Growing up in “1940's house” in Nanty Glo

This entry by Paul Ceria


June 25 2000

During the past week I watched, with great fascination, a program (part of a series) on PBS called “1900's House.” The initial show explained that the series would place an ordinary London family in a Victorian-Era home for a period of three months where they were only to be allowed to wear the clothing of the time and to use the conveniences of the period. I suspect there was a bit of sadism in me while I watched the family, particularly the children and the mother attempt to adjust, but I don't think the house and living conditions were much different than what I saw growing up in the 1940's in my beloved Nanty Glo.

Quite frankly, things had not changed much at all. I was fortunate enough to have two loving parents and what was an ordinaryA classic coal stove 1945 home on Penn Street. As I watched the first episode of “1900's House” unfold, it brought back many memories. The London family seemed to be plagued with a series of events involving cleaning and cooking. The mother is beset by a cranky coal stove, a nonworking water heater, and labors of a common 1900's housewife, which the announcer said included the task of weekly washing and ironing, an event that consumed three days of the week! How I remember such events!

Our hot water system was archaic by today's standards. If we wanted hot water, my father always was forced to light a small coal stove in the basement called a “dinky.” That would heat the water in a tall metal cylinder tank, which would knock and gurgle until ready. One only knew it was ready by feeling the metal on the tank and then one shower would quickly empty the tank.

Thermostats were too high-tech for at that time. Our shower was in the basement, and it arrived only after I had approximately reached my fourth birthday. I was the first to shower, with an audience of my mother and father, and my Uncle “Sis.” Ah, what a modern convenience it was, especially the burlap shower curtain and the brick shower stall!

Washdays were usually Mondays, which my mother cheerfully embarked upon. In the TV series, the girls miss school to help their mother. Mine, however, charged into the task with utter abandon. I can remember the “dinky” being fired up, large tubs of being filled with rinse water, and an old washing machine that sounded like a Heavy Metal band. She would wring the clothes dry between two wringers, a somewhat dangerous proposition, and then carry them out to hang and dry on frozen clotheslines hanging above January snow drifts. Or, if it rained, the kitchen would be the hanging room. She never complained.

When visiting my aunt in Ohio, I can remember using a privy. Thank God, they finally sold the house and got one with a real flush toilet. We were lucky enough to have such a device in my Penn Street home, but I must now ponder where the contents went, as the Nanty Glo of 1945 did not have a sewage disposal plant. Look out Twin Rocks! My early memories of the stove in the two room downstairs, kitchen and living room ( dens or great rooms?), held a mint green coal stove.

In the series, the mother and girls cannot manage most meals nor baking of any consequence, but I can never remember my Mom burning or undercooking a single meal. Our heating system was a coal-fired furnace. I hated the thing, especially when the ashes had to be carried to a dump behind the house. I can still hear the hissing of ash as it hit cold snow piled upon previous ash removal operations. In the dead of winter, my father, who was a policeman, would come home while on night shift for a visit to “bank” the fire so that the rest of the family could be warm in the morning.

And goodness! Mr. Martin Tobin would charge $8 to bring a truckload of coal, a very dusty operation, and charge $2 every spring to load and take away the ash pile! Such prices! (Have you looked at the cost of a gallon of gas lately?)

Unlike the “1900s House,” many Nanty Glo people grew and canned their own vegetables. My father had a garden for many years and my grandmother also provided many of the basics that my mother canned each fall. I can even remember my grandfather making his own salami with a recipe he had brought from Italy. It was the best I ever tasted.

I could certainly go on elaborating comparisons to the "1900s House," but there is one big difference. I was amazed at the crying and wailing of the present-day London family over their feared demise. In my home, yes my home, my parents never complained. They just loved us and were thankful for what we had, “dinky” and all.

Tonight, as I turn off my stereo, DVD, computer, or just listen to my automatic thermostat turn on the air conditioner, I shall remember “1945's House” and say a prayer of thanks to my uncomplaining parents. They could teach our peer family of “1900's House” a few lessons.

Paul Ceria
Fayetteville, NC