The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Helen DePuydt
Saco Stories 

Listen to the Quiet: Part 10

 


A multitude of preparatory steps went into a typical washday in the homesteader’s modest home. It’s a certainty that the modern-day housewife would think twice before swapping places with the housewives of the early 1900s in rural Montana. Doing the family laundry was considered almost an art. First, the water was pumped at the well and hauled by a horse-drawn wagon, and then the cold water was heated on the kitchen stove – the same stove which heated the house and cooked the meals. There hasn’t been a central heating system built since, that performed as many tasks as did this stove, still used and treasured in the Kientz home.

The laundry soap, which was made by Lizzie from scraps of tallow saved for this purpose, along with water and lye, was also cooked on the stove. The mixture was cooked and stirred to a thick consistency and checked frequently with Lizzie’s thermometer. If the proper temperature wasn’t adhered to, the result was a crumbly soap instead of the hard, long-lasting bars preferred by the women of that era. This hot, smelly mixture was then poured into a wooden box which had been lined with a cloth. A knife was used to cut the yellow soap into bars just before it was completely set.

The back-weakening task of washing clothes was done on a rigid metal, wooden-framed washboard, which was propped on its two legs at angle in the washtub. The soapy clothes were rubbed, turned, dipped into the wash water until sufficiently clean. The rinsing was done in tubs of clear water and the next step, that of wringing the excess water out of the clothes, was accomplished by putting them through the wringer attached to the side of the tub. Otto was called on the scene to “man the wringer” whenever his heavy underwear was put through. No rubber or plastic gloves were available to protect the hand from this harsh work.

The clothes were hung to dry on the clotheslines a few steps west of the house, regardless of the weather. Leona recalls the fragrance of the freshly laundered clothes, permeating the house on these weekly washdays.

Flour sacks were boiled in the copper wash boiler to aid in the removal of the printed advertising. A bit of lye was added to the simmering water and these were the days before bleaches and such laundry aids. After this boiling period, the hot, steamy flour sacks were dipped out with a long wooden spoon and then were scrubbed white on the washboard. This might seem like a lot of bother for just cloth sacks, but these large sacks served for dish towels, quilt backings and various other practical purposes in every household – the uses were limited only by the housewife’s imagination.

Ironing clothes was done with heavy flatirons, which were heated on the wood-burning stove. If the iron passed the spit test, it was ready for wood action; the detachable wooden handles were clamped on the top of the hot iron and the work began. There was always a spare iron waiting on the stove when the first iron cooled off.

Quilt making was still another activity for the women. A wooden quilt frame constructed by Otto was used to hold the quilt taut while busy fingers sewed the yarn or string at regular intervals over the quilt.

The yarn was tied in little tufts holding the backing, batting and cover together in sandwich fashion. These quilt tops were made from blocks of various scraps of fabrics sewn together producing a rainbow of colors to dress up a bed and which kept the occupant cozy during the bitter cold Montana winter.

A never-ending variety of tasks seemed to run bumper-to-bumper for men and women alike – but business is happiness ...

Lizzie’s delectable cooking was the talk of the community. One special dish which delighted the family can’t go unmentioned, and that was roast sagehen. The pieces were first browned after receiving a generous coating of flour and seasoning, then placed into a baking dish. Milk was poured over and then it cooked slowly for hours in the oven. The combination meat and cream gravy was a gourmet dish and always impressed any guest who was lucky enough to eat at the Kientz home on that particular day.

A serenity seems to prevail over this quaint country home. No welcome mat lies at the door, nor is it necessary. An intangible something envelopes you as you step across the threshold and somehow you are no longer a stranger to the kindly personalities abiding here ...

Sometimes there’s a story of uncommon people which literally begs to be told. The one which I have had in mind for several years concerned the joys and heartaches of a unique family living on the prairie land of northeastern Montana, where the land is forever bleak and the climate extreme. It was at the insistence of Zane Tollefson, the young enterprising editor of the Independent Tribune at Hinsdale.

Helen DePuydt is a regular contributor to the Courier and a member of a homesteading family in the Saco area. All of her stories are true.

 

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