Pioneer Potluck: Scrubbing and waxing the floors

  • Tuesday, October 10, 2017 9:26pm
  • LifeFood

On the farm in Northern Colorado, 1944

I was looking at our laminated wood floors this morning and thinking that I have it so easy compared to farm moms in earlier years. Every Saturday we cleaned vacuumed, scrubbed floors and washed windows. The last thing we did was polish the furniture. My little sister, Elaine called it “tarnish” the furniture. Mom was a good inspector too. If you did not get every corner of the window washed — or did not get every piece of the dining room table “tarnished” — she would just grab the rag and do it herself.

I always felt so badly but no matter how hard I tried I never ever got all the corners of the windows or I missed a rung on the chair. Sometimes the harder I tried the worse it got. I smile about that now because it sure taught me to be thorough although I hate to wash windows!

Windex has made it so much easier than on the farm. We used dish soap and a rag to wash the window and clear warm water with a splash of vinegar to rinse. Then we used a newspaper to polish it. Back in those days, the news print on the paper came off on your hands. I really hated that! Mom kept newspapers just to polish the windows. And on top of that our big rebuilt farm house, had four big bay windows, plus all the other windows with little panes. And you washed the inside and the outside! I learned to climb and balance on a ladder before I was 10.

Mom was in charge of the kitchen floor. Ginger or I was in charge of vacuuming the dining room and living room floors. Everything was cleaned throughout the house and the last job to be done was to sweep the kitchen floor, then get a big dish pan of hot water, put a little dish soap in it and put the pan on the floor. Find another rag and get on your hands and knees and scrub ever inch of the floor. I actually did that myself when I got married, until I found a scrub mop in the grocery store. I did not let Mom know for a while because I did no think she would approve. Come to find out she had one of her own!

So all this diatribe brings me to this story of waxed floors on the farm in about 1945 — before Dad and Grandpa put the addition of another bedroom and a large living room with a fireplace in it. They remodeled the old house dining room into a large kitchen and tore down the old room that was the kitchen in the old house. It was cold and drafty and the outside was tar-paper. It had the big black cook stove in one corner next to the hand pump, next to the sink, to draw water from a cistern. Water had to be hauled in by the “water truck” that came by every two weeks. The well water in that area was alkali and left a residue of white everywhere.

Mom’s new kitchen was full of large cabinets that Grandpa Cogswell built. She painted the walls yellow and the high ceiling red. On one wall stood Mom’s new electric stove. She was so proud of it — I can still see her standing in front of it, with her hands clasp together, dreaming up something delicious coming from that stove, for her family. She was such an excellent, careful cook.

Before the new house was built, Mom would get on her hands and knees every Saturday to scrub the old worn out linoleum. I still remember some of the green still showing. It looked so shiny and pretty when the wax dried.

One summer Saturday, Mom shooed my brother Johnny (nicknames Sonny or Butch) outdoors with instructions to “go play” while she scrubbed and the waxed the kitchen floor. For some reason, probably hunger or thirst, we wanted in the house, but not having to go to the bathroom, because it was around the corner of the house. A big white outhouse that was built by the CCC men who came through and built them just after the WWII. It was concrete, it had a pipe vent in it and I liked to sweep it out. Don’t ask me why — I do not know!

We ran up the steps, tried to open the old kitchen door. It was locked! We pounded, we hollered and we sat on the steps and wondered where Mom was. She never locked the door! Johnny jumped up off the steps, held his hands out and said, “Let’s go to Grandma’s, she has cookies and milk.” That sound like a great idea. So me, all of 6, and Johnny 5, started up the road, a mile and half to Grandma and Grandpa’s cherry-apple orchard. We walked and walked with visions of sugar cookies and cold milk foremost in our heads. We finally got to the lane of the cherry orchard, so we took off running to Grandma and Grandpa’s basement house. Boy were we hungry and thirsty! We ran down the stairs and knocked on the kitchen door. Grandma opened it with a surprised look, saying “Goodness Gracious, what a surprise!”

We got the stern stare: “Where’s your Mom?” She’s at home. Humm, Grandpa said taking his pipe out of his mouth — “Where’s your Dad?” He’s cutting hay. Hummm, Grandma and Grandpa said. “Did they know you were coming here?” No, we said, Mom had the door locked and we were thirsty, so we walked up here. Grandma went to the sink and pumped us each a glass of water — no cookies and no milk yet! She looked at Grandpa, he looked at her, took his pipe out of his mouth, got up and put his shoes one. He said “Humm” again, as we stood there waiting for sugar cookies and milk.

Grandma bent down and told us ” You should have told your Mom where you were going.” We told her again that she had the door locked. Grandpa looked at us and said, “Come on,” as he started back up the stairs.

Just then we heard a roaring engine come into the lane and a big cloud of dust billowing up and then we saw Dad in his old green International pickup. He jumped out of the truck, looking like he was going to bite someone’s heads off, knowing it was going to be ours! Our first clue!

He pointed to the pickup with his big hands and shouted, “Get in the truck!” Our second clue that he was mad at us. We climbed in the truck while Dad said something to Grandma and Grandpa. I whispered to Johnny. “I think he is mad at us!” Johnny glanced at me and said “Shhhh,” as we both slid way down in the seat. Dad came around the front of the truck and climbed in, slammed the poor old pickup door, took off backwards down the lane, swung out onto the road backwards and put the truck in forwards gear and took off down the road. He had both big hands on the steering wheel, staring straight ahead. So we stared at him waiting for “something.”

He gazed straight ahead and never said a word until we got back home. He slammed on the brakes in front of the kitchen door, “Get in the house, your Mom wants to talk to you!” Oh! I thought another clue, Mom’s mad at us too. As we went up the stairs to the house, Mom threw open the door and said, “Go get a lilac stick and bring it back to me!” Fourth clue — we were is very deep trouble! We broke off a medium sized stick knowing if we got a smaller one we would get a bigger wallop.

We half handed her the stick waiting for “the blistering.” We got smacked pretty hard, as she told us we had scared her half to death because she could not find us.

We never asked to walk to Grandma and Grandpa’s again for sugar cookies, because we knew she would say no.

Unknown to us, Dad had seen us walking up the road from where he was in the hay field on a tractor. Part of the punishment was to “let” us walk all that way and then time it just so when we got there, he would come and get us and scare the dust out of us. I think back about Dad driving us home, I think he was staring straight ahead with his hands planted on the steering wheel because he did not want us see a smile appear on his face!

I remember the walk very well. We stopped and looked at cat tails, milk weeds and walked over the old wooden bridge, looking down in the weedy ditch that had no water in it. We also saw tobacco weed and when we got to the edge of the cherry orchard we would have taken a short cut through the orchard for cherries to eat, but they had already been picked. I smile when I write this and think of the way Dad and Mom, Grandpa and Grandma treated us just to teach us a lesson. It worked!

The Pioneer Potluck series is written by 50-year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years. Some are her own creation. Her love of recipes and food came from her mother, a self-taught wonderful cook. She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day. Grannie Annie can be reached at

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