My grandmother was born in 1886 in rural west Georgia, near Newnan. No elecricity, no lights, or telephone, no cars, no running water, no indoor plumbing. A doctor took hours to reach them because someone had to ride horseback into town, Senoia, three miles away, and roust out the doc. They lived by the sun. When it rose, they rose. When it set, they left the fields.
C.S. Lewis says somewhere that any one born in rural northern England in the late 1800’s lived the life of an ancient Greek farmer. He could have been talking about the world Granny grew up in. So, when historians talk about America in the Gilded Age, (1865-1900) they aren’t talking about folks like granny.
Her family, the Joseph Morgan’s, worshiped under a brush arbor church. A brush arbor is a shade structure of cut poles with bushes and brush used for covering. “I Come to the Garden Alone”, “The Little Brown Church”, The Old Rugged Cross,” –those were their hymns. The Bible was their lectionary, their church bulletin and the source of liturgical order. Flies, gnats, mosquitoes, were also in attendance in the Georgia heat. Church fans were no quaint artifact of by gone days; they were a necessary weapon.
Such deprivation, we say. Such poverty, we say. And yes, some insensitive soul would say, such ignorance. Perhaps…Yet granny had a smile as if some one had entered a pitch black room and switched on the light. She glowed. In the eighties, my wife and I lived with her for a year in East Point, Georgia, where my father bought her a tidy little house. Still no TV, didn’t read the Atlanta papers, and she bought vegetables and fruit from a elderly truck farmer, who stopped by her house every three days. She was still unaware of what went on in the real world. Most days were spent on her screened-in front porch with her cat, Pesky, observing the world pass by on the side walk, not ten feet from her front door. She knew her neighbors, and they knew her. Most of them came from the country, too.
Today, July 30, 2022, we live the life ascribed once to the Olympian gods. We fly. So did the gods. We eat whever we desire (provided we have the income). So did the gods. Entertainment is provided by flipping a switch or swiping a screen. In Granny’s day, there was no radio or TV or computer. You want entertainment, fetch the fiddle and banjo player down the road and we’ll have a barn dance. News came by gossip from neighbors, going into town and talking with merchants and the barber. Events around the globe had no effect. When the stock market crashed in 1893, not much changed in rural Georgia. Womens’ rights, the robber barons, Ida Tarbell–all that transpired in another world.