Broom-Making a Favorite Among Chores for Children

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Illustration By Michele Tremaine
An illustration of a family making brooms out of broomsedge.

With the arrival of fall, my brothers and I saw the fluffy tops of broomsedge waving in the wind, and we knew we were in for a treat.

Three of us were old enough to do a few chores for children, including helping tend a toddler and a baby. Broom-making day was more a celebration to us than a chore.

We called the sedge plants “broom straw,” and they grew abundantly in the pastures and woods on our farm in Covington County, Mississippi. It was the early 1930s, and all of us country folks made our own brooms.

On broom-making day, the whole family would head out to locate the tallest, fluffiest perennial plants we could find. Before leaving the house, my brothers and I made sure our pockets were stuffed full of Grandmother’s teacakes. Daddy used a big, sharp knife to cut down the plants, and Mother, using a smaller knife, stripped the stems clean, leaving just the fluffy tops. My parents would bind dozens of stems together using cord — or sometimes rubber strips from old inner tubes, if there were any left after we youngsters made garters and slingshots. Mother and Daddy made the brooms right then and there to eliminate making a mess elsewhere.

While we children did little of the actual work — we mostly just helped keep an eye on the baby, and we also fetched and held things as needed — we still considered it a fun chore, as our parents formed enough brooms to last a year or more.

When the broom-making chore was complete, we headed home, and our mother reluctantly allowed us to use the brooms as stick ponies. When we arrived home, we put the extra brooms in the barn for storage. At the end of the day, we were tired and itchy, but we were happy with all that we’d accomplished.

Our handmade brooms, which we considered beautiful creations, were more efficient than store-bought brooms. Because they were made with broom straw, our brooms were quite resilient, making them especially easy to use in odd spaces, such as under the bed. The store-bought brooms, in addition to being too firm and stiff to use in some areas, were also expensive — costing 30 cents or more.

Later in autumn, when all the leaves had fallen off the trees, it was time to make brush brooms. This chore was also fun, but not as much of an extravaganza as making brooms with broom straw.

Brush brooms were heavier and larger than house brooms, and were used once a week — on Saturdays at our house — to clear the yard of leaves and trash. These brooms were made from small limbs with spreading ends, such as dogwoods, and the materials for making them were gathered from our woods as well. Yards at the time consisted of hard-packed dirt — without so much as a blade of grass in sight — so brush brooms worked well for clearing leaves and trash.

A friend and I were recently talking about brush brooms, and she told me she got a whipping with a brush broom when she was a child. Whew! We had peach tree limbs at our house for that.

Involving us in such chores and activities was just one of the ways our folks showed their love for us. And we all have wonderful memories of those times.

Magee, Mississippi

Read more stories about autumn chores in Autumn Farm Work: The Best and Worst Chores.