This month's feature is an excerpt of the writings of Rose Olford, brief glimpses of a life many Newfoundlanders will remember from their past...rich in imagery and close to all our hearts.
The first chore in the morning was getting the fire started. This was always Mom's chore. I guess you could call that a chore, because it was something that had to be done. When Dad was working away from home, she still had to get out of bed and get the fire started. It didn’t matter, if she was sick or not. A fire was needed winter or summer in the kitchen stove, because we depended on the stove, to cook with and to heat the house.
In the winter when it was really cold, Mom would put on an old, black fur coat that belonged to Dads's grandmother, Bridget Oldford. Along with the fur coat, she wore a man's hat that had flaps that came down over her ears.
If the fire was banked up the night before, there might just be a few cinders left in there to help start the fire going quick. If there was any spark at all, it would start with a little piece of paper, or a piece of birch rind. On top of that a few “splints,” were added. Splints are small sticks of wood, about five or six inches long, and half inch thick or less. Sometimes they were shaved on the ends with a pocket knife, to look like a small broom. That way the fire started quickly. Once the fire was started, a few bigger sticks of wood were added.
After the fire was going good, the next thing to do, was to put a poker handle into a slot underneath the fire, and shake down the ashes. The ashes would then drop down into a pan or drawer under the fire grate. When the ash pan was full (that was another chore) it was then taken outside and dumped in the chicken pen.
One windy day, when it was my turn to visit the chickens with the ashes, I decided to take a short cut. I decide to stand on a high rock close to the pen and dump them in. Well, I didn’t check the direction of the wind, before I threw it in. Yes, that was the day, I became a child of a different colors. You better believe it, I didn’t forget to check the wind direction from that day on.
Cutting those little splits for starting the fire, wasn’t considered a chore for me, in fact, I thought it was the best chore of all. First when I was old enough to use a knife, I remember Dad telling me, “Now this is the way a girl uses a knife. Girls always cut away from their body, and boys cut toward themselves!” He also told me to do the same thing when lighting a match. “Girls strike the match out, and boys, strike it in!”
By the time the tea kettle was boiling, a few more chunks of coal or wood were added. A chunk of coal was the size of a gallon milk jug. That much wood or coal would keep the fire going for a while. I can remember listening to Mom talk to the stove. It was just like she was talking to a family member. Sometime she would say pleasant things to it, but that was only when it was burning good. When it was not burning just right, she would say some nasty things to it.
By the time the fire was burning good, the kitchen was getting warm. And the kettles of water were getting hot. The water in the resolver tank, on the side of the stove never got really cold during the night. Which meant we had warm water to wash up in. But that was only if the fire still had a few cinders left in the morning.
The next chore was getting wood for the wood box. We had a big wood box out in the back porch. After school it was my chore to keep the box full. Sometimes, that would take me half an hour to carry in five or six arm loads. But more then once, it took me eight or nine trips, because I always tried to carry too many in one load. And sure enough, I would drop a few loads, and have to start over.
The next chore was to chop a few chunks of wood, to make the splints (that is the fire starter sticks.) I would get, maybe fifteen to twenty splints out of one chunk of wood. When that was done, I would again take the axe, and chop the round chunks, and split them in four pieces. I never had to saw off any long ones, because Dad and his brothers would do that all at once. Maybe I would help Dad do a few. In fact, I thought I was helping him, but I bet I was only getting in his way.
I remember, I used to help him stack the cut up wood, in the wood shed, but I could only stack it up as far as I could reach. The wood shed was about twelve feet by twelve feet and ten-feet high. When we stacked all the wood, there was only room enough to walk in there through the middle of wood. Right, it was a good place to hide! Our winter supply of coal was in another shed closer to the house. Getting the coal out off the coal bin was a dirty job, if you weren't paying attention to what you were doing. In bad weather only, they brought into the house in a big bucket, and dumped the coal into a small wooden box in the back porch. My job was to keep the bucket full by the kitchen stove. The coal bucket was a black five-gallon one, with a small black hand shovel. Yes, I sometimes made a mess with that too.
The worst chore of all was the "Slop Pail" everyone hated to do that chore. After the pots were emptied into the slop pail, it had to be dumped over the cliff, down into the ocean when the tide was at its highest point. That was after seven or eight o'clock at night, the reason for that was, so the tide could take it out to the ocean. Every family had a slop pail, and every family dumped it at night, but still you never wanted anyone to see you do it. That was one chore I was careful with. Mom would only let me dump it if there wasn't much in the pail. I was always afraid I might fall off the cliff with the pail, and they'd find me in the morning down in the water, stuck in someone's lobster trap.
Boy, how I hated that job, of cleaning the pail out once a week. After it was all cleaned out it had to be disinfected. The way my mom disinfected things were like this. She would put a small piece of cloth about two inches square, inside the bucket and burn it. That was supposed to take care of all the germs and the smell. All the pots under the beds were treated the same way on Saturdays. I'm glad there was an outhouse for everyone to use during the day.
Fridays were when every room upstairs was dust mopped. All the furniture dusted off, and the steps were cleaned off. You went right through the whole house with the dust rag. That was all done in the morning, because Friday afternoon was the time for baking. You baked enough to last until next Friday.
My job when I was really small was to dust the legs on the table and chairs, the bottom window sills, and the bottom boards going around the floor. I guess I started to do more things, the bigger I grew, and could reach up higher.
|Chores, Chores, Chores!|
On Saturdays, there were lots of chores for everyone both women and children. The kitchen floor was scrubbed (not with a wet a mop), but on your hands and knees, and every home had a big kitchen. All the lamp chimneys had to be washed, and dried, then oil was added, and the wicks trimmed. Next all the kitchen windows were washed and polished on the inside. Finally the last job on Saturdays was to polish the stove top. The fire was put out, or you didn’t add any more wood, because the top had to be cold so that you could work on it. After it was all finished, it looked so nice. After we got our new stove it had a stainless steel top, but you still had to take care of it too.
Saturday night was the children’s bath night that was when they were all stripped down naked, in the kitchen. Until they are six or seven years old, and were given a sponge bath, from the top of your head, to the bottoms of your little pink feet. When you got bigger you could do it yourself up in your bedroom, but only on Saturday night.
All the neighbors knew when Aunt Maggie took her bath. It was the same time every Saturday afternoon, the shades in her back bedroom, would be pulled down. Therefore, no one would stop in to visit her.
I didn't have many inside chores to do. Selene was older then me, so she helped Mom with the cooking, and house work. That's why I can't cook now, because I never had to help in the kitchen. I think they just didn't want me in there. Hilda was too little to do much of anything. So, that left me with all the chores to do outside. I had to do the chores that a boy would have to do. I might as well do it, because I didn't have a brother to do it for me.
Although this feature is only a brief visit from the past, we hope Rose will bless us with more of her recollections. Rose Oldford is also an accomplished poet, & through her poetry, she brings past out-port life as it was, into the present for all to enjoy.