  5. Oh, Cheryl, I got goosebumps reading the story about little Freddie. That was a miracle!
    My husband is one of 12 children, he the next to youngest, and the oldest,if he still lived, would be about 97 yrs old. That put his birth back around 1913. But their mother, like your grandmother--never lost a child. And had most of them at home. Now, that is something.

    Let's talk about chickens. I grew up in town--never on a farm. But my mother--(1916-2011)grew a garden instead of grass, and ordered 100 baby chicks every spring from Sears and Roebuck. My younger sister and I had the job of watering and feeding them every day after school.Why did she raise them? When they were grown, she kill everyone that had survived in one day, with Daddy help with that part, and the pucking, and the cleaning and cutting up. We were expected to help, but my sister had a weak stomach and threw up, and it made me so sick and scared I stayed under my bed.
    These all went into a freezer, and we had fried chicken every Sunday, and chicken and dumplings a lot--oh, man. Tough.
    No, I cannot cut up a chicken,either, and my husband does not like chicken, so we haven't had any in 35 years. Wow, this brought back a lot of memories.
    I agree, though, the lure of writing about the old west is so great...Love it! Can't get enough of it, and your post was wonderful.

  6. I loved this post. I can remember my mother cutting the head off a chicken out in our one-car garage. It ran around and around, spewing blood and all we could do was chase it. For some off reason, it was funny. I will never forget it. I suppose it ended up on the dinner table, but I don't remember that part.

    I think one of the things 'we've' lost is being independent. To keep at it until it is accomplished, no matter what it is. Plucking chickens is awful, but if your family would not eat, you would do it. Cooking could be an all-day job. My grandmother cooked from sunrise to beyond sunset feeding her family and the farmhands, plus whoever grandpa invited to supper. She churned her own butter, gathered the eggs, probably milked cows even though my dad insisted that was his job. No dishwasher and dryer, the laundry was an all-day job. Yep - we have it so easy these days and even at that I shy away from housekeeping. :)

  7. Celia,
    My grandmother had 5 kids. One died as an infant of "summer complaint", one was killed in a car accident when the car flipped and in a freak accident the glass broke and sliced his jugular (hope I spelled that right) vein -- he was only about 5 or so, and my dad was in the car, too, but was unhurt. Then the thing happened with my dad that I wrote about, being found in the pond, and I had an aunt, Dad's little sister, who had a ruptured appendix when she was 5 or 6 and nearly died from it. I guess Uncle Kay was the only one who didn't have a near death experience in the family. Another story, my dad's first cousin, Jo Margaret, was about the same age as his little sister, JoAnne. Their mothers had their pictures made together when they were 5. A few weeks later, Jo Margaret fell ill--her appendix. But the doctor would not operate on her until her father raised the $200 he charged for his operating services. My dad and aunt both have told me how their uncle begged for money from relatives and friends, anyone he could, but they couldn't raise the money in time. Her appendix burst and she died. The next year or so, my aunt, JoAnne had her appendix rupture suddenly.

    BTW, I solved the problem about chicken in my house by just ordering it sometimes when we go out or getting it at a buffet, etc. SIGH. I miss chicken and dumplings--no one made those like Mama. Oh, Celia, I don't blame you one bit for hiding under the bed when that was all going on. I would have done the very same thing.Glad you enjoyed the post!
    Hugs, Cheryl

  8. Paisley,
    I remember Mom talking about how they had to keep the washtub beside the chopping block so that they could throw it over the chicken after its head was chopped off.

    I agree with you--if you're family wouldn't eat, you would do whatever you needed to do--kill, pluck, cut up and cook. I was being facetious in my post--I have never made sausage, but figure if I needed to do it, I certainly would. I remember Mom talking about her sister who had earaches as a child and their dad blowing warm cigarette smoke into her ear to ease the pain--the warmth and the nicotine together, I imagine, is what did it. A drop of turpentine on a spoonful of sugar to ease a sore throat...just stuff like that. I'm like you about the housework. It's no wonder women died so young back then. LOL

  9. Paisley,
    I should have said "your", not "you're"--duh. Typing too fast.

  10. I love learning about real people, Cheryl. What fun anecdotes today. I look at the pioneer days in a very romantic sense. The wagon train I went on was, well, a MODERN day one LOL. All I have to do is watch Hell on Wheels, witness the endless mud and dirt, to put me in my place.

    I don't think I could ever dismember an animal. Sometimes I think I ought to be a vegetarian. As for going back in time, I think I would miss indoor plumbing, antiobiotics, and tampons the most. Good post!


  11. Tanya,
    LOL I'm like you! I romanticize it in my mind, living in those days, but one ep of Hell On Wheels is enough to bring me a huge reality check. The older I get the more I lean toward vegetarian tendencies. My daughter is a vegetarian for that very reason--she is so against the way the animals are treated before they are butchered. She's very strong about it, too--no one loved steak more than she did in years past. But she's been vegetarian now for about 3 years. Yep, I'd miss the indoor plumbing a LOT. I had a great aunt and uncle that had an outhouse that we had to use when we visited them. Not pleasant. Can't imagine doing it all the time, or in the winter. LOL Thanks for your comment, Tanya--I'm sooooo with you!

  12. Wonderful post! I used to know how to cut up a chicken, but since hubby doesn't like it, either (seems to be a lot of them) there isn't a need.

    My mother was one of four of which only two survived childhood. Her sister died when my mom was 18 months old and her sister, Betty Ann, was 5. From the time my mom was born, Betty Ann called her Mary Jane instead of her given name of Arlene Ruth. When Betty Ann died of meningitis, my Great Aunt Ann paid $300.00 (a lot in 1932) to have my mother's name legally changed to Mary Jane.

    I'd miss indoor plumbing, too, modern medicine, and all the forms of communication we have now. I'd never be able to keep up with all of my family members by the postal service.

  13. Lauri,
    That is such an interesting story about your mother's name! My mom had a "story" behind her name too, and I don't think we even know it all, now (and probably never will, since she's gone.) Her name was ElWanda, and she always said that her mother let her aunt name her because her aunt had polio and knew she'd never get married and have kids. I always thought that was weird, since Mom was the oldest of 11 kids and most people want to name their first child themselves. Later, it came out that the courthouse had burned and Aunt Cora had gone with Mom to swear out an affidavit that would let them recreate Mom's birth certificate, that she had known Mom since birth. We think that's when the name change happened. From what we can tell, her name was Wanda Lou when she was born. All her "old" friends called her Wanda. None of her sisters called her "ElWanda". Wish I knew the whole story, cause my dad NEVER called her anything BUT ElWanda!And they grew up together. (Can you tell, I'm kind of obsessed with names?)LOL


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