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 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 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 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 wasn’t 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 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 1968.