Wash Day


Years before I am born our cowboy is pitching a fit. He is mad, he flirts with a girl for a month of Sundays, earns her romantic interest and sweet talks her into relaxing in a hot tub. They settle in, nude, and this cowboy of ours starts up his steamy enticing, then grandma shows up and takes to washing his hair. She tosses a bucket of cold well water on his designs and into his porcelain over steel washtub.

Not too many years later a magical stork known to all, a big white stork, drops baby girl me right into my cowboy's lap. He is ready to be a daddy, he is all of nine and ten years old. Grandma tells me I aggravate my boy to distraction, "...and Choctaw give you a name, ‘Crazy', because you drive all of us crazy!" I am born to add an endearing touch of crazy to our family and to our farm life.

Bath time for this boy I love and me is luxurious, we enjoy a sparkling white bathtub in our farmhouse, a porcelain over cast iron tub. No running water in our farm house but we never give this a thought. We have well water and plenty of hot water stored in a ten gallon tank on side of grandma's wood burning stove. Such adventures he and I enjoy in our bathtub, adventures which prompt grandpa to pound on their bedroom wall then holler at us, "You kids quit your laughing and carrying-on, I'm trying to get some sleep!" Grandpa and grandma are not really sleeping, some nights we hear them quietly laughing when my cowboy and I get to really acting up in our swimming hole tub.

Old enough to walk five steps without falling, my cowboy daddy begins teaching me how to prepare a proper bath for our grandparents. We fix up a warm bath for them, they bathe, then the two of us kids use their bath water for bathing; not enough hot water in grandma's stove for two baths. I learn to pour five buckets of well water into our tub using our two gallon well bucket. Then add five buckets of hot water using our one gallon stove bucket.

I am not allowed to pull up buckets of well water, my cowboy tells me I will fall down our well and drown. Those times he catches me working at climbing up to top of well wall, he gets all hopping mad and lectures me. Five and six years old I can get up top of our well. My daddy cowboy keeps a hawk-eye on me, catches me top of our well and goes nutso. He runs over, grabs me in a bear hug then snatches me off our well, "I done told you not to get up there on the well! You'll fall and drown!" Now and then his eyes water-up and he tells me I make him crazy which is my purpose in life.

When still a little girl, more toddler than girl, he fetches big buckets of well water while I spigot drain off hot water from grandma's stove in our little bucket, but only half full until I am big enough to carry a full gallon bucket of hot water.

I also learn we are to refill grandma's stove water tank and add firewood. My cowboy hauls in buckets of well water to top off our water tank, I fetch and chuck a couple of pieces of firewood into a tinderbox to have glowing embers to stoke a fresh fire for fixing sunrise breakfast. Then we go to bed having grandpa pound on the other wall, "You two be quiet, I'm trying to sleep!"

Some years go by, I'm thirteen, I enjoy my Choctaw rite of passage to womanhood, I am a full grown woman on my own fetching buckets of well water along with helping grandma fix early morning breakfast and late evening supper. Clearly I never fall down our well then drown to death. I still drive my daddy boyfriend crazy, this is what I am supposed to do, my name is Crazy.

Not too long, although unlawful, I become pregnant. Stupid stork doesn't drop a baby in my lap rather drops a baby girl right through my bellybutton and into my tummy having me swell up like a beach ball. Funny notion there, this is illegal for me to become pregnant but law doesn't stop me from getting knocked-up by my choice. Those Christian moral values laws usually don't work as intended, those laws drive us crazy.

My daddy, our girl's daddy, our cowboy and I modernize. We do not bath our girl in a galvanized tub like of old, we buy her a fancy and colorful plastic tub with a snap on safety belt should she get wild about bathing like her daddy and momma did during our childhood much to the consternation of sleepy-head grandpa.

Bathing our little girl is easy, I simply hand spray her with warm water. She grins, laughs and waves her little hands around with delight. This is important for our daughter to become just as ornery and crazy as her momma. Now and then I spray her with cold water. She shrieks, makes ugly faces, frantically waves her hands and vigorously flails her feet. She doesn't like cold water.

Around six and seven grandma begins teaching me how to wash our family clothes. This is a half day task, not too awful, just long sleeve white shirts, overalls, socks and bath towels. She teaches me the old fashion way, a scrub board and galvanized tub filled with buckets of well water. Unlike my panic stricken daddy best friend, grandma allows me to climb up on our well but she does keep a tight grip on my waist while I struggle to pull up a bucket of well water.

We use hog fat soap. I am taught how to make this harsh soap. Grandma and I build a small fire out back then render hot fat into liquid by boiling in a big black kettle. While rendering fat we use a large steel spoon to collect white ash from around edge of fire. This ash contains lye which is caustic and an ingredient in almost every type of soap even today. Our white colored ash is dumped into a smaller pot then water is added to make a well stirred ash soup. Cheesecloth is tightly tied over our ash soup then this liquid is added to our boiling hog fat and stirred in. An hour of boiling fat and ash, we pour this thick liquid into small wooden boxes grandpa made for soap bar forms. We set those boxes on roof of our outhouse to cure for a couple of weeks.

What is aggravating about scrub board washing clothes is hog fat soap eats your skin right off. Grandma shows me how to knife slice off just the right amount of soap to have washing not quite so harsh. In time, though, my hands will become rough and leathery like grandma's old hands; no more tender red and raw young girl hands.

During the late sixties, the state of Oklahoma strings in free electricity to our farm. This is part of a "rural electrification program" sponsored by our state. The state leaves behind wire, lightbulb sockets, switches and outlets. Grandpa and my cowboy, between plowing and planting, work for months to have electricity in our farmhouse. They hang a lightbulb in grandma's kitchen, in our bath and install a kitchen outlet for a refrigerator.

I am mystified by this magic light bulb stuff. Annoying to all, evenings I stand by our kitchen switch turning a lightbulb on and off, over and over. I ask grandma, "How does fire get inside that lightbulb?" She looks up at this lightbulb dangling by wire, "I don't know but one of these days that damn lightbulb will set our house on fire." Grandma and I do not like electricity, we still use our coal oil lamps with a wick flame which is a lot safer, except for the sunrise morning our great-aunt Dorcas set our henhouse on fire with a coal oil lamp.

Our Eagletown enjoys a major civic event. Grandpa goes up to Hendon's general store to buy an electric water pump for our well. He and Kutcher Hendon order a "Jacuzzi" brand well pump from a Sears catalog. Delivery day, half our town folks gather for a historic spectacle to beat all!

Our well pump is so big and heavy, so many accessories, Sears ships this by railway boxcar! On an appointed delivery day, our grandparents, my cowboy and I pile onto our mule drawn wagon and head for town. We arrive at those old rusty railroad tracks a hundred yards south of town, and a hundred of our town folks are there waiting and watching for a train. Only once or twice a year a train slowly rumbles through carrying sugar beets over to De Queen, Arkansas. This day a train is going to stop in our town!

Couple of hours of milling around, laughing and gossiping and swapping lies, someone hollers, "Hey, y'all, here comes the train!" Sure enough, we see a distant locomotive with a single headlight spinning around in a crazy circle. All move over to wagon side of those tracks then crowd in close to our wagon making our mules nervous. Grandpa hand motions to my cowboy who knows what to do, he works through this crowd to front of our mules to hold their bridles and to soft talk to keep our mules calm. There are a lot of toes to run over and lot of kids to squish should our mules start and bolt!

Train slowly comes into town about as fast as I walk. A man wearing overalls and a funny looking pinstriped hat climbs down from locomotive then walks alongside while making hand motions at the engineer. All of us, half of our town, are silent being so mesmerized by this train. We are like curious statues standing rail side, even kids are still and quiet.

Presently this railway man makes certain hand motions, the engineer slows and stops his train. A boxcar is lined up with tail end of our wagon. Pinstriped hat man walks over, pulls on a long steel bar to unlock a door then muscle slides this door back. I swear I hear gasps amongst people, all are bug-eyed staring, there are several wood crates right there waiting to be unloaded.

Suddenly all press in around this boxcar. A dozen men climb up inside the boxcar, kids climb into our wagon, then husbands and wives, our wagon creaks and groans from all the weight. People stand tippytoe aside this boxcar to look at those crates. Fathers hold their kids up to look, people take turns standing in line to look. Excitement is thick in the air.

Men in the boxcar, men on ground, men in back of our wagon, pass those crates out like passing fire buckets to douse a barn fire. Crates unloaded, the conductor man climbs up in the boxcar, whistles several times, "Y'all step back, now. We're going to move the train, stay clear." People move away, mommas pull and push at their children, several men walk back and forth nudging folks to move away. Couple men help the railroad man slide the boxcar door shut and locked.

Trainman walks up to the locomotive then looks back, a couple of our town's old boys look around to make sure all are clear then motion with hands, "Come on." Diesel engine comes to life, train takes to clanging while taking up slack then begins rumbling and creeping along backwards. Pinstriped hat boy climbs up on the locomotive and stands on a catwalk. Up even with us he grins and waves. Half of our town wave back, a bunch holler "Goodbye!" Some of the old boys wave their cowboy hats!

All of us stand and watch this locomotive back out of our town until a good distance away. Then we mob our wagon. Kutcher Hendon from the general store is up in our wagon, he has a pry bar. He takes to opening those crates and people take to flapping their jaws about this and that. Lids off and set aside, Kutcher pulls out a handful of shredded packing material. Someone says, "Look at that, like eggs in a hen's nest!"

This boy I love is still front of our mules holding their bridles, I have an arm around his waist and holding him tight knowing he cannot bat my hands away and hold those bridles at the same time. Grandpa and grandma are alongside. This is as close as we can get to our wagon. I nudge grandma, "We can use that shredded stuff to make quilts!" Grandma smiles, "Or make right fancy nests for our hens!"

Young boys climb up on our wagon wheels to look, little girls are lifted to back of wagon to have a look in those crates, men and women take turns getting up in our wagon to look. All are talking a mile a minute about this big event, a train stopping in our town!

An hour, we are able to board our wagon and my cowboy shakes those reins with a "Git!" and we are on our way back to our farm. We flap our jaws a mile a minute just like our town folks.

A month of Sundays later, grandpa and my daddy-would-be-husband have this well pump hooked up and working. We have running water to grandma's kitchen sink and to our bathtub, but only cold water; we do not have a water heater. Grandpa says this will take a time to plumb our toilet, he and my cowboy have to dig a deep hole for that smelly stuff we flush.

Grandpa surprises grandma with a gift of love. He shows up with a washing machine back of our wagon. A used machine but still in good working order. Looks like a fifty gallon drum painted white with a clothes wringer on top. Grandpa swaps a side of pork for this washing machine. He and my boy carry this up to our farmhouse front porch so all can see how successful is our farming family, we have a washing machine!

No more red and raw hands, I do not have to use a scrub board! However, Saturday wash day leaves my arms tired from working our punching stick. Grandma shows me with a smooth piece of an old hoe handle cutoff about two feet long. She calls this a "punching stick". I stand next to our washer while punching stick poking, jabbing and stabbing at our agitating clothes to knock out dirt. Our punching stick is handy for cracking my cowboy's head as well!

Our washer has only one cycle, agitation. Turn a dial this way, a fancy black boat paddle inside turns this way and that way while beating the hell out of our clothes. Grandma is ornery, tells me, "Girl, don't get a teat caught in the wringer!" I look at her, "Grandma, I don't have teats!" She grins, "You will soon enough." She shows me, pokes a twig into those rolling wringers. Her twig snaps right in two, "That's what will happen to your fingers, you be careful, girl."

I am old enough and big enough to fetch my own buckets of well water which I use to fill our washing machine for wash and rinse. On side of machine there is a black hose hanging. Flop this hose down and water drains out off our porch onto a small patch of mowed Bermuda grass under grandma's clothes line.

Grandma teaches me how to hang clothes to dry, we have fun. She drapes wet clothes on an arm, stands below our porch and I get on her shoulders then we walk to her clothesline which is extra high off ground, "Hang overalls upside-down and put two clothespins on each cuff. Hang shirts by shoulder seams and hang towels by corners." This boy I love turns up with a step stool for me to use to hang clothes until I grow tall like grandma.

I also think myself old enough and big enough to take adventures of my cowboy lover. I think of him as my lover although he will not admit to being just such. I romance him at night in bed, I annoy him, aggravate him and make him so mad there are times he makes me sleep on our floor, "You're not old enough to be doing that!" He pushes me off our bed, "You sleep down there on the floor tonight!"

He knows reasoning and arguing with me doesn't help, I am aggressively persistent. I am mule headed stubborn set on marrying my cowboy. I am madly in love, darn him, tells me, "I ain't marrying no crazy injun girl!" He tries to distract me with bedtime story telling so I will leave him alone.

"Your grandma's clothesline used to be just outside our well house. Grandpa forgets to close our corral gate. Those darn mules of ours walk out into grandma's garden and enjoy a feast. Then Kitt and Belle spot grandma's clothes hanging on line. Our mules trot over to play. They grab at and shake around those clothes then pull down grandma's wet laundry and step all over her freshly washed clothes. Grandma gets wet-hen mad! She lectures grandpa about closing the corral gate and tells him to make her a new clothesline out front away from our corral, and extra high so kids and dogs can't get at her laundry! This is why grandma's clothesline is so high in the sky. Alright then, if you will behave you can get off the floor and come back to bed."

Readers are warmly invited to share stories of gizmos, gadgets and modern inconveniences which significantly changed your childhood lives.