Family Life in Oakland / Chuckatuck community

The family home usually was a two story wood frame house. Families were large. (John Wesley and Annie Davis Wilson had seventeen children, one was still born, and presently , nine siblings are alive). Kitchens were sometimes away from the rest of the house and other times they were attached. There was a table large enough to seat most of the family members for meals because they ate meals together.

The whole family worked together to make sure the household ran as smoothly as possible. Some chores were designated male and some female. The girls usually helped mother and the boys helped father. However, sometimes jobs overlapped and they helped each other.

In the absence of electricity and long work days, family members went to bed early at night and got up early in the morning, at sun up. Light was provided by kerosene lamps. Heat was supplied by a fireplace, wood, coal, or kerosene stoves. The heat was allowed to burn out at night and restarted in the morning. If heat was kept all night, the wood stove had to be “banked” that night and/or someone had to get up during the night to add wood or coal to the stove. Quilts were made by the family for bed covering.

To make a wood or coal fire: Remove ashes from the ash pan; Place newspaper in the bottom of the stove; Place kindling wood (small sticks or dry tree limbs) in stove crossing each other so air can flow; Place small pieces of wood on top; Place coal on the small pieces of wood; Light paper with a safety match. Sometimes a little bit of kerosene is poured on top of the wood before striking the match, especially if the wood is not dry enough.

Laundry was done by hand. Water was heated in iron pots outside or on the wood stove in the winter in number 2 or number 3 tubs. Clothes were boiled to clean them, and rubbed on the washboard, wrung out, rinsed, wrung out, blueing (a deep blue liquid added to last rinse to make whites whiter) rinse, wrung out then hung on an outside clothes line to dry. Clothespins were sometimes used. In the summertime tubs of water were placed outside in the sun to heat the water for washing. During freezing winters and hot summers the laundry still had to be done. An iron was shaped like the irons used today but it was made of iron, very heavy. The iron had to be put on the stove that was used for cooking and heat to get hot enough to iron the clothes. Clothes were also starched and had to be dampened for ironing. Starch was sometimes made from white flour or purchased in a dry form. Argo Starch comes to mind.

Families raised their own food. They raised chickens, ducks, turkeys, cows, pigs, and they planted, harvested, and canned vegetables, and fruits. They canned enough of out of season foods to last through the winter. In December, hogs were killed, salt cured, and smoked. The other animals were slaughtered when needed. In addition, sweet potatoes were placed in a hill of pine straw for curing and storage. Other fruits such as apples were dried and corn was dried and ground for cornmeal and some made into harmony grits. Families raised fruit trees, nut trees, and grapes. Berries grew in the wild and were harvested in season. All family meals and snacks were prepared at home. Snacks consisted of breads, sweet potatoes, and leftovers.

Fish and shellfish were also popular eats.

Most families had a sewing machine, foot operated, and thusly, made most of the clothes worn by family members. Recycle was the way of life. Nothing was thrown away. Feathers from the fowl were used to make bedding (pillows and mattresses), corn stalks were used for brooms, scraps from the table (not much) were fed to the domestic animals (chickens, cows, pigs), animal waste was used to fertilize the garden crops, leftover vegetable hulls, peels, skins, etc. were thrown in the garden to be plowed in the soil.

The raising of gardens continued, and in late 1940s electricity came to the Oakland-Chuckatuck community for the African-American residents.