This week in Five in a Row, Colin is studying Cynthia Rylant’s lovely picture book memoir, When I Was Young in the Mountains. The text and detailed illustrations show what life was like in rural Appalachia fifty or so years ago, without modern conveniences.
This morning, after our first reading, we took a lengthy detour to explore the foreign-to-Colin concept of baptism, which is mentioned in the story. We discussed what baptism means to Christians, how Mommy and Daddy were baptized, why Alex and Colin don’t need to be, and what we do instead (child dedications). We even watched a YouTube video of baptisms being performed in a river. Colin found it strange but interesting.
Then we paged through the book again, looking for details of how the children’s lives were different from ours. Oil lamps instead of electric lights, an outhouse in the back yard, water from a pump carried to the house in buckets, baths in a tin washtub in front of the stove, handwashing with a bowl and pitcher, shopping from an old-fashioned general store, swimming in a swimming hole… all of these were fascinating details. We even did a Google image search to find out more about what outhouses look like. Then we thought of aspects of their lives that are the same as ours: they like cornbread, for example, and they eat dinner together sitting on chairs around a table, and the grandparents love the children and care for them.
This afternoon Colin tried washing his hands without modern conveniences. He used a little metal pail to fetch water from the outdoor tap, and filled a pitcher with his pail.
Then he poured water from the pitcher into a bowl and washed his hands in the bowl using bar soap. He was tickled when I sent him out to get his hands especially dirty first!
He poured the dirty water out of the bowl and replaced it with clean water to rinse his hands. While he did that, we talked about how cold the water was, and how much trouble it would be to get warm water for washing if you had to heat it up on the stove first. We agreed that the family in When I Was Young in the Mountains probably washed in cold water most of the time, except for baths.
That led us on our second detour of the day, because Colin wondered how we get hot water from our taps. We went down to the basement and examined our hot-water heater. Colin knows that water comes to our house through pipes under the streets. We saw how water goes into the hot water heater, how it gets heated by burning gas, and how it is pulled up through interior pipes to come out our faucets. He was fascinated. I think he’ll definitely appreciate his next warm handwashing!
I love When I Was Young in the Mountains. I adored studying it with Alex – it was her first official kindergarten FIAR book – and I am delighted to be studying it with Colin now. It’s just a really beautiful book.