Another familiar saying originated with the custom years ago that the man of the household, at week’s end, took his bath first in one large galvanized tub of hot water, followed by all the other sons, then the women and children. The last one to bathe was the baby of the family. As you might imagine, by then the bath water was so dirty and cloudy, the baby could actually get lost in it. Consequently the saying “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”
A couple of other sayings refer to a household’s flooring. In the homes of the poor the floors were dirt, hence the saying “dirt poor.” The floors of the well-to-do were generally made of slate or wood which would often get dangerously slick during the winter months requiring thresh (straw) to be spread to keep the occupants from falling. As the winter wore on, more thresh was added until, when the door was opened, it would start slipping out. A piece was wood was placed in the entranceway to hold it in, hence the word “threshold.”
Here is another of Mr. Durham’s favorite stories. In the olden days, folks cooked in a large kettle suspended over the flames in the kitchen fireplace. Families ate mostly vegetables and usually had stew for dinner. Leftovers were left in the pot to get cold overnight and then more was added to the kettle the next day. Hence the rhyme “Pease porridge hot, Pease porridge cold, Pease porridge in the pot nine days old; Some like it hot, Some like it cold, Some like it in the pot, nine days old.”
Mr. Durham seems to have a myriad of stories to share with his audiences. He chuckles as he relates how another saying came into the vernacular. He explained that bacon was a special treat for families, expensive and hard to come by. When visitors came over, the man of the house hung up the bacon to show it off. It was a sign of success that the head of the household could “bring home the bacon.” He cut off a little to share with his guests and all would sit around and “chew the fat.” Also, bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of a loaf, the family got the middle and guests received the “upper crust.”
Mr. Durham delights in visiting clubs, schools and hospitals in order to share his collection of folklore with adults and children. Not only does he tell stories, he also finds great pleasure in singing old-time gospel refrains. I’ve noticed that Mr. Durham unselfishly visits the shut-ins in the area, enjoys doing so, and always has a smile on his face.