Tuesday, August 9, 2011


It's an absolutely splendiferous day today!!   It's STILL 75, at almost 3 p.m., and we've had doors and windows open---a long-sought boon spread up and down the street, as the up-ened windows and breeze-stirred curtains attested as we walked our walk this morning.

But during the recent hot spell, I thought often of my Mammaw, who told me many stories of the Old Homeplace, way out in the rocky old hills where our people are from.

She and her nine siblings grew up in a six-room house, with no indoor plumbing whatsoever, and a stovepipe well out in the back yard.    

 There was also a huge old cistern out there somewhere, for bath water and for washing clothes in the big black washpot

out even farther toward the field, but all of us visiting children were forbidden to go near the opening or the rickety cover.   We were each shown its echoing depths but once, with strict warnings and tales of what had happened in the community when venturesome children didn’t mind their elders.

(Oddest thing---just now, when I was seeing if I could find a picture similar to the Old Homeplace cistern for illustration, I looked at page after page, then spied the ONE which looked almost exactly RIGHT, and it just happens to belong to my friend Janie at   Southern Lagniappe.  She’s given me gracious permission to borrow her photos---so THANK YOU, Janie!   This is indeed a jolt from the past---it didn't have the metal framing, but picture a rounded, weathered-wood cover, and there you have a memory).

Down and around a ways, though, was The Crick, a cool, clear stream harboring tiny minnows and the  mud-delving scuttle of disgruntled crawdads. 

The  girls would go down the shady path almost every day, after doing the Monday Washing or the Tuesday Ironing, or just cooking enough food three times a day for the eleven folks at that table.    They'd sit down in the eight or ten inches of the clear-flowing crick in a balloon of wet petticoats or drawers, and the littlest ones were encouraged to strip altogether, whilst their Mama or older sisters gave them a quick once-over or washed their hair.

 Mammaw and her sisters sat back-to-front on Saturday afternoons sometimes, with the smallest afore, in a flat-spraddled train, each sudsing each other’s heads, and then lying way way back, trusting completely in the person  behind not to drop you as you leant for the rinse.    (And Heaven KNOWS what the shampoo  WAS—probably a weaker lye version of the homemade soap).

There was a great sandy spot amongst rocks and gurgles, and that’s where all the outdoor bathing was done, with the older girls still in their underwear and the entire damp endeavor cloaked in modest mystery.   Then later the boys, in from the field, invaded and muddied the stream; their habits were never observed by the girls, who by then were WAY back home, combing out and drying their hair in the sunshine.

(Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair, 1912---John French Sloan)   This would be perfect, except for the skyline; Mammaw would have been seventeen.

And every week, the true Saturday-night bath, with the  big old “real” tubs, either brought in from their nails on outside of the Fruit House (named for all the home-canned plums and figs and bramble-gathered blackberries and dewberries, almost all wild and within walking up hill and down dale with buckets and bags), or set out into the dark yard, with a constant in and out of the back door or from the across-the-yard washpot with a bucket of “hot” to temper the cold from the well.  

Until my Daddy and several of his friends-who-owed-him-a-favor built Mammaw and Grandpa a new house in the Fifties, Mammaw still took her afternoon bath in the bring-it-in #3 tub from her own back porch.   She had a never-varying day:  a hot dinner for Grandpa, who walked home from the shop, the dishes done and put away (I don’t remember ever having seen a dish-drainer in her house), with the “rags” wrung-and-hung on the porch line, the linoleum mopped, and then the tub brought in, water poured, a bath, some body-powder and a fresh outfit, even if she’d spent the entire hot morning in the garden picking a bushel of something-to-shell or put up, and she was just going to sit on the porch with a pan in her lap, or get back into that furnace of a kitchen with the canner.

I’ll bet she’d have loved to stroll that shady path one more time, take off her hot dress and shoes, and sit herself down, drawers and all, in that cool, refreshing Crick of her youth.

(All pictures save Janie's are from the Internet)


Justabeachkat said...

My Granny is no longer with us, but I used to love to listen to her stories of her youth. Your post tonight reminds me so much of our talks. Thanks for bringing up sweet memories.


Jeanne said...

Oh Rachel, you do bring me the best of memories. I truly love your story today. Your found photos are perfect. I love them all. Your story makes me smile because I can just see what you describe so well. I have to tell you we bathed in a tub on the farm once a week in the kitchen of our farmhouse home. We did have a bathroom but no tub or shower. The outhouse was still on the farm for many years to come. Thank you for a trip back to my past. The cistern down at the end of the lane was a great hot summers day fun. It was contained in an oval kind of metal tub. We were forbidden to play in it but we didn't listen very well. It was small and we got in that thing one at a time. Then tried our best to get dry so we could go home. There were snakes and critters around but we didn't care.

Thank you so much for the memory and sharing a bit of your life with us.
Love, Jeanne

PS, We did live in the cabin while our home was built. We loved staying there.

Beverly said...

I confess to being a city girl, but I did get a bath in a wash tub when we visited my Ma Bea. They had an inside toilet, but no tub or shower. I remember the first time I visited after they got a shower. It was in one corner of the kitchen, and they were so excited.

Bev said...

I think I would have lived in that crick!

Keetha said...

Such great stories!

And your weather...ah! If I didn't like you so much I'd be green with envy. :-)

LV said...


Kim Shook said...

Oh, Rachel - how blessed you were that your grandmother told you all those stories. And that you were interested and listened and remembered. How I wish that I had those memories! One memory I DO have is bathing in one of those old galvanized tubs. When I was a little girl, my NC grandfather hadn't yet finished the house bathroom - he and my grandmother used the shower in his shop. When I got too big for the kitchen sink, Granddaddy dug up one of those tubs from somewhere (probably the cow barn) and I had my baths in the middle of the kitchen!