On the Pyke River about a mile northwest of Frelighsburg in the Eastern Townships lies a small village that was once called LaGrange (Hunter’s Mills). Isaac LaGrange made his way up from the United States in 1790 and bought three lots, built a house north of the bridge, and soon after a sawmill. Colonel Phillip Luke also bought lots in LaGrange and then opened a store and also a popular ashery that was known throughout the area. I had never heard of an ashery before but much of the bread in those days was procured by making ashes and also hardwood ashes were converted into lye, potash, or pearl ash. Lye was produced by soaking ashes in hot water which could then be mixed with fats to produce soft soap.
Many settlers sold their ashes to those engaged in the manufacture of pot and ash and some even supported their families almost entirely in this way. When I read about the the trials and tribulations of the LeGrange ashery all I could think of was my Grandmother and her giant ashpile. One could say she never supported anyone with it, but she certainly got her money’s worth from that pile of ashes.
My Grandmother swore by her woodstove and would empty out the ashes out every few days on her treasured outdoor ashpile. Who knows what went on with that pile of ashes that sat near the top of the garden but she took care of that thing like it was a goldmine. Sometimes she even threw remnants of decaying fruit on it in the summer which resulted in things growing out of it that resembled freaks of nature.
Every Monday morning my Grandmother would crank up that woodstove to a temperature that rivalled Hell to heat up the water to begin her wash. It always had to be on Mondays regardless of the weather with her– and no one ever argued with Mary Louise Deller Knight. My sister had just made her mark into the world and my mother was back in the hospital so my Grandmother was looking after us and washing cloth diapers. There were no disposable diapers then and it was a huge job to keep the diaper stock current and that woodstove was kept going all day long.
Sometimes she used her wringer washer and then there were days that she could be seen out in the back yard scrubbing with her washboard. Everyone had a clothesline in those days and my Grandmother had my Grandfather string up two lines for her. I always remember her oversized underwear hidden in the middle of the line which were personally scrubbed by her with hopefully no one watching. Sometimes as the laundry dried on the line she would scatter some of her ashpile through the garden as it “pumped up her tomatoes” she said- or, in the winter the ashes would be scattered on the slippery ice on the driveway. Whatever ailed anyone or anything the remedy seemed to be in that ashpile.
When the weather was bad she hung bits and pieces of clothing all over the house with the bulk hung in the shed in between the barrels of apples and stacks of wood for the wood stove. What bothered me was the “freeze drying” of outdoor laundry in the winter- but as soon as it was brought in she would pound her hot iron on those clothes like a construction worker.
The ironing was always done on a wooden board right next to the wood stove.What feared me most was when she used the wringer washer, as gossip was always circulating of those that had lost a limb or two in the wringer. One day she almost got her thin grey hair, caught trying to solve some “machine problem”. I happened to be there at the time and immediately pulled the plug. It was a no brainer that if anything happened the only solution was to pull the plug fast.
She got a great kick out of washing clothes, as in those days people didn’t change every day and wore the same outfit a couple of days in a row. I always thought she might have been a bit of a hoarder but Mary definitely needed cleanliness in her life. Later on my Grandfather bought her a washer and installed it in the basement next to where they kept the bottles of Sherry. I never saw her use it but every Saturday night at 8 pm when Lawrence Welk began on TV my Grandfather would go to the basement and fill up two small silver cups that she polished once a week with- you got it- her ashes.
When I grew up scattered ashpiles were everywhere and it was a very common thing. Maybe the Phoenix never rose out of the ashes for the small Quebec town of LeGrange and it ended becoming nothing but shattered dreams, but the memories of Mary Louise Deller Knight will endure forever in my life when things turn to dust and ashes and most things are forgotten.
Clipped from The Ottawa Journal, 14 Dec 1907, Sat, Page 20
Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.
Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News and now in The Townships Sun