I want to thank Everett B. Vanover for his short story. After reading ‘If a house could talk,’ it inspired me to go back and relive yesterday’s memories also.
Back in the ‘ 40s and ‘50s in the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee, there was no retirement on a farm with eight children, three girls and five boys. Mother named all from the Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and because she liked it, Clay. Yes, it’s in the Bible, John 9:41. If you remember, Jesus spat on the ground and made ‘clay’ of the spittle and anointed the eyes of the blind man. After washing in the pool, he received sight on the Sabbath day so the works of God should be made manifest in him. That was one of the first medicines.
Back to the ‘40s and ‘50s. School was out and we were barefooted, walking up the hollow bed, laughing, talking and splashing the water on everyone. You could hear the birds singing and smell the trees and pretty flowers that were in bloom.
On the right side of the hill, Mom had redbuds, dogwoods, willow and red and silver maple trees. We could hear the doves flying from the apple roses before we reached them. We could see the beehives and the cemetery that had all colors of crabapple roses that Mom and we girls would twist with stiff wire so they would stand up, and put them on all of the graves.
On the left, as we crossed the bridge over the creekbed, was a splitwood rail fence that had honeysuckle vines that I loved smelling the most. They kept the black and white cows, chickens, pigs and mule from the yard and garden.
The house was unpainted board and board wood framed. We couldn’t buy paint, so we kids would carry sand and water from the creek to scrub it, and when we were finished it would be a pretty silver/gray. While we were carrying the water and sand Mom and Dad would tell us, “Be sure you don’t bring any crawdads back with you.”
As you faced the house, you could see the windows covered with pretty flowered curtains that our mother had made from the feed sacks that the corn and feed came in for the animals. You would see a three-room home that had a bedroom on the left, and a dogtrot porch that went right to the door of the living room. There was lots of love in that house.
Can you believe 10 people in a two-bedroom house? We had a bed in the living room also. There was a fireplace in each room. The only furniture was wooden fruit crates for tables, a black trunk, a rocking chair, a sewing machine and a family
Bible with all the births and deaths listed in it that was handed down from the great-grandparents.
At bedtime we would pull the extra cornshuck and feather mattresses from the beds so some of us kids could have a place to sleep on the floor. In Daddy and Mommy’s room was a bed, and Mom had her quilting frame hanging from the roof with a quilt on it that she was making for a Christmas present.
The kitchen was on the back of the house from the living room. I can remember the stove was like a Coleman gas stove that Mom cooked on, with a green square box that Mom would bake our biscuits and cornbread in. It had a sink that had a water pail with a dipper in it, an eating table with a cover of red and white oil cloth, an oil lamp, and a blue fruit jar with pretty wildflowers we had picked for Mom. In the windows were two heavy black irons that Mom would use to press the clothes with that were put on the stove to heat.
We had to go out the back door of the kitchen to go to the well box for water. We crossed an L-shaped porch. On the well was a wooden bucket with a gourd dipper. Around the well box, ivy was growing. Mom had put big colored rocks with different shapes there, and she had planted different flowers like lily-in-the-valley, Easter lilies and sunflowers.
Out back of the house also were the fields and gardens that Daddy would break ground with the mule and plow so we could plant all kinds of vegetables. He would take us squirrel and rabbit hunting in the hills, and he would take us blackberry and raspberry picking. We would sell our strawberries and rhubarb from the garden.
In the fall he would take us to hunt for the black and white walnuts (they are longer than the round ones) that had fallen from the trees. When we would find a hickory tree, we would sit for hours, cracking them to get a bite of good taste from them.
More down on the left side of the house was our outhouse. It had purple, red, blue and white morning glories all around it with a bag of lime to keep down the smell, and a mail-order catalog inside. The door had a half-moon that Dad had cut out so the light could come in so we small kids wouldn’t be scared to close the door.
There was a dinner bell that was handed down from our great-grandpap. When we were in the fields hoeing the corn, Mom would ring it to get us to come and eat dinner. They would ring it longer than usual if there was trouble.
I can still see us sitting around on the front porch, listening to our uncle playing his banjo and singing, while Mom churned the milk for butter and buttermilk. Dad and we kids would be stringing and breaking beans so Mom could can them in a round bathtub on a fire in the backyard. Some of the beans we put on strings of thread with a big needle to dry for shucky beans for Thanksgiving dinner.
Daddy would put the potatoes we raised in a root cellar that he had dug. It was a big hole in the hillside and lined with burlap bags from feed to keep them from freezing in the winter. Next to that was a coal bank. We would go in the mine and dig out coal from the walls of the hill for the fireplaces. The water in it was so cold we would carry it out to the garden to drink while we were working. Mom would store things like milk, butter, and eggs, things that needed to stay cold, back in the mine.
Our uncle would borrow the mule and plow to plant his garden, and in the fall he would come to help Dad kill the old hogs that weighed 200 or 300 pounds. They would build a big fire, put a big black kettle of water on it, and when it boiled they poured it over the hogs. They used big, sharp knives to scrape all of the hair off. After cutting them up, we would have pork chops, bacon and hog jowl. They would take the hams and shoulders and rub them down in salt to cure them so they would last all winter without going bad.
Mom and us girls would use the small pieces to make sausage. We would run out of sage and salt (of course) so we would get milk, butter and eggs to take to the country store and trade them for what we needed, like needles and thread. We would be able to buy bleached muslin for 25 cents a yard that Mom would make sheets and pillowcases and, can you believe, our underclothes?
After Daddy and Uncle would finish cutting up the hogs we had to go to the creek and bring more sand and water to scrub the kitchen floor. Then we’d take a cake of homemade soap that Dad and Mom made from wood ashes, lard from the hogs and a can of white lye, then go back to the creek to bathe for supper. I can still remember how good it smelled when we came back into the house. The fresh hog meat frying, the brown gravy. Do you remember that?
I sure would like to have some of it now. I think I will ask my sister if she knows how to make the yams, fried potatoes, wild greens Mom used to pick around the fields, beans, fried cornbread, apple pies that Mom got from the trees around the house.
After that good supper, we girls would help Mom clean up the kitchen and the boys would go out to feed the animals. Daddy would be in the living room listening to the Grand Old Opry on the battery radio.
We would all gather around the radio, sitting on the floor and bed because I can only remember having two chairs (with 10 people). Ha, ha. Mom would pop us corn we had raised. What a wonderful time we had back then.
I can remember at Christmas, Mamaw and Papaw would be at the door with the presents they had made for us and, most of all, the good-tasting stack cake with dried apples and cinnamon. There was a layer for every one of us.
They would come in, smiling, and give us all big hugs. The snow would be so wet and cold on their backs. Daddy would go to the horse and untie a featherbed mattress Mamaw had made for us kids.
There wasn’t any money in that house, but plenty of love.
The boys would go to the hill and shoot out mistletoe, and we would hang it over the door and on the mantle of the fireplace. While they were in the hills, they could cut down a pine tree for us. We would make strings of corn to put around it, and make pretty cutouts in different colors to hang on it.
If it were only possible, I would love to hear Mother or Mamaw tell the boys to go herd the cows to milk and, with a sense of humor, Mom would have to tell them, “Now, boys, remember, have patience like Job.”
We didn’t get commodities or food stamps back in those days, but God blessed us to have a roof over our heads. He blessed us with a good garden so we had plenty of food to eat, and gave us His blessing of love for each other, so we shared it with others.