Helen McCowan was the only girl of the 5 children of Harold and Jennie McCowan. Their home was the huge Queen Anne style farmhouse built in about 1914 on the north side of Kingston Road immediately opposite the stores at stop 20. Sadly, it was demolished in 1975.
On the Farm in the '20s
I sometimes wonder how we survived back in the 1920's when I was a child, when you compare todays health standards with those of days gone by. We were fortunate to live in a fairly new house with a bathroom and running water which came from the cistern which got its supply of water from the rain. Our drinking and cooking water we pumped from the well outside. We carried the big pail-full in and it sat on the corner of the pantry table. In the pail was a dipper from which everyone drank. It never occured to us that the dipper might be covered with germs.
The cistern and septic tank sat side by side underground which by today's standards would probably be a "No-No", because they were so close to each other.
The first washing machine I remember was a big wringer washer. I believe Mom was still using it when I got married. The last few years we used it, if you touched some parts of it with wet hands, you got a shock which rumbled through your body. It's a wonder someone wasn't electrocuted.
Before refrigerators were invented, some people had an ice-box. The ice-man delivered big squares of ice which kept food cold. We never had an ice-box. We had a dumb waiter. This was several shelves suspended by ropes and a pulley. This was let down to the cellar from the pantry betwen meals to keep the food cooler.
We kept a few cows to supply milk, cream and butter for three families -- my grandparents, Uncle Ashleys and us. Aunt Flo did the churning and made the butter. Dad did the milking and separated the milk and cream with a separator which was in our cellar. He had to crank it by hand. When we kids were little we had to drink a mug full of warm milk as Dad separated. Of course the milk was not pasteurized nor were cows and equipment ever inspected as they are today. We kept our milk for the day in tin pails with tight-fitting lids in a washtub full of cold water on the cellar floor.
For breakfast we had hot porridge with brown sugar and sometimes cream -- m--m -- good! Then on Saturday morning we had a dose of epsom salts for a really good clean-out. The epsom salts deal didnt last too long -- Mom thought it was a little harsh for our young systems.
For a while we kept some pigs -- so then we had our own pork. I remember Mom and Dad down cellar grinding meat in the little meat grinder. I think they made sausage and, of course, headcheese. Mom put slabs of side pork in jars in some brine solution. It was like big thick slabs of bacon and tasted pretty good fried in the winter. But "oh my", all that fat! Of course, at that time, there was no refrigeration or meat inspections.
As we kids got older, once in a while Dad would bring home fish and chips from the fish store. This was always wrapped in several layers of newspaper to keep it warm. Imagine the germs lurking there when you think of how many hands had touched that newspaper!
In those days there was no Health Care as we have today. You didnt run to the Doctor for a pill when you had a sore toe. For a tummy-ache you took a dose of castor oil, for a sore throat you gargled with salt and water, for a chest cold you went to bed with a mustard paster on your chest.
Well, in spite of all this, my four brothers and I are still around 70 or 80 years later, and as far as I know, none of us has ever had to be on any special diet for bad stomachs.
Helen (McCowan) Thomson, August 1998
From The Scarboro Heights Record V6 #1