When I was a kid, women were some kind of superheroes to me. It was nothing to see a little old lady slash her way through the bushes to set a snare, or topple an ice-age old tree into cords of wood, ready to be snowshoed out and ferried across the Fort George River.
I remember one day, when one of my mother’s cousins was getting wood across the river, she brought her prize Ski-doo to haul back the tons of logs back to the island. We were quickly dispatched to fell some trees and we, being kids and all, managed to fell a tree each. Meanwhile, back at mom’s cousin’s side, the trees were felled rapidly and a hard snow-packed trail showed evidence of her toil. We dragged our poorly prepared logs to the river and were amazed that the sled was packed full and she was already to head back. “Get some more wood!” she called, as she quickly lit her cigarette and throttled off across the river.
The dog team was an essential tool for transportation and everyone ran behind the sleds, either for short hops to fetch wood and water or for long haul to another community. The women ran just as easily behind the sled as the men and contributed greatly with all the strenuous work required to stay alive in those days. Many people are amazed today at what people could accomplish in those days and the stories that came out showcasing incredible feats of strength and endurance, something we seem to hear less and less of these days.
Laundry day was a major event, and anyone with arms and legs would carry water endlessly from the banks of the river. This was hard work, wringing and hanging out to dry the last month’s clothes. Days upon days of constant wood chopping, water hauling, laundry, cleaning, hunting, fishing, trapping and running made for some excellent healthy people and the women, as always, took everything in stride and quickly dispensed with their help whenever they could. Work was work in those days.
One day, a thunderous noise erupted from my grandmother’s house, and we all ran over to see with awe, a gas-operated washing machine, wringer and all. The only thing you had to do was to carry the water and hang the clothes! The only other problem with the machine was that it had the tendency not to be able to differentiate between fingers and clothes, squeezing each equally hard enough to draw out all liquids. Luckily, my googum lived near the hospital and didn’t have much to worry about.
The television converted many people to couch potato-ism and so has the convenience of electricity and running water. With all the convenience over the years, I’ve noticed the evolution of our bodies, changing from a sleek, well-oiled working and running body into a poutine-ladled smorgasborg of medical mysteries with a multi-million-dollar-a year-care package.
I say, give me back the days when the machine was just a machine and not a dependency, so that all people would gain back the health of the past. Perhaps, this may be a selfish plea, all women would turn their backs to the issue of hard working days again, but hey, we were healthy, weren’t we?