Soap Sally

My wife and I operate a photography business where we do a lot of work restoring, copying, duplicating, and repairing old photographs, which is usually brought to us by a member of the family. The important part of the photograph most every time is an image of a family predecessor. Parts of the image could be missing, damaged to a slight or greater degree and the customer wants a much better picture, usually to be hand painted when completed.

On a fine summer day, a man comes into the studio and shows me a picture of his father, sitting in a chair on a front porch, surrounded by all his seven children.

The man spent the next hour and a half telling me of his father, the town and how he grew up with his brothers and sisters in a small, rural, Georgia town with a population about one hundred people.

The photograph was of a smiling man, sitting on a front porch in a straight back chair, wearing bib overalls, and surround by all of his seven children. Each child . . . had a very big smile, some standing, some sitting on the porch but each one, in some manner was touching their father. The tallest ones in back had an arm around his neck, two shorter ones were beside the chair, their arms entwined around his and leaning on him; one that was sitting had their upper arm in his lap, a young girl had her arms around his leg with her head resting on a knee. Another child on the other side likewise was doing the same thing. Two sitting in front were leaning back against his legs.

The man explained that their mother had died and his father had taken care of all the brothers and sisters by himself. “We all had a good time growing up in that town, didn’t know we were very poor but we knew we were very lucky because our Daddy had a job and went to work every day, except Sunday when we all went to church.”

They were poor! None of the clothing they wearing in the picture appeared to be new or seemed to fit. Sleeves were too short or too long and rolled up. Overall legs of those standing seem to be turned up to different lengths and showed previous fold over marks where that had been worn by previous owners through the years.

They all looked clean. The father’s white shirt was ironed but not starched and give you the idea that it was old and had been washed many times. His overalls were thread bear in places, holes at the knees because of use and not because of fashion.

“We were soooo good. Everyone in town knew us and watched us. Our daddy would come home and tell us what we had done or been into that day.” The eyes in the back of his head were excellent and saw everything, even though he had to have a strong light to read. It was not until I was older that we realized the people in the whole town were in on everything.

“There was one place where we were not go and definitely not too do if we got there. That was the swimming’ hole down by the crick not too far from our house. It also was not too far from Soap Sally’s place where she did the wash for the whole town.

“If we went to the swimming’ hole and our sisters went with us so very few times did we skinny dip. The creek water with that red Georgia clay left our clothes tinted red. We never could figure out how our dad knew we went swimming’.

“Soap Sally did our wash for us and the whole town, for those who could afford to do so. I realize now that we could not really afford it, but Daddy worked long and hard and he did not really have time to do it ourselves.

“Soap Sally’s place was on the top of a hill near the swimin’ hole. She had at least three big black kittles in her front yard where she did the town wash. There were many long clotheslines with crossed supports everywhere to hold the lines and wash up. It seems she washed day and night for when it was dark, you could see the fire and embers burning under the big kettles. It was a pretty sight on a windy day to see everything of all colors whipping in the breeze.

“When she delivered our wash to the house, when we kids were there, we would hide behind the posts on the front porch, peek through the curtains in the house or through the doorway. We even hid behind our dad and peek around him when she was there.

“One of the known facts in town was that all boys and girls had to be good because, if any boy or girl who was not good were sold to Soap Sally. If they were very bad, they wouldn’t be sold, they were given to her. When she got them, she would take them home, put them in one of her hottest and biggest kittles, and make soap from them.

“None of the kids in our town really every got into any trouble. Most all of them grew up, worked very hard, and did well. A few really accomplished a lot with very little to begin with. One of my brothers and one of my sisters even went to college. My brother became a lawyer, but we still loved him, and my sister was a nurse. My eldest brother became a car salesman, we still loved him too, and he had a car repair business as well.

“It was a good time for all of us. It was a good town as well. When we get together, we would talk and reminisce.”