Burke Home Life

Clothing

Men on the farm typically wore bib overalls, which were purchased at the store or mail ordered from Sears or Montgomery Ward. Dresses and shirt were usually made at home.

Sun bonnets were a characteristic item worn by Burke women. The need to work outside in the punishing summer sun required a cover for the head, and the bonnet filled the need for them. The bonnet, which was a type of hood, covered the back and sides of the neck that were most often exposed to the sun, and the top overhung the forehead to protect the face. Bonnets could be quickly made from any cloth, but usually they were made from printed fabrics, including feed sacks.

Feed Sack Clothing

Much of the clothing worn by Burke farm families, most often dresses and shirts, was made from feed and flour sacks. Burlap was the preferred material for feed sacks (commonly called a "tow sack"), and it worked well for large-grained contents such as corn. However, finer grained feeds such as dairy feed and flour required a more dense weave, and it turned out that the cloth was suitable for clothing. Originally these sacks were plain white; but when feed and flour mills realized that farm families were using their sacks to make clothing, they began to use sacks with decorative prints. In a time when farmers did not have the cash to buy cloth from the stores, feed sacks were a godsend, as well as a competitive advantage for the feed mills.

The webmaster recalls wearing a shirt that his mother Gertrude Murrah made from a feed sack.

Quilting

Even though Texas winters are generally mild, nights when a "blue norther" blew in could be quite cold. These were nights when residents would say that the "wind came whistling through the peach orchard." Living areas of home were heated by fireplaces and wood stoves, but bedrooms were generally unheated. The traditional bed cover for cold winter nights was the homemade quilt. Residents would run to the bed from the heated room, jump into the bed under a pile of several quilts, and shiver until their body warmed the bed.

Quilts were made by farm women, often in groups that served as a social event. In earlier days they were called "quilting bees". The quilt was essentially a layer of cotton sewn between two fabric covers. One side, the side intended to be the bottom, was generaly made of several large pieces of feed sack fabric sewn together. The quilt top, however, was made of many pieces of often better material called "quilt scraps" that the family had collected. These scrapts were cut into squares, diamonds, and triangles and "pieced" together in traditional patterns into colorful "crazy quilts". The quilt bottom, cotton filler, and top were stretched across a square set of quilting frames suspended from the ceiling. Women would sit around the edge of the quilt and sew the tops and bottom together in regular patterns. One pattern used by the webmaster's mother used concentric half and quarter circles drawn with chalk on a string. Many quilts became family heirlooms passed down through the generations.

Hoeing the Yard

Before gasoline powered lawn mowers became available, rural residents kept grass and weeds under control by hoeing and raking their yards. The result was a yard bare of plants except for shrub, trees and flowers.

The Little House Behind the Garden

Every farmhouse--and houses in town before modern construction--had a little building behind the house, often down a path behind the garden. This was the legendary "privy" or "out house" where people responded to the call of nature. The privy had a seat with a hole cut in it over a pit. East Texas is know for spiders of all kinds, including the poisonous black widow, and they liked to live in dark places like the underside of toilet seats. Everyone feared being bitten by a spider while sitting on the toilet seat. Every privy had a copy of an out-of-date Sears catalog for reading and for use a s toilet paper. Some people were known to use corn cobs for the same purpose. They apparently were remarkably effective, but they were a little hard on tender parts of the body, which is likely the source of the phrase "rougher than a cob".

Every year or two the pit had to cleared out and the contents buried. It was a smelly job and not for one who was tender of stomach.

Sources:

  1. M. Lee Murrah, Personal Recollections