By Bill Shepard
Before electric refrigeration was introduced to our house, the icebox was a welcomed addition. We were so proud of it! Dad bought it at his favorite place to shop for used furniture. You should know the place by now, Lyles Furniture on Pearl Street in Darlington. Dad had good credit at that store. Nothing down and .25 cents a week, or whatever he chose to pay.
The year was one of the early 1930’s and times were hard as nails. Dad worked at the big cotton mill located at the west end of town and we lived in a three-room house located just across the creek from the big mill. Dad’s weekly salary amounted to just a little more than a person is paid for one hour’s work at the national wage scale today. Dad didn’t complain about his wages, he felt fortunate to have a job at the mill and a house for his family to live in. As hard as the work was, and as low as the salary, Dad said it beat sharecropping on another man’s land during the period that followed the first World War. So, Dad had moved his family to Darlington and taken up what would be his lifetime work, and the mill village would be this writer’s world for the next eighteen years.
The ice man visited the village once a week, usually on Fridays. There was no electrical refrigeration and until the day that Dad arrived home and announced he had purchased an ice box, we kept the piece of ice purchased wrapped with an old quilt or blanket. That would assure that come Sunday we could have iced tea as part of our Sunday dinner. After Sunday, there would be no more ice until the next Friday!
I looked forward to Fridays! When I saw the big brown mule pulling the wagon that was loaded with heavy blocks of ice, and approaching my street, I would run to meet it and follow along behind it. When it would stop and the driver would climb down from his seat, lift the heavy canvas that covered the ice and begin chipping. I would reach for the small chips. The ice man was kind and would give the children that gathered small pieces of ice. On those hot July and August days, the ice would be so refreshing!
The icebox had been used but not abused. We supposed that an “uptown” family had owned it and had upgraded to an electric refrigerator. We felt that we had upgraded also! I had never seen such a pretty box in which ice could be kept. Ii was pretty the way it was, but Dad wanted to give it a Shepard facelift! The first thing he did was to visit the McClellan’s Dime Store on the square and buy a can of white paint! When Dad finished painting that box was whiter than an Eskimo’s igloo! It sat in the corner of our kitchen and seemed to glisten. We allowed it to dry for a week before putting a piece of ice inside it.
What a change the icebox brought to the Shepard family! We could now have ice every day of the week. Well, almost every day! A fifty-pound piece of ice, purchased on Friday would often last until the following Friday. We didn’t have iced tea every day; no one could afford that luxury!
The icebox was roomy inside. Besides a compartment for ice there were shelves a plenty where Mama could keep her cakes and pies when she could afford to cook them. Sometimes when Dad would find a cheap price on bananas and buy some, Mama would bake a big cake. The over-ripe bananas she would place between the layers of that cake then cover the outside. Left inside that refrigerator until chilled through to the center, that would be something to brag about!
It would be years before we had an electrical refrigerator that made its own ice, and before poor folk could afford one, but we were happy, we were moving up in the world. The icebox had opened a door to another step upwards!
Till next time!
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.