“Before electricity, Momma had a metal icebox and she would purchase ice two to three times a week, and we would put old raggedy quilts and dishtowels around the block of ice to prevent it from melting. Our laundry was done in a large metal washtub and washboard using homemade lye soap.”
Sue Simms Kelly, who lives on Grays Run in Harrison County, has written her remembrance of the days before electricity arrived in her rural area.
“Momma had a three-burner kerosene cook stove and it was my job to walk a half mile to the store to purchase kerosene. I didn’t mind doing this because there would be money left over to buy penny candy for me and the others. We also used the washtub for bathing. However, I chose to use a granite wash pan for my bath.
“On laundry day, in warm weather, Daddy would dig a hole in the ground for a fire to heat the wash water. My sister and I would sometimes give Momma a rest from the scrub board by washing the lighter, soiled items, and we would also hang the clothes on the line to dry.
“In the winter, our hands would be red and aching from the cold. Momma and we two girls would put our hands in a pan of warm water to help warm them up from the cold. My older sister Loretta and I would draw water from the well using a rope and bucket. When it was raining, we would take two kitchen chairs and rope and string a clothesline between the two chairs.
“For ironing, there were flat irons heated on the kerosene stove. One time, two of the burners on the stove burnt out, leaving Momma with only one burner for cooking and heating water until Daddy could get the parts to fix the burners.
“Momma never complained. She made the best of what she had to do with.
“It was my job to drive the cow to the barn for milking each evening. I would sometimes start the milking before Daddy came in from the fields. I was a slow milker and Daddy would tell me he would finish the milking. In the winter we milked by lantern light. Our butter was churned at home. It was so good on fresh-baked raisin bread. And she had the best tender fried chicken.
“She made clothes—shirts and blouses. She could take almost anything and make something out of it. We raised a garden—everybody helped.
“One winter, we had scarlet fever and were quarantined at home. The pond was frozen over and Daddy took an ax and chopped ice, which Momma took and put in a wash pan of water. She would dip the rag in the cold water and wash our face with the cold water to cool our fever.
“We did our home work by kerosene lamps.
“One day, we children saw men working in the field by our house, putting up a tower. We asked Momma what they were doing, and she said they were stringing wires for electricity. We asked what that was, and she said we would no longer have to use kerosene lamps to light our home.
“In those days before electricity, Momma and Daddy worked hard caring for their children. They instilled in us the rewards of honest work and a moral ethic to live by. I am thankful for being able to have lived in the days before electricity and to see the great change it has brought to our country.
“Those days are a sacred memory in my heart and shall remain so.”
Sue Kelly’s remembrance will appear in the new hardbound book, Let There Be Light, which will be available this November. It’ll include Sue’s story and much more about Kentucky’s 26 rural electric cooperatives and the good people they serve.