As I have been on this journey with Kelley over the last few years, we have had a lot of conversations about the county and how times are changing, especially over the last 40 yrs.
For a large part of the Ashe County population, things never changed that much from the turn of the century until the 70’s. Sure, electricity and highways had come along, not to mention the telephone, but a large percentage of folks never had the means to take advantage of these modern conveniences.
My grandmother’s house was a great example. The house had electricity, but only four or five outlets. A light bulb hung in each of the four rooms, along with a string to pull for the switch. Like many other homes of the time, there was no bathroom, just a cold drafty outhouse.
The kitchen had cold running water from a spring a few hundred feet above the house. Water was heated on the wood fired cook stove. A little secret I will share…the best biscuits ever made on this earth came from that oven! In the corner was one modern machine, an old Kelvinator refrigerator. It had the old style large latching handle. My grandmother also had an old fashioned washing machine with the wringer.
Like a lot of people this small farm provided the majority of basic needs. Chickens for eggs and meat, hogs for sausage, ham, bacon, lard and soap. Cows for milk, cheese, and butter. Now, don’t forget the large garden to provide mountains of fresh vegetables during the season and enough canned goods to last the winter. There were also many apple trees scattered around with various varieties of fruit. Each possessing different qualities that made them better for jellies, apple sauce or drying.
Another of my grandmother’s “modern” machines was an electric churn. This miraculous device freed up much time for other chores as on a weekly basis she either made butter or cottage cheese with this wonderful device. Milk for churning was kept warm and allowed to “clabber” which means the milk fat floated to the top. This was poured off and then churned to further solidify the fat. The old hand churns worked very well but it was time consuming. The electric churn allowed for, in today’s language, “multitasking.”
I remember homemade butter, but even more I remember the cottage cheese. Small tight grains and much drier than what comes from a store. The flavor still sits on the end of my tongue waiting to be duplicated. Our family doctor, Dr. Taylor of Sparta, was a big fan. My grandmother would send him a bowel from time to time and he would sit in the examining room and eat it with a tongue depressor.
Bathing was accomplished with use of the trusty No.2 wash tub placed on the floor and filled with hot water from the stove. I had more than a few baths this way myself, as it was a couple of years after I was born that my dad built the house I grew up in.
This was a simple life, but it required a lot of hard work. My grandfather plowed, mowed hay and brought in fire wood with either a team of mules or a large draft horse. He had one draft horse called Dan, and the mules were Jeanie and June. I was allowed to ride on the mule’s necks while plowing or mowing hay. Old Dan had a neck and shoulders so wide I couldn’t hold on. Grandfather also had a yoke of oxen he used before I was born.
Now all of this was the norm for many years. Neighbors helped neighbors during some of the more intensive work such as stacking hay or slaughtering hogs. Still, it was a never ending cycle of daily chores. Build a fire first thing in the morning, milk the cows, gather eggs, chop some wood, cook the meals, milk again in the evening, while raising children and a garden.
It was an age of transition for me, but I am so glad I experienced it. I was living history as it disappeared.
Until next week and another drive…y’all be good!