topic 1910's 1920's
We were fortunate in being healthy, active children. I could run all
day outdoors. Then Mama would scold me for getting so red in the
face--she said I "was like a deer."
Papa talked to me more than Mama did. She was always so busy--cooking
and then sewing all afternoon. Every time she made our dresses (Florence
and I dressed alike). She was always sewing late at night making the
hems. We'd be needing to wear the dresses the next day for a trip or
school event or parish rally or state rally (when I won top blue ribbon
for 1st place statewide in reading, language, and geography in Fifth
Ah, geography my favorite subject--besides literature which was for the
soul -- nourishment.
We had no running water in the house when I was a little girl. We had
water from the skies--rain, real clean rain. Papa had cisterns built to
hold the water--at one time we had 4 cisterns. We had a large supply of
water. But when the drought came every few years, he allowed the people
from the plantation, workers to come get water every evening. They'd
come and ask and he said yes, they could have what they needed. So
different persons came with a bucket in each hand and took their water
home to drink and cook. They'd wash clothes in well water or a barrel
tank by their house that didn't hold very much in a dry season.
My grandmother Reulet (Tante Pauline to many) was the official coffee
roaster. I don't know how often she did this, maybe once a week. The
odor of coffee permeated the house and the kitchen walls and ceiling
would turn black from the smoke. After the coffee was roasted black,
she'd let it dry and place it in big jars. There was a coffee grinder
screwed into the pantry wall by the kitchen door and it was Aunt Marie's
job to grind it every night for the coffee pot for next day.
topic closets & armoires
We had no closets--but my mother's room had an armoire where our best
coats were kept. We'd hang nails back of our bedroom doors to hang
dresses and boxes for hats. A chest of drawers and a dresser --- 2 beds
in the room, 4 girls shared the room. We each had a drawer in the
dresser. The top drawers for cosmetics. We'd buy Coty powder, talcum
powder, Tangee lipstick (the cheapest), maybe a tiny little metal round
box of rouge used very VERY sparingly. You didn't want anyone to know
you had rouge on, especially our pastor. We didn't wear makeup to go to
Shampooing hair -- First, break an omelette of 2 eggs; scramble that in
your hair until it gets stiff. You'd wrap in a towel. Then--much much
soapy water--rinse, rinse, rinse with vinegar, white pure rain water.
Once in a while you'd give your hair a castor oil bath before shampoo.
Result--glossy black hair that brought raves.
For a time while most of us were in grammar school -- Just before
leaving the house to walk to school -- we'd kneel down with Mama in the
front room to say a few prayers: an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be.
My grandmother Appoline (Pauline) also did the bread baking for the
family in the oven of the wood stove. Of course, it burned wood, but it
was made of cast iron. She was so strong to mix the dough, roll it,
place towels over it at night to let it rise--and the next day was the
baking after she had cooked the dinner.
Her two brothers Justin and Jean (both of whom had taken her in when she
became a widow with 7 children) would come in from the fields where they
did much hard farm work raising sugar cane and corn--also vegetables,
fruit trees, and taking care of hogs, etc. They'd wash up, dress clean
and come to dinner at about 11 o'clock. Sometimes they did not have to
go back out in the fields. They'd later go feed the mules and hogs. The
others took care of the chickens and baby chicks.
When they planned to cook chicken, the chickens destined for the cook
pot would be placed in a cage and given their rations and water.
There was also egg gathering to be done. I didn't mind helping with
that, especially if someone else got the hens off the nests first and
chase them out in the yard.
Then you had to watch out for snakes. There's a particular kind that
liked to sit in the nest and eat all the eggs. I was very afraid of
meeting with a snake. I did get to a nest once and a big snake was
curled up in it awaiting a grand repast.
When clothes had to be ironed -- such as men's shirts and ladies' and
girls' dresses -- we had a flat iron that was heated on top of the stove.
When you put the dress on the ironing board--the dress had been
sprinkled to a certain degree, not too much, not too little, and rolled
up in a towel.
Then it was time to test the iron--how would you do that? Well, it's a
certain "touch" and I mean touch -- you'd lift up the iron with hard
cloth, raise it, wet your finger and in a split second you'd touch the
hot iron. Somehow you learned to do it so quickly, like a magician--that
you never never did burn your hand. Just a matter of pure judgment and a
When the clothes were hanging all day on the lines, some little people
had to hurry up after school to gather all the clothes in baskets (not
plastic, however) and learn how to put the clothes in different baskets.
Some clothes could be folded right away--such as sheets--it took 2 to
tango a sheet. Either it went straight to bed or it was folded and put
away. All the blankets had to be folded or partly folded and placed at
the foot of the bed. Put pillow slips over the pillows. Fold all the
children's clothes and put away in drawers.
To wash clothes we had a big box of Octagon Soap. Some women made their
own soap -- I never saw it done. (There was a demonstration at the
Vacherie School: Cajun Festival Aug. 7, 1999.)
We knew from the newspapers when an eclipse would occur. We'd darken a
piece of glass with smoking to hold it up to the sun. When it got fairly
dusk -- or twilight, all the chickens would start running for the chicken
house. I mean they really ran -- They thought it was night. I guess
they came out later when it got daylight again.
We'd take our places under the pecan trees. That's where we spent our
childhood. I was so sorry the pecan trees had to be cut down (to build a
road to the back....)