The Story of my Life
Louise Virginia (Weir) Frasier
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hen I was growing up on the farm we had no refrigerators or freezers so preserving foods could be a problem. Potatoes were spread in a dry place out of the sun. Before cold weather the potatoes were put in a shed or somewhere dry and covered with something.
Sweet potatoes were left in the sun for about three days. Then a hole was dug and lined with grass and hay. The potatoes were put in and covered with hay. Then a teepee was built over the top using corn stalks. A hole was left where you could get the potatoes out. Potatoes would keep all winter like that.
Onions were hung in bunches by the tops and left in the smoke house to dry. The smoke house was also where the pork was kept. Some people were better at curing hams and bacon than others. Papa could not cure good meat.
There was a lot of things Papa couldn’t do, but he could take a T-Model or Chevrolet car apart, clean every part, and put it back together. Of-course, I guess there were about thirty parts. The other day I walked up the street and some men had the hood of a car up. I looked at it and said, “Oh my! Why don’t you kick the tires?” A whole battle ship under that hood!
Everybody saved cotton seed for seed and to feed cattle. It was kept in the seed house. Before freezing weather, all the glass jars of fruits and vegetables were buried in the cotton seed so it wouldn’t freeze. If you wanted a jar of apple sauce, you might have to dig for an hour before you found it!
I remember butchering day. In the south, people didn’t eat much beef. If someone butchered a cow, it all had to be eaten within two days. They would sell some and swap some of it for something they needed. When you butchered hogs, some had to be eaten fresh: the ribs, backbone, and trimmings. These were given out to neighbors who paid you back when they butchered. The hams and sides were cured. Fat was rendered out of the fatty parts; you’d have fifty pound cans of lard. Nobody who was anybody thought about using anything but lard and butter, even after they started making vegetable oils and Oleo.
Sausage was ground, mixed with spices, fried, and put into jars or crocks, and lard was poured over the top. The heads were cleaned and cooked all day in the big clothes wash pot. Then when it cooled, all the meat was picked off, ground and spices added. Then it was put into wooden boxes, usually an old cheese hoop box. Cheese clothe was put over that and then another clothe and a big rock put on top. The box was then stored in a cool place. You could cut off a slice and eat it just like that, or you could fry it before eating it. This was called ‘sause meat’ or ‘head cheese’. A lot of people wouldn’t eat head cheese, but it was good.
Some people ate chitterlings. That was the hog intestines turned inside out, the lining stripped off, and ground with spices added (I guess). We never had any chitterlings so I don’t know how you made it or what it tasted like. Butchering day was a fun day for usually several families butchered at the same time and since there would be nothing kids could do, we played. I know the men would give us the hog bladders after blowing them up. They flew like balloons, but they wouldn’t burst like balloons.
All soap was made from fat scraps, lye, and water. Sometimes different things would be put in to scent it while it was boiling -- a handful of dried verbenas, dried rose petals, or even mint or catnip. Sometimes the soap would be hard enough to cut into cakes or sometimes it would be soft soap and have to be kept in a crock. I don’t know why sometimes it wouldn’t harden. Maybe the quality of the fat used controlled it.
Sometimes hickory ashes were saved in a barrel and water poured in occasionally and when it dripped through the ashes, the water was caught and saved and this made a better grade of lye than the red devil lye you bought. Soap was made twice a year, but hominy was generally made only once a year—maybe sometime in February.
Hominy is hard white corn. Anywhere from a peck to a half bushel of shelled corn was covered with water in the big black wash pot. Lye was put in and the corn was boiled for eight or nine hours. When the husk broke you started washing it. You washed till all the husks were washed away.
Mama fried hominy with salt pork. We loved hominy making day for when we got home from school we’d have a bowlful. We were always hungry when we got home from school. Sometimes we would eat corn bread and onions.
Peddlers were rolling stores. Before World War II they traveled around the country roads in horse drawn wagons. They had the wagons fitted up with shelves in the middle and on each side. They let the sides down and had all staple foods, needles, thread, dry goods, or almost anything you could buy in a store. They also traded for eggs, had coops on the back for chickens and a crock for butter. They took all those things in trade.
After the war, the peddlers drove trucks, sort of like vans, but with sides that would raise up like an awning and there would be shelves of stuff. They were also great gossips, taking messages from house to house. With a truck a good peddler could cover twenty miles in a day. With horse-drawn wagons, they ran the same routes once a month. In the trucks they came every week.
Everyone was always anxious for peddling day to come. You could hear a lot of good juicy gossip. Some men wouldn’t let their wives talk to a peddler. Of-course, some men wouldn’t let their wives and daughters do a lot of things. They were not allowed to read even the newspaper. “Baby, you’ve come a long way!”
“Papa and Uncle Willie Wells owned a cotton gin”
We didn’t have to worry about recycling. Flour, corn meal, sugar, salt, and even fertilizer came in plain white or printed cotton bags. They were used for clothes or bedding. If you bought crackers, they came out of a cracker barrel and when you got them home, you kept them in a stoneware jar with a tight fitting lid. You bought cheese cut from the round hoop of cheese. There were no plastic wraps, no tin foil, you wrapped cheese in cheese cloth soaked in butter. You would go into a store and buy a nickel’s worth of cheese and crackers and that would be your lunch. Sometimes, you’d buy a big old pickle for a penny—reach in the barrel and get it yourself! You would get three big dips of ice cream for a nickel. Cokes in the regular old-fashioned six ounce bottle were a nickel from the time they started making them until after World War II. Those bottles held just exactly enough coke to fill you. No canned cokes taste as good as those did. You did not can tomatoes, fruits, or corn in tin cans even after tin cans became popular.
Now, in the 1990’s, garbage and the re-cycling of it has become a major concern. In the 1920’s and 1930’s the children took care of most of the re-cycling. Of-course there were no tons of waste paper. If it was newspaper or a Sears Catalog, it was used for toilet paper in out-houses or for wallpaper.
We would make paste out of flour and water, put it on the back of the paper and paste it up on the walls of the outhouses. Did you ever try to answer the call of nature and read a newspaper that had been pasted on the wall upside-down at the same time?
Some people would even paper their kitchen walls with pages of the Sears Catalog or newspaper. You would start reading something and then find yourself standing on your head reading the rest of the story.
We had a rag-man who came around and bought rags and would buy paper if it was glossy. Some magazines had glossy pages. Once, some of our neighbors were gone and left their ten-year old son home alone. He sold all their extra clothes—even sheets off the beds—to the rag-man for $1.50.
We also had scrap iron men and peach pit-men who came around regularly. Or the peddler would buy peach pits, scrap iron, and rags. We kids would hunt peach seeds and when the peddler came he gave us ½ cent a pound for them. And the peddler paid ½ cent a pound for scrap iron.
If we kids were not too lazy we could make enough to pay our way to the movie once a month—five cents. Of-course, a lot of kids used what they made for tobacco: snuff, chewing tobacco, or Bull Durham smoking tobacco which you used to roll your own cigarettes.
There were some brown paper bags—the small lunch bag size. If you carried your lunch in a bag, which we did, the biscuit sandwiches were wrapped in cloth napkins and you carried the bag back home so you could use it the next day. Some kids carried their lunch in ten buckets. They could take cornbread and a little dab of syrup in a bucket. We never carried a bucket or cornbread. Some people ate cornbread for breakfast and other people felt sorry for them—or called them trash.
Back then people did everything by moon signs or other signs. If the corn had thick shucks and the nuts had thick shells, it would be a cold, long, hard winter. If it thundered before seven in the morning, it would rain before eleven. If you planted things in the wrong sign, they wouldn’t do any good. If you planted root crops in a certain sign, every time you ate some you’d have diarrhea! I remember that old people always said, “If you dig a hole in the new moon, you’ll have dirt to throw away; but if you dig it in the old of the moon, there won’t be enough dirt to fill the hole again.”
We were always told that certain combinations of food were deadly. I can’t remember many of those, but if you ate any kind of sea-food at the same time you ate dairy products you could die. If any food accidentally froze, you had to throw it away, no matter what it was for a deadly gas was released when it was frozen. You had to put sour kraut and pickles in a wooden barrel or a stoneware crock. If you threw an apple or two into the potato bin, the potatoes wouldn’t sprout.
There were all kinds of home remedies when I was growing up, and I still use some of them. For instance, if you cut yourself, put sugar on the cut and pour turpentine on it. Then tie it up. It will never get sore. Hot salt water will heal any infection.
For a bad cough, put three drops of kerosene on a spoon full of sugar and eat it. Also for coughs take mullein leaves and boil them. Then strain the leaves out, add Vaseline and whiskey and swallow some and rub some on the chest.
For croup, have bacon grease warm and swallow a spoon full. Also for croup, have a tub of cold water and a big fire. Put the one with croup or convulsions in the cold water and then take them out and wrap in hot blankets. Another croup remedy is to roast onions and give the one with croup a bit of the juice from a spoon. Then make a poultice of onion and put it on the chest.
To take warts off, count the warts, put the same number of stones in a rag and bury them at a cross roads. Or best of all, let me rub them. They really do go away when I rub them.
While we lived at the Garret house, everybody got the scabies (or itch). It was very contagious and we got it. The doctor told Mama to boil pokeberry roots and make us take a bath in the water. “But”, he said, “It will burn the skin and hurt.”
So Mama put Comer and Buford in the tub first. They sat down for a few minutes and then jumped up and ran around the outside of the house naked! One treatment cured the itch, but Mama was afraid to treat us girls like that. She got a prescription from the doctor.
Doctors did not really write prescriptions and there were no pharmacies. The doctor generally had patent medicines in his black bag. There was very few medicines and the liquid ones were about 80% alcohol. Some powders came in capsules. Once, a neighbor of ours opened the capsules and when she saw the doctor again she said, “Sir, here’s your little glass bottles. I’m afraid I broke some opening them.”
When I was very young we had medicine shows which came to town. There would be a covered wagon with cases of patent medicine. One bottle of the medicine would cure anything. There was always a magician who was also a comedian and a pretty girl that would dance and sing. They always got a local boy to hand out the medicine. Dozens of people would crowd around the wagon. Almost everyone bought a bottle or two. I guess it was mostly alcohol. It generally sold for $1.00.
Traveling salesmen who sold big items or sold only for one company were called drummers. Salesmen who sold everything were called peddlers. One drummer that came around once a month was the Watkins man. He sold only Watkins products: home remedies, animal remedies, spices, and extract flavorings. Everyone kept a shopping list of what they needed to buy from the Watkins man.
Lightening rod salesmen were also called drummers. They came once a year. Lightening rods were put on the top of houses and barns to protect the buildings from being struck by lightening. The lightening struck the lightening rod and ran into the ground instead of setting the building on fire.
Drummers also sold Home Comfort Range stoves and New Home Machines. These big items could be bought on credit. You could pay one third down and two payments due on the first of October for the next two years. You did not have to pay interest on these payments.