Sunday, March 27, 2005

Dipping, Chewing, and Smoking

We were allowed to play in the rain or get under the downspouts whenever there was a good rain with no lightning. This was like a shower. We could even take the soap outside and really take a shower, with our clothes on, of course. We could make mudpies and wade mud puddles to our heart's content. It was so relaxing to feel the mud between my toes.

Some of the things we did were not good for our teeth. When we had plenty of sugar, my mamma kept a big 100 pound bag behind the door in the kitchen. We would sneak and fill a clean snuff can half full of sugar and finish filling it with coco. We would shake it up and roam the woods playing "dipping snuff." When we came in, we hid our box in the brush pile. It was a waterproof tin can, so we would leave it there until next play time.

We would also cut slits in the sweetgum trees. When the sap came through, we collected it and chewed it for chewing gum. It was usually so sticky that it got all over our teeth. If you could cool it in water, you could chew it for a while. It did not have a good flavor, but was just something we did.

Since no one had store-bought toothbrushes until they were grown up, we used blackgum limbs from trees to make out toothbrushes. Sometimes we used hickory bark, sometimes red willow if we were close to the creek.

We chewed and smoked rabbit tobacco, a wild weed. Of course, all this was kept secret from our parents. We smoked grapevines, which always had a bad effect on the kidneys for some reason. We smoked corn silk and leaves of the birch trees. This was dangerus as the leaves were so loose that the fire came through into your mouth, so I am not recommending that anyone try this, besides the affect it could have on health.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Driving the Chickens

Most housing on PZ Ridge was crude. Our house had many open cracks. We used heavy blue paper to cover the walls and ceilings. If we could not afford blue paper, we used newspaper. Then we would lay in bed at night and play games from the ads in the paper.

One game was called "I see." One gave clues, and the others tried to find the item. We also played what we called "coffee pot." One found and described an item in the house and the others guessed what it was. This was always fun and relaxed us for sleep.

My mamma had a game she called "rabbit." It was to see who could hide and stay quiet the longest. It was a long time before we found out that her secret was to keep us still for as long as she could so she could read True Stories. She loved to read.

While my pappa was hunting, she read and we studied by kerosene lamps. We called them coal-oil lamps. They provided inexpensive lighting. A daily chore was to clean the lamp chimneys, fill the lamps with oil and trim the wicks for the next night.

When I was a child, there was another game I played with my little black-haired brother, Charles Finis. We would open the corncrib door facing away from the house. When the chickens went in, we would slam the door, go in a catch a chicken. Then we would tie a string around one the chicken's legs and taken the chicken into the barnyard that was grown thick with small persimmon trees.

We had made paths through the thicket that could not be seen from the house. We would get a little limb or switch and drive the chicken all day, holding on to the string. Well, my mamma began to wonder why the hens had stopped laying eggs. Then we were in big trouble and had to find new things to do.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Two Sisters & Two Marriages

When Sissy was thinking marriage, her husband-to-be was brave, for Sissy was about 19. So he came riding over on his beautiful horse, all shined up. I remember how he and my pappa sat together on the swing in the breezeway, and he asked my pappa for Sissy in marriage. After a little "pep talk" to him, my pappa said they could marry with his blessing.

Well, my mamma and Sissy sewed a lot in the next weeks. I remember her dress, a blue Georgette with pointed scallops around the skirt. Short dresses were in fashion, along with long torso waistlines, flapper hats, hair cuts, and long, big beads.

Sissy got all dressed up and Hester came in a buggy. They rode over the county line to the Justice of the Peace - no church weddings. My pappa thought Hester's behavior was the act of a real gentleman. Sissy was counted the best-looking girl around PZ Ridge.

A short time later Sadie decided to get married, but my pappa was not pleased with her choice, Erie. She was forbidden to see him. This decision was made in love and for her best interest, so my pappa thought. But like girls did then, she had friends to help her elope. One Sunday afternoon when we were at Sunday School, as was our practice, she and a girlfriend went to the spring to fetch water and never returned. Erie and his friend met them and they eloped.

Needless to say what happened then, even though she was 17. My pappa was again very upset and hurt that a daughter would marry without his permission. I suppose she never disobeyed him before or after that.

In the next few years the young pair worked hard to bear, feed, and clothe three babies. Sadie was a spotless housekeeper. She came home to visit almost every day, and she always looked my pappa up in the fields or wherever he was at work. And he helped them all he could when things were going bad.

Times were hard then - no one had much money. But we shared whatever we had.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Working the Farm

We all knew the good ax was not a toy. We learned to use and care for tools of all kinds, to file the hoe, to sharpen the ax on a grindstone - a large round one turned by hand, to sharpen the tobacco knives.

We even had our own special tobacco pegs to set plants with. You were counted an expert tobacco setter if you could keep up with Hester, the husband of my eldest sister, Christine. We called Christine "Sissy," and still do.

In addition to working in the tobacco fields, we forked hay like men, drove the team of mules, pulled corn, cut sprouts, and picked up rocks. My pappa believed busy kids stayed out of trouble. I never minded any of this. It was a way of survival. All worked, all shared, all ate, all enjoyed family fun and games.

We always had lots of friends that we could spend nights or even weekends with, but I like to be at home nights. I was so afraid I would miss out on something. At night my mamma would play games with us while my pappa hunted opossum, raccoons, and sometimes skunk.

We always knew when he got a skunk. The dogs smelled to high heaven. You should be so lucky as to a wake to the smell of skunk through the knotholes in the floor, when the dogs are trying to rest under the house after a hard night of hunting, and the roosters are crowing their lungs out.

To me this was a normal life.

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Whipping

My pappa most always talked to us instead of giving spankings. At mealtime he explained why what we did or wanted to do was not to his satisfaction. By the time he finished, very calm and collected, I always felt so bad I would have rather have had a whipping and got it over.

Then he would say, "Do you understand?" So pleased to get it over and to get the lump out of my throat, I would quickly say, "Yes, sir!" We never said "no" or "yes." It was said with respect to him or my mamma or any elders.

One day I remember how my pappa called me out of bed about 4 a.m. He said he had a "crow to pick" with me. I was astonished. I knew what the term meant, but I could not think of anything I had done wrong - that day at least.

When I came downstairs, he had what he called a "keen little hickory," meaning a switch off of a tree. He let me sit on a staight chair, then he let me have it around the legs. As he whipped, he explained the reason. Someone had used his good ax for removing a band from an old wagon hub to use for paddle and wheel.

Well, you remember my brother, the little black-haired one that I mentioned earlier? By now I loved him a lot, and we played together all the time. It was he who used the good ax - I used the dull one. But my pappa did not know this.

I figured I had gotten the licking so no need to tell and cause him to get one also. So, I cried a lot and figured my brother owed me one. My pappa never knew that he whipped me wrongly.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Back to School

After we were settled in our old house, I decided to go back to school after Christmas break. My teacher was Mr. Earnest Gunson, a tall, good-looking guy, I thought the world's greatest. He pampered me and told me if I did not miss a day, I would receive the same reward as those who attended every day all year.

Mr. Gunson had what we called "nickle pencils." We all had penny ones. He would let me use his pencil, and to me that was super. He kept his promise too. I went every day and I received a gift. It was a nice little Bible. I cherished it so.

The next year we changed teachers and I passed two grades in one year. That made up for my late start. School was a breeze after that.

We played lots of games at school, softball, fox and hound, and one odd game called "getting the sheep out of their pen." We drew a large circle on the ground. All sheep were inside. The shepherd came in on one foot and tried to push the sheep over the line. One foot outside and the sheep were shephards, trying to help catch the rest. That was a real fun time.

At home we played marbles, horseshoes, and jump rope. But our favorite was "paddle and wheel." Our paddle was a piece of wood, whch fit our hand and height, with a crossbar at the bottom and a hub ring from a wagon wheel for the "wheel." We became very proficient at rolling this, even in very deep wagon ruts. By picking it up with the paddle and starting it without touching it with your hand, it was possible, if you were good, to keep it rolling for a mile or two. We often rolled them to the grocery store a mile away.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Growing Tobacco

My pappa kept trotlines in the river all summer and winter. He trapped and hunted both for meat and furs. We stretched the skins for drying on the front of the smokehouse and sold them to the "skin man." My pappa made hay for wintering the cows and mules, which he used to plow the crops.

For a "money crop" he grew dark-fired tobacco, which was really hard work. From plant beds to harvest was from February to late August or September - then came curing time. If you had good luck, you would strip and market it by December.

"Stripping" was classifying the tobacco by different grades. We mostly did this in our kitchen. Oh, it was such a dirty mess. But the kitchen was warm, which meant: number one, the tobacco stayed "in order," meaning soft and workable; and number two, we did not get cold as many people did in their barns.

We "bulked it down" in our front room, which was the bedroom of the grown girls and also the courting room on weekend.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Country Music and Vittles

I remember that time and how I would wake around 4 o'clock to my pappa's record player. He loved music. We had all the latest records and a wind-by-hand Victor Victrola that played three minutes to a wind. Our records were by the "skillet-licking crowd," Jimmie Rodgers or the Carter Family. My pappa loved Mamma Maybelle's song Wildwood Flower.

When I awoke to this music, I knew I must hurry into the kitchen where my pappa always sat after feeding the stock and building the fire in the stove for breakfast to be cooked. Always, if I hurried, I could sit on my pappa's lap before the little ones woke up.

He sat there and chatted with my mamma while she made homemade biscuits and a good breakfast. He would hold me very close and tell me stories and sing little songs. This to me was heaven. Our kitchen was large. It had a very big wood-burning stove with a warming closet at the top and a big tank at the end for heating water as my mamma cooked.

We always had food in abundance. We kept two milk cows and raised at least five or six "killing hogs," which provided bacon, sausage, ham, shoulders, cracklings, lard, fresh pork chops, backbones and ribs, liver, brains, pig feet, and head souse.

Sometimes we canned fresh meat to preserve it. We stuffed sausage in homemade cloth bags in large amounts, probably making 50 to 100 pounds at a time. This was always a good time of working together and testing the sage and other spices.

We often had milk and cornbread for the evening meal. My mamma churned by hand and we had lots of butter and buttermilk. We always had chickens for eggs or to eat. I cannot remember ever buying these items at the store.

The farm provided corn, fruit, potatoes, pumpkins, melons, berries, and cabbage for eating and making sauerkraut. Corn was sent to a gristmill to be ground for cornmeal each week. We canned everything we could and dried fruit, beans, and peas. We raised turnips and greens.

While working the farm we ate cantaloupe, watermelon, tomatoes, sugarcane, berries, green apples, peaches or whatever was in season. We could always find a snack of something in the fields or woods.