Homemaker in training

by Vivian Lawson Hogue

Keeping house in our Old Conway home was quite a different process than today, but one by which I learned useful lessons. In my early years, most “women of the house” were at home every day, and chores and duties took more time and effort. Add to that the lack of air conditioning in the summer and no shelves and counters occupied by kitchen appliances, and the picture seems dreary.

Although work was much harder and time consuming, most women took it as a matter of course. Life was what it was, and many had seen worse.

Our “dishwasher” was either Mother or me. One side of the sink was filled with soap and boiling water. Once we could dip a finger in without boiling it, too, the water was ready for washing. The dishes were scrubbed with an old washcloth and placed into the other side of the sink with more boiling water poured over them. That was the “rinse” cycle. We were also the “dry” cycle as we used dishtowels or old diapers to dry and then store items.

We had an electric wringer washer that stood in a kitchen corner. On Mondays, it was plugged into a hanging light bulb that had an outlet. Mother filled the tub with hot or cold water and “washing powders.” “Mrs. Stewart’s Liquid Bluing” was added to white items to make them whiter, a concept I never understood. With the usual stern warning to keep fingers and arms away from the wringer, I watched with wonder its job of washing and wringing. When finished, the damp, flat clothes were placed in a basket to be hung outside. The water in the machine was siphoned into the kitchen sink.

In my young years, I “helped” my mother hang clothes on the line to dry. It was my job to hand her the damp clothes. She kept the clothespins in an apron with large pockets. She tried to put underwear on the inner lines between the sheets so that passersby wouldn’t see our “intimates.” Thus, the homemade men’s boxer shorts and her cotton slips would remain a secret.

If we were lucky, a flock of birds with their recent digestion of elderberries would not fly over and drop purple polka-dots on the pillow cases. If a sudden cloud rolled over and dropped its watery contents, it was a mad dash out to re-gather things. I could hardly see to make it to the back steps as she piled sheets on top of me, yet told me to “hurry.”

On Tuesdays, it was time to iron. The non-steam iron was at least better than the woodstove-heated flat-iron that Mother used in her own youth. My job was to fill an old brown whiskey bottle with water for the purpose of sprinkling the laundry pieces in preparation for ironing. The bottle was topped with a metal sprinkling cap that had a cork at the bottom. I sprinkled them, rolled them tight, placed them in a plastic bag and put them in the refrigerator until they were ready to iron and hang.

In good time, our old cook stove with legs was replaced with a modern version. A washer and dryer were bought from the high school Home Economics department.

Our 1935 Frigidaire refrigerator made way for a roomy one with an icemaker in the 1970s, although the old one still worked into the 1990s. I still use the 1950s pop-up toaster and the same vintage vacuum cleaner.

It was a tedious life, but one that still provided time for chatting over the fence, rocking a toddler, gathering garden vegetables, shopping, mending a sock, sewing a dress or stitching a quilt. I learned how to “make do or do without” and that nothing gets done by itself. It is my thinking that those are life matters that need to be taught again, as we are a few generations short of knowing how to make lye soap. 


A native of Conway, Vivian Lawson Hogue graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a degree in art education. A retired teacher, she worked in the Conway School District for 23 years. She is editor of the Faulkner County Historical Society’s semi-annual publication, “Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings.” She can be reached at [email protected].