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Yevet Tenney's header

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The Milk House

Just dropping by... Cinderella cleaning

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Columns - Yevet Tenney
Thursday, 24 February 2011 13:08

(Click here to listen to a podcast of this column.)

The other day I was mopping my floor with my fancy mop, one that piddles on the floor and I mop it up, cleaning the floor like magic! I smiled as I remembered my childhood and teenage years, when I was floor cleaning Cinderella-style on my knees with a pan of water and a scrub brush.

I remember my nails breaking and my hands chapping from the harsh soapy water, but I was glad to have a scrub brush and linoleum. My grandmother had a dirt floor that she swept and dampened with water to keep it hard.

I remember washing my clothes with a wringer-washer and huge tub for rinsing. You really had to be safety-conscious with the rollers of the washer.

When I was a toddler, my sister was carrying me around on her hip while she did the laundry. I stuck my hand in the wringer. The rollers squished my hand and forearm up to the elbow.

My sister did not know how to release the rollers, so she reversed them and rolled my hand and arm back through the rollers to get it out.

Fortunately, I was young and my hand healed quickly. The doctor and the emergency room were for serious ailments. We took care of simple incidents without a physician.

My mom did not even have a wringer-washer. She boiled her clothes in a hot tub over the fire. She used a scrub board that took your knuckles off if you weren’t careful.

In the early years of her marriage, she washed laundry for a group of young men on a boys’ ranch. She spent literally hours washing, drying and ironing white shirts for those young men, to earn money to pay for a small house while my dad was in the military during World War II.

Her automatic dryer was a clothesline that depended on solar and wind power. It was extremely up-to-date.

When I was young, I ironed my clothes with an electric iron; that was in the Dark Ages before polyester and permanent press. My mother used a heavy metal stove iron heated on the wood cookstove to give her clothes that new starched look of elegance.

I can’t imagine ironing 100 shirts a week to earn money. She not only ironed the shirts, she ironed the sheets and pillowcases. I marvel at her stamina. She was only sixteen.

Food did not come easy either. We grew a huge garden; I mean acres and acres. Our summers were spent weeding pinto bean rows that extended for half a mile.

We would rise at four in the morning to beat the heat of the day and be out there until 10. We got on our knees and weeded corn, carrots, beets, squash and onion rows.

Then at harvest time, we spent our days canning all the vegetables and fruit we could find. We knew the supermarket was out of the question. We lived 30 miles from the nearest one.

Our dishwasher was all-hands-on-deck! Each family member took turns filling two sinks with water. One was for washing, the other for rinsing. We had a drainer, but most of the time we hand-dried the dishes and put them in the cupboard. Three meals a day, every day!

We thought we were in hog heaven living on beans, hot bread, stews and canned fruit. Of course, every year we would kill a steer, a pig and some chickens, so we had plenty of meat. We preserved much of the meat and cured the hams.

In my grandmother’s time, she had an icehouse. They would gather ice from the ponds after the first freeze and put it in the icehouse and it would last all winter and into part of the summer.

We were better off than Grandma; we had an old freezer that you had to defrost. That took all day. None of this self-defrosting stuff! We had to work at that, too.

Oh, and the oven! That was a chore with the scrubber and the stinky oven cleaner. We did not have rubber gloves, so our hands were sandpaper soft. They looked like we worked, complete with callouses and everything.

If this sounds like an uphill-both-ways story, I am telling you, it is not an exaggeration. We lived with so much less and benefited so much more. When the Lord said, “Six days shalt thou labor,” He was not kidding. He expects His children to work and “earn their bread by the sweat of their brow.” We did.

When I was in college, I had a conversation with a young man who was a thinker. He asked me one day how I thought we were different from the caveman. I thought: “What a dumb question! Anybody can see we are infinitely more advanced than the cave dwellers are.”

I thought of the computers, cars, houses, electricity, running water, fire and a host of others. When I voiced my answer, he said, “Do you know how to make a car or a computer? Do you know how to survive without the supermarket?”

I got the drift of his conversation. If you are not educated and self-reliant, you are no better than the caveman.

I began to wonder how many Americans are so dependent on other people’s expertise that they have abandoned the basics. With our dependence, have we lost our ingenuity and creativity? How long could we live without the conveniences we are accustomed to?

I know how to wash dishes in a Dutch oven, over a fire, but do my children? They only wash them in a sink with hot soapy water. My neighbors have a dishwasher. What about them?

I know how to Cinderella clean, but do my children? I know how to raise a garden, but it does not turn out like my mother’s. Her thumb, because of experience, is greener than mine.

My husband, Reg, is the king of making something out of nothing. He built our house from the ground up, because he decided to. He dug the foundations, poured the concrete and laid all the bricks.

He did the electrical wiring, plumbing and put on the sheetrock. He put on the texture and painted the walls. He welded the wrought iron. He put carpet on the floor and installed windows.

One of his ingenious inventions is a woodstove made out of two old water heaters welded together. It will heat our 4,000-square-foot house in less than 15 minutes. Stoves on the market do not hold a candle to that one.

Reg built my house in his spare time after working 12 hours a day. My sons have learned many things from their father, but could they start from scratch and build a house?

Holly, my daughter, did. Her husband, Karl, fell from a beam when they had been married only a few short years. He was paralyzed from the chest down.

Their life changed drastically. Karl could give directions verbally, but he could not do the manual labor. Holly became the one who wielded the hammer and saw.

Karl and her dad gave her direction and help, but she built her house. A beautiful house stands as a monument to her self-reliance. Many modern women would have said, “Heck with this! I did not sign up to care for someone in a wheelchair.

I am young and I have my needs. Karl can go to a rest home for the remainder of his days. I have two boys to raise. I can do it much better on my own.” Thanks to her dad, Holly learned that a marriage commitment is an eternal thing, not a “pie-crust promise.”

Reg lost his first wife to cancer, when he had six children at home. The youngest was an infant. Reg could have walked away, but he chose to honor his commitment to love. Holly has stayed with Karl and cared for his needs. Has it been easy? No, but she has triumphed for the last 15 years.

Karl has not lain in his bed directing traffic. He has become proficient at fixing computers, developing websites, homeschooling his two boys and tutoring college students in math. He has taught workshops on self-reliance and home storage.

In his spare time he has become a valuable asset to the Silver Creek District in Scouting. He is in charge of district campouts for the scouts and Mountain Man for the Venture Scouts. He has done such a great job that he was honored as a Silver Beaver, one of the highest awards in Scouting.

When I think of my childhood and look back on the Cinderella cleaning, I am glad I learned to work hard. I am grateful for the example of my husband and children.

We all enjoy the conveniences of life in our modern homes, but if we had to, we could survive in the cave dwellers’ world. It would not be fun, but we could do it.  PD

 

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