Wood, Winter, And Warmth: Plessa Before Electricity

In 2021, Steve T reminisced about growing up in Plessa in the  1930s, 40s, and 50s:

Woman carrying bundle of sticks in Métsovon, Greece. Source: Clarence W. Sorensen Collection, University of Madison, Wisconsin

“The first electricity came to Plessa in the 1960’s.  I studied with the use of a lantern at night.  It was fueled with kerosene, but you could use diesel fuel.

I would get up at 2:00 AM and go with my cousin to get wood in the summer. The place we cut was about 5 miles away. This happened every day during the summer. We would chop enough during the summer to last through the winter.  It took about 1 to 2 hours to reach the place that had the wood we wanted.  We would cut down the dead trees because the wood had already dried.  With us came the mule, a donkey and the horse.  We would begin cutting with the ax. This would last for no more than three hours.  It would begin to get too hot otherwise.   By 9:00 AM we were ready to head back to Plessa. We would load up the animals with wood and begin the journey back home.

My ax was always sharp.  I would grind it on the brown stone, a flat brown rock that was coarse in texture, located on the back steps of my Grandfather’s. I would put a little water on it and sharpen my ax.

In the winter we would throw a big log on the fire and it would last all night.  Every house had a fireplace. My mother would cook on it all the time. My father made her a round pan with two sides.  She put coals on the top and on the bottom.  That way the spanakopita of whatever she was making would cook on both sides at one time.  Today the fire places are used for special BBQs, to make shish kabobs or a half of a lamb.  Back then it was a source of heat as well as for cooking.

Greek oven that doubled as a fireplace. Source: “History of Greek Food” by Mariana Kavroulaki

To keep warm we had thick blankets.  My mother would spin yarn and then knit a blanket.  Then she took it to a place that had a water mill.  They would spin and soak it and beat it to make it felt.  Then they pulled it out of the water to let it dry.  The result was a very thick, felted blankets.  She made lots of blankets. We had no sheets so my mother would put blankets on the floor for us to sleep on.  Later my mother made mattresses.  They were filed with hay. In warmer weather I would sleep on the ground near the convent. I would scratch out a place on the ground and lay his head on the cleared area to sleep. Back then I wasn’t afraid of anything.

My mother would collect thin wood for her fire in the brick outdoor oven.  Everyone in Plessa had ovens in their yard.  She would go out with the mule and tie the wood onto him. Greater yet was the load that she would carry home.  She would put her rope down and put wood on it.  Then she would pull the wood together and lift the bundle so that the rope could be thrown over her shoulder then go under her armpit and then tie the rope in the front.  There were times when the women worked harder than the men and carried more than the mule.

The branches were used in the brick oven. When mom used the brick oven, at least once a week, she would get it so hot that the brick would turn white.  Then she would get all the fire out of it.  After that was done, she would mop the inside with water.  Then she would put the bread in to bake and the front opening would be covered with a round front cover to hold in the heat.  My mother was a very hard worker.”

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