Historical

Zanna's Outlaw By Julie Lence

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Enduring the Summer Heat

Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve had a love for the old west. Give me a sprawling ranch house, a corral filled with horses and a hunky cowboy and I’m there. John Wayne was and always will be my favorite cowboy, and while he battled outlaws and fought for justice, something else in his movies and in western television shows always caught my eye; the women. I envied Maureen O’Hara and Linda Evans for the costumes they wore. Whether a simple blouse and skirt or an elaborate gown, both looked comfortable in their attire. Fast forward several years and I now wonder how they could wear layers of clothing and not faint from the heat of studio lights. How the ‘real’ women of the old west didn’t faint from heat exhaustion.

Life as a rancher’s wife wasn’t easy. There were floors to scrub, meals to cook over a hot stove, fields to tend and children to raise. A woman had to be strong, determined, and she had to work from sun up until sun down wearing petticoats, knee-length drawers, thick stockings, long sleeved shirts, full length skirts and lace-up boots. Unlike today’s women, exposing any amount of skin from the neck down was taboo. Air conditioning was a breeze blowing in through the window, and lounging beneath a shade tree with a cold drink in the middle of the day was unheard of. Cooling off came at night when the children were asleep and a woman could strip off her clothes. Or on bath day, which wasn’t every day, as is the norm for today’s society. Water had to be hauled from creeks to the homestead and wasn’t wasted on regular bathing.

Women who lived in town faced the same hardships. Heat from the sun baked the town as much as it did the open land. Cook stoves warmed the home, and like the rancher’s wife, daily chores were performed wearing layers of clothing. Muslin and linen made for cooler outer wear, but any way you look at it, with the numerous layers of underclothes, women had to be hot during the summer months.

When I craft a story, I try to stay as true to the era as possible, but I do take liberty with some things. Seldom do my heroines expose their skin in public, unless it relates to who they are. One of my heroines is a lady gambler who enjoys low-cut silk gowns, because they afford her a reprieve from the heat. However, my heroines do enjoy a bath, and instead of constantly hauling water, I install a hand pump at the kitchen sink. Zanna’s Outlaw is one story featuring a hand pump. Zanna owns a boardinghouse and the kitchen is host to several scenes to showcase women’s chores and to highlight how the kitchen was also a gathering space for conversation or for one to mull over thoughts and find a solution to a problem.

As I sit here at my computer, with the temps promising to soar into the 90’s today, I’m clad in a comfortable tee shirt and capris wondering if I can make it another hour before turning on the AC. I could not imagine rising in the morning to don layers of clothing before I tackle the day’s to-do-list. I’m pretty sure had I lived during the 1800’s, I would’ve sent every male on the ranch to town and ran around in my undies. Or I would’ve wasted precious water dipping a ladleful over my head. Better still, I would’ve been a southern belle enjoying an afternoon nap. Think Gone With The Wind and the scene where Vivien Leigh and the other women shed their clothes in preparation to sleep the entire afternoon; the maids fanning them as they slept. Hmmm… I wonder how John Wayne would’ve reacted to Scarlett O’Hara fainting at his feet from heat exhaustion.

***Prize Alert***
2 lucky winners will each receive a Kindle copy of Zanna’s Outlaw.