A Story About Brooms
By Bill Shepard
Recently, my nephew who lives in Cross Hill, SC sent me an article about brooms. It seems the writer was remembering when he was a youngster and seeing folk sweep their yards with a broom. That writer had to have lived on a mill village and a way back before there were pretty green lawns and lawn mowers. Anyway, the article set my own mind in motion, so here I go on a memorable journey into my past. Come along and perhaps your memories will be stirred, but you will have to travel a way back, if you are to keep up.
When I was a boy, if there was a lawn mover in existence, it was not seen on the mill village, where I grew up. I don’t recall seeing a gasoline propelled lawn mower, until I was a grown man. In fact, there was no need for one, as folk did not allow grass to grow in their yards. It was a weekly chore at the Shepard’s dwelling to hoe the grass from the yard. “Nut grass” grew easily in the sandy soil at our house and though hoed each week, it would grow back and the process would need repeating in a matter of days. After hoeing the grass, it would need removing. Yard brooms were used to sweep the yards as clean as our living room, if we would have had a living room.
Both hoeing and sweeping yards were a way of earning show fare to be spent at the Liberty Theater on the square each Saturday, and I might have enough left over with which to buy a triple dip of ice cream at Metropols on the square.
Brooms used for sweeping yards had to be cut from the woods near the village. The strong bushes that were used for making brooms grew profusely in the pasture at the edge of Swift Creek and were easily cut. I am not sure whether or not I have the name of the bush correct, but we called the bush, gallberry bush. I cut and sold a lot of those brooms for a nickel each.
Yard brooms made from canes were better, but canes were scarce and hard to find in Darlington when I was a boy. Being scarce, if I could find a cane grove in the woods, I could make and sell cane yard brooms for a dime each. A yard broom made with canes would last for years.
There was another kind of broom that was popular when I was a boy. It was the straw broom used for sweeping inside the house. This broom was made from the sage straw that grew plentifully in the open fields that stood idle year after year. The sage straw grew to be as much as six feet tall and would be ready for cutting and making into brooms in the late fall and early winter. The straw broom was popu1ar and widely used for sweeping the floors inside. On the hearth, near my fireplace here in Piedmont, stands what is left of the two straw brooms my mama used when I was a youngster. When first made, they were probably five feet long. After a long time of use, they are now less than three feet long. Mama would sweep all the inside of our house, including the two porches. No fancy stick brooms in those days!
To earn money, the boys of the village could be seen cutting and wringing the straw on cold winter mornings. The going price, if lucky to find a buyer, was six brooms for a quarter! Sometimes a buyer might even get ten for a quarter.
It would be hard to believe how widely used the straw brooms were. Old David, the black custodian at St. John’s Elementary when I was a boy, swept that entire building with straw brooms of the kind of which I write. I can see him now pushing his cart down the hall, as he swept and cleaned the building each day. A large barrel filled with the straw brooms rested on the cart, as he pushed it along, stopping at each room, going inside and sweeping. All the children loved Old David. I never knew his last name. Anyone able to help with that name? I’m back in the early 30’s now. I remember well the last day that David worked at the school. That’s another story!
Fields, where I once spent hours gathering the straw on Saturday mornings and making the straw into brooms, are now covered with houses. I pass them at times when I visit Darlington. Instead of seeing houses, I see tall sage straw waving in the breeze. The two stubs of brooms on the hearth, near my fireplace, tell me stories of a time and a person and easily bring tears to my eyes.
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. He is the author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.
His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C., 29673.