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Southern Raisin': Fire up and have a little washing

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A little over three score or so, Momma heated her wash water in the big old black pot out in the middle of the back yard.  Daddy positioned some brick bats around the base of the pot to keep the fire ashes under the pot and not flying around.   

When I was old enough I drew the water out of the back door well and filled the pot about three-fourths full leaving enough room for a load of clothes.  

Also the soughing (working the long wooden paddle up and down) would cause the water to slosh out and extinguish the fire.  Occasionally the hissing ashes would hit your legs creating a fox trot dance.  I assisted building a good fire for washing under the same heavy cast iron pot used for cooking out lard and the same boat paddle looking clothes stirrer.  

Friends, I’d pile up my dirty clothes in a corner out of the way as Daddy and sis Jo would do the same.  We didn’t have a clothes hamper as they probably hadn’t even been invented.  Besides they cost money.  

When Momma decided it was time to wash and later iron, miraculously the ‘long johns’ and other back covering would be laying on the bed good and clean with that nice Super Suds and bluing smell.  Back then, bluing was a fore runner to present day bleach.   

For some folks that have been under a root cellar too long, the bluing stick resembled a crayon about six inches long wrapped in hard to peel wax paper.

I remember once Momma got to the checkout stand at Mr. Harrold’s Mercantile in Millington and the bluing stick had gone up from eight cents to a dime.  No one had sent a carrier pigeon or our mail carrier; Mr. Robert Williams hadn’t delivered a R. F. D. letter informing Momma of this gigantic price increase. 

Neighbor, without blinking an eye she demanded to see Mr. E. A. right then and there.  She informed him very empathically that she had been using bluing for years and there was no need to raise the price so ridiculously high.  This was a crime, to say the least.  On top of that, the one stick Momma had in her hand was slightly chipped.  

So after throwing, what is called a Southern hissy fit, she went back to the bin and searched for a perfect bluing stick.  For seemingly hours, I stayed out of her way, ’til she was satisfied with the bluing crayon stick, but certainly not with the price.  

Momma stomped to the check out stand with an arm load of material, spools of thread and new needles with smoke coming out of her ears I’m sure caused by this highway robbery.

Momma sometimes used Oxydol powder and occasionally Octagon soap to keep our old threadbare work clothes springtime, honeysuckle smelling clean.  However for some mean hard to clean garments she concocted some lye (almost pure acid) soap that would take the skin off and make a banty rooster run and hide. (Used only on special duds).  

The clothes we wore were not real pretty but I can promise they sho’ were clean.  Sniffing the cleaning compounds I’m sure kept our sinus freed up too.  Just some old Southern memories before new fangled washing machines…Glory!   

Otis Griffin is the author of the book “Southern Raisin”. He was born in  Charleston, Tenn., and attended Rosemark Grammar School and Bolton High School.

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