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The Big Old Black Iron Pot, and Where We Got Water from
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(Prepared from a word-for-word transcript recorded May 31, 2007 in Beckley, WV.)

A conversation with Mrs. Louella Amar, age 77, who lived on a share-cropping farm near Roanoke VA in the 1930's).

Hear an excerpt of this narrative in WMA, Windows Media format (1.3 MB)

Mrs. Amar

Some of the canning, if it wasn't a lot of canning to be done, she did it in the house on the stove. But if she was going to do a lot of canning, the cans went in this big black iron pot.  We had a great big black pot that set in the yard. And sometimes she would can for two or three days, in this big pot. Well, we'd be set for the winter-- as the food came in-- as it got ripe-- pick it-- Granny would can it, and put it under the steps in the house.  Yes, my granny canned, otherwise we wouldn't have had anything to eat.  She could can chicken, sausage, all of that stuff and put it under those steps.  Hundreds of cans, and she knew exactly where everything was. 

This is the pot, this huge black pot that had legs about that high, I suppose, and put it out there and build a fire under it. Right outdoors. But they'd put it up when, you know, when the use of it like, they'd boil clothes in it; she made lye soap in it.  You ever seen lye soap? 

OK, I'll tell you about that. Now all winter we had saved fat and stuff from the hogs. And that's how Granny made lye soap. You got cans of lye, I'm trying to think of the name of that lye--(I'll think of it tomorrow). But anyway there again is this big black pot. And she's make the lye soap. Now how she did it I don't know, but I do know that they used fat and lye. A can of lye, that's how. She had a long stick that she would stir the stuff with and when it was done, I guess, put the fire out, let it set overnight or whatever, until it cooled, then she'd cut it in blocks, and--Bernard, go downstairs and look where the wash tub sinks are, and there's a white piece of soap down there about that big--- bring it to me, please.  I don't know if you've ever heard of Dr. Martin or not. He's with Asset Health. His mother lives over on what we call the W, over in, near round Keystone, Eckman, and all those places.  And his mother makes lye soap yet. So he sent me a piece. But Granny's was brown. But this is white, pure white, as white as that paper.  

Lye soap

 "Now that lye soap, you probably used that for everything."

Yep, and sometimes they used it to bathe with. Um Hum.  When you bathed with some store-bought soap--that was an absolute luxury. And I don't remember what--Life Buoy, maybe,-- and you had a number 3 tub, you know, wash tub, and you had to get the water out of the well to bathe in--heat it on the stove. And on Friday night was bath night, and if you been pretty good, you know, you get to bathe with the store-bought soap, but if you've been a fool all week (laughing) lye soap is your....

Of course we had the tubs around side of the house where you caught water a lot of times to wash in and sometimes you had--it was strange, now--the wiggle worms you know them little worms they would get in that water, but in the well water they weren't there.  They didn't get in there. I don't know why.

The pump and the well--two separate things. The well was covered with boards. They made a board to go over the top of it. And it set over here, the pump was over here, so for household purposes, washing and whatever, you got your water out your well, and you had a long chain with the bucket fastened to the end of the chain, and you go there and you moved top off of the well, you drop your bucket down there-I don't know how deep that well was, but I know I dangled my cousin over it one Sunday when he came to play with me (laughing). When he got ready to go home I dangled his little hind end right over that, and strangely enough--that's been 70 years ago-Brodus still remembers that.  And I said "Brodus do you remember, were you scared?"  "No, I knew you weren't going to drop me."  I said, "You had more confidence in me than your Mama did."  (laughing)

And we had a pump in the yard where you would pump the water.--not like the pumps like you saw over there in this yard, in this lady's yard.  Our pump was made different.  You pumped it, you had to prime it and then the water would come out and you would pump water.  And we had a big old well in the ground. I don't know how deep that thing was, but it was a pretty good-sized well. There we got the water to feed the cattle and to wash, especially if it hadn't rained. Usually if it rained we could catch enough water--we had barrels sitting at the end of the house where the drain pipes ran down,  and we'd catch water in that to wash. Especially the first load of clothes. Cause you had three wash tubs:  two wash tubs and one rinse tub. And you'd hang the clothes on the fence, because you did not have clothes lines. 

Now Mrs. Nyningham, who the farm belonged to, she had all these luxuries. She had cars, and, you know, just everything that you would need, but we didn't, because we were sharecroppers and we lived the life of a sharecropper. It wasn't bad, I don't think, you know, I didn't know any difference.  Now, I would say it was horrible, you know.

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