My cousin Billie, from the Galveston Island, has found
some of the writings of her mother, Lillian Goin McKinney. I have
shared some of these with you in the past few weeks. In reading the
story I am sharing this week, you must realize that if you had known
Uncle George you would currently be over 100 years old and to have
known Aunt Sis you would be over 50 years old, and to remember my Dad,
Jim, you would be over 30 years of age.
Aunt Sis wrote this store of the Farm House as she
remembered it on the Blackjack Road hill where their family lived
until about 1910. Aunt Sis wrote the following story in 1968. She died
in 1970 while teaching school at the age of 70.
The story is about her youth in the early 1900's, as
she recalls what happened some sixty-five years earlier.
The sandy Blackjack hill provided a home region for
the early day Cherokee family culture.
The Old Farm House
(the one on Blackjack Road)
The old farm house still stands with the gentle pride
of peasant passivity on its slowly rising hill. Weathered to a gray
satin finish, it wears a mantle of timeless style among the live oaks
in the clean swept yard.
There was no lawn at all. Mama swept the yard into a
design with a broom and cultivated flowers and children. This was long
before any bug sprays, and no lawn kept all chiggers
and other critters away.
In the fall as we came up the hill from school, the
hollyhocks, chrysanthemums, and shoe button sized marigolds tied the
house to the earth.
The corner post of the front porch supported the
garlands of pink Floribunda roses. The East end of the porch was
matted from floor to ceiling with honeysuckle that wove its own thick
On the shelf that ran from the corner post of the
porch to the wall of the house were a few pots of moss, leeks and wax
plants that all grew fat and sassy. The cedar water bucket was in the
center of this shelf.
George always made Jim let me drink first, because I
was the youngest. I poured the small bit of water that remained in the
gourd on the moss plants and went inside.
The old cedar water bucket with its copper bands
shining brightly was the center of attention on that front porch
shelf. A small gourd dipper was in the bucket. A larger dipper hung on
the corner porch post by the honeysuckle. Both gourds were boiled and
bleached to rose petal softness.
We grew our own gourds to make the dippers. The vines
bloomed early, so the bottle gourd dippers were ripe and dry by August
of each year.
The first batch of about a dozen, Mama selected by
virtue of their ability to fit in the iron wash pot at one time.
George built the fire under the big black wash pot in
the back yard. Mama sawed the openings in the gourds carefully, after
selecting the heavy side to hold the water.
Jim scraped away the seeds. I used this interior
(called a dishrag) to scour the insides with ashes.
Soon we were keeping our prospects punched down under
the lye bath of bubbling suds.
We polished the gourds again with ashes after they had
dried a few days. Then began the repeated boilings in clear water to
remove the bitter flavor that clung to the gourds for so long.
When our batch was ready, we had fresh gourd dippers
at the well, in the kitchen, at the table outside the back door and in
the cedar water bucket by the honeysuckle wall.
Our living room was the center of all our activities.
The fireplace had a woodbox on either side. Two double beds, my cot,
and the trundle bed occupied a good deal of space,
but there was still room for Mamaís dresser, treadle
sewing machine, her rocker and Dadís, and her sewing basket. A small
pedestal table held a kerosene lamp, the big embossed Bible, (later
burned when Joeís house was destroyed) and the gold leafed family
Extra chairs and numerous footstools were scattered
around that comfortable old room.
Still, it was never crowded. No matter how many of
Dadís brothers or Mamaís cousins
were staying with us.
From the front fieldstone step to the back, that was
the curious quality of the old house.
Never empty, it never seemed full. It wasnít crowded
with eight or ten people staying in it. It expanded with hospitality.
The table outside the back door held what Dad called
the "accoutrements for ablutions."
These consisted of the galvanized water bucket, a
gourd dipper, a white porcelain wash pan, a tin wash pan, and a chunk
of home made lye soap in a saucer. On the apron of the table at either
end, three nails each held a towel.
The white enameled wash pan we used first to wash our
face and hands. Then we poured that water into the tin pan and sat on
the flat field stone rock that was the back step to wash our dirty
We were parsimonious as possible with the waste water.
We didnít dare pour the water on the ground near the back door. That
drew flies and flies spread fever!
All the waste water was poured into a five gallon lard
can underneath the table. George and Jim alternated the chore of
emptying the waste water after Mama had inspected it.
She decided whether that particular batch should go to
the flowers, vegetable garden,
chickens or pigpen. Soapy water wasnít good for the
flowers. The pigs and chickens didnít do well on much soap either, so
down the successive furrows of the garden went the foaming batches.
Then the table with its fittings no longer dared us to
enter the house unwashed, and George, Jim and I were ready for supper.
The old farm house still stands on its slowly rising
hill, a gracious humble host.
Part of Americaís heritage, and mine.