True Tales: Life Long Ago, A Vintage Vignette

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True Tales: Life Long Ago
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
October 1, 2009

This continues selected stories by Gladys True in her book “My Life from Wagons to Rockets” printed in 1998. Gladys would love to have told you these stories herself, but since she passed away five years ago, these Vintage Vignettes repeat some of the tales in memory of her. She was born in 1913 and raised in the small town of Trenton, Alabama. Life there would have been similar to that of the same time in Madison, where Gladys came to live in 1933 after her 1931 marriage to Robert E. “Pud” True. Her book excerpt below tells of Gladys’ childhood lifestyle and events.

“We used a cedar bucket to keep our water in the house. We kept the bucket on a washtable with a washpan, which was smaller than a tub or dishpan. This is where we washed our hands. If we were on the back porch, we just threw the wash water out in the yard in the summer. In the winter, we poured the water into what was called a slop jar, and then took that out when it got full. Running water was quite an invention. People today have no idea how people back then had to struggle to get water, and how careful we were with our water. There was plenty of it; we just could not get it in the house easily and get it warm, and do things with it that we do today.”

“We joke about the Saturday night bath, but that was done back then because we were going to church on Sunday morning. Everybody’s hair and ears and body had to be clean for church the following day, so a full bath was a tradition. It was different during the week. We had to keep our face and hands clean, and had a quick bath during the week. It was a chore, a real chore, to take a full bath.”

“On wash day, it was awful! We had to catch the water in a well or draw the water up, some the day before. We had water in the tub and rub board to wash the clothes, and water in the pot with a fire under it. The clothes were boiled to get them clean. We used lye soap until Octagon soap came out. I remember going to the store to buy Octagon soap. It looks today just like it did then. Then there was Ivory soap. That was the first one that came along just for a bath. We used Ivory soap for baths at home. I am amazed at the array of soaps and shampoos that we have today.”

“We did not have liquid shampoo for a long time. We had a bar of soap. Mr. Wilbourn’s son (Wilbourn was a neighbor of Gladys’ grandfather in Trenton) was ahead of his time. He went to town a lot and was exposed to new things, and he bought some liquid shampoo. Mr. Wilbourn was getting ready to go to church, and finding this liquid shampoo, he thought it was hair tonic. He put this liquid shampoo on his hair while he was waiting for his wife and all the kids to get ready for church. Well, it dried and his hair was stiff. He went over to where the water was coming off the mountain and put his hands down in the barrel to dampen his hair. It started lathering and he sure did not get to church on time that day! The kids had to wait until he got all that tonic, which was really shampoo, out of his hair. There were suds all over that hillside! Everybody in town laughed about the shampoo for a long time. When I look back over those things that happened, I realize that man did not know he was putting shampoo on his hair. He just thought he was putting on some good-smelling hair tonic.”

This story reminds me of the time when my aunt Rosalie picked up a spray can of Lysol while getting dressed for her son’s wedding. Just the details change with time.

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