The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

I Remember Mama On Washday

By George C. Parker © 1984

Issue: December, 1984

If you have enjoyed the stories of the John Hayes Hollow by my sister Hazel Hedrick, well here's one more.

Hazel was the oldest of our clan, (she was called "Big Sis") I was the youngest. Although George C. was my name, I was called Clayton, and never knew about my name being George until I joined the Navy at the age of 18. Through the years, I managed to shorten the Clayton to "Clay", but never could pick up the George, at least not by family. As for the story, I remember Mama...

I remember Mama....How she would always sing while she worked on wash days. "Big Sis" would go to the field and Mama would stay at the house to do the weekly wash and cook dinner and supper for the family. I, being the youngest, would get to stay with her to take care of the helping chores. I'm sure the rest thought Clay was getting a break, but I'm not so sure.

On wash day, it went something like this...."Clayton, carry enough water to fill the wash pot." (Start the fire so the water will be getting hot while you fill one of those tubs.) "Bring down some extra wood to keep the fire going. We'll be here most all day." Now to carry water to fill a pot or tub was no easy chore. The spring was a good ways down the path across a creek and the spring wasn't large enough to dip a peck bucket into, so we dipped the water out with a smaller bucket making sure we didn't stir up the dirt from the bottom of the spring. Sure, the trip down the hill and across the creek was only a skip and hop, but the trip back up with a peck bucket full of water in each hand was a little different story. It was a slow haul for a skinny, barefoot lad of 5 or 6 (maybe 8) years old.

By the time I got the tub full the water in the pot was hot and Mom would dip it into the first tub, giving me orders to refill the pot. "Chunk up that fire and hurry, it will soon be dinner time. Start a fire in the old wood stove so I can start dinner. Carry in some stove wood. Make sure it's dry, so the stove will stay hot. I'm in a hurry today. Take the cow to water and tie her on the other side of the garden. Make sure she can't reach the fence. She'll tear it down.' It's hot today, so make sure the pigs and chickens have water. Come here help me hang up these clothes. Go fetch me two cans of beans and one of corn from the cellar. Better bring some pickles too. Put some sweet potatoes in the oven along side the bread. Pick out some small ones, so they won't take long to bake. Chase those chickens out of the garden. They'll have all my young plants scratched up. Take your Dad some water and tell him one more round and it will be time to come wash up for dinner. Come on back and put feed in the mule's trough, so he can eat while we eat."

A short break then to eat corn bread, baked sweet potatoes, green beans and corn. Maybe some leftover blackberry pudding, and good cold milk. Then, it was back to our chores of the evening. More water to tote, more wood to bring in, move the cow, get ready to milk, feed the chickens, bring in the eggs, slop the pigs… Then sit down to a good supper to hear Mama say, "OK kids, get your feet washed and ready for bed. We've had a full day and another one coming up tomorrow."

What I remember most was not just the work that was going on, but the way my mama would sing while she worked, no one to hear her but me and I was on the run. Still, I would hear the scrubbing of clothes to the tune of "John Hardin" or one about a white guy who went a hunting and found an Indian maid, "O Little Black Mustache" or "Preacher and the Bear." And of course, all the old hymns. Mama liked to sing.

Some may ask, "Didn't you ever get to play?" I can't remember missing play time, yet I can't remember having time to play except on Sunday after church. The responsibility of life was very heavy then, as it is now. We just worked at it differently. We all carried our share without complaining. It was a good life in the John Hayes Hollow. Mama taught us well....I remember.