Aunt Carrie’s Washing Machine
by Vernon Garrison
When my Aunt Carrie and Uncle Emile moved back from St. Helena Parish (LA) back to Garrison Lane, the Emile Stevens family, who were living in their house at the time, had to find somewhere else to live. They moved into an old tenant house on the Noblet place up across from the Vincent Road until they could build a house back on Garrison Lane.
My aunt and uncle’s house had three rooms and was called a “shotgun house.” Now, it was called that because you could see right through it, from outside the front door to outside the back door. The boys slept in the front room, Aunt Carrie and Uncle Emile slept in the middle room, and the back was the kitchen-dining room. During the day, or when company was there, the front room became the sitting room until they left.
There was also a large outbuilding behind the house that was used for all sorts of things. There were two or three rows of concrete blocks laid around it, and sheet metal walls from these blocks to the roof. It had a dirt floor. Aunt Carrie stored her canned goods there. Uncle Steve stored his potatoes and onions and pumpkins, etc. there, and any other article that had to be kept inside.
Aunt Carrie had the first washing machine to be had in Livingston Parish, I guess. It was operated by a gasoline engine with a step pedal to start it with. You filled the tank, turned on the choke, and stomped on this pedal. It cranked, and she washed clothes. But first, we kids had to build a fire under the wash-pot outside, and heat the water for this contraption, and then carry it in and pour it in the washing machine. Then she washed clothes! It was such a handy gadget that my mother made us boys lug our dirty clothes down there so she could use that machine. Her and Aunt Carrie could sit in the kitchen and drink coffee and gossip. Of course, after that machine washed them, they still had to be hung out to dry.
Now, that ole washing machine had a long flexible exhaust pipe on it that went out the door to safely vent the carbon monoxide. My cousin Richard and I, scientists to the max, came up with a good idea. You see, with all those groceries stored in there, the rats and mice just moved in in droves and stayed. That dirt floor was just punched full of mouse and rat holes. They fed up and went in the ground. I mean it wasn’t nothing to jerk open the door and see them scurrying in every direction.
So we grabbed that flexible exhaust to cram it down a hole. Know what? That thing was blistering hot, so we un-grabbed it very quickly, thank you! After finding Uncle Steve’s work gloves, we were back in business.
Down a hole went that pipe. We filled in around it with dirt, and waited. Pretty soon, we had dopey rats and mice running all over the place. We grabbed hoes and rakes and went to swinging. We ran around knocking ‘em in the head and throwing them outside. When we had knocked off what didn’t get away, we’d cram that pipe down another hole, and went through another bunch. When that pipe wouldn't reach a juicy hole, we’d drag that machine around to it. Aunt Carrie thought her machine was vibrating and making itself walk until she caught us in the act. She saw what a good job we was doing and left us at it, that is until onetime old Richard swung at a particularly juicy old rat and broke the handle out of Uncle Steve’s grabbling hoe.
After that excitement settled down, we went out and cut ourselves two good stout sticks for our rat killing. We never did get 'em all, as hard as we tried. That kinda set hard on us. We didn't want to think no rat was smarter than us.
As all things do, that ole washing machine finally wore out and had to be tossed. Aunt Carrie and Mama had just plumb wore the thing out, or maybe me and Richard did, with our rat-killing. Anyway, a new one took its place, and this one was relegated to the trash pile.
Me and Richard decided to put our fertile brains together and see if we could use it for something. Well, the motor just wouldn’t run. It just would not start, no matter how much we tromped on that pedal. We discovered one thing, though! If you took out the spark plug and threw it away, that pedal would turn the engine over very fast. While he was spinning that motor over, just-a-flying, I reached over and caught ahold of that spark plug wire.
I shouldn’t a’done that! That darn thing shocked the stem-winding stew out of me. I screamed, fell over that pile of old iron and stuff and kicked and shuffled for some minutes. My kicking and shuffling musta really got ole Richard's brain juices a fermenting because he jumped up, whoopeed, and said he had wonderful idea. “Why don’t we build a electric chair like they use at Angola to glorify those criminals?”
We scrounged through that trash pile and found an old chair that had a wore out seat. We found some discarded wire with all the rubber burnt off of it, and we found a coupla old boards. We had about all we needed, but some nails. Now, in that shed was a bucket of roofing nails. Just perfect!
We filled those two boards full of those roofing nails in a random pattern, and then nailed them to the chair. Richard turned that ole chair over and wrapped the wire around every one of those protruding nails.
We had forgot one important part, so back to the trash pile. We needed a flat piece of metal for the feet to rest on and make contact with. We finally snagged a piece of roofing tin about the size we needed, went back to our chair. We fastened the tin to the chair legs on the ground and then ran a wire from it to the motor.
Now we were ready for trials! I wouldn't sit, and Richard wouldn't sit. I guess Richard had enough of watching me rolling and kicking on the ground. And I know I did!
We had a problem! What to do about it? Could we catch ole Pamp or Jim? Would one of them dogs stand still for our testing on him? Could we even pick one up? What about one of our brothers? Could we even catch one of them? Just better to just drop that idea. Aunt Carrie would just kill us on the first scream. After all, that thing was set up just outside the back door just under a big old hickory tree.
Oh well, there went another engineering masterpiece down the drain. We knew it worked. Oh boy!!! How it worked. We knew it worked, so maybe that was enough.
Vernon Garrison lives in Denham Springs, Louisiana, and is a descendant of James N. Erwin, Jr., who was the fifth child and fourth son of James and Agness Irvine (Erwin), our immigrant ancestors. -Ed.