Stirring up memories
Wash Day Memories
May 4, 2005
Holder Hudson White taught at Bainbridge College
for thirty years. Now that she is
retired, she is retrieving some of her childhood memories. Betty is a member of the first Older
Women’s Legacy Circle
sponsored by the Post-Searchlight
and the Arts Council. She wrote
this as part of the workshop and shares it with us for Mother’s Day.
grew up just outside of Louisville, Mississippi on a farm that her widowed
mother, Eunice Hatcher Holder operated alone—except for help son Harlan
and daughter Bettye.
As I made
this morning, a particular piece of material in the wedding ring quilt Mother
had a neighbor quilt for me seemed to stand out. It was a piece of a favorite dress
made for me when I was nine years of age.
At that time,
farmers ordered fertilizer for the crops from the co-op in the early
spring. It was then delivered
flat bed truck to several farmers in the area at a time. I am sure Mother looked forward to
truck arriving so she and my brother, Harlan, could “get the crops in
ground.” For me, it was
special time for quite a different reason.
As soon as the truck stopped, I ran outside to begin looking at the
patterns on the fertilizer sacks, for this is where I chose my Easter
dress. Around and around the
I would go, looking for the prettiest design, making sure there were enough
sacks available to make a dress yet not too many, since I didn’t want
have the same dress as anyone else in the neighborhood. Even though it might be the prettiest
design, I would look for another, because if there were many sacks it was
likely that I would see someone else at church with a dress from the same
material! What a hard decision this
was. Mother would ask the driver
what other deliveries had been made that day, and if he remembered who might
have chosen the same design I had.
We also made curtains, towels and sheets from the fertilizer sacks. The truck driver was always kind and
patient with us. I think it was
about the same for everyone on his route, and he seemed to enjoy the visits
Mother’s teacakes with a glass of sweet milk, as he rested on the back
I could hardly
wait for the fertilizing to take place so I could rip the sacks apart. They were put together with a sort
chain stitch and if you could get it started just right, you could pull one
thread and it would come apart easily.
If you pulled the wrong thread, it was difficult to get it going
right. The sacks were shaken
rinsed, and then washed a few times to get all the fertilizer out and ready
sewing. It took three or four
to make a double sheet, and I learned simple sewing in the process. We started by binding the edges of
sacks and connected them using double felt seams. It took many washings before the sheets
were anywhere near soft and comfortable.
weather, washday usually came about once a week although washing clothes became
secondary if the garden needed to be put in, cotton picked, or corn
pulled. We would draw the water
from the well and fill the wash pot and tubs. Then Mother would build a fire under the
wash pot to get the water hot, and shave some soap into the pot so it would
melt before punching the clothes down in the hot water. Although we were fortunate to have
Octagon bar soap or Tide much of the time, she did use Red Devil lye or ashes
to make soap occasionally. These
soaps were sure to make hands red and rough and the only help came from the
Watkins man in the form of a salve, which usually did double duty for the
cows’ bags. After the clothes
had been in the pot long enough, she would lift them out into a bucket with
battling stick, take them over to the wash tubs where the ones with stains
extra dirty spots would be put on the rub board with more soap. The very dirty ones might go back
pot for an extra time, but usually they went to the rinse water for me to
finish. The “good”
clothes were rinsed in a starch water that Mother made. They were then wrung out by hand and
hung on the “good” clothesline. The everyday clothes were hung on
barbwire fence at the back and side of the house.
The last chore
connected to washing was taking a bucket of the hot wash water and mopping
floors in the house. Although
remember a corn shuck or rag mop, most of the time we had a big string mop
we scrubbed the floor hard with, and then rinsed at least once. A couple of rooms that had wood, and not
linoleum floors, had cracks where the water would seep through. We were tired by the time the clothes
had dried, brought in and folded, but the clothes and house smelled so fresh
Some clothes could
be folded or hung up immediately, but many were sprinkled with water and rolled
up into a tight bundle for ironing later.
In the summer they might have been put in the icebox, to keep them from
souring, for ironing the next day. Electricity came to our
community when I was nine, but even then it was a while before we could afford
a refrigerator or other electric appliances. My first memories of ironing
of using the flat irons and an ironing board, which was quite literally that
…….a wide board that had an old quilt or sheets wrapped around
it. Two straight chairs were
back to back about three feet apart, one of which was next to the wall, with
something heavy in the seats to keep them from turning over. I enjoyed ironing the handkerchiefs,
pillowcases and the new material, but it was hard to make some of the starched
things like pants and shirts meet Mother’s approval.
During this period
of time, I remember Mother waking me up occasionally at night to help her start
a fire in the wood stove to heat water.
She would be walking the floor, wringing her hands and sometimes even crying. Her hands would be hurting and the
relief seemed to come from rubbing them in warm water. Now, I understand why they hurt so
then and not in later years.
only did she have the washing, but other farm chores too. At nine, I didn’t realize the
effort my mother, who was a widow, was making each day for us.
remind me of the clothes we wore, and the good times we had. They also remind me of Mother’s
love and hard work. My brother and
I and our families are who we are today because of the values she instilled
Betty. This brings back lots
memories for me of my grandparents’ farm and those fertilizer sacks.
all go and give the nearest Mother a big hug!
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network