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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!