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.
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
The mainstay of all rooms in the house was living room,
providing warmth, entertainment, and relaxation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
The step stool, the ladder, the
strength of two-arms, and an added boost by Dad or Mom put you up in the
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org