Life Without Electricity

“Electricity is just about the best friend that people ever have had, but when grandpa was a boy, only the towns had electricity, and a lot of things we have now that are run by electricity had not been invented or had not come into general use by the people.

There were no houses heated by electricity. Coal and wood-burning stoves were used for that, so someone had to bring in coal or chop wood and bring it in, and after it was burned, there were ashes to take out.

There were no electric lights; kerosene burning lamps were used and they did not give a very good light and smoked so that someone had to wash lamp chimneys often.

There were no electric water pumps or water heaters, so people had to carry water from the well or from the spring in buckets and heat it on the stoves for taking baths, washing dishes, and the like. After you washed your face or took a bath, the dirty water was thrown out the back door on the ground.

Most of the time, fuel in the stoves would not last all night so someone had to get out of bed in the middle of the night and put in more fuel, and if they didn’t, the next morning, the house may have gotten so cold that ice froze in the water buckets in the kitchen.

There was no indoor plumbing, and when you had to go to the bathroom, you had to go outside to a little house called “the John” that would be out in the back of the house, and on cold winter nights, the seat you sat on might be colder than ice.

There was no air conditioning, so if you were hot in summer, you could sit in the shade or maybe go to the swimming hole to cool off.

Only a few wealthy people had radios as they were a new thing, and television had not been invented at that time.”

-Roy Clifton Parris, 1979

George Parris recently sent me his daddy’s memoir about growing up in Smokemont. The above account of life without electricity was on the first page. It struck a chord with me.

A lot of us are only a generation removed from those days. Papaw Cochran was born in 1893, and when I was little, he told me similar stories. As did Mamaw, who was born in 1928.

Mamaw often talked about the first radio her family ever had. Aunt Pansy and Uncle Hugh gifted it to Papaw Cochran before World War II. Mamaw vividly remembered everyone crowding around it to hear Roosevelt declare war on Japan.

She always wrapped up that story by saying Roosevelt’s war declaration changed everything. Mamaw wasn’t just talking about things changing for her own family – she was speaking about the whole world. I was too young to understand that back then.

I’ve never experienced life without electricity, but I remember life without air conditioning and electric heat. Mamaw and Papaw’s house had neither.

During the summer, we slept with the doors and windows open. Ceiling fans and mountain breezes kept the house cool. And through the winter, Papaw got up at 4 am every morning to load the wood stove. I never woke up cold.

Grandma and Grandpa’s house was the same. Across the state, they lived without many of the modern-day conveniences that their neighbors took for granted.

Did anyone else grow up on stories about life without electricity? Better yet, did you grow up without any modern-day conveniences?

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