Pearl Sklapsky-Holben Memoir – written April 22.1989

It was awful water to wash dishes in, since soap would curdle and couldn’t be used. It wouldn’t keep hot at all either, but when you consider the size of the family and the amount of dishes there were to wash up, it is not surprising. I remember hating to wash dishes, especially on Sunday when all the sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews came to share Sunday at the farm with Mother and Dad. Remember in those days there was no such thing as dish detergent.

Ettie, my Mother, would make lye soap for the laundry. It got the clothes clean and white. She would use pure lye in a barrel of water on Saturday night, and dip out the clean clear water on Monday morning for washing. It was very soft then, but also very hard on the hands. I remember Bainard and I carrying ten pound lard pails of water ‘up the hill’ to fill the reservoir on the stove in the morning before going to school, so mother would have hot water for the day. The laundry was done in a big round wash tub, the water heated in a boiler on the stove. A boiler is an oval shaped tub, usually made of copper, with handles at each end, and is about three feet long by a foot wide and two feet high. After the water in the boiler was hot enough, it was poured in the tub sitting on a small bench, and a wash board, which was a piece of corrugated tin with legs, was stood in the water, and the first white item to be washed would be placed into the water. A bar of soap, usually homemade lye soap, was rubbed over the corrugated scrub board or wash board, then the item of clothing was rubbed and scrubbed over the tin surface until it came clean, whereupon it would be rinsed, wrung out by hand and placed into the rinse water in another tub. Mother had several rinse waters, a bluing water for the “whites”, and a starch water for the dresses, aprons, shirts and petticoats.

They did eventually get a hand pump, which took two of the big boys to work, since the well was so deep. It relieved the horses of one job, but kept the boys in fine shape as they still had to fill the trough and pump as well. Next came the windmill which was a considerable effort saver. They just had to go down and put the mill in gear when the wind blew, which was most of the time, and let the wind pump the water. If they forgot to disengage the gear though, there was a mucky muddy mess at the watering trough. Though it was not the best water, no one seemed to suffer any ill effects from it.

Before the pump was installed, milk, butter and cream were often lowered in the bucket down to the cold interior where it kept nice and fresh. We didn’t have an ice house as some people did. An ice house was a small building, like an outhouse, that sat over a hole dug into the earth. In the hole hay was kept, and during the winter, ice was hauled down into the hole, and with enough hay to act as an insulator, the ice would last through a good part of the summer months. Dad even hung quarters of beef down the well in the summer to keep it from spoiling as refrigeration had not yet appeared on the scene. One time the rope broke and the beef ended up down in the well, never to be seen again. We continued to use the water and no one ever did get ill from drinking it.

Potatoes were dropped under the sod clumps and the land grew lovely big tubers that first year. Dad had dug a cellar under the house and many years later when Bainard filled in the hole, you could still see the pick axe marks in the clay sides where Dad had dug it out, it was earth that never shifted.

The flax was seeded, and what a pretty sight that was in bloom; like a huge lake. The family’s little folk loved to pick the wild flowers in Michigan, but when they picked a bouquet of flax, they were told those were off limits as these flowers were what the family was depending on for money. The garden was small this first year, a few turnips and carrots as well as the potatoes. And Mother just had to have a few flowers, besides the flax that is.

In 1913 Dad had forty-four acres broken on the homestead, by 1914, he cropped 32 of those acres. In 1915, he had 24 acres on the preempted quarter broke and cropped 52 acres in all. In 1916 32 additional acres on the preemption were broke and the 52 acres were again cropped. In 1917 he broke another 16 acres on the homestead, and cropped 48 acres on the preempted quarter. In 1918, he had 68 acres in crop. From 1914 to 1918, he had 2 cattle, 6 horses, a house listed as being worth $500, a well worth $200, a stable worth $500, two granaries worth $175, and no fencing at all.

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