Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Slice of my Life: Grandmother's Chores

Let us back a little ways. I was born in the Chester County Hospital in West Chester, Pennsylvania (pictured left). It is an old establishment, founded in 1880 over a hardware store as the West Chester Dispensary (Photo of the Dispensary’s location on West Market Street is below.). In 1882 it opened the door on a new building
and changed the name to Chester County Hospital. My mother was born there in 1920, I in 1941.
The Doctor’s comment to my mother when I made my appearance was I had a “perfect shaped head”. Sometimes I fear that was my highest achievement in life, being born with a “perfect shaped head”.
The man who delivered me and made that comment was Dr. Thomas Parke of Downingtown, who was our family physician during much of my early life. His office and home was on East   
Lancaster Avenue a few doors west of the Library. I remember he had a large yard surrounded by a wrought iron fence, which is no longer there as this later photo attests. I don’t recall him from the labor room when he brought me into the world, but I do remember him from later years when he treated me. He seemed very old to me, but he was only forty when I was born. He cared about his patients and made house calls. I remember him coming to our house a few times with his little black bag. He drove an Oldsmobile, which was not a doctor’s car. There was a saying in those days, “Rich men drive a Cadillac, Doctors drive Buicks, Businessmen drive Oldsmobiles and the working man drives a Chevy. Perhaps his dedication to the patient and his car were because he was a Quaker. His tombstone is modest enough.

Here is a description of his nature:
For many years Dr. Parke practiced at 320 East Lancaster Avenue. His tall frame filled the chair as he sympathetically listened to his patients. If an emergency called him to be elsewhere, he would grab his medical satchel and run from his office to his black Oldsmobile convertible coupe with red trim that stood waiting in the driveway with its top down. Dr. Parke would back straight
into the street without stopping, pressing a pedal with his foot as he did so to ring a clanging cowbell. He wore no hat, letting his thick crop of hair fly in the breeze as he sped to either Chester County Hospital or someone’s home. His compassion for his fellow man showed when he stayed beside a patient for most of the night during a crisis.19
There was a time I wasn’t too happy with Dr. Parke, but that comes later in my life.
The person I remember the clearest from my toddler years was my Grandmother Brown (pictured left when she was 22). I imagine most people who ever met her remembered her. She was an imposing woman, strong-willed and no nonsense. She was tall for a woman in those days. There was one thing that scared her, snakes. Many women of the day called a man to handle it if confronted by a snake. She never bothered with that. When a snake slithered pass, despite her fear, she would grab an ax and whack off its head. I saw her do that to a Garter Snake foolish enough to cross our yard while she hung clothes. She chopped it dead and then she stood quivering with her fright of the thing.
She was a busy lady. She kept the house spotless and cooked all the meals. She was a wonderful cook; I still miss many of the things she made. In the heat of summer she would make ice tea in a large pot that she scooped into your glass with a ladle. Orange slices floated on top of the brew. It was the best ice tea I ever tasted in my life and I have never found another that matched it. Turkey Hill Orange Ice Tea is the closed I’ve come across, but it is still a mile away from Mam-Mam’s, as I called her.
She had her set schedule. Monday was wash day, done down in the scary cellar in an old
ringer washer. I sat down there as she worked, peeking over my shoulder at the dark corners of that place, ever alert for spiders and jumping sometimes when the furnace rumbled. The wash area was the most open and brightest spot and was to the front of the basement. The washer was electric, with an open topped agitator. She would dump clothes in that and they would be beat about for a while. She would then reach in and grab a piece and feed it through rollers atop one edge, squeezing out the soapy water and the piece would drop into a tub of plain water. After she fed all out of the agitator, she would run each piece through a roller into another tub. This was the “rinse cycle”. A final turn through rollers would plop the clothes into a large wicker basket she toted to the back yard to hang. I would hurry along behind her, staying close to her legs so none of the “monsters” in that basement would get me. I really hated that basement.
The cellar ran the length of the house. Coal bins covered the length of the east side from the furnace to the rear exit door. My grandfather had build wide shelves for storage, floor to ceiling, which filled the middle of the room. My grandmother did a lot of canning and pickling. There were only narrow passages on either side of those shelves and the place was always very dark.
At the rear of the basement, just before the exit door, was a potbelly coal stove. This was the hot water heater. You got a fire burning to have heated water for cooking or bathing. The main furnace was back near the laundry area, a big beast with a slotted door like a grinning mouth. You fed it coal, too. Grandfather banked it down at night, so there was no heat in the house while you slept. You had blankets to keep you warm. Burning coal was a waste of money. My grandfather would shovel in the coal and fire it up early in the morning before leaving for work. I tried to avoid being down in the cellar when he fed the furnace because the scraping of the shovel on the cement floor made my blood run cold.
No such noises to bother me on Monday when we carried the wash outside on clear days. (Mam-mam strung the clothes all over the basement on a rainy day, which took forever to dry.) In the yard, She propped up the ropes with wooden poles and began working around the yard with her
baskets and slotted clothes pins. I would play nearby. In the dog days of July and August when the heat was unbearable, Grandmother Brown would drag a couple of her big wash tubs out back and fill them with water. It was on those washdays I made my first friend.
Her name was Iva Darlington. Iva’s mother and my grandmother were close friends. They were about the same age. Iva had been a late baby. Her father was several years older than her mother, even years older than my grandfather. His name was Ireanicus Irvin Darlington and he was 56 when Iva was born. I saw him walking to work many times and thought him an old man. He died in 1965 at the age of 80.
 The Darlington’s were related to us by marriage. My Great, Great, Great Grand Uncle Daniel B. Meredith had married Jane Brinton Darlington. Jane’s brother was Iva’s Great Grandfather Abraham Darlington.
Iva and I played together a lot in those early days and all through my boyhood. (She is still a friend I see or hear from occasionally, mostly on Facebook.) She was a tiny child in those days. Her and I were the same age, but I towered above her. She had red hair. I did too at that time. Her hair was very bright, sometimes almost orange. Mine was a darker red, closer to the auburn of my mother.
Iva will play her part elsewhere in my life, but for now let’s get back to my Grandmother Brown and her routine.
It took most of Monday to do the wash, hang it and then bring it in after it dried. On Tuesday she ironed. That took most of the day as well. Almost everything in those times required ironing to get the wrinkles out. She set her board up in a corner of the dining room and stood there pressing out the clothes all morning and then some. She grumbled a lot when she ironed because she didn’t like to do it. I would keep out of her way on Tuesday. My grandfather bought her an ironing press eventually. It was a long table with a
lid. You laid the garment across the tabletop and then closed the lid tight, holding it down. Steam would hiss out all around the edges. It was faster than ironing each piece by hand. That is my grandmother seated at her ironing press inside the kitchen at 424 Washington to the left.
There were always items demanding attention. There were socks to be darned, ripped-kneed pants and elbow-out shirts and missing buttons to be sewn. Later on Tuesday or on Wednesday morning she would sew and darn and repair what was torn, shredded or holey. Things tattered beyond repair went into the ragbag hanging in the kitchen closet. She used these rags when she cleaned the house on Thursday. She scrubbed, mopped and dusted that place from top to bottom.
Fridays were for shopping.
Saturdays she did things she missed on other days, worked on her yard or put up can goods. Sunday she spent preparing food for the big evening meal. This might include plucking clean a chicken, skinning a rabbit (though I didn’t like rabbit and wouldn’t eat any) or baking the many cakes and pies she made. When she made pies I would stand at the kitchen counter with her and eat the raw dough she trimmed from around the plate edges. She would take all the leftover dough and bake me a "crust pie”, a wonderful buttery confection covered in cinnamon with no filling. I haven’t had one in decades. I was always beside her when she cooked in those days and she would cut me pieces of raw potato, which I also loved with a bit of salt, as well as peas right out of the pod.
I would also go with her in the mornings to gather the eggs. My grandparents kept chicken
coops in the backyard. They raised peeps. You would go inside the coop and there was a box in the center with a hood above it containing special heat lamps. When the chickens were mature they would lay eggs for us and she would gather these from the nests every morning. Sometimes we would eat one of these chickens.
When we ate chicken, not an unusual Sunday dinner actually, my Grandfather Brown would go to the coop and grab a bird. He would tie it upside down by its feet in the garage and slice its throat with a wire letting it bleed out. Then Grandmother would carry the carcass into the basement, drop it in a tub of hot water and sit plucking it to the bare skin. It never smelled good while she did it.
People gripe today about cooking and chores. They have it easy. I remember when my grandparents bought cheese, which came in large triangular chunks, my grandmother stood in the kitchen digging the worms out of it so it was editable. If it got moldy, she sliced the mold off the sides. Same with sweet corn, quiet often you would uncover a corn worm while husking.
One of the things we ate a lot at dinner was cooked cabbage. Remember, a war was on and many things were scarce or rationed. My Grandmother did keep a victory garden in the back and some tomato plants to one side of the house. When I was still toddling about, my Grandfather build a giant playpen out of chicken wire to keep me corralled. Beyond the pen you can see where my Grandmother kept her garden. To the right, but out of sight in the photo, were the chicken coops. The dog in the pen with me is Nellie, my mother’s pet.
If you are wondering where was my mother during all this, so am I.

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