Saturday, August 27, 2005

Hoover Days

When I was a few years older, I had a dear friend who lived several miles away. I would walk there and spend weekends with her or she with me. Her family had five children.

The eldest son, named Paul, was a real math whiz. He had the bare necessities for studying, but he managed to earn a scholarship to Vanderbilt University in Nashville; they said the professors needed him to help. Paul was very unusual, a devout Christian.

The family was so poor that when Paul went away to school, he sent his shirts home by mail to be laundered. Three shirts could be mailed home and back for the price of one done in the laundry. And they must be starched and ironed to perfection.

Once I was visiting there when their water, which came from a well, started tasting and smelling bad. Upon investigation, they found a dead rat that had been so for many days. They had to haul water for weeks and clean the well.

Paul's dad was very intelligent. I used to love to sit on their porch swing and talk with him. This was during what we called "Hoover Days." Hoover was in office, and there was much talk about politics.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Chopping Wood

All cooking and heating was by the woodstove method, so we needed a lot of wood. We chopped and sawed all wood used from our own farm, taking out "second-grade" trees or taking tops and limbs from timber that we cut for cross ties to sell to railroad companies.

We also sold cords of wood to those who needed to buy wood. We furnished timber, cut the wood, hauled it on a wagon, unloaded it, and sometimes corded it up again - for $2.00 a cord, which was considered good money then.

We became very good with the ax and crosscut saw. I have split wood many times for a passtime or for the exercise. I learned to hit the wood with a slant, split off a slab, and split it into sticks with just one stroke per stick. I thought I was an expert.

Wood chopping was very important for survival - you could starve or freeze if you could not chop wood. You must know how to "fall a tree," if necessary, and how to raise parts of it off the ground when sawing so as not to saw into rocks and ruin your tools. You had to have a good wedge and file, also a tape measure for right footage when cording.

When selling wood, we always gave "good measure," as my papa said, "so as not to be accused of cheating anyone." Some people would cord with "holes" which took less wood, but was cheating.

Our house never had a store-bought blanket or sheet. My mamma bought cloth, unbleached muslin, by the bolt at the grocery store. She made the sheets with a seam in the middle. Also the pillow cases. After washing a few times with lye soap, they became bleached and soft as snow. The cloth was used for a number of other things, such as, lining quilts, and making sacks to stuff sausage in.

When a new baby was on the way, the first clue for us was when my mamma started hemming diapers off this bolt of yards and yards of cloth. The diapers were called "ditties." I guess that was PZ idiom. They were cut square, folded, and pinned on the baby three-cornered style with a big safety pin. There were no plastic panties, so we always had a lot of wet socks and shoes for the little ones.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Laundry and Soap Making

Our lifestyle was derived from tradition passed down for generations. We never owned a washing machines. The clothes were washed once a week on tub and board by hand. The water was carried up the hill from grandma's spring, two buckets per person. It was a day's work.

Clothes were hung on lines to dry outside by sun and wind. Sometimes it rained on them, maybe overnight. If we needed something dried faster, we had a wire stretched behind the wood-burning stove. That is where we hung up socks and diapers for fast drying. Sometimes the diapers were just dried and reused if they were only wet. This did not smell too good.

We used homemade lye soap to wash with and boiled the white clothes in a big black kettle on an open fire to sterilize them.

Once the clothes were clean, it took another day for ironing them. We divided them out, ironing our own plus one small child's, and one brother's. Men did not do this kind of work. This was counted "women's work." Two of us ironed on the big dining table. We had two flat irons, and we would borrow my grandma's two. We heated them on the cooking range. While we used one, the other one heated. It was very hot work in the summer because, of course, we had no fans or air conditioners in those days.

My mamma made all of the lye soap in the same big black kettle that we used for washing clothes outside. She built up a big fire under it and added scrap meat and fat mixed with the right amount of water and lye. After it cooked for several hours, it was tested with a long chicken tail feather. When the soap skinned the feather off to the quill, the soap was read to pour in pans to cool. Then it was cut in big blocks for drying.

We used lye soap for all cleaning, all laundry, hand washing, and even for shampoo. It made the hair ever so soft in rainwater, but it was strong on the skin, especially in the dishpan.