here is the bad and good. The bad is graying hair, being overweight, wrinkles and your doctor looking you in the eye and saying, "You have to expect this at your age."
The good for me is recalling the cycles of life's treasures: Something that was meaningless yesterday becomes precious today. It is with these thoughts that the everyday memories of my youth, the Depression and President Roosevelt are stirred.
Take, for instance, the memory of Mama's Wash. Photographer Clarice George's "Back Yard" -- part of the WPA Federal Art Project -- reminds me of how our clothesline was strung around our back-yard trees and how each week it was filled with Mother's wash. She prided herself on how white her white wash was, accomplished by rubbing the clothes on a washboard, using soap she had made.
I watched many times as she put water in a big black pot that sat in our back yard. A fire was built and when the water began to boil, unused fat that she had saved for weeks was put into the pot along with lye. As a child, this was fascinating. The lye was so powerful that it was always cut open with an ax. The can was dropped into the pot, and later dipped out with the wash pot stick. Mama always cautioned me about its danger. I loved standing by the pot and fire and watching the lye do its magic -- eating the fat meat! This was how soap-making began.
Adding to the mystique was the folklore of the fire's smoke. We were told that the smoke always followed beauty, so naturally, I did not object -- even if I could barely see -- when all the smoke came right at me.
Another mystical memory: Mama's testing of her soap for doneness. There were no mechanical devices, but she knew just when to let the fire go out. I was sent to find big chicken feathers, which I presented to Mama. She would dip one feather slowly into the hot bubbling soap. If only the shaft of the feather was left when she pulled it out, she would announce confidently, "It's ready."
The big black pot also was used to boil the clothes after they had been rubbed on the washboard. After the boiling, they were again rubbed with the soap on the washboard and given two rinses. Is it any wonder Mama had beautiful white clothes?
Another important use of our "wash pot" was for "hog killing" day, when it heated the water for scalding the pigs before they were scraped. The next day, that pot was brimming with boiling fat to make our lard. This three-legged pot always sat on three bricks, which made it easier to keep the fire going.
While Mama prided herself on her white wash, Daddy was always in charge of the fires.
All through the '30s and almost to the end of the '40s, there was no cooking in our home except with a wood stove. Each morning Daddy got up "by the sun" and built a fire in the wood stove that warmed our kitchen. I stood behind it to keep warm as I dressed for school. The stove's reservoir on the side supplied hot water for dishwashing and sponge baths.
Since all our heat was supplied by wood, there was much work to keep plenty ready. Our home was like all those around us; it had a big wood pile in the back yard. There was always a big pile of split pine ready for "stove wood," and it was one of my childhood chores, year round, to fill the "wood box" -- actually an old washtub -- in the kitchen. When it began to get cool in the fall, we packed our side porch with oak, pine and maple. Daddy always kept a basket of corn cobs he dipped in kerosene to get the fire started. He knew just how to place each piece to get an almost instant flame. Yes, he was highly skilled.
I was a young child during the depth of the Great Depression, and I was unaware of all the struggles my parents were going through. Many farmers in eastern North Carolina had lost their farms, but somehow Daddy managed to hold onto our home and he praised President Roosevelt daily -- if not verbally, in his eyes -- for providing help. But just a bit of the credit should go, I think, to the greatness of the people Roosevelt was leading. It was a time when Americans had to pull together.
As the Depression began to recede, Daddy wanted to show his appreciation and sense of participation in the struggle by going to Washington to stand among the crowds and hear the president speak. This fed Daddy's soul and renewed his hope. He returned to share with his family the joy of being there and seeing his president.
I was only 9 years old when he came home and told me about his train trip. I hung on every word; this was my only way to experience the trip. When he told me about the Smithsonian, it was the first ladies' dresses that excited me most. I remember thinking, "Will I ever see those dresses?" When the day came and I did, my thoughts were more of Daddy than of the gowns.
I have never adjusted to changing presidents as often as we have since Roosevelt. He was president throughout my whole childhood. There was an adoration that filled our home that seems strange today. It was almost as if he were a family member we loved and respected. His picture hung on our wall.
Those were difficult times, and these are difficult times today. But as an old parable teaches us, perhaps it is necessary for us to sometimes lose our coins so that we can find them.