Book of the Week: Who Was Grandma by Fredrica B. McSwane
4/24/2014 by BY MARGARET BOGUE
Book of the Week: Who Was Grandma by Fredrica B. McSwane.
This book is available at the library, and the author is one of our own Teague citizens. Her noble purpose in writing the book is to let her children and grandchildren get a glimpse of how life was when labor was powered by human muscle before the machine age. She says,? I want you to know from whence you came, and how it really was in the ?good ol? days.? Some readers will remember how things used to be. Almost all the report is told in Mrs. McSwane?s own words. So listen up all you young whipper snappers (just kidding).
She discusses the real work that was put into wash day, which was done once a week, usually on Monday. ?To obtain hot soapy water you had a large black cast-iron ?wash pot? under which was built a fire. The pot was filled with water to which was added chipped-up homemade lye soap. When the water began to boil, you put your clothes in, always white things first.
?After this, you set up the long homemade wash bench which held three tubs. The number one tub held hot soapy water and a rub-board, which was used to get out tough spots. The number two tub was for rinsing. Tub number three was the blueing or final rinse. Clothes were lifted out of the wash pot by a ?dip stick? made form the handle of a broom or mop.
While this is going on, Mother is in the kitchen cooking up a pot of starch, which was diluted according to the garment. A pillowcase got a light starch, while shirt collars and duffs got a heavy, heavy starch.
Now when all the boiling, scrubbing, rinsing and starching was done, clothes had to be wrung out by hand. Then they were hung out on the wire clothesline. If the wet clothes were too heavy the clothesline would sag. To remedy this, a prop-stick was used to raise the wire up. All starched clothes had to be sprinkled and rolled up tight and wrapped in an old quilt so they wouldn?t dry out.
Now add on more hard work. Since there was no electricity, most ironing was done with a flat iron. This was a heavy cast-iron little devil that was heated on the cook stove; you had to have several irons hot to keep the ironing going.
I know you think that living in such a rustic manner we were completely cut off from the world. This was not the case. We had a battery-powered radio. To preserve the battery, the radio was not turned on until the moment a program was on the air. Just as soon as ?Amos and Andy? or ?Baby Snooks? was over, off she went.
Hanging on the wall in the living room was the telephone. It was housed in a long wooden box with the mouth piece in the middle. The receiver hung on the left side of the box, and on the right side was the crank, which served as a dial to call other numbers. There were several houses on each line, classed a ?party line.? Everybody on your line had a special ring, like two longs or four shorts etc. When the phone rang, it rang at every house on the line so everybody could pick up and listen in. Naturally, you had to watch your mouth most of the time.
We had another nifty piece of equipment in the house, Mother?s treadle Singer sewing machine. It was powered by your feet. The faster you peddled the faster it sewed. As of today, it?s about 60 years old, and still sews a pretty stitch. Most of my clothes were made on that machine.
In back of the house a ways off on the right side was the ?out-house? and smokehouse. On the left was the woodpile, which was maintained year round to fuel the cook stove, wash pot, and wood heaters.
We did not have electricity or running water. Baths were taken in a number three washtub. The cook stove was a huge black iron thing fueled by wood. In summer, you ate before dark. This saved lamp oil, and the quicker you shut down the cook stove the quicker the house would cool off. While we waited for this to happen we would sit on the front porch. Everybody else had the same problem you did, so sometimes neighbors dropped by to sit a spell, or we would venture down the road to their house.
Thanks to Mrs. McSwane for sharing the memories of her childhood. She describes accurately and in detail the hard work that went into every day chores.
Good reading to you.