During the time that I was growing up, I heard many old-timers speak of things that took place during their lifetimes. I also have recollections of many things that were done during my growing up years, that were much different from today’s standards. I would like to reminisce for a bit, and tell you about some of our old time ways.
When I was a child, we had no such luxury as water running through pipes into the house. Someone in the family had to go outside, in all types of weather, draw it up out of a well with a bucket on a rope, and pour it out into a pail to bring into the house. We kept the water sitting on the cabinet in a pail. Inside the pail was a dipper, a cup shaped object with a long handle, usually made of aluminum, with a crook in the end of the handle. The crook on the end of the dipper handle, hooked over the edge of the water bucket to keep it handy for us to pick up. Everyone in the family drank from the same dipper and no one thought anything about it.
Sitting near the water bucket was a wash pan, just a small aluminum pan similar to a bowl, where we washed our hands. A towel hung on a nail in the wall, or whatever we had to hang it on. It was the drying towel. On many cold mornings, we have washed our face at the wash pan and dried it on the towel, shivering all the while. Some mornings it would be so cold that the water in the wash pan would have ice in it. Those were miserable mornings until we got the fire going in the wood stove. Once I sat on top of the wood stove for several minutes after Dad started the fire.
Somewhere in the kitchen would be a five gallon bucket where Mom would put water from the wash pan when we emptied it and got fresh, scraps from the dinner table, and anything else that the hogs would eat. At feeding time, Dad would take the “slop” bucket, mix some “shorts” with it and “slop” the hogs. Shorts were a kind of mealy type of feed that we bought for the hogs. They did not cost a great deal.
On cold winter nights, just before us kids would go to bed, Mom would heat a blanket by holding it near our old wood stove. We would go jump into bed and she would bring the blanket and tuck it close around us to keep us warm. Most of the time, by the time we got settled down, the blanket was already almost cold. It was warmer, though, than the cold, cold sheets. It was not very warm in houses back then, because most of them were not built as well as they are now, and we had simple wood heaters that did not heat the entire house. It was always cold in our bedrooms. My Grandmother was lucky enough to have a feather mattress on one of her beds. I have slept on the feather bed a few times. It was a bag, stuffed with chicken or duck feathers, large enough to cover a regular sized bed. In those days there were no king sized or queen sized beds. It was either a regular or an uncomfortable cot, which was probably a little smaller than a twin bed. Anyway, you would bury up in the feathers of the feather bed, and it was very warm, once you got settled in.
There were many home remedies for different ailments. We used Iodine for cuts, scratches, etc., or alcohol. We usually had a small bottle of Iodine. You could drink soda water, or simply take the soda with a swallow of water, for indigestion or gas. Folks used warm oil for earache. To warm the oil, it could be placed in a spoon and heated over a candle or with a match to a nice warm temperature, and poured into the ear. I do not remember if it helped the earache or not, but I guess people thought that it did. An Aspirin could be placed on a tooth that was hurting, and that would supposedly help a toothache.
Children did their school work, if they had any, by the light of a coal oil lamp. Coal oil could be used, also, for some sicknesses. Coal oil (which some people call kerosene) mixed with a little sugar made a great cough medicine. Most people would be afraid to try some of the old home remedies in this modern age, but they served us well.
When we sat outside at night in the summer time, we would soak an old rag in kerosene (coal oil) and
wrap it around itself, tightly, light it with a match and we had our own Tiki torch for repelling mosquitoes. These made a lot of smoke, which kept the little pests away very well. Why did we sit outdoors at night, you might ask? Well, it was usually cooler out of doors, and air conditioning was non existent. We had no inkling that there ever would be such a thing as an air conditioner. Therefore, sitting outside was the best we could do. When we finally got electricity through our part of the country, we got fans. They were so wonderful.
Back in those days we killed our own meat. We would have hog-killing day when other family members would come to help with the work. There was a big iron pot, called a wash pot, filled with water. Dad would build a fire around and under it to heat up the big pot of water. Someone would shoot the hog, usually missing a few shots and getting lots of squeals. I always ran inside and buried my head under a pillow or something, to shut out the sound of the poor hog, who was only trying to survive. Finally they would succeed in killing it. Then they would scald the hog with the hot water from the pot, and scrape off all the hair. This made it easier to clean the hog. Sometimes you would find a few stiff hog hairs on some of the meat, but most of the time it all came out clean. The animal was cleaned out, all the insides taken out, and was washed, then cut up into bacon, chops, roasts, etc. So that the meat could be kept, it would be salted down heavily and placed in a building called a “smoke house”. Sometimes people would smoke the meat, and sometimes it was just salted down so that it would keep. We used something called Sugar Cure that would cure out the meat and help it to keep. It was a good day’s work to get everything done.
Wash day was a big event, also. Mom would heat her water, again in the same old “wash pot” and before we got a wringer-type washing machine, she would scrub the clothes up and down on an old wash board. This was a back-breaking job for her, and us kids did not help because we probably would not have done a good enough job. We did help her hang the clothes on the line to dry, when we got older. As long as the weather co-operated this was not bad, but if it happened to come up a rain, we would have to rush around to get the clothes in before they got wet. After the clothes dried on the line, they were brought into the house. Sheets, pillow cases, towels, wash cloths, tea towels, etc. were folded and put away, but the clothes that we wore had to be sprinkled with water, rolled up in a towel or some other cloth, then Mom would spend the next day ironing them. After Mom got the wringer washer, it made things a lot easier, but it still took most of the day to do a washing. The wringer washer came after we got electricity, and the wringer did the hard job of wringing the water out of the clothes so that they were not sopping wet when we hung them out to dry.
These are some of he ways that things were done in the days when I was a child. Things are so different now, that I have almost forgotten the hard times that we grew up with. People often talk about the good-old-days, but much of the things that we had to do were not so good.
Mom cooked on a kitchen stove that was fueled by wood. She would have to start the fire in the stove and get it hot, then she could start cooking. She had to keep adding wood as it burned, to keep the stove hot. In the summer time, when we had a garden, she would fix fried okra, tomatoes, corn, green beans etc. from the garden. Sometimes our garden did not do so well. I have seen her take the big, round stalks of Poke sallet, cut them up into circles, roll them in meal and fry them like okra. It was very tasty, and was about as good as okra, if there was no okra. She also cooked the leaves of “Poke sallet” by boiling until it was tender, then putting it into a skillet, with a little grease, adding eggs to it, and scrambling the eggs with the greens until the eggs were done. That was a tasty dish, as well. Mama always had something to cook for her family, even though it was sometimes very simple. I remember times when things were not so good, financially, and we would have home-made biscuits and water gravy for supper. That did not bother us kids, though, because we loved biscuits and gravy.
We did not go to town very often. It is possible that Mom and us kids went to town, maybe, once a month. Dad always went and did the grocery shopping, and we stayed home. He would get what Mom sent after, if he could find it. Sometimes he could not find it easily, so he just came home without it. I know Mom could have done better if she could have gone shopping for herself instead of always having to depend on Dad.
Things were certainly different in those days. We were not upset, and we did not get mad because we did not get to go to town often. That is just the way things were. When you do not know that there is any other way of doing things, other than the way you are doing them, then you do not mind. That is just the way things were back then, at least the way it was in our family.