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Monday, April 21, 2014

Laundry time at the new place.

Always before doing the laundry had consisted of scrubbing clothes on the scrub board, wringing them out by twisting them and then dropping them into a tub of rinse water where they were swished around by hand, wrung out again and dropped into another tub of water.  A final wringing and then they were placed on a wire "clothes line" to dry.  It was an all day job!  But when we moved in here we were surprised to find that it came with a washing machine.  As I recall it had a gas motor and sat in the kitchen.  The tank on the motor was probably coal oil.  Maybe kerosene.  Maybe gas. The motor caused the agitator to go back and forth, thus beating the clothes clean and eliminating the need for the scrub board.  Mother did, however, pre scrub the collars of the shirts on the scrub board.  We must have been very dirty little kids, especially our necks.
This new washer was great!  It even had a "wringer" which was two rollers and you turned a crank and placed and item of clothes between the rollers and the water ran back into the washer.  This was wonderful and made Mother's work so easy!  But alas!  It had been left there for a reason.  The second time the laundry was done the motor gave out and could not be repaired.  The rollers did not do a good job of wringing.

So, Mr. Reuben Floyd Bartholomew, land owner went into town and opened a charge account and purchased a brand new, never used, white  washing machine for his wife.  That was the most beautiful thing we had ever seen.  And it was electric!  It plugged into the one plug in that was in the kitchen.  (More about the wonders of electricity later!)  The best part was the stop lever on the wringer.  If you got your fingers in there by accident, you could smack the lever with your free hand and the wringers would stop and open allowing you to retrieve your appendage.  The alternative was to be pulled through the wringer and spit out in the rinse tub!  So wash day now became a joy!

Water would be heated in the 3 legged kettle out back with a wood fire and carried in by buckets to fill the washing machine.  Cold water was carried for the rinse tubs.  The final rinse always had a dab of "bluing" added so the white clothes had a hint of blue instead of the drab gray of the women who did not use bluing.  The first load of clothes washed was always "the whites". The whites were placed on the clothes line to dry and life continued.

 Oh, forgot to tell you the very first thing that happened was the bar of lye soap was grated into the water and agitated until it dissolved.  I must elaborate on how the lye soap came to be.
 When the lye soap supply started getting low, the first step was to clean the ash bin of the stove out and build a fire with a certain kind of wood.  The wood was important as it affected the color, smell, and texture of the soap.  This ash was saved for "soap making day".  On soap making day the 5 gallon bucket of grease we had been saving for this occasion was carefully heated and strained into another clean can.  Only the top was used as the bottom contained water and lord only knows what else.  This was placed on the back of the stove to be kept warm. Mother would place the ashes in a colander lined with several layers of cheese cloth. She then carefully dropped water into the ashes which ran through and was caught in a vessel of some sort underneath the sieve.  When she thought it looked "right" she would place a raw egg still in its shell in the mixture.  As I recall when all was right the egg would do something "proving" the lye.  When that happened there was a flurry in that kitchen like you would not believe!

The kettle of warm grease was set on the floor, someone poured the lye into the grease can while mother stirred frantically with a hammer handle reserved for this purpose only.  Depending on the strength of the lye, the heat of the grease and the humidity of the air the grease would start to "trace" means to  show marks of the hammer handle.  When the trace marks showed the concoction was poured into a wooden box that was lined with cloth.  If any part of the procedure was not perfect two things would happen.  If the mixture did not trace, then lye was off and the whole thing a waste and had to be thrown out.  If it traced to quickly it would set up on the way to the mold.  Usually the hammer handle would be trapped in the soap and could not be retrieved until the soap was all grated.  But if everything was perfect and the grease extra clean we would end up with white soap that actually lathered.  Back then a woman's worth was often connected to that bar of soap she produced, and to her credit, my mother rarely failed!

That scenario is what went through my mind when Chuck Vail gave me a gift certificate to Vitamin Cottage and I saw a book on soap making.  I figured if my mother could do it under the primitive conditions she did it under that I could surely turn out a bar to be proud of and that is what I have done.  Sadly nobody ever asks me what my soap looks like, but I think I will show you anyway.  The best part is what this does for my skin. See, this stuff is made with all natural ingredients so rather than plugging up my pores with petroleum distillates, it opens them and keeps my skin young.  I have a lot of repeat customers for this soap and my lotions.  Just goes to show, that no matter how things change, the more they remain the same.  When I first started making soap I could buy lye at the grocery store, but then the druggies learned how to use it and embalming fluid to make drugs and it is no longer available.  I have to order it online and I am limited how much I can buy and I have to certify that I am not a drug lord.

So while my mother made her own lye and used grease and it was a crap shoot what she would end up with, I have controlled conditions and it always comes out the same.  I use pretty molds and package it for eye appeal.  I keep thinking maybe one of my kids will take up the banner when I can no longer do this, but none of them are showing any interest.  Guess it is what is known as a dying art.  Much as my life has become!  When I take flight for the big homestead in the sky there will be a bunch of kids standing around shaking thier heads and wondering what to do with all the kettles, thermometers, molds, bags, fragrances, oils.  Ah!  An estate auction to die for!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cellar, outhouse and black widow spiders!

There was much to be done in our new home.  School would be starting soon and I had not yet explored every inch of the new home.  The house was simple.  Enter at the front door and you were in the "front room".  Later I learned the rich people called it the entry way, but to us it was the front room due to the very location.  It was also the "living room" because we lived there. To to the left of that was the front bedroom.  Made sense. Dad had a big bed in that room nearest the window so nothing could get us 4 kids that were piled on the bed.  Josephine, Donna, Mary and I slept in the other bed.  The center of the house consisted of the dining room and the "other bedroom" in which Mother slept with Dorothy because she was still a baby.  Sometimes Mary also slept in there.  I do not know where Jake slept.  He may have been hung from a hook.  The dining room held the big oak clawfoot table with mismatched chairs, the ironing board, a built in cupboard for our dishes, and a "icebox."    It also held a hanging bird cage in which lived a yellow canary.  That canary was my mother's reason for living, I think.  More about that later.
The room across the back of the house was designated as the kitchen.  It held two cook stoves, a set of shelves which would later become a bookself because we did have 3 or 4 books and they were on that shelf. The galvanized tubs were kept hanging from nails in this room, so it was also the laundry room.  One was a "wash boiler" because it was oblong and about a foot across and two feet long and 2 feet high.  If it happened to be raining on "wash" day, the water would be heated inside because we could not build a fire under the 3 legged kettle and wash day was wash day come hell or high water.  Days meant something back then!  I sell tea towels on ebay and they have the days with the little Sunbonnet Sue or the doggie doing things they do on the designated days.  Monday was "Wash Day", Tuesday "Iron", Wednesday "Sew", Thursday "Shop", Friday "Bake", Saturday "Clean" and Sunday was always "Church".  So if it rained and it was Monday, we would be heating wash water in the house.
There were also 2 more galvanized tubs that hung there.  They were the "rinse tubs".  When bath night came, which was always on a Saturday night without fail, the cleanest of the two tubs would be filled with warm water and we each got a turn in the tub.  First came the little kids and then the last was Dad.  Some times if the water got to thick, more water was added.  That was nice!  When we were all clean (and I use that word with the untmost sarcasm!) the tub was carried out the back door and dumped unceremoniously in the garden area.  Great fertilizer!
Along with the bathing ritual for our hygiene, there was also the need for rest room "facilities" and trust me, those were very primitive!  Out the back door and down the path stood the "outhouse".  And that, friends, is exactly what it was and what all the neighbors called it and everyone in town had one.  Course there were people in the city proper who had the inside things, but out on the outskirts where we lived it was a way of life.  It was a wooden building with a wooden bench built in and secured to the walls.  A hole was cut and that was it.  A Sears catalog was the paper used to "clean yourself "  when you were done "doing your business".  I hope you are getting a clear picture of where the black widow spiders came into this tale, because I have no intention of going into more detail than this.  Suffice it to say, I was terrified every time I went in there and I always carried a stick which I used to hit the hole with to scare the spiders away.  Apparently it worked because my vulnerable back side was never attacked.  I also lived in mortal terror that I would step inside and the floor would collapse and I would fall to a very nasty death.  I think this is the one aspect of pioneer life that I least enjoyed.  Never, ever did I even once wish I could go back to that nasty place!
Right out the back door was the area known as the "back porch" which I never understood why it was called that, but I guess it had a roof and screens to keep out flies.  Step out the door of the kitchen and on the left is where wood was piled.  On the right was the cellar.  The cellar was by definition the one place I did not ever want to go.  Never, ever, in my entire life did I actually enter the underground room.  I did make it part way down the dirt steps and looked at the room.  This cellar was dug down about 6 feet below ground level.  A roof of some sort was over the top and several feet of dirt mounded up over that.  I am sure that this would have stood an atomic bomb attack, but I was just not fond enough of living to go clear down the steps and enter that spider infested room.  Mother insisted on storing her pickles, canned goods, potatoes, yams, onions and such down there.  She would on occasion tell me to go down and bring up such and such.  If I could not get one of the other kids to do it, I went and hid until I was sure it was done.  I am scared shitless of spiders to this day and never have I ever thought a spider was my friend.  I am terrified of little spiders and the level of fear increased with the size of the spider.  Terror is the word we are looking for here.  Petrified comes to mind.  You get the picture?
Out of time again, but I will be back soon to share more with you of our new home.  Until then....

Monday, April 7, 2014

709 North Strong Street, Nickerson, Kansas, Home of the Bartholomew family!

Father was quick to respond to the glove thrown down and the challenge from Mother.  The next day he walked into town and when he came back, we were landowners.  Seemed some guy on the other side of town had an old house on an acre of ground that he would sell for nothing down and $10.00 a month.  Total price was $700.00 sealed with a handshake and a promise.  So, the hay rack was turned back over on it's wheels, backed up to the door, and our worldly possessions piled on the bed, kids scrambled up on top, cow tied behind, horses hitched to the front, mom and dad on the springboard seat, reins flipped and "giddy up!" called across the backs of the horses and away we went.
Our new home was beautiful!  In front were 2 Catalpa trees.  They were magnificent!  Their leaves were huge!  Long beans hung from them.  We were told they were not edible, because we could see hope of a meal in anything that was green with the name "bean".  We did find in later years that when they were dry, we could smoke them.  My first lesson was to be sure and blow out the fire first and I learned that by sucking raw flames into my throat.  Bad news!  But back to the house.
Dad pulled the hay rack across a broken side walk and we unloaded our possessions onto a cement porch with an actual roof.  We could not take anything into the house yet as we did not have the proper floor coverings.  Since this was our very own place we must put linoleum on the floors.  The kitchen stuff, which included a scrub board, two galvanized tubs, a boiler tub, the pots and pans, and the grease barrel along with the slop jar, were  put on the back porch.  The 3 legged cast iron kettle was placed carefully out in the back yard near the pump, but far enough away from everything else that a fire could be built in it to heat the water.  It was a central part of life back then.
As soon as everything was unloaded, dad drove into town and purchased the rolls of linoleum for the front room, dining room and the front bedroom.  The linoleum came stored in big cardboard rolls.  The three rolls probably cost a total of $15.00 but were a mark of pride in our new home.  They were unloaded and placed in the room they would go in to start "relaxing."  That was accomplished by carefully cutting the cardboad wrapper off and leaving the roll to warm and relax.  This took several hours.   It came rolled up backwards so we would have no clue what it would look like until it was ready to unroll.  Mom and Dad knew because they had seen pictures of it at the store.  This is how it worked.  The roll was placed with the edge where it would start.  There was much measuring, because it could not be moved without tearing it once it was in place.  When it was ready mom got on one side and dad got on the other and they would unroll a little, then let it relax while they went to the next room.  By evening they were flat on the floor and we could then bring in the beds and our belongings.  The new floors were wonderful and smelled to high heaven of asbestos, tar, crosote, and every other carcinagine known to mankind.  Little fiberglass and a few other things, but they were so pretty and clean!
The sofa was brought into the front room and then the big square  asbestos covered in tin was placed under the chimney.  This was also new.  The cast iron stove was carried in and placed in the center and the pipes attached to lead the smoke to the outside.  The wood box was placed behind the stove and we were good to go.  The kitchen held the wood cook stove.  A two stove house!  The wood cook stove was very fancy with a reservoir to hold water.  There were 6 seperate burners which could be picked up and wood added to just that portion.  The wood cook stove was only used on week days.  Sunday we cooked on a two burner stove that was powered by propane.  That kept a more even heat which we needed to fry chicken.  Sunday was always fried chicken.  Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and cream gravy.  Usually opened a can of green beans and biscuits were a staple.
So with the new floor laid and the beds set up and wood carried in for the next days cooking, we toddled off to bed.  We were tired but  sleep did not come easy.  There was much to discover about our new home.  There were buildings out back.  I had seen a place for the chickens and ducks, a granery, horse tank, a barn and of course the out house.  When I come back the next time, we will re-examine the "out house and look down into the cellar.
For now, the Bartholomew family was home at 709 N. Strong Street in Nickerson, Kansas and we even had a number painted on one of the posts that held up the roof of the porch.  What more could a girl possibly want?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ah, Daddy is off drunk some where and here comes the cyclone!

I do not know how long we lived on the Ailmore place, but I do not think it was very long.  My most vivid memory was one afternoon when Jake decided to work on a  car that was in the front yard. Cars were simple back in those days and if you had any mechanical abilities at all and could think of the concept of a motor, you could be a mechanic.  He was pretty sure that the gas line was plugged so he unhooked some line and told Donna to watch the other end and he would blow through it and she should let him know if air came through.  So she had it up close to her eye and he blew and gas shot out into her eye!  Oh, Lordy, there was more catawaulling going on than you could believe!  And guess what Jake got?  You are right!  A licking!  There was talk that Donna might lose her eye sight, but I guess they washed it out with something and she was fine.
Roy Keating lived very close there to us.  He raised pigs and those things were huge!  It seems like I was told that a pig will keep growing as long as it is alive and that is why they get so big.  Does not mean that is true, just means that is what I was told.  Dad was Mr. Keating's chore man which meant when Mr. Keating was not home that dad took care of the place.  That meant I had to go and gather eggs while dad "slopped the hogs."  Side note here...back in those days farmers kept "slop buckets" which held garbage, leftover or sour milk, and anything edible except bones. The bucket was carried out to the pigs every morning.  I was scared shitless of those big pigs.  And of course there was always the tale of a farmer or his child falling in the pig pen and the pigs eating the hapless person.  That rather kept my paranoia fueled!
The floods, the bull frog, the Barthold sisters, Mr. Keatings giant pigs, coal oil lamps, and I never remember snow or being cold there, so we may not have wintered over at the Ailmore place.  I do recall my dad taking us all to the Kansas State Fair once.  Maybe not all of us, but me, Jake and probably Josephine.  I recall the ride there.  We parked and entered the grounds.  We walked down the midway with the promise from dad that we could ride the ferris wheel later, but first he needed a beer.  We were not allowed in the hall and had to set on a bench outside the door.  It was hot and dusty, but ever the dutiful father, dad finally came out.   He got us an ice cream cone for our one treat on the way to the car to head home.  I can still taste that ice cream.  It was horrible and must have been something like pineapple sherbert.  When we got home mother greeted us at the door and that man got hollered at and screamed at the rest of the night for taking those innocent babies into a den of iniquity.  When he explained that we sat outside in the hot sun, that was more fuel for the fire.  Kansas State Fair does not hold any fond memories for me!
It was a few days later and dad was once more gone, God only knew where, but we were sure he would come home "plastered"  since that was what he did.  Nickerson had no beer joints so he had to go into Hutchinson which was 11 miles away.  It was one of those hot, sultry days for which  Central Kansas is so famous.  The phone rang and Queen Josephine answered.  Very quickly she ended the conversation and turned to us.  "Mother is on her way home.  A big storm is coming.  Get the tank pumped full fast."  Jake and I ran for the back door and the pump house. The sky did look terrible.  Soon a car pulled into the drive and mother jumped out and ran for the house.  Ed Crissman followed her.  She apparently had started for home and he picked her up.  The wind was picking up and it was a sure thing that no one was going anywhere  until this was over.  Mother called us inside and just as we reached the safety of the house, the pump house collapsed.
We covered the windows with blankets in case the hail broke the windows.  We all huddled in the center of the house while the wind blew, the rain fell, and we prayed that the house did not lift up off the foundation.  I do not know how long the storm took, but it finally subsided.  Like little forest creatures we opened the door and peered outside.  Ed's car was still there, but had lots of hail damage.  The haystack was gone.  All the buildings were gone.  Trees were uprooted.  The fences were gone and the livestock wandered the yard.   Dead chickens were all over the yard.  It looked like a war zone.  Ed Crissman decided to walk home since the creek was now flooded.  And then it was night.
Dad came home sometime in the night.  It was a somber little group of people that stood in the yard the next morning wondering where to begin.  There seemed to be no place to start.  We had caught the livestock and tied them  to a fence post where they stayed the night.  But now what?  The roof of the house was not going to keep out the next rain.  And there was my father.  The pillar of the family.  Hung over, sick, sorry, and all the other things that they sing about in country western songs.  And my mother, a beaten woman.  She had worked all her life to feed a nest full of kids and then  lost the nest.  It was devastating.  She still had the kids.  We still needed to eat and we had to have a roof over our heads.  And she looked at my father, and all she said was "Well, Rueben, I hope you have an idea, because I am done."
I found an article that mother had saved from the paper back then.  They called it a cyclone.  Cyclone is also described as a tornado.  I didn't figure it made a lot of difference what it was called, the results were the same.  Mother could have given up at that point and no one would have faulted her.  But I have found since then that there is really nothing to give up to.  There have been times in my life when I have felt like there just was not enough gumption left in  me to take that next step.  When I looked at my kids and thought this was as far as I could go.  When that happened I thought back to that ragged bunch standing in that yard and heard my mother say, "Well, Rueben...." I had no Rueben, but I did have a mother and my mother had a daughter that learned her lessons of survial from a very strong woman.  A woman who knew how to wring every bit of life out of the worst situations.  A pioneer woman who did not give up and stuck with her husband and knew when to tell him it was his turn and he knew she meant it.
Next time I show up here we are going to be on the move again!!  Get ready world, the Bartholomew family is about to be land owners!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Could have been on this one or that one.

Yes a cat on my lap is rather a handicap!

This is Icarus.  She is setting on the chair beside the computer.  I keep it there for her.  It is her chair.  She like to set and watch me work.  But she soon becomes bored and wants to set on my lap.

Ever try to type with a cat on your lap?  It is not easy.  It can be done, but she does not like me to let my attention wander from her.
Life is boring for a cat whose sole goal in life is to spend time on me 24/7.  In bed it is my shoulder.  Nap time in the chair it is my lap.  Usually the only way to get her away from the keyboard is to print something at which time she has her paw firmly implanted in the place where the paper comes out.  

So very soon she is in the middle of the keyboard which makes life rather difficult for me since I can not see either the key board or the monitor.  I do pick her up and firmly place her back on her chair which solves nothing since she is like a boomerang and is right back on the keyboard on my lap.

 Right at the moment I do not know where she is.  That is scaring me!  But I am just going to type real fast and hope for the best.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Yes, yes! I was a 60's flower child.

Woke up early this morning to think about things and decided that I grew up in the best of all times.  People who know me find it hard to believe that I never used drugs of any kind.  Unless of course we consider alcohol and tobacco, and I think those are both considered in that genre.  I was born in the 40's which was a time of war.  There was talk that I was actually fallout from Hiroshima or Pearl Harbor, but I think not since I was such a cute baby!
We went from peace after World War II to peace keeping missions in Korea, Vietnam, to war in   Iraq and are still a very warring faction and I am not sure where all we have troops now.  We went from a phone on the wall to a phone we wear in our ear.  We went from Frank Sinatra, through Elvis, the Beatles, Garth Brooks and now Miley Cirus and Justin Bieber are the current losers. We went from a black Model T through a lavender Corvette.  Poodle skirts gave way to mini skirts which were traded for culottes and now there are no fashion rules at all.  Baby boomers, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.   Birth control pills, floppy discs, Rubik's cube, a man on the moon and a woman in the space station.  Kent State, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and President Bush hates broccoli!  Do I need to go on with history?  No.
I just want you to grasp the picture.  Some times I like to think back and picture the first Indian who looked up and saw an airplane soaring overhead.  There is an old saying, "Time marches on!"  and one "Time and tide wait for no man."  I can attest to all of this.  We used to go buy a car from the lot on the corner for $250.00, put 19 cent gas in the tank and drive 150 miles to see grandma who inevitably lived on a farm usually in Western (insert name of state here).    Now we take out a loan for $25,000.00, put $4.25 gas in the tank, park our cheap little car in the garage of our house in the suburbs, and crawl on a plane for $650 and fly 2000 miles to see grandma who does not have time for us because it is bingo night at the condo center and she is in charge, but we can stay here at the house and pet her Labradoodle which is her latest designer dog.
The creek where we used to fish is no longer there.  It has been rerouted and is now a kayak course, but take your pole anyway.  You can set there and remember when you used to catch a cat fish and you could actually eat it.  Damn things glow now with radiation and I ain't eating that!  We can walk downtown to the "Historic area" which is now antique shops where I can buy a remenant of history for a price which is more than I used to pay for my car.  If I am really lucky I can find a friend my age and we can play "Oh, God, remember when we had to wear those awful shoes?"  And "Remember when mother used to gather up the pans because the 'tinker man' was due and he would patch the holes in them?"
I know you have a hard time thinking that was a good time, but it was.   It was back before any divorces and before I worked 3 jobs to survive and before I found out cigarettes were cool and a shot of whiskey sure took the edge off the lonliness and an aspirin was the strongest drug in my medicine cabinet..
 Back when we could walk out back, catch a chicken, "wring it's neck", pluck out the feathers and innards and have the biggest and best  pot of chicken and noodle soup in the world 2 hours later. Scraps of food were thrown out in the back yard for the chickens and the chicken would then lay an egg and the cycle continued.
 Back when school supplies included pencils and paper and a new pair of shoes for the winter ahead.  Back when the teacher was Miss Lauver or Mr. Bollinger, because teachers were respected and revered.  Clothes were handed down and when they were thread bare they went into the "rag basket".  In due time they were torn into strips, rolled into a ball and taken to the weaver lady who made them into rugs.  Wool clothes were cut into strips and mother crocheted them into rugs. Those were best cause they were thicker and softer.
Back when we walked to church every Sunday to save the car for an emergency or for when we went to see grandma and great grandma who lived in Plevena, a town of 102 people 24 miles away.
I would just ask that all of you out there stay in touch with your roots.  They are what makes you who you are today and they are unique to you.  You can look back and see all the things your parents did wrong while raising you, but try to remember that they were once young also and they were raised by a parent raising them who probably had no idea what they were doing either!  We all live and learn and some of us actually get to a point in our lives where we can say,
I did the best I could with the knowledge and the tools I had at the time so I forgive me!