LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — I just wobbled out to the mailbox and back a few minutes ago through what was arguably the coldest rain I’ve ever felt. It says here, the outside temperature is 33 degrees and this is supposed to turn to snow any minute now. As the old saying goes, if you don’t like the weather in Kentucky, wait 10 minutes and it’ll change for you.
My dad would have said that every drop of this rain could have been a snowball and you oughta be thankful for rain in January because at least you didn’t have to shovel it out of the way to get to the toilet. And shoveling out a path to the outhouse was pretty normal for this time of year when I was growing up there in the head of Blair Branch.
We usually did our laundry in the kitchen this time of year and often dried it in the house, as well, because it was easier to string makeshift clothes lines indoors than it was to shovel out a path under the backyard clothes lines.
We would wheel the old Maytag wringer washing machine from the back porch into the kitchen and heat wash water on the coal fired cooking range and on top of the big Warm Morning wood and coal fired heater in the back room.
Every chair and bed stead in the house would have clothing draped over it by the time we were done and the house would smell like Oxydol and Clorox for several days thereafter. Mom liked Oxydol wash powder, this time of year, because she said it didn’t stink up the house as bad as Tide and the smell went away faster. But if you went outside and your head got stuffy, as soon as you walked back inside those Clorox fumes would open your smeller right back up.
If there was no snow on the ground, we risked frostbite to hang the washing outside on the clothes lines.
Of course everything would freeze hard as a rock and stiff as white oak board and I suppose that’s where the term “freeze dried” originated.
My friend Roberta Webb recently told me that she got a kick out of waltzing with her brother’s frozen long johns when she was growing up there in Burdine during the 1940s. Knowing Roberta, she probably pretended they were Fred Astaire.
I remember those things only too well. They were also called union suits, not because the Yankees had them and the Rebels went without winter underwear, but because the tops and bottoms were united into one piece, sort of like those little baby suits we call onesies these days.
Long johns buttoned from the straddle up to your Adams apple in the front and they had a one button flap in back to open when it was necessary to do so but it was really difficult to reach and you had to use both hands to fasten it.
You’ve led a very sheltered life if you’ve never had to get up in the middle of the night, fire up a carbide light, and make a trip to the outhouse in your long johns.
Uncle Willie’s old hound, Pudge, used to stay at our house about as much as he did his own.
One night I had to make the trip about this time of year and it was probably 2 in the morning.
About the time I got to the back porch steps, Ole Pudge sneaked up behind me and cold nosed my rear end because I’d neglected to close the back flap. I reckon I screamed and jumped way up on the porch without touching the steps. Whatever I did set all the dogs to barking and pretty soon everybody in the house was up to find out what had happened.
I told them everything was OK but, if I hadn’t just come from the toilet, Ole Pudge would have been in bad need of a bath.