REMEMBRANCE: STORIES OF THE PAST by Cheryl Pierson

 

Many years ago, my aunt entered an essay contest at Austin College in Texas. Aunt Jo Anne was my dad’s younger sister. Her essay was about hog-killing time on their small farm in southeastern Oklahoma, but in her rich way of telling a story, she said so much more.

 

Aunt Jo Anne was my dad’s only sister, and she was a strong “influencer” in our family. She had a very dynamic personality, and was full of surprises. Born in 1929, she was seven years younger than my dad and they loved each other dearly. Though she accomplished many things, her family was the most important—the dearest thing—in her life.

 

 

This is her recollection of the yearly ritual of hog-killing. She remembers this particular time when she was nine years old. When she wrote this essay, she was in her late seventies or early eighties, and she passed away 2 years ago at the age of 88. Here she is below, writing a letter to her husband, my Uncle Earl, during the Korean War when he was overseas.

This essay is a treasure to me because it lets me have a glimpse of her as a child, of my grandparents as younger people, and of other family members like my Aunt Grace, who was my grandmother’s sister. Remembering Aunt Jo Anne and the wonderful stories she told about our family (she knew and remembered so many things—I tried to write some of them down!) as I read this essay makes me wish she had written more things like this.

My dad, Fred, with little sis, Jo Anne in front. Behind them are two of their first cousins. This was taken around 1933-1934 or so. Dad would have been about 11 or 12, and Jo Anne would have been 4 or 5.

 

I hope you enjoy this glimpse back in time.

 

REMEMBRANCE
By: Jo Anne Jackson

This was, for sure, hog killing weather—the deep, frigid
cold of late November, 1941. The blue “norther” had
subsided to a deep and bitter cold. Yes, fine weather for the
yearly ritual at our small row-crop farm.

Everything was ready. Only yesterday, Dad filled the
old black wash pot with well-bucket after well-bucket of
water and then staked wood from the ample woodpile to
surround what would become a scalding cauldron. My
mother had stitched long, white tubing that would encase the
pork sausage. Every crock, dish pan, and kettle was
thoroughly scrubbed.

By lamplight, Dad had carefully sharpened every utility
knife, giving close attention to the butcher knives. I watched
closely the rhythm-like back and forth motion of metal on
whet stone.

Aunt Jo Anne (RIGHT) and a cousin–both were 5 years old in this picture, and a few days after this was taken, her little cousin died of a ruptured appendix.

One of the largest shoats had been penned and fed rich
rations of grain and ‘shorts’, a thick, smelly mixture we
called slop. Discards from the kitchen were thrown in, also.

Next morning, Dad was up before sunrise, starting fires
in the wood heater and kitchen stove. He then went to coax
the kindling and larger sticks to a kind of red-hot furnace
around the wash pot.

At light of day, Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill drove up,
sitting high on the spring board seat of their farm wagon.
The horses were led into the barn lot, where they would
spend a day’s rest with plenty of grain and hay spread on the
wagon bed. No occasion—certainly not hog killing—could be
undertaken without the counsel and experience of this wise
old couple. They had seen much of life’s sweetness and
sadness.

My dad, Fred, and my Aunt Jo Anne clowning around by “striking a pose” many years later.

Mom poured the last of the morning coffee; steaming
cups were held close, everyone appreciating the soothing
warmth—and I was not to be left out; my small cup was
filled with cream and milk, a teaspoon of sugar and 2 or 3
teaspoons full of the hot beverage. Oh, the rich goodness of
that caramel concoction!

Talk turned to news of weather, family and community.
I was puzzled when, briefly, there was mention of England,
Germany and France—I surely didn’t comprehend the names
Hitler and Mussolini.

Then the long day’s work began. When Dad reached
for the .22 rifle, I ran back to my bed, lying face down with
eyes squeezed tight, holding my hands over my ears. But
even so, the crack of the rifle and high shrill squeal of that
animal I can recall vividly these decades later.

I watched from the kitchen window as the work
progressed. Boiling water was poured into a metal barrel
and then tilted downward ever so slightly. This became a
seething cauldron; ugly, but necessary, I knew. A make-shift
pulley and hoist would lift the dead animal into that scalding
baptism.

Dad and my uncle worked in close harmony, scraping
clean the hot clinging bristles, exposing the pink-white
coloring of snout, belly and back. Then followed the more
tedious work of quartering, slicing and discarding.
All day they labored, and that labor would provide meat
for our table. Long winter months lay ahead, but our
provisions were more than ample: spare ribs, loin,
backbone, jowls, bacon, sausage, and ham. Come
Christmas, a ham would be served, for our house would
overflow with cousins, second cousins, uncles and aunts,
toddlers and babes in arms (sweet, sweet fellowship, hours
of play and whispered secrets).

The sun was low when my mother called supper. The
coal-oil lamp in the center of the kitchen table provided a
mellow light.


Both men washed up, using wet hands to pat down
their hair, rumpled and tangled from a day that allowed no
time for combing.

Our places were set, four high backed chairs and the
kitchen stool for me, a child of nine years… Oh, that feast:
fried tenderloin, red eye gravy, small red potatoes boiled
with the jackets on… Everyone became seated and quiet as
our heads bowed to repeat The Lord’s Prayer.

 

Mom then brought the first pan of her wonderful buttermilk biscuits to
the table, hot from the oven, Everyone ate heartily, the men
enjoying a “roll your own” cigarette of Prince Albert tobacco
as they relaxed in the warmth of that small, cramped kitchen.
But hog killing was not over just because the hog was
killed. Much remained to be done.


Meat for sausage was ground, seasoned with just the
right amount of salt, pepper, and sage. One must be extra
careful with the sage, for even a little too much would ruin the
whole crock. (Words spoken by that lovable Aunt Grace, an
authority on sausage making. And indeed, she was.) The
white tubing was packed tightly with the sausage, then hung
by long baling wire from rafters in the smokehouse.
Then came the day for rendering fat to make our lard;
and the delicious crunch of the “cracklings” was the by-product.
A cup of crushed cracklings made a skillet of hot
cornbread really, really good.

Pork cracklings–a favorite dish “then and now”–you can buy them in bags to snack on these days!

The old black wash pot was put into service that one
last time for soap making. Mother’s lye soap was a product
she was most proud of. She knew by memory the exact
amount of grease, lye, and whatever else went into this
product. She wielded a long-handled wooden paddle to stir,
being careful to stay clear of the hot coals. When this
mixture reached a consistency that was absolutely, 100
percent right, and ashes covered the coals, she kept stirring,
only more slowly. lt took two or three days for the soap to
set up. LYE SOAP! In those long-ago years it was used to
wash dishes, to scrub our bare wood floors, and to bathe our
bodies when times were especially lean. When our city kin
visited in the summer, my aunt always asked, “Mary, do you
have an extra bar of your soap? The girls so love it for
shampoo.”

The week’s hum of activity gradually wound down.
Uncle Bill added a bit more preservative to the hams, sides
of bacon were wrapped and hung, buckets of pure white lard
were put in the storm cellar—placed on shelves next to
Mom’s prized lye soap.

These were my people: resourceful, honest,
hardworking, humble, and always true to their convictions of
right and wrong.

Only days later, December 7, 1941, our close-knit,
secure world was rocked asunder. WWII was upon us and
our way of life forever changed.

Now, in quiet times, I see them still, seated in lamp light
at our kitchen table, heads bowed in prayers of praise and
thanksgiving. The Lord had provided for another year.

Do you have a memory like this of a special time in your childhood that stands out in your mind? Please share!

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A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work: http://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson
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46 thoughts on “REMEMBRANCE: STORIES OF THE PAST by Cheryl Pierson”

  1. CHERYL- What a magnificent story your Aunt Jo left you.
    My family always had venison when I was growing up. We processed our own right in mom’s kitchen. It was a family affair. Your story reminded me of those times. I always enjoyed and dreaded it, as a child I enjoyed our conversations while processing the meat, but dreaded having to stay on task all day. Now I would give anything for one of those days over.
    Thank you for sharing such an amazing glimpse back into the past. Things were so much more appreciated back then. Have a great week, stay safe and healthy.
    Love & hugs.

    • Hi Tonya!
      I would most likely have been just like her–covering up my ears so as not to hear the squeal when the pig was killed. My husband told the story of when he and his family did this same thing–slaughtered a pig they’d had for a while. His name was “Farm King” and they’d come to think of him more as a pet. He could not eat that pig, and I don’t blame him. It would be hard! I have never had venison! Dad was not a hunter.

      I agree, things were more appreciated back then — even the little things we take for granted now. Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend! Take care!

      Love you!

    • Thank you Debra–yes this is a treasure to me for so many reasons. I sure do miss her, and am so glad to have this writing of hers.

    • Janine, that would thrill her to hear you say that. I felt the same way when I read it–like I was seeing it all through her eyes! Thanks so much for coming by!

  2. The memory of my youth was of sharing a bedroom with 7 other family members and gas lights lit up at night. Bathing in a shallow bowl and going out to the outhouse during the night. Canning vegetables during the summer and making homemade Christmas gifts for the family in Dec. Washing the clothes in a ringer washer and hanging clothes on the line. For your birthday you would get a bicycle that was repainted every year for the next child in the family. Picking elder berries and making jam. Feeding rabbits and my dad and a couple of uncles slottering them for meals later on. I don’t think I would change anything while I was growing up in the 60s. It made me who I am today. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • I know what you mean, Charlene. Our growing up days makes us who we are in so many ways. I grew up in the 60’s too–a turbulent time, but one of some good changes in our society as well, and probably the last decade we were able to experience so much innocence. So glad you stopped by!

    • Thanks, Susan. Aunt Jo Anne would be glad to know you thought so! Thanks for stopping by today!

    • Thanks for coming by, Carol. I’m so glad she decided to enter this in the contest, otherwise, she might never have sat down and written this wonderful memory.

  3. Thanks for sharing. I lived on a small farm growing up. My Dad also butchered and cured our own pork.

    • Hi Estella! Seems that way of life is fast becoming a thing of the past. I was thinking about this the other day when I saw a blog post about cutting up a chicken. It caught my eye because I had written one similar to that a few years back (It Was Very Important to Know How to Cut Up a Chicken). Not many people even know how to do that anymore! Glad you stopped by!

  4. I can remember us killing hogs and working them up. It was just like your aunt told in her story. We made the lard and also had cracklings and it was done outside. We also wash clothes on a ringer washer and hung them out to dry. We raised a garden and put up the vegetables. Also pick black berries and raspberries to make jam with. Yes I was raised in the 60’s and wouldn’t change a thing.

    • Hi Quilt Lady! Your growing up days sound like my husband’s. He was born in 1951 and raised in West Virginia. They grew strawberries, but had black berries too. His mom did LOTS of canning–they had a big family–and they had a garden with vegetables they put up to last them all year. Same with killing the hog(s) and doing all the steps Aunt Jo Anne mentions in her essay–so I’m thinking that part of it didn’t change from the 30’s-60’s! Not many would know how to do these things today. So glad you stopped by!

  5. I was never with family during any meat processing. My biggest memory that I’d love to do now is to shell peas with my grandmothers. I didn’t enjoy it as a kid but would love to be able to do it again now, especially if I could do it now.

    • I meant especially if I could do it with my grandma’s. I wish I had written down family stories. So many are lost and I can’t remember many because of my bad memory with MS.

      • Stephanie, I know what you mean. I remember doing the pea-shelling and corn-husking, etc. growing up and how it seemed like such drudgery. Now, I realize the adults probably looked forward to just being able to SIT DOWN and do something that needed to be done. Kids never look at it like that. LOL Yes those were good times, good memories.

  6. Cheryl, your aunt should’ve been a writer. She sure seems to have the gift for telling stories. This is such a treasure. I have nothing like this and it fills me with sadness. I yearn to know what my grandparents, my parents faced and how they viewed the world. I’d love a glimpse into their lives. And my own longing makes it doubly important to pass down these precious glimpses to my grandchildren. One day they’ll want to know more about me and my thoughts about things.

    • Linda, she was a debater in high school, and later after college taught high-school English, then taught college-level English. She was a born story-teller, and how I wish I had recorded many of the stories she told about our family. She remembered so many of them, and the things they did, things that happened to family members, etc.

      My mom used to always say she was going to “write things down” for us girls, but she never did do it. Always something more pressing, and then when she got Alzheimer’s that was the end of it all. I started writing things down for my kids. I am too sporadic at it. I need to just keep after it, day after day. I would love to have the time to write two journals–one about my own memories and one about the stories family members have told about the past. Now would be a good time to do it, while we are all quarantined.

      You’re right–one day, your children and grandchildren will be curious and will want to know about you. If you don’t write it down, you can just picture them saying, “I sure wish Nana would have said WHY (fill in the blank) happened!” LOL Thanks so much for coming by, Linda. Love you, girl! XOXO

  7. What a treasure. Hard working loved ones for sure. I never grew up on a farm or around farm animals. The story passed down to our generation was how poor my grandparents were. My grandpa was a blacksmith and a very large man … not fat. My grandma was small. She could sew everything … whatever was needed. She could fry donuts like nobody else. They didn’t have indoor plumbing. Waste was carried out when the bucket was full. One story I remember being told when I was 5 or 6 was about one Christmas when there was nothing to spare. That year, my dad got a pint of cream and an orange for Christmas. And he and his siblings were thrilled! When my dad was dying at the age of 57, his last Christmas with us, we gave him a pint of cream in the old fashioned glass jar and an orange for Christmas. He wept. Somehow, I think it made his homegoing to Heaven bittersweet because truly in life family and our Heavenly Father are most important, and maybe a pint of cream and an orange.

    • Kathy, your dad left way too young. I think that was such a perfect gift for him for his last Christmas. You know, we had a tradition like that in our family, too. When my parents were married (1944) and times were so hard in general, but also because WWII was raging, my mom bought my dad a box of chocolate covered cherries. Their first Christmas together, and so poor, and of course–a baby on the way! So money was very tight, but that was what she could afford. So every year, from then on, there was always a box of chocolate covered cherries wrapped up under the tree for Dad. I always thought that was so sweet. No matter what else he got, he got a box of chocolate covered cherries, too–a reminder of a time when that was the ONLY thing he got, when times were so tough.

      Your grandparents were so talented in the ways that God gave them–the sewing, and the blacksmithing–I think everyone has their “own particular talent” and home-making is one of those talents that not everyone has–cooking, sewing, just making a home in general. And being a blacksmith HAD to be something that was definitely needed during that time.

      Yes, MANY hard-working people back then, for sure. Thank you for sharing your sweet memories with us!

  8. This made me cry. So much of history like this has been lost now to the internet and today’s modern living. Family isn’t family anymore, and it is so sad that today’s children won’t have memories like this. I had a favorite aunt in Indiana (Laura Swope) who was a fabulous cook and decorator and at sewing. I remember she used to iron Uncle Harold’s boxer shorts and iron her sheets!! Some young people today hardly know what an iron is. She made fabulous fried eggs, and the best pecan pie in America. My MOST FAVORITE MEMORIES are of my Grandma Florence Williams (my mother’s mother). She was poor, and for a while (1940’s and early 50’s)she lived in a converted shed with no electricity and no running water. When I would go stay with her she used kerosene lamps, a cook stove that was heated with wood, an ice box, and she had to carry her water. I slept in a feather mattress on a rollaway bed, and she always cooked fried hamburgers and fried potatoes for me because she knew how much I loved her fried potatoes. To this day I make my fried potatoes in bacon grease. That’s the only way to eat fried potatoes. When she got electricity we would listen to stories on the radio, including GUNSMOKE! To this day I still watch Gunsmoke, so I’ve been listening to it or watching it since I was about 5 or 6 years old. No wonder I write westerns! And the program has used the same theme music since its inception on the radio. Staying at grandma’s might seem inconvenient and primitive to today’s kids, but I miss that more than anything else in my life, and I LOVED staying at grandma’s “shed.”

    • Oh, Rosanne! What lovely memories! I am sure you can still remember the way those hamburgers and fried potatoes tasted, even now. You are so right about family not being family sometimes, in this day and age. Not like we remember it, for sure. Many younger people now deciding not to have kids and not to even marry. Our way of life has changed in so many ways, and with it, those memory-making times have disappeared, as well. I loved GUNSMOKE! too. Still do — watch it every time I come across it on tv, no matter what else might be on. LOL Thanks so much for sharing your sweet memories with us. Truly, LOVE is what matters–and taking the time to make someone feel special–which your grandma certainly did for you!

  9. Oh I remember hog killing time a my granny’s and the first time I saw that hog head sitting on the table where she was getting ready to make souse meat just about freaked me out. I really enjoyed this essay today Cheryl brought back a lot of memories. Thanks for sharing

    • GLENDA! Oh Lord! You made me laugh out loud. I can sure identify–if I saw a hog head sitting on the table I would freak out too. LOL I’m so glad you stopped by. Aren’t memories wonderful? Probably one of the very best gifts God gave us.

  10. What a wonderful story by your aunt.

    My country-honed memories come from times spent at my grandparents’ home in Tennessee. Hog killing time, canning in summer, picking beans, shelling peas, planting potatoes while following a hand plow or one pulled by a mule, milking a cow, making biscuits and cornbread with my grandma. Christmastime visit included watching her quilting. Always a story to be told by grandpa, about his life or people on the mountain or down in the valley.

    My parents retired there. In his own way, my dad has tried to replicate some of this for my boys, but it just isn’t the same. But, they’ve also done other things like helping take the honey from the hives, putting the frames into the extractor, and bottling it up; hiking on the Appalachian Trail, climbing the old fire tower, whittling, etc…

    • Denise, your parents must not live too far from us, relatively speaking. The foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains is beautiful country. Time with the grandparents is always precious.

    • Denise, what lovely memories you must have of those times in your childhood. And your dad must have missed his life there, to retire there and go back to the ways he knew from HIS childhood. Lots of “the past” there to recapture, but I know it’s not the same as it once was. So much of it is lost. I’m so glad you came by today and shared your memories here.

  11. Wow! I enjoyed reading this so much! Your aunt had quite a way with words. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Hi Christy,
      How she would have loved to hear how much you enjoyed her story. She always did have a wonderful way with words and a very thoughtful way of telling a story, too. I really do love this, with her descriptions. So glad you came by and enjoyed this so much!

  12. Beautifully written, Cheryl, and a wonderful memory. You are lucky she wrote it to share. Now you and your family will have it forever. Writing is obviously in your genetic makeup.

    When I was in 4th or 5th grade, for some reason (likely a good price), my dad bought 50 chickens. We did not live in the country and no one had any farm experience. He set up a chopping block in the back yard and my mom had a big pot of scalding water down in the basement. Dad would chop off the chicken’s head, throe it on the ground, and one of the older children (I was oldest of 6) would run the headless chickens down to my mother. She would gut them, dunk them in the scalding water, and pluck them. One of the chicken’s heads had been cut off rather high on the neck. When she reached in to pull the innards out it squawked. Seems the cut was above the vocal cords. That spooked her. She refused to work alone or in the basement, and moved out into the yard with the rest of us. It was noisy, chaotic, smelly, and not really somewhere I wanted to be. That was confirmed when one of the chickens my dad had beheaded and thrown onto the ground got up and chased me around the yard. Everyone got a good laugh out of it…except me. I was done. That whole experience was one none of us really wanted to repeat. However, a little over 5 years later we had moved to the country. One year my brother did chickens for a 4-H project. You raise 50 chicks which are provided by a sponsor. At the end of the summer, you present 2 dressed fryers to the sponsor. Obviously the whole procedure was repeated again, but I plead guilty of finding some place else I “had” to be that day.

    Thanks for sharing. Stay safe and stay healthy.

    Not a childhood memory, but in my three years in the Peace Corps, I had many animals butchered at the house where I stayed. Chickens all the time and pigs and goats less frequently. They do not dispatch the animals quickly and they squealed for a long time . Nothing is wasted, so they slit the throats of the animals and collect the blood to cook. The animals were killed right outside my room’s window. Not sure why, but there was a water faucet there. For the hair of pigs and goats rather than scald and scrape, they burned it off. A smelly process. I hadn’t really thought of it, but they must have sold much of the meat in the market. We would have pork for several days and a dish made from the blood and intestines. But with no refrigeration or smoking there was no way to keep it.

    • Until going back to read earlier posts, I had forgotten that we have processed animals. With the fishing and hunting my husband did, there were fish, game birds and deer to process. I guess when you skip being around the killing process, it doesn’t seem as onerous a task. There were some really interesting posts. It sunds like those of us who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s has the best of everything.

    • OH, my goodness, Patricia! You know, my husband will not eat chicken to this day because he was tasked with helping kill and pluck the chicken for meals. He can’t stand to smell it cooking. I’m sure I would have felt the same way if I’d been him. And…I could not have stood having animals killed right outside my window…I am afraid I would not have lasted in the Peace Corps. You are a better woman than I am. LOL

      So glad you came by today and shared these memories with us! Take care of yourself, too, Patricia. I’m glad you enjoyed Aunt Jo Anne’s story. I treasure it!

  13. What a fabulous writer your Aunt Jo was! How incredible to have a written memory such as this from so long ago. My mom’s family lived that life, as well, her daddy being a sharecropper and pig farmer, only my mother, the one-true Biddy, couldn’t stand the hog-killing and stayed as far away from it as possible. She was mighty busy anyway washing and drying all those dishes in that family of eleven children! This story is an example of survival at its best!

    • Jodi, you know how I love your BLACKBERRY ROAD! There had to be so many kids who had certain aspects of that story in their lives, growing up, and you sure made it come alive. I know your mom has to be so proud that you wrote about her! There were 11 kids in my mom’s family, too, and she was the oldest. Yes, back then you just did what you had to do to survive, for sure! Thanks so much for commenting! XOXO

  14. ow wonderful to have this essay, not only because you loved this aunt, but the treasure trove of information of a time that is largely gone. My grandmother was housekeeper for a widower and come fall a pig was butchered. I don’t remember helping but I remember the pig being up on a truss (or perhaps it’s from a photo). What I do remember though, was the treat when the organs were cooked in a thick gravy and the meat was so tender. I still remember churning butter for my grandmother and it seemed that cream took forever to turn into pale lumps. Quite often our two families would share Sunday dinner, usually a boiled chicken which was never one of my favorite meals, except the Sunday that the rooster that used to chase me was dished up very much to my satisfaction. I also remember my mother and grandmother making strudel on the rectangular table. Mom was especially good at stretching the pyllo-type dough, and if stretched too much, it would tear and had to be prepared. We had apple strudel, poppyseed strudel and cottage cheese strudel. A lost art and one I never learned. Thanks for sharing your aunt’s account, an experience kids nowadays will never experience.

    • Oh, Elizabeth, I love strudel! Well, I love anything pastry-like. LOL I think of how my mom made EVERYTHING from scratch when I was growing up. There were no “box” mixes to speak of. First one I remember her buying was a cake mix that another recipe called for. She made everything from scratch, and with my sisters being so much older than I was and having boyfriends over a lot, there was always some kind of wonderful cake or cookies or some kind of dessert available. I’m so glad you got the satisfaction of eating the rooster than chased you! LOL (reminds me of “We will kill the old red rooster when she comes…” — She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain) So glad you stopped in and shared your memories!

  15. Wonderful read felt like I was seeing it as I read along. Wonderful talent and memories. I know some ppl who write daily of things and have books and books to pass onto the next generation.

    • Kristi, I wish so much that I had something like that from my ancestors, and I wish I was “consistent” enough in my writing regimen to do that every day for my own kids. Seems the older I get, the slower I get, and this is when I really need to sit down and DO IT. That would be such a wonderful gift!

    • Caryl, so glad you enjoyed it. Yes, to me it is priceless. A look into the past at my grandparents’ lives, too, that I might not have ever known. Thanks so much for reading!

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