Aunt Rhody and the Argo Starch

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I’ve told you that my mother was orphaned at an early age. That was both the motivation for and the frustration of the early stages of our family history project. We had so little to start with. There was no family Bible with names and dates faithfully recorded over the generations; no attic trunk full of yellowing letters, just waiting to be discovered; only the memories imprinted on the mind of a little child. (And in those early years of my genealogizing, even Ancestry.com was not as helpful as it is today, it having been greatly enhanced and now with its own PBS TV series.) Nevertheless, as many a genealogist will attest, sometimes it takes only a tiny clue to lead to hidden treasures.

It’s a funny thing, what we remember and what we forget. This memory of Mother’s had to have been formed when she was less than five years old and lain dormant for 90 years until I started asking questions. What was your grandmother’s name? Josie Cusick. What was her maiden name? I don’t know. Do you remember anyone else? Aunt Rhody. What was her last name? I don’t know.

So we had two sisters -Josie and Rhody.

Do you know where they were born or lived? I remember we went to visit Aunt Rhody one time. She lived somewhere in Meade County.

Now here’s what makes this story so interesting: Mother had kept the details of that visit to Meade County in her memory bank for 90 years because she witnessed a catfight. You could call it that. That’s what we call a fight between two females who are riled up with each other — and if they’re both grown women and one is your little red-haired grandma, it’s probably going to make a big impression. And it did.

During the visit, the two sisters, Josie and Rhody, began to argue about the best way to do laundry. You had to heat the water on the stove or over a fire, of course; pour it over the clothes in a wash tub; scrub on a washboard; rinse; hang to dry. But there was one other step, and that was the bone of contention. You had to add the Argo starch, and the sisters vehemently disagreed about the proper timing of such an important element.

One sister felt that laundry could be properly starched only if the cornstarch-based Argo were added before rinsing, while the other sister was equally certain that the clothes should be starched after rinsing.

This was apparently a matter about which both of these ladies had strong convictions, leading to a verbal catfight of such magnitude that Josie packed her family up and retreated to Louisville, greatly indignant and no doubt burning some little ears all the way.

Ah, yes, but if it hadn’t been for the Argo starch debacle, it’s doubtful that Rhody’s name would have come to Mother’s mind as I probed for clues that would lead me . . . where?

Meade County, Kentucky. On the hopeful assumption that Josie had also lived there before moving to Louisville, I did some calculations and began searching through appropriate census records for a Meade County family with daughters named Josie and Rhody. Page by page, I searched. It was a long shot … but eventually it paid off. It was my genealogical “Eureka!” moment, an OMG event that ultimately led to my current family tree with thousands and thousands and thousands of leaves on it, and more budding out all the time.

Josephine and Rhoda Ellen were daughters of Lucinda Carpenter (1811-ca. 1865) and John Rush (1808-1899). Their mother, Lucinda Carpenter, was the child of Joel Carpenter (1782-1822) and Rhoda Wilhite (1783-1849). Their father, John Rush, was the son of John Rush Sr. (1755-1838) and Nancy Wilhite (1784-1856). Wait a minute, wait a minute! My great-grandmother’s parents were first cousins?! Oh, this could get interesting. And it did.

I have another laundry-related story to tell at some point. One that went way beyond “having words” — it ended in murder and mayhem. But that’s a story for another day, and it’ll be jest among us.

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Aunt Rhody and the Argo Starch

  1. Loved the story.. I can just see the cat fight going on.. I remember my cousin and myself having many cat fights but this was back in the 50s. Big difference. Can’t wait for the next story

    Like

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