Sweeping the Yard
Sweeping the yard? What is that?
I dare say that there are few people under about 50 years old that have any idea about sweeping the yard. They have no point of reference, have never seen it done and certainly have never done it themselves. But it was a normal part of life in Sandy Point and the rural South in years past.
In my neighborhood, and probably yours, people spend a lot of time and money on their yards. Grass of various varieties are used to insure there is a well-groomed and plush green yard and just about every day there is a truck loaded with lawnmowers, weed eaters and edgers and blowers with their loud noises that can awaken the dead making sure that everything is perfect. Sprinkler systems spraying water across the yard to quench the thirst of the grass and flowers are using one of our most precious resources to just make grass grow so that we can cut, mow, trim and brag on a regular basis. Of course, some grass prevents erosion and serves a greater need.
But well-manicured yards in Sandy Point had no grass. No weeds. Just dirt!
There was no way to take care of grass on any sort of reasonable way. No lawnmowers. No sprinklers and no reliable water source to run one. No time for such foolishness. A well-manicured yard would be leaf free, grass free, and would be swept clean. That’s right, once all the weeds were hoed and removed, a straw broom, usually homemade, would be used to finish off the yard, especially if company was coming for Sunday dinner.
There are a number of articles on the internet about sweeping the yards and some folks have done some research on the subject and have drawn some conclusions and I will not go into all of them here. When I tried to find some pictures of this activity, sweeping the yards, I found quite a few showing black plantation workers and other members of the black community sweeping the yards with straw brooms of various configuration.
There were few pictures being taken back in Sandy Point and I have none showing anyone sweeping the yards. If I had some, there would not be any black stereotype pictures as all of this was done by my grandmothers with occasional help from the kids and grandkids.
Ms. Anne Raver wrote in August 1993 on the subject in an article entitled “In Georgia’s Swept Yards, a Dying Tradition”. In her article she talks about some research done by some who have decided that this was a black tradition brought here by slaves from Africa. Again, I won’t debate that although I seriously doubt the validity of that conclusion. And, not to disparage the article, the tradition died about 1949.
There were not many black slaves in my family’s history and I can in fact only find reference to about 3 from the time my ancestors started coming to America. My family tree had a lot of self-sufficient and hardworking families with lots of kids. I seriously doubt the yard sweeping tradition came from Africa to Sandy Point but rather grew out of necessity. People did not want weeds growing up to the door so they chopped them up. Watch out for the snakes, don’t get your dresses wet walking in weeds and for Heaven’s sake do not plant any grass that you have no way to cut. The old folks did not have to import this grand tradition, it came naturally.
There were always a few straw brooms around. Some long ones for seeping the yard and shorter ones for sweeping inside, the back porch, around the fireplace. They were made from the broomsedge, Andropogon Virginicus, called broom sage by the locals. It grew around the edges of the fields and was gathered as needed.
Picture of Broomsedge
The straw would be gathered and put into a round bundle and tied with twine to form a broom that would look something like this shown below. On occasion, a stick handle was tied into the bundle to make it longer.
Picture of A Broom Resembling Those Used At Sandy Point
I could not find a picture of a broomsedge broom but this is as close as I could come shown above. These might be two feet in length to about four feet.
Life was different in the good ole days: it was harder, whether it was better, that is a matter of opinion. Some would say yes, it was better, but none would want to return to that way of life.
The next time you are thinking about sweeping your yard, take a minute to reflect on those good ole days. Then, get a glass of tea and watch out the window as the yard man cuts your grass. Most of those doing the cutting in my area are of Mexican descent and I can tell you that they did not come here and teach the people how to mow grass, edge, etc. We all knew how to do it and a lot decided they would rather pay someone to do it than do it themselves. Another tradition lost.