However, economics aside, the RECC people do publish a most excellent magazine and one of the benefits of membership in the local cooperative is a permanent subscription to KENTUCKY LIVING. I read it cover-to-cover but I always start with the last page where, for many years, David Dick shared his love of country living and made readers feel like they were members of his family.
After David’s untimely passing, my buddy, Byron Crawford signed on. Byron would be the first person to tell you that nobody will ever replace David Dick. On the other hand, somebody had to write something for the last page so Crawford was recruited to do just that. And rightfully so.
Byron has spent well over three decades travelling the back roads of Kentucky and turning his journeys into three columns per week for The Louisville Courier Journal as well as hosting a long-running documentary series on Kentucky Educational Television. You can safely bet your last dime that Byron Crawford knows more about Kentucky than any other living person.
He also knows how to affectionately and uniquely write about our state and the people who live here. I keep telling him that I’m going to steal column ideas from him because he never fails to inspire me. Byron’s piece in the current issue is entitled Myrtle’s Memories and has to do with the reminiscing of Myrtle Rickman Cooper who grew up on a farm in Calloway County. If you don’t get KENTUCKY LIVING in the mail, it’s more than worth a trip to your local library just to read this piece because if you are over 60 and have not led a sheltered life, it will bring back memories.
In fact, if I didn’t know that Myrtle was remembering her own mother, I would swear that she was writing about mine, particularly as she recalled wash day.
Saturday was wash day at our place when I was growing up, especially during the months when school was in session, because doing laundry for four growing boys and a coal miner husband was more work than one skinny woman could handle by herself.
Wash water had to be drawn, two gallons at a time, from the well in our back yard and it was 20 feet from the top of the well box down to water level. The water was heated to boiling in a number two (12 gallon)wash tub over an open fire about 30 feet away from our back porch and was packed by yours truly or one of my younger brothers to and from the tub to our old Maytag wringer washing machine.
We usually had five or six loads and the wash water had to be changed between loads. Dad’s mining clothes would be so muddy and black that they had to go through two wash cycles and they still wouldn’t what you’d call “clean”. Coal dust was a permanent dye that couldn’t be bleached out.
Two big tubs sat on stools behind the machine, one of which contained warm bleach water and the other, cold rinse water. The wringer would swing and lock in place up to 180 degrees and every single item in the wash had to be wrung three times before it was toted to a clothes line. We were luckier than most folks on Blair Branch because we lived in a very large, two-story home that had both front and back porches, thirty feet long, upstairs and down. Clothes lines were strung between the porch posts on both floors so rainy days were no excuse for not putting out the washing.
In fair weather, when it didn’t look like rain, our laundry was hung to dry on cloths lines in the yard as well as on the fence and even laid atop the hedge row.
Doing the washing, however tedious, actually was not a bad job during the warm months but it was absolute misery in winter. The well bucket rope would freeze into a slick stick that could only be managed with rough leather gloves. Shirts, pants, dresses, towels, bed clothing, etc. would freeze as hard as rocks. You haven’t lived unless you’ve worn freeze-dried long johns.
Many times, in winter, the washing would hang frozen on the line for days and be brought inside, a few pieces at a time, to thaw and dry behind the kitchen cook stove, the big warm morning heating stove or draped on chair backs in front of a fire-place.
I remember a college student visiting one time, working on an oral history or sociology project and he asked my Mom what she would change about her life. Mom didn’t hesitate or study on the matter.
She said, “I’d have running water and an automatic washer and drier.” And the four little boys standing around her chorused loudly, “Amen!”