This Ol’ House
I was born next door to the home where I now live. My husband and I bought about an acre of land from my parents in 1959. Built a house and moved into our new home in June 1962. My dad had bought seven or so acres in about 1910, and built the house where we all were born.
The ol’ house was a small wood frame house, made from used lumber salvaged from some old building in Fall Brook, (which was the way the name was spelled until after I was married). The wood floor was bare tongue and groove boards and the entire floor was resting on concrete pillars about six feet apart.
The siding was a full 1-inch thick and lots of the boards were over a foot wide, some maybe 14 inches wide, all beautiful redwood. The boards were attached to the edge of the floor, in a vertical position, and thin bats or slats about 3 inches wide were used to cover the cracks between the boards. A small board or molding was nailed around the top of the walls to cover up the cracks. There were a couple of partitions to make separate rooms. Then the rafters were laid on top off the walls and a roof was created. There were several windows and two doors spaced at regular intervals. The ceiling were created by tacking muslin or other inexpensive material to the walls and painted with a chalky paint. I think my dad called it calamine. That sealed the cloths to keep out dust and some of the weather. There were maybe two boards across the ceiling above the cloth. Later we wondered if they were to hold the walls apart or together.
When you think about it, this ol’ house was built very well. It weathered many earthquakes, windstorms, and lots of rainy weather through the years. And still, the doors fit snugly, the windows are tight, the walls are plumb, and the corners are square. Even the large roots from the pine trees that used to be in the front yard didn’t disturb this old houses. It adjusted, and still stands safe and sound. This ol’ house was built to stand California conditions, just as a good many pioneer homes here in Fallbrook were. They were built to last, and last. . . .
The ol’ house was heated by a wood cooking stove in the kitchen, and a fireplace in the living room. The fireplace had no damper or modern heat-a-lator, so we had to build a good fire. One that did not smoke up the house and one that was large enough to heat the ol’ house without becoming too large for there was no turning it down when the house became too warm. Or the wood burned too rapidly creating to large a fire for the fireplace. We heated water on the kitchen stove in a large brass cream can. We would fill the can with a bucket from the kitchen sink and dip out small amounts of hot water, whenever it was needed.
When it became bath time, a couple times a week, a large metal tub was brought into the kitchen and placed near the kitchen stove, there were two reasons for placing the tub next to the stove, one we tipped the can over to pour the hot water into the tub, and second was the warmth the stove provided while we were bathing. In the summer time we would put a nozzle on the end of the garden hose, fill it with water, and stretch it out in the sun to produce a supply of hot water. If the day was warm enough we would bath outside in the protection of the pergola at the back of the ol’ house.
I don’t remember ever being really cold, although I do recall the heavy quilts we piled on our beds on a cold winter night, and sometimes a fruit jar of hot water at our feet. I can remember lying in bed watching the wallpaper moving in and out. Oh, I forgot to tell you about the wall covering. Muslin was tacked to the inside walls and wallpaper was pasted to the cloth. After a good many years the tacks rusted or cut through the cloth and the paper was hanging to the wall from the top. The bats (thin wood slats) had gotten loose on the outside walls of the ol’ house and when the wind blew it entered the walls, making some interesting movements of the wallpaper inside. We thought nothing of this, as it wasn’t cold under all those “covers.”
I remember learning to mix up a batch of baking powder biscuits (I used two large sifters of flour), and I learned to test the oven (of the wood stove) for the right temperature. If I could open the door, and quickly put my hand in and more quickly remove it, I knew the oven was hot enough for biscuits. When I learned to bake cakes, the testing still worked. You could keep your hand in the oven a little longer. (All of my life I have used that method to tell if the oven was ready to put in the food.)
I don’t remember ever “feeling poor”. I know we did not have money to buy things that we wanted but did not need. We always had plenty of food, with a large garden some fruit trees, and a cow and chickens. My grandparents had other fruits and grapes, and my dad’s sister, Dora Stubblefield, had a large peach and apricot orchard. All of them shared with us.
My father had a daughter and two sons when his first wife died. When my mother married Dad, she resolved to be a good stepmother. We knew that the older kids had a different mother, but they were OUR brothers and sisters, just as we three were. As the older ones grew up and left home, we spread out a little in the ol’ house until (with the added room for us three little girls, and later another room for little sister, we each had our own rooms. That was “graduation,” and we fixed our rooms up just as we wanted to. Not by buying anything, just rearranging or trading furniture around now and then.
We had a wonderful childhood . . ..
On wash day when the weather was clear and clothes would dry on the line outside, wash water was heated in a large iron kettle that set over a wood fire in a specially made place near where the washing machine was. (Outside near the water tank).
Under the water tank was a hanging cupboard that we called the cooler. It had a pan on top that was filled with water. The wet burlap sacks hung down over the screened sides, the water soaked sacks allowed cooling wind to keep our milk, butter, eggs and vegetables cool. Note: This was an evaporator cooler used extensively before gas or electric refrigerators.
It wasn’t cold enough to keep fresh meat, but cooked meat could be kept for a short time. I can remember the big flat pans of milk that were set on the shelves to cool. Next day the cream was skimmed off to make butter and the cool milk was always part of the meal.
We always walked the half-mile to school. When I was in the first grade I walked alone. I remember one day the big yellow bus stopped and let me on. I was going to get to ride to school. The bus driver, Steve Myers, soon realized that I did not go to town to school, so he stopped the bus at the bottom of the hill near Reche School and I was in such a hurry to get off that I fell, dropping my lunch pail. I quickly got up and the bus went on up the hill town. But I had had a wonderful new experience of riding on the school bus. I didn’t ride the bus again until I entered high school.
Sometimes when we came home from school we would smell that wonderful fragrance of pink beans with bacon, and yeast buns just out of the oven. What a wonderful supper, with fresh green onions, from the garden and maybe some berry jam for the buns. Mother was a good cook.
Mother’s most enjoyed dessert was her fresh lemon pie. That was a real treat, but we got it only when, she had been given lemons by someone. We didn’t have a lemon tree, but we had several oranges, and a couple of tangerines. We ate them whenever we wanted a snake.
We always had a large summer garden, with carrots, onions, string beans, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and those great blackberries. In the summer Aunt Dora Stubblefield brought us big boxes of sweet peaches or apricots. We spent long days preparing that fruit, which Mother canned in glass jars for future use. It was during the hottest part of the summer, and the wood stove made the kitchen very hot, but the fruit had to be saved. One reward was a big freshly baked peach cobbler for supper. I tasted good with that thick cream and the nutmeg that Mother used for seasoning. The canned fruit was checked for a good seal, and was stored in the adobe storage shed along with the tomatoes, grapes, and berries. All the jams and jellies were kept out there too, in neat little rows.
I’ll never forget the mince-meat pies that Mother made for Thanksgiving Dinner, and the special fruit cakes made from raisins that she had dried from Uncle Lamb’s grapes. They were Muscat grapes, with seeds, but Mother had a special tool, like a meat grinder, that processed the raisins, removing the seeds to the side in a pile. She made wonderful pumpkin pies form the summer squash that she raised in the garden, Thanksgiving sometimes was very hot day, so we set the table up outside under the vine-covered arbor to get out of the hot kitchen where the big turkey had been cooking all morning. We carried the chairs that we had outside to the table, and used boxes and benches or other methods of seating so everyone sat around the big table to eat that wonderful meal.
Another holiday I’ll never forget is Easter. We spent days trying to figure out where to build our Easter nest. We would find a nice spot where we made a lovely nest, similar to what a bunny would make. We put flowers around it to make it pretty, and we kept the location secret from Mama. I remember one Easter it rained. When we got up, we were concerned that our Easter eggs would be ruined. But somehow that smart old bunny covered each nest with a washtub, and the candy was just fine. We knew it was the bunny did it, cause we had smoothed the sand very carefully so that we could check for tracks, and sure enough there were bunny tracks in the sand and besides Mother and Dad didn’t know where we had made our nests!
I have been thinking about some of the medical treatments my mother gave us when we were growing up. If we got constipated, she gave us a dose of castor oil. We ate oranges afterwards to get the taste out of our mouth. If we really needed a laxative, we got Epsom salts. Did you ever have to drink that stuff? It surely encouraged us to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, and drink water often.
Sometimes Mother said we had “worms” and she would gather vermifuge seeds from some plants along the dry creek that ran across our place. These seeds were mixed into honey, and we had a good spoonful a couple of times a day for a couple of weeks. I liked the taste of that “medicine.”
Mother had some purple salt crystals that she called “permanganate.” She dissolved them in very warm water and we had to soak any injured finger, toe, or foot in that solution until it was well soaked. I remember jumping onto an upturned garden rake. I had to pull the rake tines out of my heal. Mother had me soak that foot several times that day and the next. In a few days I was ready to run again. (We always kept our shoes in the closet, to wear to school or on very special occasions.)
Our parents did not believe in vaccinations, or any other medications. We went to Reche School, and little chance to have exposure to measles, mumps, etc. But I do remember one time when one family went to visit relatives in Los Angeles over the holidays. Soon after school re-opened one of them came down with whooping cough. We waited the required waiting period, and then we ALL had whooping cough, all three of us. We started a “forced” vacation, ordered by the school nurse.
We weren’t very ill, but had to miss all that school. We each had a small bottle of Pertussin to sip or swallow from to ease the coughing. We spend long hours outside in the sun. That year was the year of the big earthquake. We were all sitting on the ground when the ground started moving so strangely. Mother felt it too, and came out to explain what was happening. We had never heard of earthquakes, but we soon learned more about what had happened. We got books to read to explain.
Finally, the school nurse released us to return to school. We were very upset that we had missed all that school time. We had been trying to make 100 percent attendance for our entire school. We did make one year at Fallbrook (Reche) School when all students were in attendance 100 percent of the school days. We all were very proud of that, and so was our teacher, Miss Catherine Friesen.
We had a wonderful childhood, and hope you enjoyed hearing about some of those happy days of yesteryear.