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Thompson, Oscar T. / Home town : some chapters in reminiscence
(May 1942)

Chapter 2,   pp. 4-6 PDF (915.0 KB)

Page 5

Mother kept a "hired girl" ($3
per week). Maids were unknown
in those days. Mother was kind
and treated her help with consid-
eration. The family wash was
done in the kitchen or the wood-
shed, and there was always some
rivalry among the neighborhood
women as to whose wash should
appear on the line the earliest.
When the washboard and the pat-
ent wringer came on the market
they were hailed as a great bene-
faction. Wringing by hand was
hard work.
Spring was the time for soap-
making. In pioneer days home-
made soft soap was highly prized
by housewives as in those days
we did not have the great array
of factory-made "cleaners."  It
was quite a trick to make good
soft soap, and required the ob-
servance of a very exact ritual.
First a barrel was procured and
an opening made in the bottom of
the barrel. This was covered with
twigs to make a porous vent or
drain. The barrel, placed on sup-
ports about two feet high, was
fillcd with wood ashes. Water was
then poured in the top of the bar-
rel several times a day, until the
resultant liquid or lye started to
flow from the bottom into a buck-
et. The lye, as fast as accumu-
lated, was dumped into a bigliron
kettle. When the kettle was suf-
ficiently full it was ready for the
"soap grease" that had been ac-
cumulated for several months,
perhaps. The lye was tested for
density by dropping in an egg.
If the egg floated it was good
strong lye.
Then a fire was built under the
kettle and the mixture brought to
a boil and cooked for some time
till it began to thicken and coagu-
late. The result was a fine am-
ber - colored "soft soap."  This
would keep for months. The wo-
men all agreed that for scrubbing
floors and woodwork and for use
in the laundry there was nothing
so good and thorough as good soft
soap. Of course, nobody in the
cities and perhaps no one in the
country nowadays makes soft
soap. To prepare the lye, wood
ashes were necessary and this we
do not have any more.
One of the pleasantest memo-
ries of my childhood is the recol-
lection of my mother's old fash-
ioned "quilting parties." In those
days the women had no after-
noon "bridge parties" such as are
now the vogue. As a social func-
tion the quilting party was a
great success, as well as a fine
thing in a utilitarian way  In
those days quilts and comforters
were not bought in the   stores;
they had to be, made in the homes.
When a housewife with great
patience  had  accumulated  by
weeks of ardent work a sufficient
number of pieced blocks, she
completed the assembly of the
quilt top by sewing together the
pattern squares with an equal
number of plain goods squares
and usually the effect was very
The day was then set and the
friends to the number of six or
eight were invited to the party.
In  the   morning  the  quilt
frames were put together by "pa".
The bottom or reverse side was
first attached to the frames, cot-
ton batting filler spread evenly
over it, then the top side fastened
on all four sides ready for the
The guests having arrived seat-
ed themselves around the frame
and began to stitch. As the work
progressed the frames were roll-
ed together until the center was
Lively conversation was carried
on through the afternoon as the
fingers sped on with the work.
After the quilt was finished, cof-
fee and cakes were served and
everybody had had a real jolly
In my early childhood days, all
we had for illumination of our
homes was tallow candles. Some
of the better homes were lighted
by gas, but it was expensive. I
remember we had a candle mould
containing 12 tubes for making
the candles. The wicks were
dropped down through the tubes
and tied at the lower end and
then pulled up tight and tied to a
stick across the top of the mould.
The tallow was melted and pour-
ed into the mould and allowed to
set over night. Then the lower
knots were cut off and the can-
dles pulled out of the moulds. A
snuffer shears was always needed

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