“Springtime is coming, sweet lonesome little bird,
Your echo in the woodland I hear,
Down in the meadow so lonesome you’re singing,
While the moonlight is shining so clear.
But I know he’s away in a far distant land.
A land that is over the sea,
Go fly to him singing your sweet little song,
And tell him to come back to me.
Sweet fern, sweet fern, oh tell me is my darling still true,
Sweet fern, sweet fern, I’ll be just as happy as you.”
I can hear my Daddy singing this song many years ago as spring was breaking forth here in our hills, and I am lingering in the past once again. I hear a sweet little bird singing in the maple tree out in the yard, and I have a feeling that she is making a nest in the tall tree. The cardinals and mourning doves are crowding the bird feeder and are happily pecking away at the seed.
We are living in one of the most stressful times that I can remember, and going back in the past is one of the most restful things that I know. I am looking out at the same landscape that my father viewed, and the same small farmland that my grandmother trod. Many times, I think of her, in her sunbonnet and long, white apron, toiling in the same garden plot where we raise a garden. I wish I could know what her thoughts were then, and did she ponder over the same things that I do.
Some of her thoughts were different from mine, as she was a licensed midwife and brought scores of babies into this world. She was only 72 when she passed away, after she walked in knee-deep snow to deliver another baby. She took pneumonia after that and died too early. She wouldn’t have the thoughts that I have about aging, and leaving a big family here on this earth. I was only 7 when she died, and I’ve wished many times that she had lived longer.
There was so much that she could have taught me, as she was well known for her herbal medicines and old-time remedies. I know that she relied greatly on “yaller-root” (golden seal) as we also do today. She used mullein to make a drink for sore throat, and colds, but I have never been able to get anyone here to try it. In fact, when my late daughter-in-law, Sarah, came down with a bad cough, I prepared her some in milk. She wouldn’t let me get close to her!
Since we are having to stay in, this is a good time to begin spring house cleaning. April will give us some warm days to open the windows and the doors and let the winter air exit, and welcome the fresh, spring air. Spring house cleaning has always been a ritual practiced in this part of the country. Some folks may live where there are mild days all year around, but when we have the usual cold winter days, and the house is closed up, it begs to be refreshed. With all the modern conveniences that we have, it is not the ordeal that it once was.
How I remember the spring-cleaning days of yore! What rugs that we had (mostly scatter rugs) were hung on the clothesline and were beaten with a broom or a paddle. We had never heard of a carpet shampooer, or rug cleaner in a spray bottle. The curtains were all removed, and washed. Oh, those curtain stretchers! — do you remember them? Today we just put them in the washing machine, and then dry them in the clothes dryer.
Curtain stretchers were made on a wooden frame, with thousands of sharp tacks all around the edge, all pointing upward. The curtains had to be stretched and fitted on the tacks, after they were laundered and heavily starched. There was no way to do this without pricking your fingers over and over.
I think I got a little ahead of myself, for the first thing that Mom did was wallpaper the house with Wallrite wallpaper. Many of you old-timers probably remember the heavy paper, nearly always with a gray background. I remember one time it had green vines twined on it. She only did this every three or four years and also papered the ceiling with white paper. Mom never said four letter words, but when the ceiling paper didn’t stick, and came down over her head for the third time, she said, “That fired thing!” She shocked one of the little girls, who thought she was cussing!
After the papering was finished, then she would scrub the floors. With a bucket of lye water and a broom, she would scrub until the narrow matched flooring was a shade lighter. It may not have been varnished, but it was fresh and clean smelling. It was after she did that, the windows were washed. I’m trying to remember what we used to wash windows — it was a white cake (BonAmi maybe?) that we moistened and rubbed all over the glass. After it dried, we wiped it off with newspapers and it would shine brightly.
The stiffened curtains were hung back on the gleaming windows, and the sun shone brightly on the newly scrubbed floor, and we were ready for the spring season. Never mind that it was a rugged Jenny Lind house with tarpaper on the roof, it was a house of content and security. We knew that we were loved by Mommy and Daddy, and it was a refuge from the world.
How good it felt to rush home from school and come into the house, snatch the baby out of her crib, and play with the little ones. Mom would have our supper ready, and after changing our school clothes, we would gather around the table. It was a homemade affair (I think Grandpa made it) with a handmade bench in the back. There we would settle down, little blonde heads bowed in respect, while Daddy asked the blessing over our food.
Simple country food it was, but we were thankful for it as Daddy intoned, “Lord we thank Thee for this food. Bless it to the use and nourishment of our bodies. Help us to do Your will, and guide us every mile of the way. In Jesus name, Amen.”
Oh, these were the good old times.