Monday, July 9, 2012

Jett Washbench Featured at Museum

The following "Tillman County Chronicles" column about a Jett family artifact from Tillman County's history, was printed in The Frederick Press and The Frederick Leader in March 2009.

TCHS board member Virginia Walker examines the Jett family washbench at the Pioneer Townsite.

Sent to The Frederick Leader and The Frederick Press, March 2, 2009 
Early wash bench displayed at Pioneer Townsite
Every item in Frederick’s Pioneer Townsite Museum has a history and story. Most items were donated or loaned to the Tillman County Historical Society for exhibit.
In the Townsite’s small Nill House, there is a worn bench with many scars from years of use. It’s an item that is easy for visitors to miss, but it has a definite story.
The late Millie Jett Harmon, born in 1907, was raised on a farm in the North Deep Red community in northeast Tillman County. As a young wife and mother, she lived in Manitou, but spent most of her life in the Snyder community where her husband Ray Harmon was a grocer.
She died in January 2000 at age 92.
In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Mrs. Harmon wrote a column for the Kiowa County Democrat, reflecting on many memories of her early life in southwest Oklahoma.
In an August 1989, she wrote about the bench that would later come for exhibit at the Frederick museum. The following are her words:
“I sit on my porch in the cool of the morning looking at Mama’s wash bench remembering many happy times since its existence. It was built for Mama in the mid-teens by her first son-in-law who accumulated scrap lumber for the purpose.
“The bench measured about three feet in length and 18 inches high. It was made to support two washtubs – one to hold the rub board and soap, and the other contained the rinse water. It was never painted and never will be for it was splattered with many colors of paint during its use. It even showed scars from the teeth of a saw when it was used to support a board being cut.
“The bench served the family in many ways, such as sitting on while churning, pealing peaches, stringing beans, scraping potatoes, etc. It was perfect to hold the cream cans while separating the milk and to support the pressure cooker while it cooled during canning season.
“It made a good table for the little ones to place their plates on while they stood on their knees and ate dinner at Grandma’s house.
“When neighbors dropped in on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon to sing, seating space was scarce, so Mama’s wash bench was carried into the front room, covered with a white sheet and placed near the old pedal organ for three people to sit on while they blended their voices with others and made music that would cause ‘the Angels’ to envy.
“When Mama’s little chickens died they were due proper respect so the bench served as the mortuary as the little creatures lay in state in their tiny little caskets made from match boxes padded with cotton. A eulogy was delivered and the choir provided proper music. One cousin usually elected himself to be preacher and later grew up to become one and told me he was often called upon for funerals. The deceased were gently carried to the burial ground and laid to rest. Pretty rocks and wild flowers marked their graves.
“At other times some ambitious young circus performer did her hand stand to entertain the crowd. There was always an audience for Mama had a big family and kin and friends came over daily to play. Luckily there were no broken bones from falling off the stage.
“Mama and Papa left the farm in 1943 and moved to Manitou so the wash bench had a new home.
“After Papa’s death in 1946 Mama broke up housekeeping and went to live with her youngest daughter whose husband was section foreman for the Frisco Railroad. At that time, they lived in Manitou. The custom of the Frisco was seniority was gained for years of service and the senior employee could bump when a vacancy arose. Therefore, the next move was to Vernon, Texas.
“It was then that Mama decided to divide her time with her other eight daughters. The wash bench stayed with that family and found a home in a number of towns along the Frisco line from Vernon, Texas to Blackwell, Oklahoma. It was used mostly as a workbench, for automatic washers had replaced the washboard.
“That daughter passed away in 1988. After the heirs had divided her personal property and discarded the junk, they remembered there was an old bench in the cellar they had failed to haul off. After a little thought I asked, ‘Could that be Mama’s wash bench?’ It was! It had served as a seat in the cellar for neighbors who came seeking shelter from a storm.
“It is now in my possession.
“When the family gathers here it is a solid bench to hold the coffee and tea urns. Otherwise it displays my houseplants.
“So, I sit on my porch in the cool of the morning and see visions of Mama’s wash bench.”

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