Housecleaning in Those Olden Times

This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 1970 issue of Pioneer Magazine

I remember: Every spring was time. The furniture was moved outside. Carpets were taken up. All tacks were removed by a special tool called a tack puller. The carpet was then thrown over the line and beaten endlessly by luckless small fry.

The straw and dust were swept up and carried outside. Walls and ceilings were swept with a cloth tied over a broom. Woodwork and floors were scrubbed with lye. Then came the part I loved. Baskets of fresh sweet smelling straws were spread evenly over the floor so thick you knew the carpet would never cover it.

Then the carpet was carefully laid in place and tacked. The first two sides were easy. Even the kids could do that. But the last two were a real challenge. The kneeling tacker pulled the rug to the wall while suspended in the air. This feat was accomplished by knee action.

A Tough Task

The same knees came down to hold the carpet in place while the tacks were driven in. Knees and fingers and tempers were badly frayed before that carpet was smoothly laid. But the feel of it under one’s feet! It was like walking on air.

The stoves were taken down. blackened to prevent rust and stored for the summer. A chimney stop filled the stove pipe hole. The kitchen cook stove was moved to the summer kitchen at the back of the house. Often a late storm would come, but we would huddle in the summer kitchen. Setting up the stoves again was unheard of

Whitewashing, Too

Kitchen, pantry and cellar were freshly whitewashed. Milk was moved from the pantry to the cellar.  Beds were taken apart, inspected and scrubbed. Bed bugs were no respecter of persons. Wooden houses and beds were an open invitation. Shamefaced women fought the scourge with boiling water, lye and kerosene. Peddlers sold little cans of bed bug powder. You pressed the bottom of the can and out of a spout came an evil smelling concoction that brought tears to your eyes but scarcely phased the bugs. Feather beds were stored, straw ticks were emptied, washed and refilled. Then we were ready for summer.

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