Thursday, June 14, 2012

How did they not stink?

I love to soak in a wonderful bubble bath...
But, my ancestors didn't.

I grew up in an older family.  My parents were born in the early 1900's, and their parents were born in the late 1800's.  People are amazed when I mention that I knew people that were born in the 1800's.  But for me, it was the norm.

Because they were of a generation quite a bit older than most of my friends, their ways, habits and traditions were also a bit out of touch.  My parents were the age of most of my peers' grandparents.

One of the things I grew up with was a generational line drawn between bathing every day and bathing every now and then.  My parents followed the tradition of their parents by taking their last bath of the year sometime in the late fall and not bathing again until spring.  In his later years, my father lived with our young family and followed this same tradition.

But, never once did my parents or their parents ever have a bad odor.  How did they not stink?

I really don't know.

They didn't pile on lots of powders or perfumes, and they did use deodorant.  They were not offensive in any way concerning their hygiene.

So, how did they do it?
Well, I'm sure this was one way, but this would have occurred mostly in the summer months.  Dad told me he learned how to swim because his brothers threw him in the Upper Tygart Creek in Kentucky.  One either learned how to swim or drown.  That was their choice.

I watched my mother and her mother make batches of lye soap - something I cannot stand to this day.  She would render lard in a cast iron skillet, also saving the ashes.
It was used for scrubbing just about anything.  When I used it on my skin, it would be quite abrasive and seemed as though it burned my skin!

And then I ran across the web site for Colonial Williamsburg, where it described in detail how one would deal with those who did have an offensive odor.  They simply sprayed a lace handkerchief and slipped it up their sleeve.  Then, it would be quite handy to remove the hankie and place it near the nose and sniff the perfume.  Maybe that's why my female ancestors kept hankies close by them, sometimes tucked in their ample bosoms.

Mom and Dad also believed that bathing too often in the winter months would provide more opportunity for disease and the ague to set in.  For females, a monthly flow meant no bathing, and certainly no washing of hair.  I argued and argued with Mom over this one, but she finally relented to letting me take a short bath, but don't even ask about washing my hair.


Perhaps part of the reasoning comes from just how hard it was to get a bath ready.  In the hills of eastern Kentucky, running water was a rarity.  It meant heating up the water on the stove, perhaps after hauling it in from the creek.  Dad would take a bath first, followed by my three sisters.  Since he worked in the coal mines, the water would readily turn black, so by the time the youngest of my three sisters had her turn, Mom had to really hang onto her so she wouldn't lose her.  Hence, "don't throw the baby out with the bath water!"

I love the cleanliness standards of today.  I grew up feeling greasy and smelly (those teenage years encouraged the oil in my hair and skin), so I love to soak in a wonderful tub and read a book with a candle glowing softly nearby.  My towels are soft, unlike whatever feed sack Mom could find to use as a towel.

But, how did they not stink?

I must thank fellow blogger, Caroline M. Pointer, for her post of today, and for her challenge to write a blog on this subject.  Caroline, I did it.  But, how did they?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Appalachian Feuds - My Take on the History Channel's "Hatfields and McCoys" Miniseries

Wow!  That's my first impression of having watched the "Hatfields and McCoys" on the History Channel this past week.

Let me first point out that I am not from either West Virginia or Kentucky, but my parents and my three older sisters are.  They were born and raised in the area where this infamous feud took place.

Feuds are nothing new.  They have been going on since the days of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Ishmael, and Romeo and Juliet.  There just doesn't ever seem to be a good outcome.

The Appalachian area was filled in by both Germans and the Scots-Irish.  The Scots-Irish, in particular, has been plagued by feuds for centuries and is not uncommon today.  These feuds existed over land, religions, romance, etc. - and the element of these feuds came right over to America with them.  We've all heard of the 'Fightin' Irish'.

When the area of the Shenandoah Valley was settled, the Germans came southward from the southeastern areas of Pennsylvania and created beautiful farmland.  They were renown for keeping their homes and farms neat, clean, and highly functional.  They were basically peaceful, but still protective.  The Kentucky Rifle was actually fashioned by the Germans.

The Scots-Irish, known for their tempers and their warfare in the old country, were pushed a bit further to settle the frontier.  This helped in the protection of homes against the Native Americans that were being edged further to the west.  They didn't have a lot of fear in the blood.

Come forward a few years to the Hatfield and McCoy feud.  The same pride, stubbornness and sense of justice are coming right along with them.

I won't go back and repeat the story, for it is being re-broadcast again tonight, and you can find the story simply by doing a google search on the subject.  It is the most famous of the feuds.

The main story consists of hog-stealing, forbidden love between the families, and killings.
The leaders of the two rival families.
The two who fell in love.  She ended up pregnant.  They never married, the baby died, and it is said she died of a broken heart.

The History Channel's Miniseries was certainly believable, and they were mostly correct.  But, in talking with my sisters, it was easy to tell this was not filmed on site.  It was filmed in Romania.

First of all - the terrain was much too nice.  In West Virginia and Kentucky, the hills are very, very steep and thickly forested.  There are few flat areas for running the horses.   In the late 1800's, when the story actually was in its heyday, the forestation was so thick that one would be hard-pressed to get through it at all.  It's the same today!  The hills are at such an incline that it would have been hard to get equipment to stay on them at all.

Second - the cabins were too nice.  Back then, they would have been hewn logs with every chiseled mark clearly visible.  There were have been mud chinks packed in between the logs.  The cabins in the movie were ones I would like to live in today!

Third - the horses.  I'm just not too sure about the horses.  Most horses were used for plowing.  Mules were the preferred mode of getting through the hills.  My mother much preferred to ride on a mule than a horse, for mules were more sure-footed.  These horses look like they were taken from the Kentucky Derby.

Fourth - the accent.  I'm sure it was just the Hollywood version of the Appalachian "twang" - and it's not easily duplicated.  There was at least one local in the movie, and I could spot him a mile away.

Fifth - the saloon scenes and the "get on your horse and let's go" reminded me of western movies.  This would not be unusual, given Kevin Costner's background in "Dances With Wolves" and others.

But, all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the miniseries, and plan on watching it again.  I was happy to hear that a truce had been called and a declaration that the feud had ended, but I'm not so sure that feuds really end.  There always seems to be an air of mistrust hanging in the background.

My father liked to relate an incident that happened while living in Logan, Logan County, West Virginia.  He and my mother and sisters lived there in the late 1930's and 1940's.  Everyone knew of this famous feud.  Dad even took my family over to see Devil Anse's grave.
In this part of Logan County where they lived, they lived in a house on a road that was very, very steep.  Mom always said if you open your mouth and talk while walking uphill, you would get a bit of dirt in it.  The house was built on stilts.  The house up on the hill above him had a drainage pipe where sewage would spill over into my family's back yard.

The family's name was McCoy.

Dad told the man on several occasions the problem needed to be solved.  Mr. McCoy replied that once it left his yard, it didn't matter to him.  It was no longer his problem.

Getting nowhere by talking, Dad took matter into his own hands.  He mixed up a batch of concrete and plugged up the pipe.  Problem solved.

Mr. McCoy was furious, but eventually the problem was solved.  Just think - there could have been another feud...

Little did dad and mom know that our family lines have now been researched back into the McCoy line!

For more info on feuds:

All pictures are from