Monday, January 28, 2008

Bed and Bath in the 1920's and 1930's

I would like to hear from BLOGGERS of my generation (age 80 and more) about their memories of life in the early thirties. My father died when I was nine, and so I was raised by a widowed mother and my memories may not be typical of everyone in the Southern United States.

I never had a room of my own. Never even a bed of my own. After Papa died, we moved to a smaller house. I slept in the bed with my mother. There was also a single bed in this bedroom and my sister, Mary, slept there. My brothers, Charlie, Tom, and Jack, slept in a room across the hall. My youngest brother, Jack, was five years older than I. My sister, Mary, was ten years older; so I was almost raised alone as far as sibling playmates was concerned. (The picture to the left is of my nephew Lavay McCullough,(age 2)and of me, Sarah Ruth Baird at 8. Lavay's Dad had been killed as a young man so when the picture was taken, each of us had lost our Dad.

Although we were poor, we were happy children, loved and cared for by our mothers, and in Lavay's case, also a grandmother who adored him. In my case, my older sister Louise, Lavay's mother loved me devotely also. We were also surrounded by other caring and capable adults. We lived in a neighborhood of hardworking friendly adults and children.

So when I mention we were poor, it was not "poverty" in the sense of poverty today. It is said that "poor" was proud (not un-Christian pride, of course) in the South after Sherman's successful march through Georgia and all the way to the sea. Much of the South was left in ashes that finally ended the War between the States. At least "poor" meant you were honest and not a "carpetbagger" or a bootlegger.

In a world of class, as well as racial divisions, my mother told me, "You came from good stock." She was pleased to then tell about her grandmother who traced her lineage back to the Revolution and her maternal grandfather who had been a prosperous land owner and a Methodist preacher.

And we, as well as nearly every Southern family had a story of some brave woman or child facing the soldiers from the North, seemingly bent on burning the South to the ground and thus ending the horrible war. In November, 1997, I read a part of our family history when a woman ancestor faced Northern soldiers, who were about to torch their house. She let the Yankee soldiers know that her husband was also a member of the Masonic lodge. Apparently this was a common ground respected by both North and South .

In our small town , most of the people worked for Bibb Manufacturing Company. Most were hard working and glad to have a job of any kind. It took all the members of the family working to have enough income to survive. They lived on their meager incomes and helped one another in times of emergency. Almost everyone we knew had about the same income and opportunities. If someone was out of work or sick, the neighbors collected money for them or made up a "pantry shower." There was no sick leave and none expected nor other such benefits.

My mother was hardworking and resourseful and we always seemed to have plenty to eat and to share and most of what we needed. I do remember that on many occasions Mama was instrumental in collecting food supplies (pantry showers) for neighbors who had to be out of work because of sickness or other problems. Mama also lent money (without interest) to neighbors between paydays.

I remember that there was one man in the neighborhood who would make loans with interest to his less fortunate neighbors. This was considered unneighborly and un-Christian.

The salary for a full week's work was $9.90 for some and $10.80 for other jobs. I remember people jokingly saying, "If you can't make $10.80, $9.90 will do." We did "make do." To put this in focus. The overseers in the Cotton factories were paid about $100. weekly.

In the bedroom where I slept with my mother and sister, there were a couple of rocking chairs and some "straight" chairs because this was also a sitting room. The parlor or "front room" was across the hall in our house before my mother converted it into a bedroom to accommodate "boarders". This is another story.

Before going to bed, we sat around the heater at the "fireplace" and talked, or in my case, listened. I was a painfully shy child. If one decided to go to bed, it was no problem. One just went over in a corner or behind a door, undressed and put on night clothes. I remember warm flannel gowns.Today we remind our children to go to the bathroom before going to bed. In those days a "slop jar" was brought into the bedroom, and the children were reminded to"go to the slop jar before you go to bed."

Sometimes this vessel was called a "chamber pot" or just a "chamber." It was not my regular job, as I remember, but I was often told to "bring in the slop jar" or sometimes "go bring the chamber in." My mother usually did the more unpleasant job of taking it out, emptying it in the commode which was in a bathroom off the back porch, and washing it out.

The bathroom had a large footed bathtub and a commode. The "out house" in our community was before my time. However, this indoor plumbing had been added to one end of the back porch after the house was built (this smaller house on 45 Hazel Street being one of the older ones we moved into after my father's death).

At one point a gas heater was put in the bathroom, but that may have been in my later childhood. I do remember that sometimes, in cold weather, we brought a large wash tub or a smaller "foot tub" into the warm kitchen or bedroom to take a bath. The bathroom was not as well sealed as the other rooms, so it was not suitable for bathing in very cold weather. We sometimes took sponge baths. This involved bringing a large “washpan” of warm water with cloth, soap, and towel into some private corner of a room. Every part of the body was thoroughly washed and rinsed but not all at the same time. Mama believed "cleanliness was next to Godliness."

My earliest memory of bedding were sheets that were made at home
with seams down the middle. I think that textile looms that would weave cloth 54 or 60 inches wide were developed much later. I remember a few straw mattresses. These were homemade mattresses filled with straw to put on beds. I remember such a mattress on a small odd-sized bed in one of the rooms. Probably there were no mattresses that size on the market. The other mattresses were factory-made, cotton-filled mattresses.

We were fortunate to also have feather bed mattresses to put on top of all the cotton mattresses. Mama was very resourceful. Feather mattresses were made at home. One would buy pillow ticking cloth (pillows were made at home also), sew it the length and width of the bed and fill it with feathers. On a cold winter night it was good to sink down in a bed of feathers and under the weigh of numerous homemade and home-quilted quilts. In the 1930's we called them "feather beds" and put them on top of the cotton mattresses. This added to the bed-making time every morning. One had to fluff up the feathers and smooth it out, often turning it over, and frequently taking it out in the sun to“air it out."

When innerspring mattresses were added to the market, most people were glad to retire the feather bed to history.

Homemade quilts? We had large stacks of them, home-pieced and home-quilted by Mama and the women in the neighborhood. In cold weather one was weighted down under warm quilts. In summer, when company came, quilts were folded on the floor to make mattresses for the children and sometimes for adults to sleep on after all the beds were filled.

We children loved these temporary beds. To make the quilts, quilting frames were hung from the four corners of the ceiling of our bedroom and drawn up at night. I have slept many nights with an unfinished quilt suspended above. Neighbors would come to visit and help with the quilting. Any unoccupied house in the village was often put into service for quilting bees. The quilting frames were hung from the ceiling, and six to eight women would take a chair and sit on all sides of the quilt, making fine stitches in a quilt pattern that one of them had drawn.

There was much talk and laughter as these women visited while working on a quilt. The younger children played at their feet, and the older children were in and out of the house.The advantage of the empty room was that the quilt would not have to be lifted up at night and walked around in the daytime. In the evenings Mama would cut and sew various patterns for future quilting. The children would play around and sometimes be allowed to make a few stitches and were complimented if they could manage small stitches. If the stitches were too long, the mother would remove the stitches, often after the child left the room. Everyone took pride in fingers nimble enough to make practically invisible stitches.

I was allowed to make a few stitches occasionally but was not often invited to quilt, so I assume my stitches were far from invisible.


Kim said...

Thank you for sharing your personal story Ruth. It's especially meaningful during Thanksgiving weekend when we are counting our blessings. The economy then and now may be similar, but many view their lives as so mcuh wrose for it. Your story puts the current day economy into perspective.

Andy McCullough said...

Aunt Ruth, enjoyed reading your memories and seeing a picture of dad as a little boy. I think there are some visible stitches of loving family on the quilt of both your lives. (Once you don't want removed.)

Carol said...

Great stories and information. I truly hope you will continue to write about topics such as this. It is fascinating to read first hand accounts of earlier times.

viagra said...

It is a fantastic story, I love to read about people personal journeys.

xlpharmacy said...

Thank you for sharing your personal story Ruth. It's especially meaningful during Thanksgiving a picture of dad as a little boy. I think there are some visible stitches of loving family on the quilt of both your lives.

Deanne Postma said...

While my son and husband were watching The Three Stooges, my 15-year-old son asked what beds were made out of "back then". I Google searched that question and found your blog. What a delight to read what you remember of your childhood. It reminded me of stories my grandma would tell. She is no longer with us, but if she was she would be 95 years. I loved hearing about quilt making, as I am a quilter and love to hand quilt like my grandma told me she used to do. Blessings for your sharing.