Nina Daniels



Wednesday, November 8, 1950

Let us pretend that we are in the Parishville village of fifty years ago. You would hardly recognize it for the same place. The shade trees and shrubs were much less grown, so it was far less beautiful. Only the lovely river came down from the mountains in just the way it does now, except it was all in its old bed instead of being diverted into a penstock. There were few sidewalks, and no paved streets, so the sand was blowing in all directions.

Strangest of all to those of the twentieth century was the great humming, buzzing, clamoring, smashing, ringing, hammering, banging, hollering and general melee of the big tug-shop and its accompanying saw-mills and other varied activities. For there on both sides of the bridge and down "In the Hollow" was the location of one of the biggest industrial centers of the county. You could see, too, many of your old friends and neighbors of long ago most of whom now rest from their labors. "Sim" Clark and his son "Plin," who were the firm of S. L. Clark and Son, might be around looking after the logs, lumber, tubs, staves and teams connected with their considerable business. Lewis Peet, Will Campbell, Herman Tucker, Myron Ling, Dave Copeland, Dave Mc Carter, the Prescotts, and many, many others would be busy at their various activities. Indeed, few men had need of commuting in that good old time. In fact such a word had no place in their vocabulary as far as they were concerned. Even if commuting was known, it could not be practiced with a horse and buggy in the sand and mud of America's roads of 50 years ago, improved as they were compared to those of their grandfathers. So they loaded the wagons with tubs or lumber and trundled down the Dugway to Potsdam where the loads would be shipped by rail to all parts of the country. Even the bridge and the island are different. Part of the island where lumber was once piled has been submerged by the new mill-pond, and the old iron, one-span bridge has been replaced by a neat one-span affair.

But the boys still walk on the top and scrawl their names on the paint. The big whistle had summoned the men to work this nice morning, and Parishville womenfolk were at work, too, for those big, husky men knew not the ways of dieting, and happily consumed three square meals every day. A man cannot ride a saw, load a wagon with heavy boards, or unload logs on a meal of a little jelly on a lettuce leaf. So they had their breakfast of oat-meal, salt pork and potatoes, or pan-cakes and home-made sausage, doughnuts, tea or coffee. All was home-cooked and abundant. America had not yet undertaken to support the whole planet, rationing was not even dreamed of, and most everyone had a garden plot, raised their vegetables, and many kept a pig.

I find myself hankering occasionally for my mother's buckwheat pancakes set the night before in an ironstone pitcher accompanied by my father's own sausage, and I can see the old coffee-grinder and smell the freshly ground berries simmering away for my breakfast. But if I had such a breakfast I should worry, probably, over the proper amount of calories, or whether I had the necessary vitamins G, B, or if my meal was conducive to unseemly avoirdupois. So those good housewives made a good breakfast for their men and sent them off to The Hollow at the call of the whistle. Happy, far-off days. When Korea was but an indefinite green spot on a map; when Russia dwelt as now behind a curtain, unfeared and almost unknown; when test-tubes had evolved little that was exciting; when bombs had damaged nothing more exciting than an occasional undesired European overlord; and when political meetings were terribly important and ended with a torchlight procession.

With the good many off to his work, and the children at school, the mistress of the house got after the weekly wash. When as now, Monday was damp and depressing, only more so in the day before electrically appointed houses. There were a few homes containing electric lights at that time, but nothing else had been made anywhere which lightened labor to any extent in country villages. So out came the wooden tubs, washboards, benches, and possibly a wringer and a boiler. Quite a good many women sent out the washing, as there were several fine laundresses in the village capable of doing the finest linen and even men's shirts. No one thought of patronizing the Potsdam laundry or cleaning establishments. In fact, cleaning and pressing were far less known then than now, and I believe this half of the century will be more wholesome and probably more properly groomed than the first half. Be that it may, women did their washing and scrubbing of their garments on a washboard, up and down, up and down, until clean. There were few powders or mild soaps on the market, as soap was made to eat out all kinds of soil on one's clothing, and also the skin off one's hands. Laundry soaps were strong and yellow. They were an improvement on the old soft soap used in pioneer days, however. Most women boiled the clothes in a copper bottomed boiler on the big iron, wood-burning kitchen stove, which filled the house with steam and a smell which always prevailed on wash-day of soap. Smoke from the stove and sundry odors formed by the contact of hot water, soap and soiled clothing lingered several hours after the spotless things were hung out on the line. Several rinsings after the vigorous rubbing on the washboard followed this exercise before the conscientious laundress would call her work faultless. No pressing a little button in those good old days in a marvelous contraption which now-a-days both cleans and dries the garment, it was work—heavy and tiring. And yet no one complained, for all worked in the same manner, although crude machines appeared at the turn of the century. In time, the old tubs, washboards, benches, and wringers will probably appear as choice exhibits in museums. They all as obsolete as candle moulds and snuffers. Parishville housewives still cleanse their clothing with soap and water, or in electrically equipped laundries with at least several radio-advertised soap powders. Indeed some of them let their machine do the washing while they rock and listen to a soap opera.

That was on a fine summer's morning in which we pretended we were back in out village of fifty years ago, and the village attested to its industry by the buzzing mills and the spotless white clothes on its clothes-line. The big fires of 1912-13 destroyed the mills, not a vestige remains, but on any Monday you may see our still industrious women at their clothes-lines, but their machinery has performed the labor in a third of the old time tables, and shortly they will be about the business of their numerous clubs or whizzing away in their cars intent on new worlds to conquer. They wash not, neither do they spin, but depend on the lightning from Heaven to perform their heavy labors.



North Country