bridal-flowersThe next time you are washing your hands and complain because the Fernandina water smells a bit chlorinated, learn about how things used to be and ask yourself if you are spoiled or on a mission. A mere 500 years ago 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 reek already, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor; hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married. Taking a bath consisted of a big tub filled with wood fire heated water.. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water brought in from a nearby river or lake; then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children, and 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 piles. 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 “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, usually layers of rugs; 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 the 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 entrance way. Hence the saying a thresh hold. (Getting quite an education, aren’t you?)

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, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes (the acid in tomatoes), so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes received the stigma to be poisonous. Even today that is sometimes believed.

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, lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination of alcohol and lead would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. People 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.

Sometimes the wake period was kept short and they went ahead with burying someone alive. Later when graves were re-used out of necessity (especially in places were there was limited space like on islands; Key West is famous for this) they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house. When reopening the coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. (A oversight we already reported on a while ago). When this became a regular occurrence the burial master 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 (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, saved by the bell or was considered a …dead ringer.

And that’s the truth. Now, whoever said History was boring ! ! ! And what’s more…don’t ever think it could not come back to haunt us one day. In the next several weeks I will report on some awesome history that played between Fernandina and St.Marys from the days that Florida was Spanish and Georgia part of the USA. This was a major smuggling and piracy port, you better believe it.

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