Saturday, March 12, 2022

Life On A Farm In Grandmother's Day

 This article appeared in the March 11, 1922, issue of the St. Tammany Farmer. It gives an account of "Life On A Farm In The Day of My Grandmother," as told by Winnie D. Reid.

Click on the image to make it larger and more readable. 

Here is the text from the article:


Ox Teams in Olden Days Only Mode of Locomotion

(By Winnie D. Reid)

It is a trite but true saying that we do not fully realize the value of our dearest possessions until we have lost them. Certainly I never realized, until the clear voice was hushed forever and the stories and recollections recounted by her were only a memory, the wealth of experience and human sympathy expressed in the tales which my great grandmother used to tell as we sat around the hearth on cold winter nights.

Born an 1830, she was ninety years of age when she died. The experience of her long life had their beginning in the country neighborhood surrounding the town in Mississippi now known as Tylertown. 

In the busy life that she led, there were few interests which would be considered worthwhile by a girl of today. The girls of the family not only managed the affairs of the household; doing the cleaning, cooking, and sewing, but worked in the fields, helping to cultivate the crops which supplied food and clothing for the family.

Much of the time of the girls and women was spent in making cloth. After the cotton had been harvested, the fibers were separated from the seeds by hand. This was a laborious process, requiring many hours of painstaking labor. When the cotton fiber was free from seeds, it was prepared for spinning by a process called "carding," which consisted of placing the cotton between two boards covered with bristling wires and pulling the boards or "cards" across each other by handles.

The fibers were then spun into thread on the familiar old-fashioned spinning wheels and woven on hand looms into strong, coarse fabrics from which all of the clothing of the family was made. Grandmother said that she never had a dress which was made from machine-made cloth until she was grown.

Another interesting occupation of the women folk was soap making. In some country districts, soap is still made at home by using lye and fat, but lye being unknown in grandmother's day, a solution made from the  ashes of oak wood was used. This solution was cooked with fat and allowed to harden into soap, except in time of such a scarcity of fat that none was to be had for soap-making. In that event, the clothes were boiled in the ash solution to remove the dirt. By this process, my grandmother said, they were made as clean as they are in the modern laundry.

Since the railroad was in my grand mother's day a thing unheard of, the securing of provisions would have been a great problem except for the fact that most of the provisions were produced on the farms. Flour, coffee, and sugar were practically the only products bought, and these were considered as luxuries.

Among the very first things that grandmother could remember was the two weeks' journey to Covington, La., for provisions. The supplies, which had been brought on barges to Covington, were carried on ox wagons to the homes in the surrounding country.

The oxen, usually from two to four yokes, or pairs, of them, would travel at their leisurely pace until night fell, when a camp would be made by the roadside. 'Enough supplies would be purchased at one time to suffice for three months, and during all that time the family, to whom the trips to Covington furnished almost the sole contact with the outside world, would be practically isolated.

The Civil War was one of the milestones in grandmother's life and many of her most thrilling stories were of those stirring times. After the death of her husband, who  was killed in battle, she cared for her children, provided their food and clothing, and often rode many miles alone on horseback transacting business affairs which she alone was left to manage.

Hers was a wide and varied experience, and her life and character such as her descendants would do well to emulate. Indeed, I hope that if I ever come to a time when I shall tell stories of my life to my great grandchildren, my own experiences, which at present lie mostly in the future, will have given me one-half the strength of character, the understanding of life and the nobility of spirit that made my great grandmother the beloved woman of my childhood's memories.

St. Tammany Farmer March 11, 1922

The above painting entitled "Farm in St. Tammany" was produced by American artist Richard Clague (1821-1873) sometime between 1851 and 1870.  Click on the image to make it larger.Painting Source: LSU Museum of Art