LIFE LIKE IT WAS
The Old House

By Margaret L. Ingram

 

Have you ever gone back to the house you grew up in and found that "The old house still looked the same?" The memories can flood over you from the sound of the striking clock atop the piano, the pop and crack of the fire in the wood stove, to Papaís rocking chair.

LIVING ROOM

The living room of the house was called the front room. A wood stove was used for heat. The wood was kept dry in the woodshed. The woodshed was also a place Father took naughty children for punishment, a warm shelter for the dog, or for storage. The floor covering was an area rug. Mother remembers the wood floors that her Father treated with linseed oil and covered with the area rug. The living room was for relaxing after a long, hard day at work on the farm. It was for visiting with family and friends on Sunday afternoon. The seating was a sofa and rocking chair. My grandmother covered the chair and sofa with a bed blanket. Somewhere in the living room was a table topped with a variety of houseplants.

After supper Father or Grandfather enjoyed reading the newspaper, farm journal, and the days mail while sitting in the living room with a kerosene lamp for light. Mother drew the curtains closed after sundown. The curtains were made from leftover scraps.

Grandpa watched the clock, listened for the striking clock or checked his pocket watch for the 9 p.m. hour, as he said, "Early to bed, early to rise." Visitors were serenaded with favorite songs from the old Victrola.

Mother listened to Stella Dallas on the battery-operated radio while the men labored in the fields. Early mornings the men were found listening to the farm report.

The mainstay of all rooms in the house was living room, providing warmth, entertainment, and relaxation.

LAUNDRY

During the 1930ís laundry day was Monday. Laundry was usually done on the back porch, in a shed or in the basement. The washing machine, a clothes hamper, a mop, a cupboard full of soaps, bleach, and a box of miscellaneous tools shared the utility room. The wood or oil stove sat in one corner of the utility room.

Following breakfast Mother would say, "Today is wash day. If you have dirty clothes put them in the hamper." From the corners of Johnny or Susieís closet the dirty duds were put into the hamper.

While the water heated in the boiler atop the wood stove, Mother sorted clothes, the whites, colored, pants, and the extra dirty and the most apt to fade. She shaved soap off the bar of Fels Naptha to put in the washing machine. A wood stick was used to lift the clothes, too hot for delicate hands, to the wringer and into the rinse tub.

After several boilers of water and plenty of rinsing, the clothes were loaded into a basket and taken to the clothesline. The young ones assisted with hanging the clothes on the line.

I recall the first laundry Grandma asked me to help with. My answer was, "But I am too little" which didnít satisfy Grandma. She told me to hand her the laundry and the clothespins and she would put them on the clothesline. She handed me the bag of clothespins and placed the basket of wet clothes in front of me. The laundry was soon on the line. Each clothespin was slipped over the garments and wire.

OUTHOUSE/PRIVY

The distance to the outhouse varied depending on your location, but always a well-traveled path. Mother would offer a guiding hand walking the wooden plank to the open squeaky door of the outhouse. Sometimes it was a cold morning, a hot summer afternoon, or a late night. Mother and Father shared the stories of using the chamber pot kept under the bed to avoid the trip outside. Sears or Wards catalog was the toilet paper.

FRONT PORCH

A long wooden plank and three steps led us to the front porch. The porch was in clear view of the driveway. Sitting on the swing was a gathering place as well as an extension of the living room.

During the hustle bustle of the holidays, the sounds of footsteps on the porch and the rap on the screen door brought a holler "Anyone home?" Sometimes when the upstairs seemed unbearably warm, Mother would say, "Kids, grab your bed coverings and you can sleep on the front porch."

KITCHEN

The kitchen smelled of bacon frying, coffee perking, and fresh bread from the oven. In Grandmaís kitchen were an icebox, wood chairs, pitcher pump, flat iron, kerosene lantern, drop-leaf table, party-line phone, woodstove, and flour and sugar bins in the pantry.

The backdoor squeaked and banged as Grandpa came in from chores to have breakfast. In the kitchen, Grandma was cooking, washing dishes, and preparing for the next meal. I remember Grandma saying "Sit that on the back of the stove to keep it warm until chores are done" or "Better lift the lid and stoke the fire." Sometimes there was a soup kettle full of leftovers sitting at the back of the stove.

PANTRY

Bins of flour and sugar, a marble top for rolling out dough and shelves for spices and baking utensils were found in the pantry. The icebox, with a block of ice, was also in the pantry. Grandma and Motherís canning was on the shelves surrounded with the smell of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, apples, and prunes.

DINING ROOM

In the dining room the table was set, chairs placed around the table and the family gathered to eat. In the hutch or cupboard were the dishes and the family silver in the drawer. Homework was done at the table under the watchful eye of one of the adults. Puzzles and games were also played at the table.

BEDROOM

It was upstairs to bed. On cold mornings, children scurried downstairs to stand around the woodstove while breakfast cooked. The light, in the bedroom, was a kerosene lantern. Also the bedroom was furnished with a chair, desk, closet, and coverings to the window. The walls were papered. It was places to think, read a book, or entertain friends.

HOME FURNISHINGS

The couch, Dadís overstuffed chair, Momís rocking chair, a wood table and chairs, wringer washer, clothes rack, beds, dressers, stands, chamber pot, canning cupboard, were furnishings in the old house. Other furnishings included canning jars, clocks, pitcher pump, teakettle, flat iron, crank telephone, cream separator, icebox, and small kitchen gadgets.

CHORES

The outside chores were mowing, pumping water, chopping wood, and sweeping the porches. On the farm there was milking cows, feeding the animals, gathering eggs, hoeing the garden, haying, plowing, and watering.

Inside the house there were clothes to wash, dry, iron, and fold. After the meal was over there were dishes to wash, dry, and put away. On Saturday it was dusting, sweeping, and mopping, floors. The flowers, inside and outside to be watered, fertilized, and tended to for sunlight. Sometime each day it was make the beds, change sheets, pillowcases, and bedding, and hang the clothes in the closet.

On the farm, everyone had their turn churning the butter, cleaning the cream separator and canning fresh fruit and vegetables.

Mom saved string, pennies, brown paper bags, flour sacks, buttons, and marbles. The children shared the jobs of winding the string into a ball, counting the pennies, folding the sacks, and putting buttons and marbles in a jar. Monetary remunerationís often turned to a thank you or job well done. Sometimes it was a quarter or dime for the Saturday matinee or a favorite toy next trip to town.

Chores at school included taking out the trash, cleaning the blackboard or erasers, raising the flag, and lunch patrol.

ATTIC MEMORIES

The step stool, the ladder, the strength of two-arms, and an added boost by Dad or Mom put you up in the attic.

The journey was dark and musty with cobwebs everywhere and only room to crawl in search of shoebox, trunk or newspaper-wrapped bundle of cards, letters, diary, and journal. Inside each bundle was the private, and not so private, words from friends, family, including the feelings, thoughts, and opinions. The cards were from birthdays, graduation, wedding, announcements, invitation, sympathy, or just because.

In the trip down memory lane, happy the box full of personal, heartwarming, and fondly remembered treasures were found.



Copyright 2001 Margaret L. Ingram


Margaret L. Ingram lives in Albany, Oregon. She has lectured and taught life history writing for 16 years. Also has 12 + years writing for monthly and weekly publications. Margaret published a Personal History Workbook in 1992, authors a monthly newsletter, Heritage Writer, and developed Memoirs By Mail (MBM) in 1997. MBM is an independent study course in personal, spiritual, community, school, and church history for anyone interested in working on their history and staying at home. Want to know more, contact Margaret L. Ingram at P O Box 1339, Albany, OR 97321; call (541) 730-6450; or e-mail: margaret@dswebnet.com

Bonnie and Gary McClure