Sunday, March 20, 2011

Housekeeping in Lamb in His Bosom 2

Here are more quotes from Caroline Miller's Lamb in His Bosom that give an idea of the work of women in non-slaveowning families of southern Georgia in the two decades before the Civil War.

Weaving and Spinning
Ma was happy at her loom, or when she was spinning, the long hum of the wheel filling the house, or when she was dyeing, mixing her likkers of indigo with maple bark or poplar, or this or that or the other root she had to see what color it would make. She would souse the hanks of cotton or worsted yarn into the pot, pushing them gently under the bubbling, swirling surface. She would take them out, and dry them on a leaning bush, and the colors would be softly blent through the threads, set with the lye of the green-oak ashes. She used the juice of the poke-berries for short lengths of red for bright bibs and tuckers. But that color would run in the washing, and it was a pity.

Spinning wheel, an ancient tool for making thread from fibers.
Cean would try new dyes herself when she made cloth. Lonzo would set her up a loom when the cotton was in. He was working at her spinning wheel now by the firelight of nights. The wood squeaked softly under the blade of his knife where he rounded off a corner or settled a spoke into place. Cean would make all her frocks straight blue or yaller, or block her colors together as she wove then. She would have frock of blue with flounces of yaller across the bottom.

used for dyeing.

Making Soap

Tomorrow Cean would make soap-grease out of the scraps [of the butchered pig], when her lard was cold in the kegs, and her sausages were all strung up in greasy links in the smokehouse. Not every woman knows how to make good strong soap that will not shrink away to nothing when you lay it out in hunks on the smokehouse shelf. But Cean knew how, for her mother had taught her when Cean was not knee-high to a duck. Like meat-curing, there is no quick way to make good soap. Wait till the dark of the moon to cook up your soap-grease and pot-ashes, and while the mixture is boiling stir it from left to right with a sassafras puddle; when it is thick and ready, let the fire die under the pot. Next morning you will find the soap shrunk a little from the sides of the pot, and a little wet-like dew will be gathered upon it; then you can slice it in hunks and lay it away, sure of fine, strong soap for another year.

Washpot, used for making soap, doing the wash, and making big stews for large gatherings.

Doing the Laundry

Four times she had soaked his and her clothes in the wash-trough, had battled them free of dirt on the block, had boiled them white and rinsed them through the spring water, had hung them out on the elder bushes to dry. Together, in the water, she had washed their clothes—his long, sweaty shirts and britches, her short shimmies and full-skirted homespun dresses of pale natural color, and of the soft blue of indigo, and of mingled colors patterned on the loom.

Butchering the Calf

And now Lonzo would butcher him and they’d eat him. Cean would beat the tender pieces and fry them on the fireplace; she would try out the yellow tallow for candles, and boil the tough pieces, and she and Lonzo would carry Ma a half of beef. Lonzo would stretch the hide to the back side of the house, and the sun would dry it. Then Lonzo would tan it, and rub it down till it was soft and giving, and then he’d make shoes for them on the shoe-last that lay under the bed.

Making and Preparing Food
For Cean and Lonzo had aplenty and to spare. Out in the smokehouse there were kegs of lard and sides of meat, sweet brown hams and shoulders, and sausages fried and buried in lard; piled back in the corner were pumpkins, pale-colored in the half-light; behind the corncrib were mounds of dirt and pine straw covering banks of potatoes—all Cean had to do was go and grabble out as many as she needed; in the loft were dried peas aplenty; in stone crocks Cean had preserved all manner of things in thick sweetness—mayhall jelly, blackberries, huckleberries, watermelon rind, wild plums. Like her mother, Cean set a good table. With corn aplenty for meal and hominy, with potatoes to fry, with syrup to be sopped up with a hot biscuit, and preserves to be had for the asking, it was no wonder that Cean had only a coming war to worry her. When her table was set, neat and tidy with its crockery plates and bone-handled knives and forks and pewter spoons, it was a pretty sight to see. Maggie and Kissie would rake the coals from the top of the oven, would push the coals from under the pots and skillets, would lift the pot lids and let the food cool a little. Rich simmering would mingle with the floury, fresh odor of buttermilk biscuits and varied scents of boiled beans, stewed pork, and such like—all fitten to stir the hunger of a stone man. The roasted potatoes would come out of the hot ashes to be peeled and buttered. “Fine rations,” Lonzo would say as he sat down to eat… And for the next meal she might stir up a sugar-cake to please him and make him eat the heartier.

Berries of the mayhall bush, found in southern Georgia. You can buy it from Southern Grace Farms here.

Fixing Wounds

She washed the gashes that tapered to scratches down her arm, and caked the open places with tallow melted with clear turpentine. The hot liquid seared with its heat and sting, but she must do this or have blood-poison or proud flesh, and high fevers, and be dead, maybe, before ever Lonzo found her.

Tallow, rendered from animal fat, usually beef, which was used for making soap and candles.

Laying Out the Dead
Seen washed her new dead while dawn was breaking. Margot helped her. The two women were steeled to the emergency…. They washed his naked, wasted, sore-eaten body. Once the breath was gone, here was an unclean body to be prepared for its burial in the clean earth…. She raised the limp body, and Margot helped her clothe him in clean clothing. She set her hand under his chin to see that the jaws were set together properly. She brushed his hair down with a bristle-brush; it was docile under her hand as he been docile since he was sick, but never before. Margot shook out a clean sheet….

Family cemetery from the mid-19th century. The Carver-Smith family buried their dead on their own land.

Cean, back home on a low slope bounded by swaying stretches of broom straw and tilled fields, sheltered by lofty pines and the blazing bright dome of heaven, prayed God-almighty that she would never have just cause to leave Lonzo; but over and above any other thing, each day raising her heart to an altar, she prayed for patience—patience to listen to a child’s fretting; patience to endure a man’s hard displeasure over bad weather or the death of a hog; patience to love God as she ought, this being hard to do since never might she see His face until she died.

Along a path from the Cean's house to the road her husband planted a row of crape myrtle, that exuberant bush-tree that blooms in the summer in the southern states.


Woman of the House said...

I don't think I've commented before, but I wanted to tell you that I'm enjoying your posts on pioneer housekeeping. Actually, I'm enjoying your entire blog!

Rosemary UK said...

I love your blog, which I have discovered today, and have ordered a copy of 'Lamb in His Bosom' because I love the excerts quoted here.

Linda said...

Thanks so much for your comments--I am glad that someone likes these descriptions as much as I do. It also makes me happy if it inspires you to read Lamb in His Bosom. I hope there is another reprinting soon!

Jodi said...

Found Conrad Richter in the library and stayed up too late reading The Trees :P