What My Heart Wants to Tell
by Verna Mae Slone
Chapter Index | Chapters VII - VIII and IX | Chapters XIII - XIV and XV

Chapters X - XI and XII

Chapter X

My mother was one of the very few on Caney who could not read and who had no learning at all. The eight grades were all that were taught. You could then go to Hindman, where George Clark had a teacher training class. If you completed this and could pass the exam given by the state, you were qualified to teach.

I know the eighth grade is far from a college education, but it can not be classed as illiterate. In reading, spelling, arithmetic, history and geography, the grades were more advanced than that which is taught in school now, though in science and arts, they knew very little. If you had completed the fifth grade under these old teachers, you would have known about the same as an eighth grader does now.

Much more than half of our Caney folks finished the grades before 1916, and many became teachers. My oldest sister, Flora Belle Fugate, was one of these teachers; her husband was also.

We also had some very good lawyers, not on Caney, but it Knott County. My uncle ElCaney Slone was one. He had always been the sickly one of the family and so he got more education. Sickly as he was, he lived to be over 100 years old.

There were many people who had talents. Some made beautiful chairs and fern stands with a "handmade lay" turned by a foot-powered pedal. Charley Huff made beautiful baskets accurate to size, holding either a peck, half-bushel, or one bushel.

Sarah Reynolds and Martha Watson wove beautiful blankets. I remember my mother had some of these. I have a small coat made from a piece of this hand-woven cloth. They raised the sheep, processed the wool, even dyed it with a dye made from roots and bark. They had intricate patterns of checks and stripes.

When my mother died, her home contained many pieces of furniture made by Preacher Billie Slone, a shelf for dishes called a cupboard, and a writing desk with several small drawers, expertly made. He had decorated them by making a notched edge using only an auger and handsaw. I still have the quilt shelf he made for my mother in payment for two bushels of "shelled-out" beans.

Their love of beauty was shown in the many beautiful quilts. They raised the cotton to pad these, though I don't think they spun any cotton. They did grow hemp and spun a crude kind of linen that they called homespun cloth.

Their shoes were moccasins made from leather, skinned from a cow or mule that had died from old age or disease, or a cow killed for food. My father said he was grown before he owned a pair of store-made shoes. He worked three days hoeing corn at twenty-five cents a day for some old man who lived at Jone's Fork. The shoes cost seventy-five cents a pair and the brand name was "stronger than the law." These heavy, awkward shoes were made in the same style for men and women, and in sizes for children also. (end page 50)

Some children would go barefoot all winter, staying in the house all the time except for the few moments each day when the call from nature came. When this happened, a large smooth board was heated before the fire and carried along to supply a warm place for the feet. The board was taken back to the house to be used again next time.

My stepmother told of using a "hot board" to stand on when they were washing clothes, or working at the loom. She said they were so careful with their "stronger than law" store shoes that they carried them with them to church, stopping just outside the door of the meeting house to put their shoes on. Sometimes the boyfriend would have the pleasure of carrying a girl's shoes for her. They used sheep tallow for polish.

That they were artistic and loved beauty is shown in so many ways. Mountain people grew "corn beads" or "Job's tears." The seeds were very pretty, with a hole through the center, and strung like beads. They decorated beautiful "comb cases" and picture frames for the walls of their homes with these beads.

For wallpaper, they pasted up newspaper and magazines. I taught my children the alphabet from my walls. My kids also invented a kind of "hide-and-go-seek" game. One would describe a picture or repeat a sentence seen somewhere on the wall. The first one to discover it got to choose the next. Living in these magazine walls gave you a feeling of being inside a storybook.

I always tried to read everything in these papers before I "papered the house." If not, I would sometimes get so interested in something I saw I would stop to read, and my paste would all dry up.

Almost every housewife knew how to sew and made clothes for her family. I have a picture of a large group of men and women who lived on Caney. They are nicely (end of page 51) dressed, in the styles that were popular at the time -- somewhere near 1890. I am sure their clothes were "homemade." A few had sewing machines; most sewed by hand.

They were intelligent folks, skilled and educated well in what they needed to know, because they had to make do with what they had.

That was a lesson I grew up with. We threw away nothing. To us a patch was not a bright colored swatch, placed "haper-scaper" on our jeans to make them look fancy. We patched our clothes to prolong their life and to keep the wind from whistling through a hole. Sometimes we even patched the patches.

There was not much we could do to make our shoes last longer except "half-sole" them and replace the strings with a strip of groundhog hide. When the hole in the crown of a man's hat became so large that it would no longer stay on his head, the brim was cut into strips and used for lamp wicks.

When quilts had outgrown their usefulness for the beds, they made saddle blankets, covers for a chicken coop, a dog bed, or they were hung over the opening of the outhouse or barn in place of a door shutter, or placed on the floor as a pallet for the baby. Our dish rags and wash clothes were from worn-out wearing things. An old meal sack became a towel. No Pampers hung from tree limbs along the creek. We used old bed sheets -- after they became so thin you could sun bees through them -- for diapers or "diddies" as we called them. A tick, a large cloth bag filled with corn shucks, was a mattress. For folks that did not keep geese or ducks and did not kill enough chickens to get feathers for pillows, the seed pods from milk weed did just fine. A man's shaving brush was also made from shucks. The razor strap was a good "chastising rod." My father always said, "if used enough it makes children walk straighter." (end page 52)

Even our toys were "make do's." A few gravels placed in an empty tobacco can became a rattle for baby. Empty thread spools strung together were another plaything. Jackstones were small chunks from a broken churn or crock. I was in high school before I knew you were supposed to have a small ball to go with the game of Jackstones. There were many games to be played with corn: Fox and Geese, Five Up, Hully Gully. Toy animals were made from cornstalks and everyone knows about the corn shuck dolls.

A washtub could be kept from leaking for a while by sprinkling cornmeal in it. After burning tar paper over the hole, some people used homemade soap to plug up the leak. Put on wooden "runners," a tub became a sled to haul manure and cinders for the garden, or to haul off rocks. It could be a home for baby chicks to protect them from rats, or a feed trough for Old Bossie. It might be filled with dirt and planted with flower seeds. An old dish pan was often nailed on the roof, where the stove pipe came through, thus protecting the boards from the heat, and also keeping the rain from running down the pipe onto the stove. An old saw too dull to cut wood became "laid hoes" or "fire shevils." Did you know you could use a dead turtle's shell for a soap dish?

Empty lard buckets became lunch pails, water or milk containers, and when there was more company than plates to "go around," the younger children could "eat off" the bucket lids for plates. An empty cream can made an unbreakable cup for little children.

Ashes from the fireplace made a fine polisher for pots and pans and silverware. Sand was used to scrub our floors and wooden chairs.

We were always glad to get wooden boxes or crates, such as the ones packed with fruit. We nailed the to the walls for bookshelves or for dishes or clothes.

Potatoes and apple peelings were saved and fed to the chickens or pigs. Sometimes if apples were "scarce," the hulls or peelings, were cooked in water and the juice made into jelly. The rest was run through a sifter and became applebutter when mixed with sugar and spices.

Even the eggshells were not wasted. They were browned and fed to the hens, or strung on the twigs of a tree in the yard to become and "egg tree." All food not eaten by the family was fed to the farm animals. Once an "outsider" lady came to Caney to spend the summer. She rented a small house from my father. She asked him what she should do with her garbage. When told what we did with ours she bought a pig from him. That fall when she started home, she came to him and said, "I would like to sell the pig back to you. I have only used it for six months. I think I should get back at least half what I paid you for it. Don't you?" (end page 54)

Chapter XI

My father and mother had a very large family. On October 9, 1914, she gave birth to her last child. Five weeks later she died.

She was never "out of bed" after I was born except once. My father had gone over "in the head of Hollybush" to bring sheep home. During the summer they were turned loose, as all stock were, to forage for themselves. There were no stock laws then. Everyone kept a fence around their crops and gardens. The animals ran loose. In the fall, they were rounded up and put in the barn lot or stall, where they could be fed and watered. As my father went past the house with the sheep, my mother came to the door to see them. This was the last time she ever walked.

Just a few nights before she died, she spoke to my father. He had pulled his bed up by the side of her bed so she could awaken him if she needed anything during the night. "Isom," she said, "Are you asleep?"

"Well, I was before ye spoke, but I am awake now. What do ye want?"

"I just want a talk. I wanta tell ye I han't goin' to get well."

"Now Sarah, don't talk like that. You're gettin' better every day."

"I've been showed I han't goin' to get well. I am kinda glad to go. I am so tired of bein' sick and I want to go home, and be with my little ones that have gone on to live with Jesus. I just hate to leave you and my children, especially this baby one. Will you promise me you will never have her whopped?"

Kitteneye could hardly speak for the tears, but he tried talk jokingly.

"Ye know I never was one for whoppin' the young'uns. I allus left that up to you."

"I know, but I want you to promise you won't ever let anyone whop her."

And he answered, "I promise."

There were many times when this promise was to be remembered in the future. And this is why I never got a spankingi in my life. Kitteneye would go to the teachers and tell them that if they could not teach me without spanking me to send me home. You would think that I would have been very naughty, but it worked the other way. I was afraid I would get sent home, so I was real good at school.

A few days after this talk, Sarah was feeling a lot better. The weather was warm for November. Elizabeth Slone had stopped in for a visit and to see "how Sarah was doing." Sarah had a piece of cloth from which she wanted some caps made for the baby. Little ones always wore caps, night and day, through the winter. Elizabeth had said she would be more than glad to sew the caps if Sarah would cut them out first.

Edna remembers that she was sitting, holding the baby on her lap. She was only seven years old herself. One of the older girls was looking for the piece of cloth. (end of page 56)

Kitteneye had taken Frances with him to gather a sled of corn, just enough to feed on for a few days. He had been "putting off" gathering the whole crop until his wife got well enough to be left alone with just the girls. He had just got part of the way up the hollow when he heard someone ringing the dinner bell. He knew by the low mournful sound of that bell what had happened. He left his mule and sled and ran home just as fast as he could. But he was too late. His wife was dead. He always said he believed she recognized him standing at the foot of the bed, for she seemed to smile at him.

"She was jest a'sittin' there, laughin' and talkin' to us and all at once she put her hand up to her face and said, "Oh, my head."" Elizabeth told him.

In a daze, Kitteneye prepared his own wife for burial. This had to be done before the body became stiff. He placed her straight in the bed, tied her feet together, crossed her hands on her breast, and using a cloth, he caught it under chin and brought it up over her head and tied it. Two pieces of money were placed on her eyes, so the weight would keep them closed. This was a work of love; he would not have allowed anyone else to do this had there been anyone there. It was the last thing he could do for his wife, and a task he had performed for many a neighbor and friend.

Dora Bell Taylor bathed and dressed the body. Some of the children remembered that their mother had expressed a desire to be put away wearing her favorite black satin dress. Over this dress was put a white shroud made by Sarah Reynolds. Preacher Billie Slone made the coffin from seasoned wood, lined it with white cloth, and covered the outside with black cloth. The edges were trimmed with lace. Some folks used cotton to pad the inside bottom, but Sarah had a beautiful quilt she had made herself for this purpose. (end of page 57)

Both the coffin and shroud were made in the home where the corpse lay.

We sent for all the children who were married. Flora Belle had married Sam Fugate and lived on Lower Ball. She had three children. Square Slone, one of cousins, went after her. It took one day to make the trip there on a mule and another day to come back. Usually a body was only kept up one night after death, but Mother wasn't buried until the third day, because it took that long to get Flora word and bring her home.

Arminda said she remembers that another cousin, Isaac Slone, came to get her in Mallet. My mother had asked that the funeral be preached before she was buried, and not a year later as most folks then did. She did not want any drinking going on at funeral, and she was afraid there would be, if it was delayed for a year.

This practice is still honored in some families. It probably began back in the days of the circuit rider preacher, who only came once a year in his round of visits.

Everything was done out of love and friendship: the grave was dug, the coffin made, the sewing done. None of these mountain friends thought of it as work and would have been insulted if anyone had offered them pay. To have paid for these services as we do today would have seemed to these folks like paying for someone to kiss you.

When my mother was buried there was a small house built to cover the grave. These are now a forgotten part of the past. The lower part of the house was latticework and the roofs were made of rough board shingles. The tombstone was of slate rock with the name and dates crudely chipped in with handmade tools.

These houses protected the graves from the wild animals, and kept the rain from falling on a loved one's grave.

I remember my Grandmother and Grandfather Owens (end of page 58) had a larger house covering both their graves. It had a small door. Many times when my troubles and sorrows became too heavy for my childish heart, I would crawl through this door to cry in private. I always came away comforted.

These little gravehouses were torn down about 1940, very much against my wishes. The old board sign -- whose words were burnt into the wood by using a hot poker -- is gone from above the gate. It said, "God bless them that sleep here."

I guess my scribblings are like my crazy quilts, without any form or unity. The more I write, the more I remember. There are just so many things I want to say, maybe some are interesting only to me. Our young folks have lost so much without ever knowing they had it to lose. (end of page 59)

Chapter XII

Of all the things my father taught me, I am thankful that I learned from him the enjoyment one could obtain from work. I did not know until I was grown that there were people who did not like to work, and not until my children were grown did I realize that some folks thought it was shameful to do manual labor. (I must admit, though, I do not like to do housework. I like for a house to be a home, a comfortable place to live, not a "show room.")

I wish I could pass on to my grandchildren how I feel about growing our own food. All good things come from God. But you seem so close to Him, one with nature, when you plant the tiny seeds, in faith that they will grow. Later there is the joy of gathering and storing away these results of your partnership with nature. The food you grow yourself tastes much better and seems a lot cleaner to me. It may not be "untouched by human hands," but at least you know whose hands they were.

Mike was once helping me to dig a mess of potatoes for (end of page 60) Supper and asked "Granny, why do you put your potatoes in the ground? Is it so your chickens can't get at them? Mother gets hers at the market."

I've always been thankful we owned a farm of our own, to grow corn, for example. A "new ground" (pronounced as on word) was best. This meant the ground had been cleared of all the trees and underbrush, and was now ready to be planted.

If you were lucky enough to have a new ground you would be assured of a good crop but a lot more work. It had to be all done by hand, using only hoes. Although most of the larger roots and stumps were removed -- either by burning or dynamite, or sometimes pulled out by oxen -- there were still too many small roots and sprouts to make plowing possible.

So, early in the spring, sometimes as early as January or February, we would begin "grubbin"," digging the young sprouts that were beginning to grow around where the trees had grown. After these were all dug, they were raked into piles and burned. Then we took hoes and shaved off the weeds. Each one working would take a "swith" and distance themselves as long as they could reach with a hoe, one above the other, each one just a little ahead of the one above. Around the hill they would go, raking a very small layer of the topsoil along with the weeds onto the row below. After this was finished, they would "dig in" the corn, about every three feet, in rows about four feet apart. A small loose hole was dug, with three to five grains of corn dropped inside, and the dirt spread over it. My father always said to plant five,

One for the ground squirrel,
One for the crow,
One to rot,
And two to grow.

(end page 61)

When the corn was about a foot high, you began to hoe it, cutting all the weeds, and thinning it to two stalks to a hill. Someone would always joke and say, "Pull up the large ones and give the little ones room to grow." We replanted any missing hills and a few weeks later we hoed it again. This second hoeing was called "laying it by," because this finished the work with the corn until time to save the fodder and gather the corn. The fodder was gathered in September and the corn brought to the barns in November. When we "layed by our corn" it called for a wild celebration. Folks on adjoining farms were always in friendly competition. Each would rush to beat the others. Our hills are so close, many different family groups could see and hear each other. When the last "hill of corn" was hoed they would begin to yell, beating their hoes together or against rocks, thumping on the dinner bucket, anything to make a noise. Someone at the house would ring the dinner bell, telling all their friends that they were through with their corn. An extra good dinner or supper, as the case might be, would be cooked, and everyone had at least one whole day's rest. Even the mules got this one day without working.

Another little saying of my father's helped us remember what happened when you waited too long to plant your corn:

In July, corn knee-high,
In August, he layed it by,
In September there came a big frost.
Now you see what corn this young man lost.

Fodder also had to be saved. All the blades from where the ear of corn grew down were stripped from the stalk, leaving the one on which the corn grew. Every few handfuls were placed between two stalks close to the ground; here they would cure out. After a few days, these would be tied (end of page 62) into bundles, and stacked in a shock, or hauled to the barn. The remaining stalk was cut off just above the ear of corn, and tied into bundles and placed together in smaller shocks. These were called "tops" and were not as valuable as the blade fodder. The tops were usually fed to the cows, and the rest kept for the horses. Taking care of fodder was one work I could never do. I know now I was allergic to the smell, though I did not know what was wrong then. I just knew I always got sick when I pulled fodder or cut tops, but it never seemed to bother me once it was cured out, and I could help put it away.

My father's generation had no glass jars, so they did not can fruits or vegetables. They filled large crocks or churns with applebutter. When boiled down very stiff and sweetened with molasses, it would keep fresh for many weeks. Big barrels were filled with smoked apples; a few would run out, then filled up a few inches with apples that had been pared and sliced, with the core removed. On top of these a dish was placed in which a small amount of sulfur was slowly burned by placing a heated piece of iron inside the dish. A quilt over the top kept the smoke from escaping. Next day, another layer of apples and more sulfur was burned and so on, until the barrel was full. The sulfur gave the apples an "off" flavor that took a little getting used to, but was supposed to be good for you. I loved the taste myself, and always served them topped with blackberry jelly.

The late apples could be "holed away" in the ground. Often the floor of the house was removed and the hole dug there. It was lined with straw, the apples were poured in, and more straw and dirt were mounded over the top. You had to be very careful that none of these apples were bruised or rotten. Some were kept in barrels, each wrapped separately in a piece of paper. Sweet potatoes were also kept (end of page 63) this way. Many times these barrels were left all winter in a corner of the bedroom, hid from view by a curtain or quilt. Apples were fried, or made into pies and dumplings.

Peaches were canned in syrup. We had a 'cling stone' peach, so small that the stone could not be removed as in other peaches. Often we would peel these and can them whole -- the stone gave them a very nice flavor -- sometimes using sugar, and some in sugar, vinegar and spice. We had a few pears, and I remember my sister, Frances, had a quince tree. Some folks, not many, had cherries and plums, but almost everyone had a gooseberry patch, and strawberries grew wild in many places. We picked and canned huckleberries and raspberries, but we used blackberries the most; from these we made jelly and jam. Dumplings were made by bringing the sweetened, cooked berries to a boil and dropping in fist-sized balls of biscuit dough.

Berry "sass" was a breakfast dish. The boiling berries were thickened with a little flour and water -- not quite as heavy as the sauce used for pie filling -- sweetened and served like a pudding. I always loved to pick berries. No one ever went alone, because of snakes. The huckleberries grew on the tops of ridges. Every year, when they began to ripen, someone would start a rumor that a bear or wildcat had been seen on such and such a hollow, or maybe the story would be that some crazy man or desperate criminal was loose. Moonshiners started these tales so as to scare the women. They were afraid the women would find the moonshine stills while hunting huckleberries.

No one picks berries anymore; almost all the old orchards are gone. Of the fourteen apple trees that grew in my yard when I moved here, only four remain, too old for fruit, giving little shade, and almost dangerous to let stand. In fact, during the severe cold weather this past winter we reopened our fireplace, and chopped one of our apple trees into firewood. I almost felt like I was forsaking an old friend.

All fruits and berries were eaten raw, or cooked in syrup, and made into jelly and jam, but most were used for dumplings or pies. For peach cobbler the slices were baked with layers of biscuit dough. Apples were used in fried pies, apples or applebutter, folded into small thin sheets of dough and fried in deep fat. I have also heard these called half-moon pies or moccasin pies. We also used vinegar as a substitute for fruit, making pies or dumplings flavored with vinegar, sugar and spice. A "barefoot dumpling" was when the balls of dough were cooked in boiling water, containing only salt and lard. Of course, they were better in chicken broth or fresh meat "sop."

We grew corn for feed and bread, but we also used it as a vegetable, canning it and pickling it in brine salt water for winter use, while the kernels were still young enough to be soft. Pickled corn is good fried in a little sugar, but it's best to eat as a snack, sitting around the fire at night and biting it directly off the cob. "Gritted bread" (probably from the word grater) was made from young corn; a gritter was made by driving holes in a piece of tin, maybe an empty peach can, with a nail, then fastening the tin to a board. The ears of corn were rubbed over the sharp edges made by the nail holes, to make meal. If the corn was young enough, no water needed to be added, just a little salt and baking soda, baked in a greased pan. Eaten with sweet milk, it was a meal in itself. You can use corn to grit until it gets old enough to shell from the cob. After the juice or "milk" on the inside of the grains begins to dry, the water must be added, to make a soft dough before baking.

I guess of all vegetables, beans were used the most. There were many kinds of seeds, from the "bunch" beans grown in the garden, to field beans planted along with the corn. The stalks of corn make a place for the bean vines to grow. Beans were pickled in brine salt water in large wooden barrels. We also canned them. Many times we placed the closed glass jars full of beans in a washtub filled with water allowing them to cook for several hours on a fire outside.

Then there was a "tough" bean. The hull was too hard to eat. These were used for soup beans, cooked by themselves or mixed with the dried beans. Salt pork or hog's jowl was added to the beans while they cooked. A friend once told me how every night, before being allowed to go to bed, he and his brothers and sisters each had to shell enough beans to fill a large cup.

We always raised two crops of cabbage. The later one was planted in early July in the hill and not transplanted. These were "holed away" for winter use. A long trench, or "fur," was made with the plow. The fully grown cabbages were pulled up "by the roots," with a few of the bottom leaves broken off. The remaining excess leaves were wrapped around the "head" and placed side by side with the roots turned up in the hole made by the plow; then dirt was thrown up around the cabbages, leaving part of the stalk and the roots exposed. This way they were easily found and removed. They would stay all winter and keep fresh. Cabbages kept this way have a sweet wholesome flavor that you can buy in the supermarket.

And then, of course, there was sauerkraut: cabbage pickled in salt. I also use a little sugar and vinegar. We now put kraut in glass jars, but "back then" we used large churns or crocks or wooden barrels. Our folks would sometimes put the cabbages in the barrel whole, a layer at a time, and cut them up with a shovel. (I have known people that dried cabbage. I remember watching an old man, when I lived at Dwarf, drying cabbage leaves on his housetop. I never did eat any.)

Beets were cooked and canned in sugar, spice, water, and vinegar; they were eaten no other way. We served them with shucky beans or as a snack. I love to pickle boiled eggs in the liquid where the beets were cooked; the bright red color makes the eggs pretty and gives them a nice flavor. This is a must at Easter for my family.

Tomatoes were thought to be poison by our grandmothers, and were raised only as a flower. We canned the ripe ones to be used in vegetable soup; some added sugar and used it for dessert. Of course, during the summer they were sliced and served with green beans, or added to slaw. Green tomatoes are good sliced, rolled in meal, to which a little salt and pepper is added, and fried in deep fat. My husband likes them sweetened, I don't. There is a small variety which we call "tommy toes." Green tomatoes were also canned in sugar, spice, and vinegar, sometimes by themselves, sometimes with peppers, cabbage, and other vegetables. We also mixed green tomatoes, green pepper, and green cabbage, and pickled them in brine salt water; we called this "pickle lilly" or "chow chow." No matter what you called it -- fried in grease and eaten with the beans and corn bread -- it was good. We ate corn bread for at least two meals each day. Very few people do this anymore. It's easier to use the toaster, I guess.

Next to the beans, I guess more potatoes were used. They were "kelp over" by holing them away. They were "fried, baked, cooked, roasted in the ashes under the grate, added to soup, and boiled with their jackets on." Sometimes we would take them to school with us and boil them in an empty lard bucket, on the coal heating stove. The teacher would help us eat them at recess.

We "bedded" our sweet potatoes in a "hot bed" made from shucks, manure, and dirt, and covered with fodder and an old quilt. After they began sprouting, the fodder and quilt were removed. When large enough, the plants were then transplanted to hills or ridges. Sweet potatoes were baked, roasted, fried in sugar and lard, or cooked with some salt and sugar added. We canned them by cooking them in jars, like the beans. We kept them through the winter in barrels or boxes, each wrapped separately in a piece of paper.

Sweet peppers were eaten raw; stuffed with sausage and other meats; canned in sugar, spice, water and vinegar; mixed with other vegetables to make "pickle lilly" or mixed pickles. Hot pepper or strong pepper was eaten as an additive to other vegetables. We also canned it in vinegar, or strung it up on twine, and allowed it to dry for winter use. Some folks like it added to fresh meat when cooked. We put a few pods of hot pepper on the top of our barrels or churns of salt pickles. It kept the gnats from bothering them, and also gave a good flavor. We added red hot pepper to our paste when we were lining our houses with newspaper and magazines. This kept the mice from eating the paste and ruining the paper. I remember once I had made a large kettle of paste from flour and water, to which I had added a large amount of pepper. I had set it on the back of the stove to cool. One of my boys come in from school, took a large spoonful, thinking it was his supper. It really gave him a hot mouth; I was sorry for him, but I had to laugh. He said he knew why the mice refused to eat it.

Cushaw and "punkins" were planted in the corn, every fourth hill, every fourth row. The small ones were fed to the hogs or cows. The hard-shell cushaws were chopped into small chunks and cooked, then placed in a pan, covered with sugar and spice, and baked. The soft-shell ones were peeled, sliced, cooked and mashed with sugar and spice to make cushaw butter. Some folks added cooked cushaw or pumpkin to their cornmeal dough, and baked it. "Molassie bread" was made this way also. Cushaws are better if (end of page 68)

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(page 70)...cook them together -- the tops and roots -- when the turnips are small.

Rhubarb we called "pie plants." Every garden had a long row, used for pies or dumplings, fried as apples, or mixed with strawberries to make jelly. It "came in" just as most of the winter food was used up, and the new garden was still too young to use. It was supposed to be good for you and help to cure "spring fever."

Some of us grew a few gourds just for the fun of it, but our forefathers grew them to be used. The larger ones would hold lard, salt, soft soap, meal, molasses, or whatever. The small, long-handled ones were water dippers. We called the small round egg-shaped kind "hen foolers," because we used them for nest eggs.

There were many different kinds of onions. Fall and winter onions grew through the winter, and could be eaten green. "Tater onions" got their name for the way the new ones grew in a cluster around the old one; they were kept for the roots. "Spring shallots" were very early and very small.

Onions were eaten as a dish, not an additive. They were fried either while green or after grown, but not as "onion rings," as they are now prepared. To keep for the winter, they were pulled while there was still some top remaining, tied in bunches, and hung from nails in the barn or smokehouse. They become better after being allowed to freeze. Onions were used as a medicine, roasted, mashed and made into a "pollus" placed on the chest, to help "break up" a cold. Onion soup was also used for a cold or tonsillitis.

Then there were wild greens or "salet." There are many different kinds; sometimes the same plant was known by a different name by different people. "Plantin" is the one used most, a small thick-leafed green with a very distinct flavor, a little like cabbage. Then for cooking there was "sheep's leg," "groundhog ear," and "speckled dock." (end page 70) Poke salet had to be used very carefully, because it could be poison; it was cooked in one water, washed and cooked again, then fried in a lot of lard. If eaten too often, it can become a laxative. The stalks were also good peeled, rolled in meal, and fried. "Crow's foot," "shoestring," "chicken salet," and "creases" were eaten raw, cut up, sprinkled with salt, and then "killed" by pouring real hot grease over them.

In my father's time hogs were allowed to run wild. Each man had a "mark" so as to tell his own. The pig's ear was either notched or split, some used both, but no two exactly alike. When a sow mothered a "gang" of pigs, if the owner did not catch the small ones and mark them before they were weaned, and they had quit running with the mother, they were then accepted as "wild pigs"; anyone who caught them was the owner. He could put his mark on them or butcher them for food. Wild hogs grew very fat on "mast": nuts and roots they found in the woods. I thought this gave the meat a good flavor, but I have talked with some folks that said this was not so; they were better if brought in and fed corn a few weeks before butchering them.

The older generations used more beef and sheep for meat than we did, but chicken and dumplings was counted the best dish of any. I have seen my folks cook as many as sixteen grown hens at one time, in an old-fashioned iron "mink" kettle, when there was big crowd at a wedding, funeral, or family get-together.

Our folks on Caney, in the past, had plenty of good wholesome food. I don't see how they ever ate all these many barrels, holes, cans, and sacks full of beans, corn, cabbage, and many other fruits and vegetables that they called "sass." But they did. Maybe they knew nothing about vitamins or a balanced diet, but they worked hard to grow and put away food.

My father taught me to love nature's beauty as well as her (end of page 71) benefits. I remember how he would listen to the thunder. He would say, "God wouldn't want any of his children to get scared at something He made." I have always loved to listen to the thunder.

He also loved to look at the pretty sunset and rainbows. He often would call me to come outside to enjoy the view with him. The valley would be lit up with bright colors, as the sun set behind the hills. And he would say, "This is the way Eden must have looked before sin entered the world." He would not have known what you meant if you had mentioned any of the masterpieces of paintings. But he enjoyed the pictures painted by the greatest Master of them all. There is nothing more beautiful than a rainbow that seems to form a bridge from one hilltop to the other, or the snow-covered world early in the morning, before man has destroyed it by making paths. Them many colors of the autumn leaves remind me of my "crazy quilts," such a blending of colors that the absence of any scheme or pattern makes a beauty or system all its own: a picture you will never forget if you have seen it once. (end of page 72)

End of Chapters X - XII and XIII
Verna Mae Slone

Chapter Index | Chapters VII - VIII and IX | Chapters XIII - XIV and XV

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