Friday, April 13, 2018

Mary Louisa Michel Binckley Memoir, 1906 (and 1899): Part IV

[Mary Louisa/Louise Mitchell/Michel Binckley Memoir, 1906 (and 1899), Part IV. Additional paragraph breaks inserted for easier reading.
Many thanks to William Myers, Mary Davy, Sally Young and Sue Davis for their ongoing research collaboration; specifically to William for providing scans of the original documents, and in turn many thanks to Peter Johnston Binckley and Patricia D'Arcy "Trish" Binckley (1951-2007), at the source.]

There was not a spring bed in the state. The old ponderous enormities called bedsteads had a network of rope stretched around wooden pegs that were in the bedrail at regular intervals. These cords were stretched as tight as black hands could pull, & firmly tied. On that gridiron of cord was put a tick bed filled with hay or straw (constantly renewed) and on top of that the inevitable bag of down, that monstrosity -- a feather bed.  

No wonder some of those vast bedstead structures required steps to mount up to their puffy heights, and what a glorious plunge it was into the yielding depths of down. Charming this was to a child, and I was  never behind-hand in any fun, but long before I was grown father, who was far ahead of his times, banished (as unhealthy) every feather bed, and we were some of the first to use mattresses. You can hardly find a feather bed now in Virginia.

A close house was then unknown. Drafty windows were covered by thick curtains. The polished floors that in summer showed glassy and cool, in winter had rag carpets or home made rugs.

Great fires on open hearths toasted your face, while every time a door was opened, there was at least the possibility of an inrushing cold blast from the outside door which was usually left open by some careless darkey. Mother used to say that by the time she taught them ti shut doors, Spring came, and then they had to be taught to open them for summer. 

Add to these conditions the fact that the kitchen was always detached & some little distance from the house, & rubber shoes undreamed of, and you can see there were many discomforts that to this generation would be unbearable. But I remember no grumbling over those things. Conditions were accepted as inevitable.

The shallow snows of that climate were slopped through patiently by the elders, and joyously waded through by the small fry, who afterwards was [were] content to take the consequences in chillblains [chilblains], nursed in silence before the great fire in mother's room. That room was the house centre. There the family gathered for the long winter evenings.  

It was usually the largest room in the house -- always on the ground floor and easy of access. Curtained & closed and warm, a most cosy [cozy], sociable place. 

On one side towered the great bedstead with slender carved posts, & white canopy of dimity, with white-ball fringe -- the white counterpane was bulged up by the puff of feather bed, & great white pillows looked restful. The bedstead was so high from the floor that the low bed for the very small children rolled under it, and stayed all day. Pulled out at night into its snug corner, it became a real "hot-bed" of frolic for the two or three frolicking little chaps who were deposited there before the elders came in from their late supper.

This trundle-bed institution of Southern plantations grew out of the fact that tho' excellent nurses by day, the negroes were too sleepy-headed to be depended upon by night, and careful mothers kept small children under their own supervision by the trundle-bed plan.

Children were strictly dealt with but trundle-beds saw lot of fun slyly carried on -- plottings of mischief for the morning -- whispered fairy tales, jokes and giggles which often brought down upon the stern "children, be quiet."

Always enough of their own affairs on hand that the gay chatter and laughter of the "grown ups" in the room made no more impression on their minds than the sound of the storm in the old oaks outside. 

While the "grown ups" sewed or read by candlelight, or kept up talk in the hearth corners, the planter, tired from a day on horseback superintending work was taking his rest on the broad couch before the fire, joining in the chat, or dozing peacefully. 

If guests were in the house, the parlor was lighted & heated and host & hostess passed the first hours of the evening with the others, but generally drifted back into mother's room later taking the elder guests with them, while the young folks had the parlor to themselves -- sung [sang] the old sentimental songs -- played old time music, cards sometimes (never for stakes); a servant brought in some fruit or cake, & the simple evening closed.   

[Mary Louisa/Louise Mitchell/Michel Binckley (1838-1930).
Mother = Jane Mary Wood Johnston Mitchell/Michel (1811-1892).
Father = Harvey Mitchell/Michel (1799-1866).]

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