17 December 2008

Sports & Entertainment: Bundling

By Anna C. Bowling

Imagine tucking your teen or twentysomething daughter snugly into bed with her gentleman friend and wishing the couple a good night while the rest of the family goes on with the rest of the evening's entertainments as usual. Perhaps you sit down to a spirited game of cards with your spouse, help your younger children with schoolwork, or regale the family with the newest song you've taught your caged canary or discuss the merits or flaws in last week's sermon--interrupted, of course, by shooing away any curious family members who might try to listen at the bedroom door.

Daughter and her friend need their privacy, and even the most inquisitive family members need to respect that. The younger children may want such privacy of their own someday, and the older family members were young once, too. Everybody back to business. How about that sermon, hmm? If the couple want to share any highlights before the gentleman returns home tomorrow, they'll do so.

Where and when would such a scenario take place? In a modern, metropolitan American household? Possibly. But this practice, called bundling, was also a common scenario for colonials of Dutch, German or British extraction during the eighteenth century, and could provide a good deal of entertainment for all involved--not just the bundled pair.

During warmer months, courting couples would spend most of their time alone walking out, which is exactly what it sounds like; taking a stroll outdoors, likely in sight of some older family member of one of the pair. What's the same couple to do, though, when the temperature drops, flakes fly, and a fellow can't be sure it's quite safe to traverse the icy roads after paying court to his lady fair? Pack themselves off to bed, of course, and no, not necessarily for what first comes to mind.

Though of course the actual practice varied, depending on the individuals and societies involved, the couple would climb into bed together, fully dressed, often separated by a bundling board, a long piece of wood down the middle of the bed. (In my colonial historical romance, My Outcast Heart, my hero and heroine substitute a rolled quilt for the board.) A chaperon may or may not be present, and sexual activity was not expected or encouraged for the bundlers. They would be expected to converse and get a taste of what it might be like to spend time in solely each other's company in close quarters.

While this could make for a perfect setup for romantic scenes for any genre from inspirational to erotic, the couple did have other distractions than merely being a hair's breadth from their beloved. Remember all those relatives mentioned above? Remember all their activities? Add in the chatter of several generations of relatives, children with clackety wooden toys, a musical instrument or two, and that noisy canary, not to mention assorted individuals trying to listen or peek, or concerned older relatives "just checking" on them, the mood was not always the most romantic. Nevertheless, bundling did often lead to a wedding--and sometimes a rather hasty one.

Modern bundling board photo courtesy of: The Benchmark Inn, Provincetown, MA

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