How to leave a comment on this blog.

If you open the individual stories from the links on the right side of the page you will find a comment box beneath each story. You can also open the comments box by clicking on the "Comments" link at the end of each story. I would love to hear your thoughts about the story, my writing style and/or any constructive criticism you may have.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why I Hate Cold Weather

From the time I started the third grade until I went away to college at nineteen I lived in northeastern Arkansas. We had moved around a lot during my younger years but had finally settled near a small town when I was in the third grade and stayed there until I finished the sixth grade.  We were, I guess, following my father around as he moved from place to place but he disappeared when I was nine never to be heard from again so we finally settled down and lived in one place. When I was twelve we moved to a new community onto a farm that my mom’s brother, my uncle rented and farmed.  We worked for him as farm laborers and lived in a house on one of several forty acre plots of land he rented.  The house we lived in had four rooms, a living room, kitchen, my bedroom and my mom and sister’s bedroom.  This house like so many in that country and at that time was built very cheaply and was called a “clap board house”.  A clap board house is not constructed in the same manner as we think of wood frame houses being built today.  It didn’t have wall studs with some type of siding on the outside and wall board on the inside; it had only a single wall.  The builders, usually the farmers who owned or rented the land, would take wide cypress boards and nail a two by four across the top, middle and bottom of the boards then raise the wall and prop it up until another wall could be built to join the first one at the corner so that each wall supported the others. All of the walls were built and raised from the floor of the house that was already in place. Once all the walls were up the ceiling and rafters were built and roofed with corrugated tin. Where the wall boards joined the builder would nail a strip of cypress about two inches wide on the outside of the wall to cover the joint between each wall board.  These houses had only a single wall not an inside and outside wall, the inside of the outside wall was what you saw when you were inside the house.  Most people who moved into these houses would nail cardboard from boxes on the walls to cover the inside then paste wall paper over the cardboard. It didn’t look that bad when it was finished but being a single wall there was no insulation factor.  It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The houses were built from cypress freshly cut at a sawmill and as the lumber dried it shrank. There were cracks in the floor that you could see through to the ground under the house. Linoleum floor covering was generally used to cover most of the floors in a house.  The strips on the outside of the walls would come loose as the lumber shrank and you had to keep nailing it back down to keep rain from getting through the wall cracks and soaking the cardboard you had nailed inside.

We had a hand operated pitcher pump in the back yard where we pumped our water into a bucket and carried it into the house.   The bucket would sit on a wash stand, just a simple table to keep the water bucket, wash pail, soap, towels and whatever else to wash and dry your hands and sometimes your entire body. During the cold winter months we took wash pan baths, standing usually naked with a wash cloth and washing all over.  Only once a week did we carry a number three round galvanized wash tub, about three feet in diameter, into the house and fill it with warm water as it sat by the heating stove so we could take a “Bath”.  Because the house was only heated by a stove in one room the males and females in a family were very careful to stay away from the doorway so the other person could bathe in private without having to shut the door and freeze.   We had an outhouse some little distance away from the house for the other necessary functions.

Our living room had a stove in which we burned wood or coal to heat the house in the winter.  When it was very cold each night was a ritual.  I would pump fresh water for the evening and morning necessities.  You didn’t use water unnecessarily because every drop had to be pumped and carried. I would fill all of the necessary containers then pump a final bucket full.   By lifting all the way up on the handle of the pitcher pump I would cause the pump to loose its prime and allow the water to go back down to underground water level.  If I forgot to un-prime the pump after using it at night it would freeze and the next morning I would have to heat water and pour it into the pump until it had thawed so it could be primed again.  Needless to say you didn’t forget to un-prime the pump often because it was so hard to get it thawed out the next morning.  The pump and pipe it was attached to were metal standing three feet tall out in the cold.  We would use the water, carried into the house in a bucket, to bathe from a wash pan with wash cloth and soap. Before going to bed each night we would fill a tea kittle about half full of water so it could be heated to prime the pump and fetch fresh water for morning baths and cooking.

All of this becomes memorable but when you consider that this clapboard house with no insulation in the walls or ceiling got very cold during the night when the fire in the stove died down. You couldn’t stay up all night to keep the fire going.  My mom and little sisters slept together and I had my own bedroom.  We all slept in our bedrooms under so many quilts that it was almost impossible to turn over during the night.  Your nose would freeze if you slept with you head out from under the covers.  The weight of my quilts was so great that in my early teens I began to have regular nightmares about being squeezed to death.  I would wake my mom moaning and screaming in my sleep even though her bedroom was on the back of the house and mine was in the front.  I can not to this day sleep with my head under the cover or sleep under more than one cover.

Every new cold morning was an ordeal.  My mom, bless her long suffering heart, would get up and build a fire in the pot bellied cast iron stove then wait until the kitchen and living  room had warmed up to wake us.  We would then grab our cloths and run in our underwear to the stove to get dressed. I was twelve and my sisters were six and five, immodesty was not an issue we were family.  After I was dressed and on my way outside to take care of the necessities I would light a burner under the tea kettle.  The kettle was always left on the stove the night before with a couple of inches of water in it. While I was outside the burner would thaw the ice which had frozen in it during the cold night. Yes it was so cold at night in the house that the water froze! When I had hot water I would take the kettle of hot water and the water bucket out to the pump. All the water left in the bucket at the end of the night would be frozen solid so there would be several inches of ice in the bottom of the bucket.  I used the hot water to prime the pump and a little to loosen the ice from the bucket.  I would then dump the ice on the ground and pump a fresh bucket of water and also fill the kettle.  After throwing the prime on the pump I carried the water into the house for our morning pan baths and cooking. The school bus would stop and we would be off to school.  This ritual occurred every day during the really cold spells.  When it wasn’t so cold the ritual continued, just without the ice.

One winter the cold went on and on for almost a month with out ever getting above freezing temperatures even during the day. I remember the pile of ice circles from the frozen water bucket was about three feet tall and four feet in diameter, it even became a game for me to stack the new ice circle each morning in some unique way.

Ok you are thinking OMG what a poor family. Yes we were poor. We lived three miles from town and didn’t have a car, TV, telephone, indoor plumbing.  However many of our neighbors lived in the same type houses and even if they had phones and cars they still lived much the same as we did.  We knew we were poor because there were people living in our community who lived in brick homes with all the accompanying conveniences; everyone was not at the same level as us and some of them made it know to people like us how they felt about the poor. We grew up living very differently than most of the world lives today.  However there are still far too many people living today in conditions as bad and often much worse than what I experienced in my youth. Good Old Days?  You can have them! I have no desire to go back to that place or time.  Do you understand the poverty, health problems, starvation that too many of the people in our world today suffer?  How could you? You can sympathize, donate money and time or anything else, but understand, how can any of us understand the day to day existence these people suffer when we have never experienced the conditions?  Can I understand?  Maybe a little but that time for me is far removed in time and distance.  Even though I have not forgotten the poverty and other things the life of poverty denied me, my life was far easier than that of many of the people today. In closing, my life was not all bad; there were a lot of good things in my young life, my mom being the first and best. 


  1. Ditto to the houses...that's the same kind I lived in, and to this day I cannot get over my dread of winter coming. However, I am thankful that if our economy crashes or some kind of catastrophe comes, I can live without having all the modern conveniences.

    Pauline Evans

  2. Growing up in the Arkansas Mountains, you described our life, and childhood as well, we never had a pump, and hand drew the water from the well...we were rich to have a well :) I remember one house that had a dirt floor, it had been walked on, swept, and yes even moped for so many years, it looked like polished marble. I still remember my mom saying, close the door, were you born in a barn? Pretty close, LOL!!