Sunday, April 20, 2008

The sweet strains of "Clementine" echoed through this small blacksmith's cottage at the Frontier Culture Museum, here in Charlottesville, Virginia. We spent three hours touring four working farms set in Germany (1710), Northern Ireland (130), England (1690), and the colony of Virginia (1773). Each one featured one or two "re-enacters" who eagerly showed their crafts and answered our many questions. We smelled home-made cheese three months old (kind of like Parmesean), watched a couple eat lunch while chickens hopped around at their feet, and then this blacksmith played his violin for us.

While I took many pictures and will struggle to remember all the details of this daily life, what I'll most remember, other than the love for the past and the enthusiasm of all, was how work percolated through every aspect of life and how everyone was needed for a farm to be successful, regardless of the level of technology or skill. The period furniture was also especially well carved and/or painted with the tulip motif (then immensely popular). In most houses, the smoke hung in the kitchen as women cooked over fires atop a stove or in an open fireplace. These carefully reconstructed houses include much original framing, including in the English house, original daub and wattle construction (a kind of stick-woven-with-mud) for the walls. Most families kept their animals (pigs, chickens, cows) close, even bringing them right inside the house during cold weather or at night, if times were uncertain.

Because I've been reading of crofter life during the 1840s, these farms felt very wealthy to me, though each family seemed to feel they were just getting by. I suppose that's what we all feel, that we take our comfort for granted and forget that for most of the world dirt floors are more common than stone, or brick or carpet over wood. But the quality of life is not measured by these comforts alone, for in every historical period, people dance and dream.

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