"Come sit in the swing under the shade tree and let me tell you of days gone by..."

WASH DAY

 c1998PaulaThompson

Written by a woman that has lived all of this! Paula Howard Thompson,[email protected] native of Weakley Co., Tennessee has graciously agreed to share her knowledge of the old time ways our ancestors lived by. Thanks so much, Paula!

Note: These stories remain property of Paula Thompson and may not be reproduced or used in any publication without her written approval and endorsement.


Well I told you in the hog killing story that the wash kettle and the wooden paddle was used for many purposes and here is another one. You wash your clothes in this was kettle and stir them with the paddle. Wash days was very hard work for the women but it had to be done.

Up at 4:30 A.M., build up the fire in the pot bellied stove (this is our heat) and start the fire in the cook stove (we burn wood in it).  Soon as these things are done, I head to the outhouse.  When finished in the outhouse, I stop by the cellar to get the food that I will cook today for breakfast, dinner and supper.  I set the food on the back porch and go to the cistern to draw fresh water for breakfast and washing up in the dishpan that sits on the back porch.  My husband is up and ready to shave with his straight razor out there so I better hurry.  I finally get everything in the house and start breakfast, the stove is hot by now.  This morning we are having hot homemade biscuits with fresh churned butter, chocolate gravy, tenderloin, fried tatters, eggs, and lots of black coffee.  Us farmers and country folk have to eat good to keep going.  Soon as breakfast is over I start dinner to cooking, a stew today because it is a business day.

It's breaking day now so I am going out to start my fire under the kettle, feed the chickens, gather the eggs, milk the cow and slop the hogs. Got all that done and the fire started and the kettle set so now I am back at the cistern to draw enough water to heat to boil the clothes in.  Back in the house to check on the stew and gather up the clothes and be sure the children are off to school, the wagon will be by shortly to pick them up.  Just hauled all the clothes outside to start my wash day, first batch of overalls goes in the kettle, they are always first cause it takes them so long to dry on these cold days.  I throw in the lye soap and get the paddle and stir them around real good.  Now back to the house to check on the stew, oh I sure hope I don't let that burn, wonder how many will be here for dinner and supper?  A peddler or two and maybe even a hobo will stop by for a meal or even a traveler so I must be prepared and no telling how many my husband will drag in to eat.  Well at least we have a long wooden table with plenty of bench space to sit.  Back to the wash kettle now and grab the paddle and start stirring, never makes a difference how cold it is out here washing clothes you get hot as blue blazes standing over this dang old wash kettle.  Time to draw more water from the cistern and haul it to the wash tub for rinsing, the overalls are about ready but of course I will have to use the scrub board on some of the stubborn stains, oh my poor knuckles will be raw and bleeding fore this day is over.  Back to the house to stir the stew.  Back to the cistern to draw my water, this takes several trips, why didn't I put the dang wash kettle closer to that water?  Well I have my water all hauled in to the wash tub so now I take my paddle and start lifting the clothes out of the boiling lye water and put them in the wash tub to rinse and this is done by hand in this cold weather!  Oh shoot, I have to go get the scrub board and stir the stew.  Stirred the stew and got the wash board, so now I am back outside down on my knees over the wash tub (rinse water) scrubbing away at these stains, I wonder what this one is, probably ambeer (now this is not beer, it is tobacco juice) that my husband let drip down his face.  I hate that stuff.  Hate working in the tobacco fields and hate that he chews that awful tasting stuff.

Well got that done and got to get to the kitchen and check on the stew.  Stirred the stew and now I am putting in the second wash of the day, had to build my fire up some.  Wringing these overalls out by hand is hard going but it has to be done.  Got them hung on the line so I'm going back to the house and bank the fire in the stove so the stew will simmer the rest of the morning and out I go again to the wash pot.  Well time to get another batch out of the boiling lye water, grab my paddle and start dipping them out.  Build up the fire some more and dump another batch of clothes in the pot.  Dad gum it, John got stain on his school pants again so that means back to the scrub board, got that batch rinsed and wrung out and hung up.  Guess I better go check on the stew again.  My husband just came home and brought a widow man and his stair step 7 younguons to put up for a few days, now wouldn't you just know it the oldest child is a boy and only eight years old!  No woman help here.  Well guess I have to go to the smoke house and get a hogs jaw down and fry some of that up and I'll fry some tatters and make a pone of cornbread and some hot biscuits, I sent all that was left from morning with the kids to school for their dinner.  Why did I have all boys?  Nine of them total plus their daddy that makes ten and now Harold has brought in another man and 7 little boys.  I wonder if there is any women left in this world but me.  Someday when I get caught up with all this work I am going to hitch the wagon up and just go to town.  Well I am going to take this last batch of clothes out of the lye soap and put them in the rinse water and leave them be til after dinner.  Oh no now I will not have enough left over for supper so I guess I will just have to let that be all the washing for this one day.  Not to bad, all morning chores are done, dinner is cooking, 3 wash kettles of clothes on the line, not bad for one woman and it is only 10 A.M.  Dinner has to be on the table at precisely 11:30 A.M. every day so I have to get moving.  Good thing I baked bread yesterday, but I have to make a few pies for dinner.  Maybe I can get the butter churned this afternoon so we can have fresh buttermilk for supper.  Dinner is done and on the table, I see Harold and that man coming up from the lot so I am getting all these younguons washed up and seated.  Everyone enjoyed a hearty dinner and the children are down by the stove taking naps, and the men have gone back to stripping tobacco.  I am going to sat down and have a cup of good cold water but first I must go draw some from the cistern but I can do that on my way to check the clothes to see if they are dry.  Clothes still damp so I'll just start my churning but first I am going to get supper on to cook.  Back to the woodshed for some stove wood, got to get David to chop some more when he gets off the school wagon.  I better be heating the flat irons for my ironing later on.  Well I guess I will fry up some fat back, cook a pot of turnips, open some corn to fry, and a pot of peas, make some corn pone and get out the molasses.  Better cook up a little mush for the little ones, too.  Got supper on to cook so I'll go check the clothes again.  Some are dry and my irons are hot so I might as well do the ironing since the irons are already hot.  Took me awhile but all the ironing is done so I'll churn the butter now while I watch supper cooking, it's about time for the school wagon.  Elswick will dump the wash water for me and draw some fresh water for supper and washing up, clean the wash kettle and put it away for tomorrow I have to make soap and try to finish my wash.  David will chop the firewood and stack up enough for the night and morning, John, James, Archibald and Junior will go help their daddy strip tobacco and my youngest ones, Beau, Stephen, and Paul will watch all these little ones as they are waking up now.                                        

The school wagon just stopped so all my boys are home and all the little ones are up so I gave them all a fried pie and cup of cider.  Butter is ready and buttermilk is in the cistern chilling for supper.  Supper is on the table at 4:30 P. M., we have a table full tonight.  After I get all this mess cleaned up, had water heating to wash dishes while we ate, then I got to go fed my chickens.  I think I will wring a few chicken necks in the morning and fry chicken for breakfast.   Well it is 7 P. M. now, all is bedded down and that is exactly where I am going, I am a little tired tonight!  

Written by a woman that has lived some of this but heard stories from her Mama Jones!; Paula (pj) Howard Thompson; A Native of Weakley County, Tennessee; December 7, 1998

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