Post for a Sick Day

[EDITORIAL NOTE 1: Peter Tibbles of Melbourne has sent his photo for Where Elders Blog. You can see it here.]

category_bug_journal2.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE 2: Some kind of flu or bug or whatever hit me late Sunday with chills and a temperature. I doubt it will kill me, but I’ve been sleeping a lot for a couple of days, hence a prefab post today. My friend, John Brandt, who got it from someone else, sent this and you may well have seen it. I hadn’t and I have no idea if any of it is true, but if you love words and language, you’ll enjoy it anyway, as I have.]

THE 1500s
The next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be. Here are some facts about the 1500s:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children bathed. Last of all the babies. By then, the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

Houses had thatched roofs - thick straw piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained, it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, it's raining cats and dogs.

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, dirt poor.

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entranceway. Hence the invention of the threshold.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top or, the upper crust.

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme, peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.

Sometimes they could obtain pork which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, bring home the bacon. They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, leading to lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins, take the bones to a bone-house and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, one out of 25 were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive.

So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night. Hence, the graveyard shift to listen for the bell. And thus, someone could be saved by the bell or was considered a dead ringer.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Frank M. Calabria asks, Can I Have This Dance for the Rest of My Life?


Love it! Hope it's all true, but don't really care, good stories anyway!

And hope you're feeling better soon, take care.

How interesting! I had no idea where those old saying came from. Thanks for sharing!

I hope you are feeling better soon, Ronni!

Get well soon, Ronni!!!!

Get well and keep warm, Ronni.

My mother is active in our town's historical society, and they host amazing Colonial Dinners at the 1756 brick home that serves as a working museum ( The food is cooked over the hearth and is very authentic.

So is the silverware - forks were two-pronged and pointy, no good for scooping; knives were broad daggers. Which is the reason, we tell diners, for this poem:

"I eat my peas with honey, I've done so all my life. It may sound rather funny but it keeps them on the knife."

Love this kind of story. Get well soon!

This list has been around the Internet several times and I still enjoy reading it. It certainly sounds authentic. Our sayings had to originate from something and the examples sound logical.

Take very good care of yourself, Ronni. I am so sorry that you are sick and hope a full recovery happens soon.

Like all the other commenters here, I do wish you a swift recovery. Poor dear. Do take precious care and drink a rum toddy or two. It helps.

Ugh! That nasty flu or whatever has ripped through my daughter's school and our family too. Hope you feel better. I had no idea where "Saved by the bell","Graveyard Shift" and "Dead ringer" came from. I wonder how many time the bells actually rang?

Cathy Warren

I'm so sorry you're feeling badly! Hope you feel much better very soon. I've been battling asthma this winter and it's been a real pain in the butt! Better now though. And I did really enjoy your post today! Surely does make you appreciate the fact we live now! not then! I'll hold good thoughts for a quick recovery! Take care!

I think the bathing thing just HAS to be wrong. I don't know about you, but if I had water enough to drink, I would have water enough to wash my body on a regular basis. Surely the sense of smell was alive and well in the 1500s.

I blogged about "safety coffins" a while back...Even have an illustration of one!

Just as my reading here is a day late, so it is of yesterday's NY Times. Very much hope you're feeling better today.

Wednesday Times had photo of Israel's Peres handing Hillary Clinton a bouquet of flowers, with a kiss. Bothered me. When I read about bridal bouquets above, wished for skills at de-construction to put the two together. In another life.

The comments to this entry are closed.