Wednesday, 26 September 2012 12:18
Hog killin’ time…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
Walk outside and take a long deep breath. The smell is in the air. It’s the smell of fall. But sometimes, just that smell, takes me back to my childhood, growing up a young boy on Paw Paw. Some of you will know exactly what I mean while others will ask themselves, what smell is he talking about?
As a person gets older, there are certain things that will take them back to another time in their life. It may be a song on the radio that when I hear it, I remember the very first time that I heard the song and where I was at when I heard it. It may be other things that trigger my memory, like the smell of a fresh baked cake or pie that reminds me of a Thanksgiving morning and Momma getting ready for a big dinner and a table without and empty chair. Or, it may be a picture in an old album that I haven’t looked at for some time that triggers my memory and takes me back to that exact moment in my life. That’s what smell I’m talking about.
The seasons of the year have a certain smell, that when I close my eyes as I take that deep breath, I remember things from long ago just as if I was a child again. When my kids were young and at home, I would sometimes get that deep breath and I would tell them it was going to snow soon. They would ask how I could tell and my answer would be “The smell that’s in the air.”
I don’t need to watch the news to tell me when the weather is going to change all I have to do is close my eyes and breath. Now I’m not talking about forecasting the weather a week in advance, but on a day-to-day method.
I walked out to my truck this morning going to work and the smell of fall was in the air as I opened the front door and stepped outside and took my first breath. It’s that crisp, cool, clean smell that no air freshener can duplicate. It’s the smell that takes me back to when I knew that before long it would be the most beautiful time of all, autumn and hog killin’ time.
Some of you may argue otherwise, but to me there nothing more beautiful than when the leaves start to turn their browns, yellows, ambers and orange in these beautiful east Kentucky mountains that I call home. The songbirds begin make their yearly flight to warmer climates. And life in general, just slows down.
As a young boy, there was quite a bit more to do then as winter approached. It was the time to harvest what we have grown and prepare for the winter ahead. We always had to ‘put-up’ most of the things to get us through another winter.
Dad would always kill at least a couple hogs. It sometimes made me a little sad to see the pig we had raised all summer to be killed but times were tough and we had to eat. Dad with a good clean shot, assured me there would be no suffering for the hog. But now, the work began.
Dad had a large kettle of boiling water ready to scald and scrap off the hair. After a good washing down the meat was quartered up. Dad was a skilled butcher and taught all of us how to “break-down” the meat. We then took the meat to our smokehouse to be stored until needed. Most of the meat was preserved by a good salting down or by smoking it with a fire fueled by hickory wood.
We stored the meat by placing it on greasy wooden shelves in the smokehouse or by tying strings to the heavy pork pieces and hanging them on nails in the smokehouse rafters. The smokehouse would be full of big hams, slabs of bacon, racks of ribs, and lots of shoulder meat that would get us through the cold winter days.
Nothing was wasted when we killed our hogs. Mom’s job was to render lard from the trimmings of fat or to make lye soap from it. The skin from the hog would end up as cracklings or as meat skins cooked in our oven, they were truly delicious. Pap Paw Miller would most times take the hog’s head to cook and prepare it for souse meat.
He was the best around for making souse. He trimmed the head real close not wasting anything and combined the meat with his own recipe of spices handed down from generation to generation. He then cooked the meat and added gelatin that would hold the meat together. Next, he poured the combination into old metal lunchmeat cans we had saved until the souse ‘set up’. Then, it could be removed in a perfect square loaf ready for slicing.
With the feet, Mom would pickle them and store in quart jars. The tail was cooked in soup. The neck bones were cooked in water along with potatoes from the garden for a tasty meal. Dad even ate the hog’s brains, fried in a skillet along with scrambled eggs. Our neighbor Clayton, even asked for the hog’s eyeballs every time we killed a hog, he said he loved ‘em. Needless to say, Dad didn’t have a problem with giving Clayton all the eyeballs he wanted. Again, nothing was wasted. Dad always joked, “The only thing you lose when you kill a hog, is his squeal.”
Now, today as I take that deep breath of fresh air and smell that smell of fall it still reminds me of when I was a boy. I can close my eyes and see Daddy sharpening his knifes, boiling the water to scald and scrape the hog and Momma standing over the fire with that big black cast iron kettle, singing as she sweated, stirring the fat to render lard or making our soap. Yep, it’s hog killin’ time, again. I can smell it.
Wednesday, 19 September 2012 12:40
Snow in September…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
I went fishing at my pond the other day and as I was throwing my bait as close to the cattails as I could to catch Mr. Bass my mind wondered back to when I was a kid, as it often does.
I smiled to myself as I started thinking about the time when we decided to make “artificial snow” using cattails. I’m sure some of you may have done the same but if you haven’t, here is my story.
Back when I was growing up we only got toys at Christmas and then it was a long year before we got another one. We never spent much time indoors and I guess it was mostly because we only got one channel on TV, WATE out of Knoxville and the fact that CD players, computers, facebook, ebay, ipads, and iphones were years down the road.
So most of the year it was shooting slingshots, walking on stilts, playing marbles, tag, hopscotch or whatever we found interesting on any given day. Some days we would go fishing in the creek at Sibert. Other days we might hit the woods to swing on grapevines, or have an acorn fight or just to do some exploring.
Back then the outdoors was our biggest playground. There was always something new to see and new to do.
We did some crazy things back then and later on in my life (when I was much older) my Momma would shudder as I told her tales of how we spent some of our days as kids. Momma would say, “Lord, if I had known you were doing those things I would have worried myself to death.”
Then I would say, “I know Mamma, that’s why I never told you.” Momma would just shake her head side to side in disbelief, halfway smiling and I’m sure thinking how glad she was that none of us ever had any really bad accidents. That is, except for me. It seemed like I was in the hospital every summer for bone breaks or stitches.
Now, getting back to my story. It was another lazy day late in the fall years ago on Paw Paw and the Miller boys were as usual, looking for something to do. We were playing around our family pond when decided to cut a few cattails from the water’s edge to play with. Back then many simple things in nature could keep us occupied for hours
Now, if you don’t know what a cattail is (and today I have to ask that question because most kids growing up probably don’t) it’s an aquatic weed that grows in the edges of ponds, lakes or in marshy places with a brown top that looks like a hot-dog wiener stuck on the end of a stick weed. Some say it looks a whole lot like a corn dog.
Old timers use to tell me that American Indians would use the cattails for tom-toms when they beat their drums. And I must agree, they do make a beautiful sound on an old lard can’s lid
But anyway, we cut a handful each and took them to the house to beat on our drum playing Indians and cowboys. And we have been known to sometimes even beat them over one another’s head. Now, anyone who has played with cattails knows that in the fall of the year if you hit cattails hard enough the brown top will explode into a white, cotton-like substance by the handfuls. (I think the white fluff actually is what carries the seed of the cattails in the air to spread the seeds.)
So after a few of them had been beaten on the lard can we noticed that the cottony stuff from them looked just like snow on the ground around the can. It had built up to several inches thick. That’s when we got the idea to make the whole parking lot look like it had snowed in September to surprise Daddy.
All of us began to beat the cattails against the ground and before long the ground began to look white. We made several trips back to the pond and grabbed ever cattail we could find. Before long, the entire parking lot at our house was covered. I must say it was a beautiful site.
When we walked through the snow-like stuff the feathery-white fluff would fly up all around us into the air looking just like it as snowing. Momma of course, thought it was beautiful. We ran and played all afternoon in the winter-like playground.
We all wondered what would Daddy say when he got home from work and saw our winter wonderland? Would he find it as beautiful as Momma did? Only time would tell.
Momma told us to all hide inside the yard when we heard Daddy coming up the road to see how he would react when he saw it unknowingly.
As he topped the hill and started down the driveway all of a sudden he locked up his brakes coming to a quick stop causing all of us to laugh. Daddy then put the car in park and walked the rest of the way down the hill into the fluff. Then we all began to run towards him laughing, parting the cattail snow as it flew into the air.
“Whose ready for a snowball fight?” Daddy yelled as he bent over pretending to grab a handful. Of course we all held our hands high in the air and answered “Me!”
We had a lot of fun that day playing in the artificial snow running, jumping and making snow angels.
Next morning we were up early to again play in the winter wonderland but to our amazement, the snowy-stuff was all gone. Daddy told us it must have blown away sometime in the night by wind.
Even today, every time I see cattails I think of that day when we did almost the impossible with those cattails. It was one of those days that I will never forget. I hope one day, when my grandbabies are old enough, to show them how to make it snow in September just like we did long ago.
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 12:27
"The Knoxville Girl" is an Appalachian murder ballad much like “Pretty Polly”. It is said to have derived from the 19th century Irish ballad The Wexford Girl, itself derived from the earlier English ballad "The Oxford Girl". Other versions are known as the "Waxweed Girl", "The Wexford. These are in turn derived from an Elizabethan era poem or broadside ballad, named "The Cruel Miller" sometimes known as “The Bloody Miller”.
Although the lyrics are less explicit than those for "The Wexford Girl", the song is generally considered to be creepier or spookier in its rendition.
A special thanks go out to Bessie Ball (one of the people who requested the words to “The Knoxville Girl”) of East Bernstadt for her letter and kind words.
Here are the words that I remember Momma singing so many times that was recorded the Louvin Brothers in 1956.
The Knoxville Girl
I met a little girl in Knoxville, a town we all know well,
And every Sunday evening, out in her home I'd dwell,
We went to take an evening walk about a mile from town,
I picked a stick up off the ground and knocked that fair girl down.
She fell down on her bended knees for mercy she did cry,
Oh Willy dear don't kill me here, I'm unprepared to die,
She never spoke another word, I only beat her more,
Until the ground around me within her blood did flow.
I took her by her golden curls and I drug her round and around,
Throwing her into the river that flows through Knoxville town,
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl with the dark and rolling eyes,
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl, you can never be my bride.
I started back to Knoxville, got there about midnight,
My Mother she was worried and woke up in a fright,
Saying "Dear son, what have you done to bloody your clothes so?"
I told my anxious Mother, I was bleeding at my nose.
I called for me a candle to light myself to bed,
I called for me a handkerchief to bind my aching head,
I rolled and tumbled the whole night through, as troubles was for me,
Like flames of hell around my bed and in my eyes could see.
They carried me down to Knoxville and put me in a cell,
My friends all tried to get me out but none could go my bail,
I'm here to waste my life away down in this dirty old jail,
Because I murdered that Knoxville girl, the girl I loved so well.
Wednesday, 05 September 2012 12:39
The Horse Creek Navy… a boy’s memories.
By: Rodney Miller
“Full speed ahead!” Ronnie shouted. The enemy had been spotted as we rounded a bend in the water and the naval battle for the control of Horse Creek was on. The point of impact was in a straight stretch of water and all aboard both car-tops prepared for the head on collision of steel. We had a seasoned crew aboard the car-top that day and all knew what had to be done to keep from going down with the ship.
Ronnie and I with long wooden poles in hand would push them deep in the river bottom and with a yell of push from Anthony at the rear with a paddle to steer the vessel both heaved forward to gain top speed. The poles were again trusted deep in the bottom of the river as the command to push, was again shouted. Both car-tops were on a collision course and both were picking up speed fast.
The car tops skipped across the water effortlessly and as we neared the point of impact Ronnie and I shifted our weight towards the back of the car-top to give the front of our car-top more lift out of the water. Through many a battle we knew the boat with the front end the highest would ride over the enemy’s boat and put it under water and ultimately sinking the opposing players.
But what the crew in the other car-top didn’t know was we had a new trick up our sleeve and their demise was just a matter of time. It was something so ingenious that after the battle that day it was banned on the river from then on as an unfair advantage and was never used again
Our car-top of choice was cut from the top of a 4-door 1949 Plymouth. The reason it was such a good car-top was that it had a deep bottom and very rounded in the front and the back. It was cut from Dad’s old car with an ax leaving the front pillar and side post sticking up for leverage when using our push poles to move our car-top. These boats, needless to say, were also dangerous. Cutting off a car-top with an ax is going to leave lots of sharp steel for accidents to happen as they sometimes did.
We cut the top off without Dad’s permission, which was a big mistake. Nothing was really wrong with the car except it had not been started in about a year because of a dead battery and we thought it was just another junk car. Well when Dad came home (and of course it was too late to put the top back on, needless to say), we wished somehow we could have. He lined us up in a row and proceeded to teach us another valuable lesson in “asking before doing”.
But now the damage had been done to the perfectly good car and all we had to show for it was a red behind and a pretty good-looking car-top. We removed the headliner from the top and got rid of all the crossbows and did our best to hammer all the sharp steel into a flatter surface so the danger of getting cut would be less. I was just about to give the rearview mirror a hard whack with the ax and then I got an idea.
I told Ronnie and Anthony, “What if we took the mirror attached to the front of the car-top and turned it around to work as a hook to stop the other car-tops?”
“Why?” Ronnie asked
“Well every time someone gets their boat on top of the other it always pushes the front under water and they sink. What if we left the mirror on the top to stop the other car-tops from riding over ours?” I explained.
Ronnie and Anthony both agreed it was a great idea. But before the trip to the mighty waters of the Horse Creek we had to try our car-top out. We had our old car-top we used in our fishing pond by the house and we would give the new ’49 Plymouth a test run.
With Ronnie and Carlos in the old car-top and Anthony and I in the other we back off about 50 feet and pushed the car-tops towards each other. The mirror worked just as planned. When the boats meet each other the mirror kept Ronnie and Carlos’s boat from riding up on top of ours and pushed the other one under the water sinking to the bottom of the shallow pond. But in the collision, I fell against one of the sharp post and cut my leg pretty bad. Today, I still carry that battle scar that I tell everyone was an old “Navy wound” from a battle for control of the river.
We again worked on the sharp pieces of steep with hammer and ax and even padded the sharp ends with cloth and duck tape to avoid another mishap. Now, she was really ready for the biggest naval battle to come along in quite some time, we called it “The Battle of Horse Creek”.
We lived about two miles from the river so we got our Pap Paw Burkhart to load the car-top in his pickup truck and haul it to Horse Creek. We unloaded her at the old swimming hole and took it for its maiden voyage up the creek and it performed flawlessly. A couple of other car-topers were on the river that day and a challenge went out just to test her in the Naval game so often played on the water.
As we spotted the challengers round the bend and the command “Full Speed Ahead!” went out, the two met in the river with a thunderous sound. The two challengers needless to say, showed a lot of guts as they went down with their ship giving us a salute for a well-fought battle.
The reversed mirror did just as if it had been designed for just that. But from that day forward it was declared an unfair advantage and all agreed it would never be used again on the waters of the Horse Creek. I think it may have been a reason for the car companies to start attaching them to the front windshield. It could have possibly been an idea of one of those defeated that day in the famous battle (because they did grow up to work for Ford in Ohio) I believe who came up with the idea to never again attach a reverse mirror to the roof of a car. Or maybe it could have been something like a safety idea.
Wednesday, 29 August 2012 01:31
Growing up music played a large part in my family. One of my Daddy and Momma’s favorite was the old mountain song Pretty Polly that was recorded by Bluegrass singer Ralph Stanley. I love the lyrics and sing them often when I get out my old guitar.
For those of you who haven’t heard the song here is a little history I dug up on the song Pretty Polly.
The earliest known version of the story (The Cruel Ship's Carpenter or The Gosport Tragedy as it was known earlier) was printed sometime around 1750 in Gosport, England. The original version was some thirty-five verses long, I won't burden you with full lyrics, but the story goes like this: Willie, a carpenter, has gotten his lady pregnant, and bids her to come to him to make plans for their wedding. She does his bidding only to be murdered and buried in the woods (Willy evidently wasn't quite ready to settle down). Most American versions, including this one by Stanley rarely, if ever, mention her pregnancy. After murdering Polly, Willie went to sea, but was not left in peace for long. The ship was not far from land when Polly, carrying a child in her arms, appeared to the crew. The lookout, who was half-drunk, runs to embrace her, but found she was only a ghost. The captain seeks out the murderer, who goes mad and dies.
I’ve had several people ask me for a copy of the words so I thought I might include them in my weekly article as my part of my memories growing up as a young boy.
Pretty Polly by Ralph Stanley and Patty Lovelace
Oh Polly, Pretty Polly, come go along with me. Polly, Pretty Polly, come go along with me. Before we get married some pleasures to see. She got behind him and away they did go, She got behind him and away they did go, Over the hills and mountains to the valley below. He rode her over hills and valleys so deep. He rode her over hills and valleys so deep. Pretty Polly mistrusted and then began to weep. Oh Willie, Oh Willie, I’m afraid to of your ways. Willie, Oh Willie, I’m afraid of your ways. The way you’ve been acting, you’ll lead me astray. They went up a little farther, and what did they spy, They went up a little farther and what did they spy, A newly-dug grave, and a spade lying by. Oh Polly, Pretty Polly, your guess is about right. Polly, Pretty Polly, your guess is about right. I dug on your grave the best part of last night. She knelt down before him pleading for her life. She knelt down before him pleading for her life. Please let me be a single girl if I can’t be your wife. He stabbed her in the heart and her heart’s blood did flow. He stabbed her in the heart and her heart’s blood did flow. And into the grave Pretty Polly did go. He threw something over her and turned to go home, He threw something over her and turned to go home, Leaving nothing behind him, but the girl left to mourn. He went down to the jailhouse and what did he say. He went down to the jailhouse and what did he say. I killed Pretty Polly and tried to get away. Oh gentlemen and ladies, I bid you farewell. Oh gentlemen and ladies, I bid you farewell. For killing Pretty Polly my soul will go to hell.
This story is dedicated to the memory of Juanita and Rufus (Jamup) Miller Jr.
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