Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Country Girl

I love to read my Grandma's personal history, especially about her childhood.  She comes from real pioneer stock because her family built their own homestead and farm from nothing but former wilderness.  Plus they were the only "Mormons" for miles around.  Though I only knew her as a "city girl," it was like reading a "Little House" novel as I read my grandma's memoirs of her childhood.  I wanted to share Vyvyan Roberta Dyal Jordan's memories of a "Country Girl."

It was 1920, and I was 4 years old.  "Papa," (Dahlonega Washington Dyal), was able to buy 100 acres of farmland through the Federal Land Bank in the community of Semirah Springs (Alabama). ...The price of the land was $12.00 per acre with 30 years to pay off.  The land was located about six miles south of Uriah and 8 miles north of McCullough in Escambia County. ...

Even me at age four had to help in the construction of the house.  There were huge hickory trees within a few feet of where the house would be built.  Under these trees, Papa set up work benches for the family to work on different projects.  Big heart pines had been sawed into 3-foot sections.  From these sections the boys rived boards six inches wide called shingles.  My dad had the trees sawed into 12-inch boards for the house walls and 4-inch boards for lathes to cover the cracks in the walls.  I believe the floor boards were cut at 10-inches in width.  Sometimes the neighbors would come and help us.  It was wonderful and exciting to see the big house growing.  When the house was completely finished, there was a huge wide porch and also a back porch with shelves for water buckets and wash basins.  We had a well dug and it had the best water anywhere.

We had three large bedrooms, two of them with fireplaces.  A small, narrow, "extra" bedroom, a dining room, a kitchen and a long dog trot hall from the front porch to the back porch.  Before the well was dug, we had to carry our clothes to a clear spring about a block away.  My Grandpa and Grandma Baggett and family lived up the hill from us, just past the spring.

My dad...planted white and red grapevines on the fences.  He planted a peach orchard at the top of the hill.  Behind the house he had a pear and satsuma orchard and several varieties of plum.  He grew the best watermelons in town.  He planted sugarcane, potatoes and other vegetables and even a rice patch.

Papa had machinery like a hay rake, a mowing machine, a stalk cutter, a planter, and a fertilizer distributor, plus a two-horse wagon and mules to pull the wagon and to plow the fields. ...He built a huge barn with stalls on two sides for the mules and cows.  Elevated by thick timbers so a wagon could go underneath, there was a ladder up to the barn door.  At harvest time it was filled with hay.  There was also a corn crib.  ...After the calves were allowed their share of milk, they were let out to the woods and the cows were milked.  Then the calves were penned up and the cows were let out to graze.

A small closet on the back porch served as refrigeration for the milk.  The milk was strained through clean cloths and poured into pans and put on shelves to allow the cream to rise to the top.  We drank sweet milk as needed.  When we needed to make butter or buttermilk, we put milk in a big earthenware churn, covered it with a cloth and set it to the side of the hearth to keep warm until it clabbered.  Then we put a wooden dasher in it and churned it up and down until the cream turned to butter and the milk turned to a delicious, rich, thick buttermilk.  A bowl of buttermilk and a piece of fresh cornbread was as good as anything else I wanted to eat.  We used to say, "give me cornbread, buttermilk and those good old greasy greens."

Farm life was hard but I never minded the field work too much.  Papa was a good man and a good farmer.  There was always plenty to eat as he always planted big gardens and we always worked hard in the summer months to can thousands of jars of tomatoes, peas, beans, etc.  Papa built a fruit house with four-inch thick timbers in the backyard.  He lined the wall with shelves for all the canned stuff so it would stay cool. ...Sometimes we could get our county agent to bring the county canner, sealer and cans to can a whole cow.

It seemed like when the winter cold weather came it stayed.  So in January we usually butchered 10-14 fattened pigs.  We had a smoke house where we hung long sausages, hams and bacon to cure.  We cut up the fat and cooked in big washpots until it became delicious brown cracklins to eat with sweet potatoes or make cracklin bread.  The grease in the pots became snow white lard.

I always begged to stay home from school on hog killing day so I could turn the sausage mill.  It had a sleeve on the side so the thin intestines could be slid on and filled with the ground meat.  It was fun to go down to the fjord (spring) to help Grandma and Aunt Jane Allen, or whoever came to help clean the chitterlings to make skins for the sausage.  We made a slow burning hickory smoke-fire in a scooped out place in the dirt of the smokehouse floor to smoke the meat for several days.  We would coil some of the sausage in 50-pound lard cans and pour the new lard over them.  As we used the sausage from the can, we also used the lard to make biscuits so the biscuits tasted like sausage biscuits.  They were wonderful on cold mornings with thick, homemade sugarcane syrup.

Papa always planted a big cane patch.  He would save some of the stalks for seed.  He dug an oblong trench in the ground, cut some stalks in sections, placed them in the trench and covered them with about 6 inches of soil to stay there until the spring planting.  When they were unearthed, there were little shoots coming out of the stalks.

Papa would always let us take turns going to the one syrup-making mill in the community located at Mr. Till Cardwell's place.  We would mingle with the neighbor kids and drink all the cane juice we wanted, (though I didn't really like it that much).  The fire never went out under the huge cooking pans.  The mill would crush the stalks into juice, and the tongue was pulled by a mule who walked in a circle all day.  The juice ran into a series of large vats or pans.  As the juice moved further down into the vats, with many hours of cooking down, it became delicious syrup.  These were placed in gallon cans.  Mr. Cardwell was given a share of the syrup for use of his mill.

Papa always tried to have a ripe watermelon by my birthday, June 23rd.  To me heaven without watermelon would be disappointing.  Usually by the 4th of July, the crop was "laid by" till cotton picking time and we had time to play, read, go fishing or swimming in Little River a mile down the hill from our house.  We would pick washtubs of huge blackberries near the river to be canned for jams, jellies, and delicious fruit punches, or in the winter, for pies.

When the cotton picking time came in August, Papa and every child who could drag a cotton sack, went to the fields.  We kids raced to see if we could pick as  many pounds per day as Papa, but we never could.  He usually picked over 200 pounds.  I think the most I ever picked was 150 pounds.  We had a cotton house in the middle of the field where we emptied our sacks after "weighing up."  Papa would always let us rest on the porch on the cotton house, or lie on the grass around it.  We cut many watermelons on that porch, sometimes with the aid of a thumbnail and a tough piece of grass when we didn't have knife on hand.  There was a big gully or wash down the hill from the back forty with a clear, cold spring.  The boys took turns toting the jugs of water from the spring for the cotton pickers.  

Mama never had to work a day in the field as long as my dad lived.  She was very beautiful to me.  Her lovely brown hair hung nearly to her knees.  I loved to watch her brush it in the mornings and then swirl it around and coil it on the back of her head.  She knew exactly where to place the big tortoise hairpins.  Although she married at age 15, she was a very good housekeeper and seamstress.  She would sing a little ditty as she sewed.  It went something like, "With a twist and a twirl, this is for the girl, with the golden curl..."

We children would go out early in the  morning and gather all the vegetables for Mama to cook for our dinner and supper.  The boys would draw the water from the well and fill the two big black wash pots in the back yard and three big washtubs that sat on the long wash-bench under the shade tree.  Mama did the wash with the rub board, lye soap and Gold Dust washing powder.  After washing the clothes on the rub board, the clothes were boiled in the wash pots, then rinsed and hung on the long clotheslines.  A battling block near the wash pots (3 feet tall, made of hickory) and a flat battling stick were used to paddle all the stains out of the boy's overalls when they were lifted from the pot to the block.  Smoothing irons were heated by the fireplace or on top of the wood stove, or in the summer they were heated in a slow fire under the shade of the big hickory where clothes were ironed outside.

Papa always had a big potato house dug out 10 x 15 feet.  It was in the garden area complete with shingled roof. It had a thick layer of pine straw in the bottom.  When we dug the potatoes, they were sorted by size.  Papa dug another smaller pit and put the stringy potatoes in it and covered them with corn stalks and dirt until spring time. Then he took the small potatoes and put them in a seed bed until they sprouted, and then we planted the new crop.  Each year was a round of planting, cultivating and harvesting over and over again.  There was so much work but it was a great lesson in the value of work and its rewards and how the seasons operate.

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