The Relative Meaning of Tough

The Pioneers of Huntsburg, Part One:  The Relative Meaning of Tough

We’ve all done it.

Don’t deny it.

You know you have.

At some point in our lives we all have scoffed and rolled our eyes at our parents , aunts and uncles, grandparents, and other elders when they share how ‘tough’ their lives were, and how easy we have it. Without fail, the first line is always:

“Back in my day…..”

Steven Pomeroy
First Settler of Huntsburg

Now, I tend to be a very good listener, but I will admit that in my youth, there was a time or two when my mind may have drifted from the romantic reminiscing of the ‘good ol’ days’. However, as I have progressed in age, I have more respect for the struggles of the past few generations, as well as their need to share those ‘tough’ times. I have even caught myself lecturing my daughters on the primitive days of my youth, before laptops, the internet, and CD’s.

Along the way, I have also discovered that these stories may not generate awe and excitement because in this day and age, the generational differences in the definition of ‘tough’ are largely comprised of lack of luxuries and conveniences. For instance, our parents didn’t have cell phones, air conditioning, computers, satellite television, or even television itself. Wow, that must have been pretty tough, right?

What, though, if we turned back the clock six, seven, or eight generations? In going back this far, the word ‘tough’ takes on a whole new meaning, one that most of us will never have to experience in our lifetimes. For it was in this period, the days of the first settlers of Huntsburg, that toughness wasn’t associated with lack of modern frills. Nor was it an option. Tough was literally life or death.

Take food, for instance, one of the basic elements of survival. Today, if I am hungry, I hop into my car, visit the grocery store, and stock up on virtually any food I have a taste for. If I don’t feel like cooking, I can visit one of the dozens of local restaurants. In a hurry? No problem, I can find a drive-through fast food joint. What if I feel like being a completely lazy bum and do not want to leave my couch? All I have to do is pick up the phone and have a pizza delivered to my doorstep.

Did my parents have pizza deliveries? Nope. It was a tough life. Really.

But how about food in Huntsburg in the early 1800s? There were no restaurants. Nor were there grocery stores or refrigerators.  If you wanted to eat, you had to grow, kill, barter, and/or prepare it ALL yourself. Options? Subway? Forget about it. You either worked for every morsel, or died.

Which takes us to growing food. How many of us have to garden today? Most of us who still do, do it for fun and psychological reward. What if we had no choice? What if our main food source was at the complete mercy of Mother Nature? It makes my stomach turn that my family’s very survival might have been strained back in the day when I lost a few pounds of broccoli last summer.

What about an area for the garden? Today, no worries, you rent a tiller and cut open an area of the lawn. In the first days of Huntsburg, however, the area was almost entirely covered with trees as big around as some compact cars! So the land would need to be cleared. How? Certainly, there were no chainsaws available. Gasoline motors were still far in the future. No, these mammoth plants were taken down with sheer manpower—with axes.

Not feeling like chopping trees? Either become a master hunter, or–well, you get the idea.

How about water? When was the last time you gave any thought to where our water comes from? Walk to the kitchen sink, turn on the faucet, and viola. Or, if you don’t care for the taste of municipal or well water, bottles or jugs are available at every corner store.

Of course, pioneer Huntsburg had no city water, no well drilling trucks, and certainly no Sunrise Springs delivery! The settlers needed water, so what to do? They did the only thing they could–grabbed a shovel and started digging.

Sickness or injury? We have medicines, hospitals, scores of specialized physicians, and even WebMD.  These folks had home remedies, and lots of prayers. One walk through the Pioneer Cemetery or the older section of Huntsburg Center Cemetery reveals how short settlers’ lives were in that day, and no doubt many of them would have lived much longer lives given things that seem so commonplace today—like sterilization and penicillin.

As you can see, much of the early pioneer life was spent on something we, here in 2012, take for granted—SURVIVAL. We have the luxury of choosing to be ‘tough’ when we feel like it. The early Huntsburgers didn’t have that option if they wanted to live. They not only lived and breathed tough, they defined the very word.

Next up, we will look at the beginning of the pioneer experience—the big move.

And the next time your parents pine on about how tough life was getting off the couch to flip between three black and white television channels, don’t sigh and roll your eyes. Give them their moment–just smile and nod. They don’t know what tough really is. But now you do.

Ty Pilarczyk
Author: Ty Pilarczyk

Ty is the president of the Huntsburg Historical Society, and has lived in Huntsburg most of his life. When he is not designing, installing, and maintaining landscapes for the family construction business, Ty enjoys vegetable gardening, restoring and collecting old pressure lanterns, and spending time with his family.