The Old Farm House
(the one at Blackjack)
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
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 wall.
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 Mama’s dresser, treadle sewing
machine, her rocker and Dad’s, and her sewing basket. A small pedestal
table held a kerosene lamp, the big embossed Bible, (later burned when
Joe’s house was destroyed) and the gold leafed family album.
Extra chairs and numerous footstools
were scattered around that comfortable old room.
Still, it was never crowded. No
matter how many of Dad’s brothers or Mama’s cousins were staying with
From the front fieldstone step to
the back, that was the curious quality of the old house.
Never empty, it never seemed full.
It wasn’t crowded with eight or ten people staying in it. It expanded
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 bare feet.
We were parsimonious as possible
with the waste water. We didn’t 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
wasn’t good for the flowers. The pigs and chickens didn’t 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 Aubrey’s heritage, and mine.
Lillian Goin McKinney wrote this in