When we lived in Mr. Gary's rent house, we used water from the cistern located just off the porch on the west side of the kitchen for drinking and cooking and for shampooing our hair.  Nice soft rain water.  There was a faucet on the porch on the east side of the kitchen, and that was where the wash tubs and rub boards were.  When little Jerry was born, Dad strung a line between posts on that porch, and I remember seeing Mom hang the baby's little-bitty diapers there to dry.  Water was brought into the kitchen in buckets for dishwashing.  This porch could not be seen from the street, so the younger children were bathed there in the evening in the largest of the wash tubs.  In the winter, the tub was brought into the kitchen and water heated on the stove was added so that it was comfortable to bathe in. There was a faucet out by Grandpa's garden, too, for watering his plants.  We did not have the luxury of electricity in this house and my mother cooked our meals on a wood-burning stove.  After nightfall and on very dark, rainy days, kerosene lamps furnished light.  There were at least three fireplaces in this house and with a fire lit in each of them in the winter, the house was really warm and cozy.   The coals were banked each night to keep them "alive."  We had no refrigerator, of course, but we did have a little ice-box - one of those with a bin on top to hold a block of ice from the ice house in town.  It kept the milk sweet and sometimes we "shaved" ice to make "snowballs."  Other foods, such as  Mom's freshly baked bread, were kept in a screened cupboard we called a "safe" or a "garde-manger."

Then we moved into Mr. Joe Castanza's rent house.  It was much smaller but it did have electricity and running water.  And a bathtub!  But we did not have that lovely rain water to wash our hair with, unless Dee was able to "catch" some in a tub when we had a rainfall.  I remember the light in the kitchen.  It just hung down from a wire, and the switch was right on the socket.  Ugly, ugly!  Mom kept on using her kerosene lamps in the other rooms.  We had the privacy of bathing in a real bathroom in a real bathtub, but it was never as much fun as bathing in Mom's washtubs on the back porch.

Then when we moved to Perry, we lived in a house that had neither electricity nor running water.  We had a huge cistern which furnished water for drinking and for cooking, and Dee often managed to sneak rain water for a shampoo for her and me.  It kept her long dark hair shining so pretty.  How I envied her for that hair!  Mine was short and red.  

Water for bathing and for doing laundry was taken from the bayou. Sometimes the bayou water was muddy, and you surely did not want to bathe or wash your clothes in muddy water, so Grandpa put two big barrels down on the bank of the bayou.  We filled those with water from the bayou, and after the mud settled to the bottom, we had nice, clear water.  We had to scrub the barrels out about every two weeks and start all over again.  We used the "settled" water to clean fish and game, too, and hauled some in buckets to the kitchen for dishwashing.

Mom had a nice cabinet for her kitchen which she took wherever she moved.  It had bins for storing sugar and flour and other staples, and it had a metal table that could be pulled out to work on.  That is where Mom kneaded her bread.   Dad had got her a kerosene stove, too, but she preferred her wood-burning stove, so the stinky kerosene stove just sat in a corner, and Mom kept turning out her delicious meals on her old stove.  Heat from the fireplace in my parents' room kept that little house warm in the winter, and in the summer, we just kept the doors and windows open and everyone had his own hand fan.  Mine was a folding Japanese fan that "Gee" brought me when he came home from Germany after serving a hitch with the Merchant Marines.

We had no refrigeration, and when Grandpa milked the cow, the milk was put into glass jugs with ropes attached and these were lowered into the cool water of the cistern.  Sometimes the milk soured anyway, and then Mom allowed it to clabber and made cottage cheese (caille-
egoutte).  She also made butter by shaking the soured cream in a quart  jar as she sat in her rocking chair.  She used the buttermilk to make biscuits.  And we had ice cream in the winter!  Dad built a shelf outside the north window of the kitchen, and when the weather was freezing, Mom cooked ice cream custard, cooled it, and put it in an empty gallon can (Steen's syrup can), which she set out on that shelf to freeze.  Every 30 minutes or so, she'd pull the can in, stir up the custard, and set it back out on the shelf again.  We usually had a gallon of ice cream in about two hours.  Of course, we had to sit in front of the fire in the fireplace to eat it, but it was a great treat.

Have you ever seen water hyacinths?  They are beautiful.  Sometimes they were so thick in the bayou, a child could have walked across to Mr. LeBlanc's place without getting his feet wet.  (Walking on water?) When they were thick like that, and we wanted to go somewhere in our boat, I was stationed on the deck with a pole and it was my job to push the water plants out of the way so they wouldn't get tangled in the propeller.  Dad always said it was the water hyacinths that kept the bayou water sweet.  Then the government came in and poisoned the plants to accomodate the boat traffic on the bayou.  Now, we have polluted bayous.  Guess old Alex knew what he was talking about.

After we moved to Orange, Texas, the houses we lived in all had running water and electricity.  Mom got an electric refrigerator, and she cooked on a gas stove.  It was an easier life for her, which was good, because she was not always well.  I wish she could have had all these conveniences earlier.  But she never complained, so the younger children were not aware of how rough times were.  She just did the best she could with what she had.  And it was always good enough.


Copyright © 2001 Aline T. Meaux, Abbeville, LA

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