Ma And Pa Crosby
Walking bare footed down a well worn foot path made by many trips to my grandmothers house, I purposefully step into a mud puddle, left by a recent spring down-pour, allowing the warm silky mud to ooze up between my toes, caring little whether or not I might be "infected by ringworm."My mother's parents lived, for as long as I could remember, and as long as they were alive, in a small wood sided single level home about 2,500 yards north of the Cane Branch Colleton County fire tower, just outside of Walterboro, S.C. The wooden floor was built about 24 inches above the ground where it rested on some logs that had been cut from a tree long, long ago. The house still sits there today. It still rests on those logs. I know not, with what they were treated, if anything, to preserve them over these many years.
This house was cooled in the summer by a fan that sat in the window. The window was raised, the fan placed in the window and the window allowed to drop back down to hold the fan in place. The other windows were held open by a long slender wooden slat, called "a prop", cut specifically for that purpose
If any keys were ever used in this house, they were the "skeleton" variety. I recall the porcelain door knobs mounted on the large, square lock. I remember Grandmoma saying,
"Locks are just to keep the neighbors out. Anybody else who wants to, can come past the locks." For that reason, she never locked her freezer.
There was one door between the eating area and the cooking area. It was a home made door made from tongued and grooved boards. It was kept closed by another homemade device. It was a wooden slat that slid up over a wooden hook which and fell down into a groove which had been carved into it to catch the slat. It was necessary to lift the slat to release the catch from its groove. The catch was fastened at the far left side. In the middle of the slat hung a pendulum (fob) which acted as a counter weight.
This weighted device pulled the slat back down when the door was closed, causing it to "catch" and prevent the door from swinging open until that was the desired results. A string was threaded through a hole in the door to allow passers through to open the door from the other side when it was closed . . . . simple but effective.
On the end of the string was tied a wooden spool from a Coats and Clark spool of thread that Grandmoma had emptied in one of her sewing sessions.
Not much grass grew in this yard, surrounded by fence wire. The fence wire kept the livestock out of the yard, but did not keep any chickens away, if they wanted to come in. Flowers were a lovely interruption to the mostly dirt yard. Grandmoma grew some beautiful flowers; roses, hydrangeas, peonies, gladiolas, daises, daffodils, babies breath, and much more.
Two gates allowed access to other parts of my grand-parents' property. The front gate, located on the west side of the yard, was held closed by an iron hoop, about 8" in diameter which draped across the first slat of the gate and the gate post.
The original intent of the manufacturer of that iron hoop is long forgotten. This gate was the entrance to the front yard and the house. The back gate was on the south side of the yard, adjacent to a smoke house, and allowed access to the "lot" and the rest of the farm.
A wooden latch was installed upon it, which caught when the gate swung closed. A clever closing device had been placed on it which consisted of a cotton rope and a heavy metal object tied about in the middle of the rope.
When the gate was opened, the rope stretched out and the metal "fob" was suspended between the ends. When tension was released form the gate, gravity took over and the weight lowered itself as much as it could, thereby taking the slack out of the rope, pulling the gate closed.
I would rush to the door to greet my grandfather Steve Crosby, and ask him,
"What'd you bring me-what'd you bring me, Pa?" as I tug as his black, battered old lunch pail. He thrusts his hands deep into the pocket of his denim coveralls and jingles the pocket change he has within it. He suggests that he will trade me all the money in my hand for all the money in his pocket.
I hesitate and then reluctantly decline because I figure I would have to loose on this deal.
Occasionally, he would reach into his lunch pail and withdraw some candy. I have learned that this was a lifelong practice of his which delighted my mother and Aunt when they were younger. I do not know if he neglected to eat this morsel, packed by Grandmoma that morning, or if he stopped off at the store on his way home.
It was not entirely uncommon for the logging crew to stop off at "Toomers" and grab a Pepsi, a Grapette, or a Coca-cola and a sweet roll to hold them over for the long trip back to Walterboro. After emptying his lunch pail, it went back up on top of that cupboard where it always set, until the next time it was to be filled with nourishment for Pa while in the woods.
In my youth, Pa Steve seemed like a large man to me, probably standing about 6 feet tall. He must have weighed about 250 pounds. He had a big red Irish looking face, partially from constantly working in the sunshine, and partially from a problem he had with blood pressure.
My recollections of him are always wearing blue coveralls. The type farmers are typically pictured in, with the bib on the front and metal buttons to hold the bib up. He always wore a pocket watch in those pants, tethered there by a leather strap. He has probably platted the strap himself.
It was not a fancy watch. Just a silver (actually chrome, but it looked silver to me) colored back, with a black face and white numbers; possibly a Timex.
Pa Steve was an excellent leather craftsman. he could plat a whip from leather in no time. A whip was useful to him in his line of work. He plowed many rows of earth to plant crops. He wore out many whips on the plow mules he used. I wore out several shirts, myself, learning to pop the whips he made.
His whips hung on nails on the back porch, out of the weather, but handy to grab. Why they were needed in such a hurry, I do not know. What kind of emergency could possibly arise that would require a 280 pound man to dash from his house, grab a pop whip and begin pursuing something? Was big food lurking about? Were mountain lions a threat to his cows? Did pythons occasionally carry off his piglets? I never knew and I never asked. It never occurred to me to ask.
I did, from time to time, stretch up onto my tip-toes and ease the whip down. Then, I would take it into the yard and begin twirling it around my head and try to pop it. I got fairly mediocre with it after a while. The whip was made up of leather straps about 3/4" wide and 4-6 feet long, platted over a 1" hank of rope for about 3 feet, and then tapered off to a small end.
At the tip of the small end, a piece of hemp was twisted and tied. It was the "popper" or "cracker". Thus the term, "pop whip" or "Crack the whip". At the other end was a length of wooden handle. It was usually a short, stout tree limb; at the end where the leather loop of the whip was tied, a notch had been cut down to accept the leather strap where the whip was to be tied. This way, it would not slide off of the handle while in use. My Pa's pop whip was such a simple thing.
At the same time, it was a beautiful piece of woven leather and a tool as well. But to me, as a boy, it was just something to POP! It was popped by twirling it over my head in a circular motion, and once it was all in motion, it was jerked backwards. That sudden change in direction caused the hemp to "break the sound barrier" resounding in a loud "POP!" or "POW!" like a .22 caliber rifle shooting.
I wearily drag my crocus bag of cotton from the field, back to the open door of the barn where the cotton scales hung, and anxiously wait in line with the hand full of other "serious" cotton pickers to be paid for my "day's" (or hours or half-hours) work.
I can recall walking into their kitchen, small though it was. I can see every cupboard and cabinet in it. Pa Steve's old black lunch pail sits on top of the one next to the door that leads to the eating area. The cupboard to the right (some circles call it a 'Hoosier') has all of Grandmoma's cooking supplies; flower, salt, baking powder, yeast, salt, pepper, everything she used to cook with. There was even a flower sifter built in.
On the back wall, next to the door that leads to the back porch, there is a medicine cabinet with a mirror on its front. Standing there, I watch Pa lather up his brush and spread it onto his face. An enamel basin was placed on the tabletop shelf before him. Many chips of enamel are missing from the finish, but is still functional.
Water is boiling in an old unpainted aluminum tea pot on the gas stove. He pours the water into the basin and prepares to shave. He sharpens his straight razor on the leather strop and scrapes the stubble from his face as he prepares to "Go to town." When he is done, he splashes some "Aqua Velva" on so he smells good. He completed the procedure by tossing the water from the basin over the rail of the back porch, into the back yard.
Later that afternoon, we ride to Walterboro for groceries. I still see Pa Steve, sitting in the driver's seat of his old Ford Coupe, his elbow resting on the open window, his hand grasping the top of the opening made when the window is cranked down.
The small wing vents, in front of the front door window, are opened to force more air into the automobile while we ride to town. I suddenly hear him singing or whistling an old, but familiar tune. Most of the time, it was an Eddie Arnold tune, "The Cattle Call"
He took Grandmoma Donie to the grocery store on Saturday afternoons, but he never - ever went in with her to walk around the store. He would sit outside in the parking lot, in his car. It did not matter what the temperature was out there.
He saw no need to follow her around the store. Now, he'd go in the Feed and Seed store, or the Western Auto, but not the grocery store.
Each generation of children changed what they called my mother's mother. When my sister Jane and I were young, we called her Ma (like "man" without the 'n'). My next four siblings, Hank, Mary Ann, Bernadette and Joe all referred to her as "Grandmoma". When Donna and David arrived, they began calling her "Grandmomo" (Mom-O). I never understood what initiated the name changes. Did she have to go to the court house and have it legally changed?
While Grandmoma shopped, we sat on the bottom book shelf at the Grocery store, where magazines were sold, reading comic books. . . .not "the classics", but the interesting ones, like "Superman" or "Mighty Mouse" or "Tom & Jerry", or "Archie & Veronica", or "Nancy & Sluggo".
When we return from town, I help bring the grocery bags up to the front porch. Stove wood is stacked there for the wood burning stove in the living room, used in the winter. Patio chairs made of steel tubing and steel backs and seats are on the porch.
Grandmoma bought them off a truck that stopped in front of the house one day. They were available in red or green enamel. Green seemed to be the color of the paint on these.
There is also a rocking chair on the porch with one flat rocker. When I try to rock in it (and I loved to rock), it made a thump-bump-thump sound with every pass of the rocker. It was like a primitive vibrator rocker.
Gas is used to cook with, in Grandmoma's kitchen. Running water is near the kitchen, provided you run to get it. Otherwise, it moves at whatever speed you do. A pitcher pump is mounted next to a sink.
A jar of water is always caught before you quit, for priming the pump next time. A bucket of cool "well" water is caught from the pump and brought into the kitchen for whatever it is needed for. A pitcher rests along side the bucket for occasional sips of cool water. Won't you have a sit? Help yourself!
When the few cows were milked on Pa's farm, the raw milk was placed in a large jar to cool. As it cooled, the cream would rise to the top of the jar. That cream was then poured off and used to lighten coffee, tea or sometimes drank straight. It was, in no way pasteurized but it was good. Pasteurized milk did not taste right, after fresh cows milk. Today, after many years of drinking pasteurized milk, fresh cows milk would be nasty.
When my Grandmother made home made butter, she used the raw milk fresh form the cows. She'd put the sweet milk in a jar, tighten the lid, bounce the jar on her knee, and repeat the line:
"Comebutter, comebutter, comebutter, come!",
It's butchering day and I have been asked to turn the cracklin' press, or fill the sausage skins, or bring fat lite wood for the fire, or keep plenty of water in the drum where the hide is scalded off the animal. . . .
There was no holding back the forward threat of progress. Eventually, electricity was introduced to the Crosby's home. At first, it was only two wires that were held off from the house by a series of ceramic insulators, nailed to the outside wall.
The lights wires dangled from the ceiling and had a "pigtail" on the end that the bulb screwed into. No lamp shade covered it; just a bare bulb. The electricity to the light bulb was turned on or off by pulling on a chain next to the light bulb. Wall switches were added much later. As time went by, other appliances came home, too.
A refrigerator kept the food from spoiling in the hot southern summer; what wasn't kept in the smoke house salt barrel. Ice was made in the freezer compartment. Water was poured into aluminum trays that had dividers to form cubes. When frozen, a handle was pulled that popped the ice our of the form.
Eventually, even a black and white television set was brought in. Grandmoma Donie loved to watch wrestling, or "rastling" as she put it.
She'd sit in front of the T.V. with a stick in her hand and shake it at the picture when she got excited.
"That 'Gorgeous George" is gonna' get his tonight!" she would say.
A "utility" building sat in the back yard, adjacent to the "lot". It sat next to the "south" gate mentioned earlier in this chapter. We called it "The Smoke House" for the meat that was preserved there, by aging it with smoke. It had an earthen floor. The log walls were probably nine to twelve inches thick. 'Shake' shingles covered the roof.
Generally, there was a five to ten degree cooler feel to the air inside, all year 'round. It was designed that way, Meat, harvested on butchering day, was kept here, before electricity made food preservation convenient. The smell of the cool, moist, hard packed earth floor, mixed with the salt in the barrels, and the hickory smoke provide an unusual smell in the "smoke House". Meat harvested on "butchering day" was kept here.
Other pieces were given in exchange for services rendered - butchering at other neighbors houses; veterinary assistance; help in removing a vehicle stuck in the mud, etc.
Pork was placed in a barrel and salted down to prevent deterioration. Later, it was strung from the rafters. Pests avoided this building. No flies were evident. Rats stayed out. Lizards climbed on the outside walls, but never ventured inside.
Behind the barn, going toward the back of Pa's 119 acres, he plowed the ground with a mule. This little plot of land was their garden. It was as wide as the yard the house sat on and about two and a half times as long.
When Pa placed hames on the mule and hitched up to the singletree, he hooked it all up to an old steel plow. A cotton plow line guided the mule down the row, but to look at it, one would believe a transit had been shot, and a global Positioning device was embedded into the mule's harness.
After the rows were formed by Pa and the mule, Grandmoma would prepare the furrows for planting. She would fill a Mason jar with water (to give it weight). Then, a piece of cord or string was tied to the neck of the jar that was long enough to hold on to while the jar lay on the ground.
She would lay the jar atop the first row that had been plowed. When she pulled on the string, she would drag the jar down the entire row, until she reached the end. This process knocked the top down and prepared it for the seeds which followed.
Grandomoa, or someone else (depending on how much help she had) would go down the row that had been flattened, poking holes into the ground every 3" to 18" depending on what would be planted there. Later, another trip down the row would see the seeds being dropped into the holes made there. The holes with seeds in them were then covered over, watered, and the waiting game began. It was never much of a game.
Grandmoma Donie always grew a great garden. She had lots of fresh vegetables to give her children to feed their own children with. What could not be eaten was cooked and "put up" in sterile canning jars for later use.
My grandfather was a pulp wood logger, but he also raised cows. Not cattle, just cows. When it was time to feed them, or if it was appropriate to milk them, he called them to the barn enclosure, referred to as "the lot" by cupping his hands to his mouth and shouting a nonsense word, which sounded something like
"Coanchie!" (Pronounced Coe'-an-chee). I never knew the true meaning of the word, but in cow talk, it must have meant
Apparently the cows understood it because they came a-runnin' when they heard it.
Pa Steve was a self taught, understood Veterinarian. He was not self proclaimed, but if anyone had a problem with animals, they called on Mr. Steve. He could relieve a cow of bloating, stitch up a cut on a horse too large to heal on its own, shoe a colt, castrate a hog, neuter a bull, or anything else that arose.
One time, I helped in the penning of some pigs that were to be neutered. I ran around the pen reaching for evasive pigs. I eventually grabbed one by the tail, but quickly lost my grip when the pig's loose bowels became evident.
Many animals thrived on Pa's farm. A Horse or two (at a time). Cows. A Mule. A Donkey. Chickens. Pigs. Stray dogs. Pet dogs. Many, many litters of kittens. And we wanted to keep each one of them.
Grabbing a young calf by the tail, I would allow it to pull me around its fenced in area, slalom style, using only my feet as skis, and its tail as a ski rope, trying, the entire journey to avoid any unpleasantness on the ground which the calf may not concern itself with.
I reluctantly helped Grandmoma gather eggs from the hen house, keeping a weary eye out for the rooster or an irate setting hen. It was always an adventure. It was like Easter, all year long. The only difference was the rooster would try to prevent you from finding the prize egg.
I wantonly experienced the many aromas of the moment: hay, feathers, laying mash, egg shell, dirt, manure, etc. .
Near the Easter season, I loved to sit on their front porch and listen to the wind blowing in the tall pine trees across the road. At that time of the year, the seed pollen is forming on the pine trees. The pollen stems sprout out of the ends of each branch of the tree in an elongated stem. As Easter nears, the pollen stems becomes so heavily laden with new life that their bulk resemble crosses. On an afternoon when storm clouds are forming in the late western sky, the pine trees resemble Calvary with its three crosses waving in the breeze.
I sit impatiently and watch my Grandmoma Donie un-braid, brush and re-braid her waist length hair and reshape it into circles on top of her head, fastening it in place with bobby pins she has been holding between her teeth the entire time.
My grandparents indulged in what they considered, not a delicacy, but perhaps more a treat, though it was practically a daily dish: Cornbread and milk. (Cornbread IN milk) (Cornbread in "clabber")
I climb from the galvanized wash tub in the kitchen of my grandparent's home, towel dry, dress for bed, and, standing at attention on the foot of the spare bedroom's feather bed, freshly fluffed by someone else, expressly for my pleasure, I fall uncaringly onto my back, into the feather bed, leaving a deep impression in the bed linens. This was a one-shot deal. The first one in bed got to make the impression in the tic covered mattress.
If it should happen to be raining, the sound of the raindrops hitting on the tin roof that covers their home softly lulled me to sleep.
Grandmoma and Pa are preparing for bed, too. Their eye glasses have been laid on the huge dresser in their room. Their false teeth are soaking in water glasses next to their own side of the bed. The clock has been wound and set. All is right with the world. We prepare for a new day.
On wash day, water is pumped and placed into a black wash pot in the back yard. A fire is built under it and the water is boiled. The clothes are cleaned by rubbing them over a ribbed board called a washboard.
With progress, water is boiled on the gas stove. When hot, it is transferred to the old ringer washer where the clothes are washed for some time. When they have been 'agitated' for a sufficient time, the water is drained, the individual pieces of clothes are twisted or "wrung out" until most of the water is gone. Then, they are fed through the two round wringers that squeezes the water out even more.
These rubber covered cylinders (wringers) turn in, toward each other, pulling the clothes and anything else through it that it catches. Occasionally, it grabs a youngsters arm. At that age, we all thought we were going to be pulled through the wringers, body and soul. Actually, we never got past our shoulder. Fortunately, there is a release button on the top of the unit which will free the grasp the wringers have on any article, with a simple "pop" of a button.
When the water needed to be drained, a hose was hung over the wall of the porch and run into the yard, soap, dirt and all.
After the clothes were "wrung" dry, they were hung on a cotton "clothes line" strung between two posts. A wooden plank was used at close to the mid point of this line, to prevent the weight of the wet clothes from allowing them to droop to the ground. thereby once again becoming soiled.
The line the clothes were pinned to was held up, on the ends by large wooden posts. The post nearest the back porch was formerly the upright post used to dip water from a well. The "fulcrum" used to lift the bucket of water is still evident, at the top. A notch cut there for that purpose housed a Bluebird nest each year.
There was great anticipation to watch for the Bluebird eggs each season. We knew better than to disturb the eggs. That would cause the mother to abandon them, so we never touched them.
The sight of those brilliant white sheets and other garments waving in the breeze brings back memories. It was fun to play among the clothes after they dried. It was best not to be caught doing so, though.
Between the clothes line and the house, tucked securely away under the edge of the house, there grew a small Mock Orange tree. It had brilliantly colored green leaves and what resembles huge thorns, but they did not stick when I touched them. If a leaf was plucked from the Mock Orange and broken open, a fragrance very similar to a fresh orange could be experienced.
When I was in the third grade (age 9) I got an excellent report card from school. Daddy was so pleased, he bought me one of the first tape recorders I ever saw. We taped so many things. Some times, I would lay in bed at night and record music off of WLS in Chicago. It was on A.M. and the only thing that played after the sun went down.
Not long after getting the tape recorder, we were showing it to Pa Steve. Daddy said,
"Go ahead, Pa. Say something into the microphone."
Pa looked at the round disk shaped quarter sized micro-phone I was holding, and said,
"Steve Crosby, Walterboro, S. C."
Now I ask myself, "Why did I ever erase that tape?"
(End of Chapter 2)