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THE OLD WASH PLACE

JUDD MORTIMER LEWIS

Try to picture two men sitting in a room together. One of them, with a very thoughtful face, is telling the other a story of a cabin somewhere in the woods of Texas just before the Civil War of 1861–1865, and of the little family that lived in the cabin. There were in the family the young father, the little mother, — who was only a young girl herself — and the boy, about seven years old, his sister of four or five, and the baby.

Just back of the cabin was “the old wash place," or the place where the little mother did the family washing. The “old wash place” was not a building built for this purpose. It was only a place under the trees where there were the homely tubs, the soap gourd dipper and the old " battling stick” for stirring the clothes, and where a big iron kettle was hung on a pole resting on two forked stakes.

The little mother is doing the washing, the little boy is gathering sticks for the fire, while the little sister is playing with the baby in the pile of soiled clothes.

The little mother is singing, for she is very happy. She has picked from a dogwood tree near by a beautiful white blossom and stuck it into her hair. A redbird is singing in a tree near by.

The man who is telling this story of “the old wash place" was once the little boy who tried so hard and did so much to help his little mother there, and “the old wash place " is the thing that he remembers best of his boyhood days.

They are very happy. But one day the young husband and father has to go away to the war as a Confederate soldier. They see him march off in his uniform of gray, and the little girl mother and the babies are left alone in the cabin in the woods.

The little heartbroken mother no longer gathers dogwood blossoms for her hair, and she no longer hears the redbird, although he sings his heart out, for she can think only of her husband among the bursting shells and flying bullets.

One morning a message comes to the cabin that the young husband and father has been killed in battle. And now the little girl mother is left all alone in the cabin in the woods with her babies. She now has to take in washings to make a living for them. The last stanza tells what became of her.

After the little boy who lived in the cabin and did so much to help his little mother has grown to manhood and has become a very successful man, he one day hears a woman say sneeringly, “Huh! his mother did our washing, for my mother told me so," as if it were a disgrace. In the next to the last stanza, he tells what he thinks of this remark. "

As you read the last stanza, you will see that the little mother, also, died many years ago, leaving with her children memories so precious that they will “miss her as long as life shall last.”

In reading the story aloud, imagine that you are the man, telling the story to his friend. Do not just pronounce the words, but tell the story in his words.

Before you read “ The Old Wash Place,” be sure to learn the meanings of the following words:

absurdly young : very, very overdreary: more than weariyoung.

some. of yore : long ago.

heartstrings: feelings. the brood : the three children the morning's gleam: early in the story.

| morning, just as the sun comes the soap gourd (gõrd): the shell up.

of a gourd used as a dipper. Gethsemane (gěth-sěm'a-né): comprehend : understand. | the garden in Jerusalem where Jesus went alone to bear his from the children by pretendsorrow before his crucifixion. ing to sing a bit of a song. Here it means, - one's great- it was base : the act was mean est sorrow.

and despicable. she'd strive to coax her lips to by the look that overcast her

curve into a snatch of song : sweet face: by the look that she would try to hide her grief came upon her sweet face.

THE OLD WASH PLACE

She was such a little mother, so absurdly young, that

while Tears are trembling on my lashes at her memory, I

smile At the very youngness of her; just a little girl she seems, Smiling at me from the distance, singing to me in my

dreams 5 Lullabies we all remember; but I mostly see her face Smiling through the clouds of steam that almost hide

the old wash place.

Sometimes in my dreams a dogwood blossom glimmers

in her hair, And I hear a redbird whistle, and the dream is free from

care — Then a man comes in the picture in the dream, and goes

away, 10 Waving to the little mother from the ranks of men in

gray;

And from then the dogwood blossoms never glimmer

any more, And the redbird sings no longer 'round the wash place

as of yore.

Three of us — and just the little bit o' mother to the

brood! Singing while her heart was breaking, in the woodland

solitude, With the homely tubs and kettle and the soap gourd 5

and the stick — The old battling stick! the mem’ry catches at my throat

so quick That I scarce can choke the sob back, at the picture of

her face Smiling bravely from the distance through the steam

of the wash place.

Yes, I carried water for her, while the baby went to

sleep With the songs that sister sung her where the wash 10

lay in a heap, And I sought dry sticks and piled them 'neath the

kettle — all my joy In the dreams that come back to me is that I was born

a boy,

And could help the little mother, and was glad to help

her, too, In the tasks about the wash place where there was so

much to do.

Can wee babies understand it — when a heart's about

to break? We were babies, but we seemed to know, somehow, for

mother's sake 5 We must help to bear a burden which we could not

comprehend, And our puny arms about her seemed to strengthen,

and to lend Her a strength no little bit o' mother could have got

elsewhere, As she toiled about the wash place with her heart bowed down with care.

6 Some day's tasks seemed overdreary, and the hours

seemed overlong — 10 But she'd catch our eyes fixed on her and would tremble

into song; But the world of heartbreak throbbing through the

counterfeited joy Somehow would play on the heartstrings of the little

girl and boy And the little baby sister, and we'd snuggle face to face, Heart to heart, her arms about us kneeling at the old

wash place.

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