In the dimly lit old kitchen, a chicken roasts on a spit before an open fire and a woman mixes corn bread in an iron pan. In front of the hearth, three little girls, dressed in mobcaps and rough linen shifts and skirts, sew scraps of material together for a quilt. One of them gets up to turn the chicken, and then you notice the anachronism: she is wearing Adidas sneakers. Stephanie Howarth, 11, of Bethesda; Mara Musto, 10, of Takoma Park; and Courtney Cunningham, 11, of the District, are spending a day in the life of an 18th-century child at the Old Stone House in Georgetown.
The program, open to girls between 10 and 14, has a waiting list that runs as long as two months.
"Do you think you'll be able to finish 12 of these quilts before you get married?" asks National Park Service employee Robin Williams, who interprets 18th-century ways to three different 20th-century girls every Sunday. The girls giggle, having just mastered the feat of threading a needle. In the 18th century, Williams explains, they'd be married by 14 or 19.
"Girls started their first quilt when they were four or five. Their 13th quilt was made by their friends as a wedding present. When it was finished, they'd put a cat in the middle ot if and toss the animal into the air. If it landed on someone's shoulder, she'd be the next to get married."
Holding their skirts up to avoid tripping, the girls troop upstairs to see the bedrooms of the house, which was built in 1765.
"Only one bedroom had a fireplace," Williams tell them, "and that was probably the mother and father's room. So to keep warm in those days, the children slept with lost of brothers and sisters. They also had those bed-warmers, which they filled with hot embers and passed back and forth between the sheets before going to bed. But they still needed quilts."
Back by the kitchen hearth, the girls begin attaching their miniature quilt tops to the batting and the backing. "Make tiny, straigth stitches," advises Williams. "You want them to last at least your lifetime. After you're married you won't have time to repair them. You'll be too busy raising children and cooking."
The talk at the quilting bee turns briefly to CB radios and movies, but Williams brings the girls back to the 18th century.
"If you lived 200 year ago, you would have started learning to cook at the fireplace when you were five or six years old - af first maybe just helping your mother by turning the meat on the spit - so when you got married, you'd know how," she tells them. The chicken doesn't seem to be getting roasted, so Beverley *Briggs, a volunteer who plays the role of an indentured servant, goes outside to the wood pile and returns with several logs in her apron. Briggs, a history buff, also helped sew the costumes.
"These are clothes the servants or lower classes would have worn," says Briggs. The shifts, which look like blouses when tucked in the skirts, doubled as nightgowns, she explains. "People never bathed or washed these clothes. They carried pomander balls or filled their pockets with spices instead.
"And they wore no underwear."
Except for an occasional break for a game like "ride the thimble," 18-century girls kept their shoulders to the wheel - often the spinning wheel. Younger girls, however, usually first learned to spin on a drop spindle. First they'd take clumps of raw wool and "tease" it, by pulling the clumps apart.
"This would be a job for a tiny child three or four years old," Williams tells them.
After the wool is carded on brushed with wire teeth, it's ready for the spindle.
"Pinch, pull up, let go," chants Williams as Stephanie holds the top of the strand while Mara keeps the bottom of the spindle spinning. "It takes three years for a person to be master spinner, so you can't expect to master it in a day," Williams consoles them. Soon they have produced a respectable amount of yarn, which they wind onot a device called a niddy-noddy, which looks something like an anchor.
There is a crakling sound from the hearth and they check the chicken. "I love burnt chicken" says Williams, and Stephanie and Courtney set the table with bowls and spoons. Mara goes to the "secret" 20th century kitchen hidden in a closet to fill a pitcher with water, and the meal begins. There is the chicken, stuffed with Chopped apples, onions and celery, and the cornbread, and the girls have several helpings each.
"Would you like to have lived 200 years aog?" Williams asks.
The girls look at each other other and finally Stephanie speaks up.
"It's too much work".
"This afternoon we'll have to go out and milk the cow and weed the garden," teases Williams. Three faces fall for a moment, then break into smiles. They realize that the garden is frozen over and there aren't any cows in Goergtown anymore.