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Future Shock In Reverse


Julie Burton

Senior High Division

In 1970, Alvin Toffler wrote the book FUTURE SHOCK. Init, he pointed out how people have to prepare themselves for the future.It's sometimes very difficult for people to change with the times.

Our senior citizens are not at their future shock point.We are making them conform because we don't think they should have to livethe way they had to years ago.


Our typewriting teacher, for example, tells of the manydifferent kinds of things that she had to do years ago. Every day, now sheleads her students in various techniques of "how to operate a typewriter,"yet, when she was in high school, the typewriter was a coveted skill. Whereas,today typewriting has become a "tool of literacy." (1)

This same teacher attended the rural schools from grades1 - 8 and then taught in them for seven years. The days in the rural schoolswere surely different from the schools of today.

The students had to transport themselves to school; theyhad no warm yellow bus that was waiting down the road to take them to school.No, each child had to either walk, ride horseback, ride in a buggy, or ridein a sleigh. Even if the temperature fell forty degrees below zero, thechildren went to school bundled up in their homespun clothing. If they rodein a sleigh, no doubt, the father had put loose straw or hay in the wagonbox so that the children could stand on it instead of the cold wooden boxfloor. Even so, many children froze their feet during the winter months.Most senior citizens remember what it feels like to suffer from chill blains.Many boys and girls also froze their fingers, noses and cheeks. Riding ahorse was colder than riding a snow cat for during those days, no one owneda warm snow suit or woolen face mask.

Many times, when they got to school, it was almost as coldinside the school as it was on the outside. Usually, it was the coldeston Monday morning because the fire was out during the weekend. The fireswere so slow, that it took until almost noon before the room was warm enoughfor the children to sit in their desks and concentrate on their work. Bothmy grandparents recall those frosty mornings when they played, "Pussyin the corner," or some such game until it finally got warm enoughto take their wraps off.

Each fire had to be started from scratch. It was startedwith a few wads of paper in the grate, then a few sticks of wood were addedand finally larger pieces of log or coal. In western North Dakota, wheremy grandmother taught, it took about forty tons of lignite coal a year toheat the school house. If a teacher had to shovel coal to heat their ownclass room today, as they did then, maybe it would be warmer in some ofour class rooms.

There was a joke which the settlers enjoyed telling. Itwas about how much lignite coal it took to heat a home and the large amountof ashes which the coal produced. It went like this, "The only timeI see my wife all winter long is when we meet on the doorstep. For whenshe runs out with the ashes, I'm coming in with a bucket of coal."(2)

In order to start a coal fire, one had to have kindlingunless there was a hot bed of live coals. Since western Dakota has no naturalwood, the School Board supplied the teachers with fence posts. It must havebeen quite a feat for those girls to split up a post with an axe. Sometimes,the older boys volunteered to take over this duty, but for the most part,it was the teacher's chore. She had to split the kindling, shovel the coal,and carry out the ashes herself.

In addition to these duties, the teacher had to sweep theschool room, shovel off the steps, keep the outdoor facilities sanitaryand free from snow, and take care of her own horse unless she walked toschool.

A teacher taught from fifteen to forty students in oneroom. She often had all grades in addition to a repeater or two in the eighthgrade. Once in a while she had to inspect the children thoroughly for lice.If they were infested, they were promptly sent home for a good washing withsoap and kerosene. In some communities, the teacher also had to watch forthe dreaded eye disease, trachoma.

With a program such as this, one wonders when the teacherhad time to teach. Yet, the children learned how to read, do arithmetic,spell, etc. The students became self-reliant early in their lives.

The school building wasn't used just for classes. All thecommunity activities were held there also. On Friday nights, the schoolroom had to be spic and span because on Sunday some group usually had churchservices there. Sometimes, they had church services every evening also foras long as three weeks at one given time.

The church services were quite different from what theyare today. Usually, it had no special kind of format. Everyone sang eventhough many of them didn't even own a book. Sometimes, no one in the groupoutside the leader could read the hymnal. But they sang anyway. The leaderdid it by "lining." That is, he read a line or two, then the groupsang it. This was especially true in the German services. Since no one playedan instrument, they often used the same tune for most of the songs.

Although many parents couldn't read their native language,they encouraged the children to learn how to read English. It was a definitestatus symbol when a child could read. The children took their books homeand read to the family by the light of a kerosene lamp.

Then, there were the PTA (Parent Teachers Association)meetings at least once a month. For this occasion, the students usuallyprovided a half-hour program. In addition to helping with the PTA program,every school had at least one full evening's entertainment a year. Thisincluded a box lunch as well. These were called basket socials. Every ladyand girl brought a cold lunch packed in a fancy box, which was sold at auctionto some lucky father or boy friend or just a friend. Some communities alsosponsored weekend dances.


Many of the old sod houses were one room homes. They hadthe kitchen, parlor, and bedroom all in the same room. To us, the quartersseem a bit cramped, but it was probably warmer that way.

In the bigger homes, they had a separate room for the kitchen,the parlor, and the bedroom. In a sod house, the kitchen was in the middleof the long structure, and at one end was what they called the front roomand on the other end they had what they called the back room. The childrenslept and kept themselves in the back room, and the parents slept, entertainedand enjoyed the front room. In a wooden house, the bedrooms were usuallyon the second floor or in the loft. They were very cold.

In these homes, the health habits seem to have been atrocious.Since there were no inside bathrooms with running water, they used washbasins, pitchers with water and tea kettles to heat the water for bathsand general washings. The outdoor bathroom was always some distance fromthe house. This created quite a problem during sickness or in a home withsmall children. It was very difficult to keep the home sweet smelling andclean. All the slop or waste water was collected in a slop jar or pail whichwas carried out and dumped a short distance from the house.

The women had many chores that were only done on Saturdays.Beside the regular cleaning, they had to clean the kerosene lamp chimneys.This was a messy job, but the chimneys had to sparkle for Sunday. They alsobaked bread, churned butter, tidied up the outdoor facilities and shinedeveryone's shoes.

Butchering the beef, hogs or even chickens were "familydays." Everyone had his own special assigned job. They started earlierthan usual especially at the fall hog butchering day. The animals had tobe killed, cleaned, and drawn; then, if the intestines were used, thesehad to be cleaned; the meat had to be ground and prepared for sausage; later,the intestines were stuffed with the ground meat. These sausages were spicyand delicious just any day.

Wash day was always a long hard day. The clothes had tobe scrubbed on a board, boiled to get them white, and then dried on a line.During the cold weather, the clothes froze solid. In the evening, they werebrought in and hung around the stove to dry. It was never a secret whena baby arrived. The drying diapers were always hung behind the stove. Manytimes a diaper was used several times, before it was laundered.

The mother canned, made jelly, dried fruits and vegetablesduring the summer months, so the family could eat better during the wintermonths. There was no refrigeration, only the tiny dug-out under the kitchenknown as the cellar. A few families did have a dug-out in the side of ahill outside for storing potatoes, cabbage, and other root crops. The meathad to be kept frozen in the granary or salted and cured before the warmweather came. Some of the meat was also canned.


Changes have occurred in all jobs. This is especially trueof the farm. At one time, the farm was a family project. Everyone did somework. They milked, hayed, harvested, did chores as a family. Everyone hadhis job. The machinery was simple. Much of the work was done by hand. TheValley Pioneer's machinery was powered by horses, mules or oxen. But now,he uses large equipment. He farms acres. Everybody now operates a big farm.

The farmers' wife helps some, but many of her chores havebeen eliminated. She doesn't make her own soap anymore, nor does she grindwheat for flour. She shops at a supermarket for all her needs. She liveslike her city friends in a modern home.

Nursing is another job that has really changed. Years agowhen girls entered training, they wore big white aprons over a blue uniform,with stiffly starched white collars and cuffs. They also wore black stockingsand black oxfords. After three months in training, white bibs were addedto their big aprons and white caps. They didn't wear white uniforms untilafter they graduated. They attended classes in the evening in order thatthey could work on the floor from 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The girls wereallowed only two weeks of vacation and no weekends at home during the entiretraining period. The last year of training, the girls were given a stipendof $5.00 a month. The training was hard and rigorous.

After graduation, the pay was very low. My great Aunt tellshow she worked at Bismark, ND Hospital for $30.00 a month. (3)

Other jobs were equally poor paying. Teachers also earnedonly about $50.00 a month during the thirties and forties. This was foronly seven or eight months of the year. During the same period, many ofthe people had to work on PWA (Public Works Administration) in order tosupport their families. This was especially true of the farmers. The grasshoppersand drought took their crops so they had to get money for food some how.

It is easy to see why so many of our senior citizens arereluctant to change from their past to our present. They found a kind ofhappiness in their day. Happiness is something created in our minds as HelenSteiner Rice projects in her poetry:

"Happiness is something we create in our mind,
It's not something you search for and so seldom find.' (4)

They are living in their future shock today. Some findit difficult to accept all of the changes while others wouldn't ever wantto go back.

"We enjoyed it then, because we didn't know any better.But it is so much more comfortable, I don't want to go back." (5)


(1) John L. Rowe, University of ND

(2) Martha Roberts, Interview, December 30, 1974

(3) Clara Havron, Interview, Hettinger, ND, January 27,1975

(4) Helen Stiener Rice, "A Sure Way to A Happy Day."Poetry

(5) Katie Beck, Interview, Hettinger, ND, September, 1974



Beck, Katie, Hettinger, ND, Interview, September, 1974

Benchley, Robert, "In Pursuit of an Old-Fashion Christmas,"Today's Health, December 1974, pp. 48-51

Havron, Clara, M., Hettinger, ND, Interview, January 27,1975

Rice, Stiener, Helen, "A Sure Way to A Happy Day,"Poetry

Roberts, Martha M., Humboldt, MN, Interview, December 30,1974

Rowe, John L., University of N.D.

Toffler, Alvin, Future Shock, Random House, New York, NY,1970


Roberts, Martha M., Humboldt, MN, Interview, December 30,1974

Rowe, John L., University of N.D.

Toffler, Alvin, Future Shock, Random House, New York, NY,1970