Friday, August 14, 2015

Making soap? Guard the lye!

The black iron stove -- there it stood, an imposing structure ensconced on the right of the cellar floor, visible as we descended to the bottom of the wooden stairs -- often with Grandpa Moses standing in front of it.  Whatever was he doing?  Either feeding the stove with wood, or stirring a huge aluminum pot with a long wooden spoon, or pouring steaming liquid into a giant aluminum tray.  We were to stay away.

Days later, he would be cutting lines into a tray, a pretty white surface, cutting that giant surface into small squares which we would later be using when we took our jum-jum (our baths).

But Grandpa Moses' grandchildren were very small then (not one of them over 3 feet tall), and on that day, their leader, now a famous doctor at Columbian-Presbyterian, decided to drag boxes over to the outside wall of the cellar so that he could climb up to the top wooden shelf and investigate the contents of that can that Grandpa had carefully placed out of the reach of the curious. What was it?  They opened it --  the lid was not tightly encased -- it was lovely white powdery stuff.  What fun! On their hands, on their faces, and a taste or two . . . 

Screams followed.  Up the cellar stairs they ran to the kitchen where Mummy (later known as Grandma Jennie) was peacefully preparing  lunch.  Aghast, she ran to the front door and shouted up the stairs to call Auntie Zabelle who came running down those stairs.  The memory fades now . . . all that remains is the tears, the words -- the doctor says to drink orange juice, wash their faces in orange juice, and all will be will.

What Marash Girl does not remember is how there was so much orange juice in the house in a time when her mom had only fresh oranges which she squeezed every morning for the family's breakfast.  But squeeze she must have, for the doctor never came, the screams and pain slowly disappeared, and the children learned that the need to stay away from lye was no lie (not to put too fine a point on it)!


  1. Down that cellar, looks like Grandpa Moses was making "Ghar" soap, aka Laurel soap. Olive-oil was another ingredient that he must have used. Right?

    1. He used no scent, no "fat" other than "dan yiugh", adding lye and some water to the mix. I know, because although I was only five, my mother-in-law, when I was 28, made the same thing in her kitchen in Springfield, and later in Holyoke!