Southern Traditions: Why Did My Grandmas Sweep Their Yards?
My question as I watched these grandparents was always, "Why are you sweeping your yards, and why is there no grass around your house?" We have grass around ours.
Today's post came to mind from seeing a meme on Facebook with an elderly lady sweeping her yard. Yes, sweeping the yard was a common thing back in the day. I as a child watched my grandmas and Aunt Fannie sweep their yards. I seem to remember them doing this especially hard on Saturdays. Back then chores had to be done and done well to get ready for Sunday.
I was small but certainly remembered how hard they worked at keeping that yard around the house clean. If there was a sprig of grass coming up it had to be hoed up. There was no grass to be found in the yard around the house ever! That made me scratch my head for sure. We had grass growing around our house why did the grandparents not want any grass anywhere near their home? I couldn't stand it so I of course asked them. They said "Well, it keeps the snakes away and if a fire was to get out it would protect the house from burning down". I guess that settled it in my mind at the time at least.
The grandparents on the left lived in a home at one time that I remember had the heater room as they called the living room which had a wood burning heater in it. The kitchen had a wood burning stove in it. Those two rooms were separated from the rest of the house. Well when they moved into the home there was a long hall that connected the home that once was completely separated. In the olden days they were very afraid of fire and with good cause because those houses were built with as they called it "fat lighter" wood. In fact this very house I'm talking about burned down due to faulty wiring a few years later. It happened in a matter of minutes and they had family guests at the time so the house was full of people. We've always said it was a miracle all got out of the house safely. Thank God.
This memory caused me to search more to find out more. I came across the following drawing that is part of a booklet online and a very interesting one at that. Click on the credit below and read it is an interesting part of history and traditions.
The Life & Times of F. M Wilkinson
Memories by George!
I'm going back to read this booklet!
Excerpt taken from the booklet:
Our modern homes have floors covered with carpet or the floors may be varnished hard wood or vinyl. The housewife cleans her floors with a vacuum cleaner, dust mop and stick broom. Her great grandmother swept her floors with a "straw Broom" and got down on her knees and scrubbed them with water and lye soap. The wood was bleached almost white.
She made her straw broom herself. She cut a bundle of "broom straw" and wrapped twine around about two feet of the butt ends and used the bushy ends to sweep with. The broom straw was found on ditch banks and unplowed edges of fields. It looks like a form of grass, about 3 or 4 feet tall with a stiff stem running most of the way up the plant. Grass like blades run out the sides of the stem and the top is bushy with fluffy seed pieces that float away in the wind.
She swept the fallen leaves from the yard with a brush broom which was a bundle of small straight branches with bushy ends cut from small selected hardwood trees or branches. They were cut about five feet long and the butt ends were tied into a bundle with wire or strong cord. Fan rakes had not been invented.
I do remember watching my Grandma Cora make her house brooms with the straw sedge and twine. It was fun to watch her soft hands with the beautifully manicured nails work so smoothly to make one. I don't know how she worked that hard and was able to keep her hands and nails looking so good. Wish I'd paid more attention to how she made the brooms so I'd know how to do it.
Broom straw credit
gathered by Jannie Pinckney in the 1960s
I found some (broomstraw/straw sedge) here a few years back and tried to make a broom but I didn't do it right so it fell apart. If I see more of this precious straw growing I'll have to research how to make one of these and hopefully do that.
Ms. Catherine Waiters
Amelia Wallace Vernon, African Americans at Mars Bluff, South Carolina (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University, 1993.
Reprint. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1995), p.168-171. Credit
Description of picture above
Here at her old home, showing the old ways of housekeeping. Ms. Catherine is holding a yard broom that she made. When she lived here, her yard was swept daily. This custom was widely practiced in West Africa and widely practiced by both African Americans and European Americans at Mars Bluff. Note that the yard broom was made of tree branches, while the house broom on the left was made of broom straw. (Photo 1986)
Ms. Catherine with her Wash Pots
Ms. Catherine would set up her ironing board across two chairs when she was ready to iron. They would heat those irons in the fireplace until hot. Evidently they had two or more to switch them out when they cooled. We have ours in storage guess I need to pull them out, take pictures and share them with you.
It is interesting to see how others lived even those who had been in slavery and remembering how your ancestors lived. I'm finding out that they had a lot in common and lived almost exactly the same in those days. Evidently each shared their customs and eventually many learned and used them to make them their own.
Look at this adorable cabin that belonged to Ms. Catherine and is now located at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina. You can read more about the Hewn-Timber Cabins: African-American Life in rural South Carolina 1840s to 1950s here. A very interesting part of our heritage and a great read!
Click the link below for much more information. I would love for you to join me each week, leave your email at the bottom of website for notification of posts.
I guess I now know the reasoning behind the sweep of the yard....Look where my search led me!
Some of you may be old enough to remember your grandparents or great grandparents doing this.
Share your stories if you wish.
I've had several family stories shared on my Facebook page about it today.
We think we have it hard evidently we live the "Life of Riley" (a luxurious or carefree existence).
Join me if you will at the website www.hibiscushouseblog.com