Tuesday, 24 April 2012 23:18
The man behind the plow…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
After four long months of cold and snowy weather, springtime sure was a welcomed sight in the mountains. Being cooped up in the house all winter sure would give a kid a case of “cabin fever”. But lots of hard work came with the warm weather. We were taught that from an early age.
Back when I was a small boy spring and summer were used to prepare for the next winter. If we didn’t want to go hungry in winter we knew we had to work hard to put up as much food possible. And that meant growing a big garden.
We started early in spring by cleaning and burning off the weeds from our garden spot. All the weeds that were left after the last harvest were cut, raked and piled up to be burned. “The ashes,” Dad said, “will make the garden grow more vegetables.”
After the garden was cleared we went to the barn and cleaned out the stalls of all the manure. This was loaded in a wooden sled and pulled to the garden with our mule to be scattered over the soil. Dad said, “Manure is a natural fertilizer. Plants love it.”
When the garden was dry enough, our mule was hooked to a plow and the ground was turned. Dad would wrap the leather plow lines around his neck as he muscled the plow in straight rows through the soil. A good mule could be guided by voice commands of “gee” and “haw”. A real good mule would walk a straight line through the garden almost with no commands at all.
Plowing the garden with a mule and plow took a lot of time and a lot of muscle. But after it was finished it was a work of art. I loved the way the air smelled around a fresh plowed field. It was one of those smells that reminded me again that winter was over and new life was about to emerge.
After turning the ground Dad smoothed out the furrows with a disc. Then he used two railroad ties nailed together to smooth it out even further. Dad would have the garden looking “like a lettuce bed.”
The entire field was then “laid-off” with another plow to give us the rows to plant the crops in. Garden work was hard working with a mule and plow, but it had to be done.
The first crops we planted were usually cabbage and potatoes. A little frost never hurt the cabbage and the potatoes took two to three weeks just to peek out of the ground so by the time they came up the chance of frost was almost gone.
Dad only raised one kind of potato, Kennebec. If we had potatoes left over from the winter sometimes we used them to plant and they worked just fine. But most times all the potatoes from the previous harvest were gone and a fresh burlap bag of certified seed potatoes were used.
A couple of days before planting the potatoes we all sat around large buckets with our knives in hand cutting the seed potatoes to be planted. A large one would sometimes have several “eyes” on it so it could be halved and quartered up into more planting stock. After finishing the potatoes would be set-aside for two or three days to heal the cut. Dad said this would make the potato hardier when we planted them in the ground.
We planted several long rows of potatoes. It took a lot to feed our large family. Most of the time Momma fried or mashed them but she also used them in many other ways. With leftover mashed potatoes she made one of my favorites, potato cakes. She made hash browns, potato soup and potato salad. She cooked them in vegetable soup. We wrapped them in tin foil and cooked them in our fireplace. Potatoes were served in one way or another at just about every meal.
Dad raised our tomato plants from seed in a large bed. He always raised more than we could use so he sold the plants we didn’t need for extra money. We put out as many as a hundred plants for our use in the garden. Tomatoes were another garden product that we used in many different ways.
Momma and Daddy would can as many quarts of tomato juice as they could. Back then we ate lots of macaroni in tomato juice. It is also another one of my favorite meals. We used the juice in soup, tomato gravy, in slum-gullion and in chili. Plus, we drank large amounts of it as a healthy drink.
Corn and beans were also plentiful in our garden. Those, along with potatoes, were essential foods for most mountain families. We canned as many vegetables as possible for the next winter. It was a never-ending cycle.
Each year when I smell fresh earth turned over in a field it takes me back once again to my childhood. Not to last year or the year before but the early years of my life. Back to a time when the smell of a fresh garden triggered my senses reminding me that winter was finally over once again and a new year had began.
I hope I never lose that sensation. Even today, when I close my eyes and take in a deep breath through my nose of a newly plowed field I can still see my father behind the plow of our old mule, under a warm spring sun, as he prepared the ground for another autumn harvest.
Wednesday, 18 April 2012 13:12
Old time remedies…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
The other day I was thinking back to my childhood, as I often do, trying to remember some of my family’s old time remedies. There was something for just about any problem a person could have. Some were a little off the wall but others really did work. Here are a few of the ones I remember.
A Sprained or Twisted Ankle – This is one that I still swear by. When we twisted or sprained an ankle Momma would take a brown paper bag and cut it into strips about an inch wide. Then, she would soak the strips in vinegar until they were saturated. The strips of paper were then wrapped around the ankle or joint.
This process was repeated after the paper dried out or until the soreness was gone from the joint, usually after two or three applications.
To make your hair grow – Momma would always go into the woods and cut the end of a grapevine. Under the vine she would place a quart jar and catch the sap from the vine. When she washed her hair she wet her hair with the sap and wrapped it with a towel for about 10 minutes. Momma believed the sap would make her hair long and strong like the grapevine.
Tonsillitis – Daddy would get a chicken feather and paint our tonsils with iodine even though the bottle displayed the “skull and crossbones” (poison) on it.
To treat dandruff – mix a tablespoon of sulfur in a quart of water and shake well. Wet your hair and head every morning with the liquid until the dandruff disappears.
To get rid of a headache – Chew on the bark of a willow tree. I have also heard that you could get rid of a headache by placing a pair of scissors under your pillow before going to sleep. The scissors was supposed to cut the pain of the headache.
For a wasp or bee sting – chewing tobacco was rubbed over the sting. Or, I was told you could mix honey with a dirt daubers nest and rub on the sting.
To remove the infection of a boil – break a fresh hen egg and remove the lining of the egg. Place the egg lining over the boil overnight to draw out the infection.
Poison ivy – Griffin’s brand white shoe polish was used to cover the affected area. I have also heard you could dig up poke roots and boil to make a paste to rub on poison ivy.
To treat sunburn – make a paste of cornstarch and milk. Spread the mix over the sunburn. Later, Momma found out that the secretions from an broken piece of the aloe plant worked well when rubbed over the sunburn.
To keep chiggers off – rub a little kerosene on your ankles, legs, and arms.
To treat a sore throat – take a teaspoon of sugar and add two or three drops of turpentine to the sugar. Swallow slowly. This was also good for a stomachache. Or, try chewing the bark from a slippery elm tree.
For a cut – Momma first covered the cut with table salt to clot the bleeding. Then, she put kerosene on a white rag and tied it around the cut to keep down infection and to take out the soreness. My Pap Paw said to put a spider’s web over a cut and it would stop the bleeding.
There were several ways used to remove warts – (1) Rub the wart with a dirty dishrag and hide the rag under a rock. (2) She also said that the seventh son, of a seventh son could buy (give you money) the wart and it would disappear. (3) Tie the wart tightly with the hair from a horse’s tail and it would fall off. We used black thread and it worked just a good. (4) Rub butter on the wart and let a cat lick it.
For an upset stomach – a teaspoon of baking soda was mixed with water and swallowed.
Cough or cold – Daddy would make a cough syrup out of whiskey or moonshine, honey, lemon, and red pepper. This always worked, plus it made you feel a lot better.
To get rid of hiccups – take 10 swallows of water or slip up behind the person and pop a brown bag that you have filled with air. The noise will scare the hiccups away.
For an earache – pour warm urine from a spoon into the ear. (Then get rid of the spoon.)
To get a crick out of your neck – go to the hog pen and find where a hog has rubbed his neck on a fence post or tree. Then rub your neck in the same place.
For diarrhea – eat a lot of cheese.
Wednesday, 04 April 2012 12:57
The Greatest Gift…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
When I was growing up Easter was the holiday that Momma and my sisters always look forward to the most. You see Easter was one of the few times of the year when Momma and the girls got a new dress. It was an old mountain tradition.
In the early years Momma couldn’t afford a store bought dress for her and Jackie. So she would start a month before Easter selecting the perfect materials and the patterns to make their dresses from. Momma sewed a lot back then. She was an excellent seamstress.
Back then every woman knew how to sew. Money was hard to come by so instead of throwing clothes away when they got a rip or a tear in them they were repaired.
Most all of her sewing was on an old pedal type Singer sewing machine. But when she needed to, she could hand stitch as good as anybody. Her quilts were truly a work of art. When Momma set her mind to doing something she never hardly stopped until the job was done.
One special Easter Momma had finished making Jackie’s dress and was putting the finishing touches on her dress to wear to church on Sunday. We had company that day. A neighbor girl was visiting with us. Momma was sitting on the couch sewing lace on her dress in ruffles around the arms, neck and bottom by hand.
When she had finished, Momma held it up to her body and she looked beautiful. I remember the neighbor girl said, “I sure wish I had a pretty dress like that. If I did, I would go to church with you Juanita.”
“You would? What color of dress would you like if you could have one,” Momma asked.
The young girl said, “I wouldn’t care what color it was as long as it had lace on it, just like yours.”
Momma never said another word but we could tell by her smile that wheels were turning inside her head.
After sitting with us a little while longer the little girl got up and left to go home. Momma then went to work. She had made up her mind that the little neighbor girl would have her own Easter dress come Sunday morning.
Momma went to her closet where she kept her pieces of fabric and began to search for enough to make the dress. She found a nice pink piece of fabric with tiny rose buds on it for the dress bottom and another solid light green piece for the top.
Momma worked on the dress tirelessly until late Friday night. Then on Saturday after breakfast she was back on the dress again determined to get it finished in time. Finally, after working nonstop late into the evening sewing on the lace that the little girl wanted so badly, the dress was finished.
Momma then sent one of us to the neighbors to bring the little girl to our house for her surprise. When she saw the dress she couldn’t believe that the dress was for her. She said with eyes and mouth wide open, “Is that for me?”
“Yes it is,” Momma assured her, “You’re going to wear it to church tomorrow.”
Momma told the smiling little girl to go try it on. Soon she returned and it fit perfectly, “I ain’t never had a pretty dress like this before. Thank you, Juanita,” the little girl said as she hugged Momma tight around the waist.
“Be ready at 9:30 in the morning and we’ll pick you up for church. I think you need to show this dress off.” Momma told her.
“I think so too,” the little girl answered with a smile from ear to ear.
That year, Easter Sunday at church was like a beauty pageant as all the girls and ladies of the congregation made their way into church with their new Easter outfits on to show them off. Everyone looked their finest but none were more beautiful than the Momma, Jackie and the little girl who had never had a dress on until that Easter Sunday. It was hard for me to tell who was the happiest Momma, Jackie or the little girl by the size of their smiles.
I learned a valuable lesson from my family that Easter. Momma had told me many times before that “…Sometimes it is better to give, than to receive.”
That Easter I finally realized what Momma was really talking about.
Wednesday, 28 March 2012 12:40
“Raw Head and Bloody Bones” …a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
Long before there was Jason of Friday The 13th, before Michael Myers of Halloween, or before Freddy from Nightmare on Elm Street, there were two more evil characters named, Raw Head and Bloody Bones.
My Mother had told the story many times, but I never tired of hearing it again and again. It was a tale of the two most bloodthirsty, horrible creatures you could ever imagine, and they ate little children who were bad.
They lived up in the attic of her Aunt Bertha’s house at Hima. Many times Mom would take us along to Aunt Bertha and Uncle Lonnie’s to visit. One look up at the ceiling in the living room and you would see the red stains that only could have been made by a feast on many, mean little boys and girls.
Raw Head and Bloody Bones didn’t eat good kids. They were much too tender. They only liked bad kids, who were a lot tougher. They liked the way mean kids tasted. And because their meat was tougher, it lasted longer. It was told, the more mean kids they ate, the meaner they got.
Needless to say, when we were at Aunt Bertha’s house we were all little angels. We had heard the story of Raw Head and Bloody Bones and knew better than to be anything but angels.
Mom said when she was a small girl, she didn’t believe the story of the two monsters that lived in the attic. That was until the night she and her sister Ruth were to stay all night at Bertha’s house. It was a night she would never forget.
Mom’s Aunt and Uncle were big cut-ups. They were always playing pranks. That night, they out did themselves.
There were two beds in the one tiny bedroom, one for Aunt Bertha and Uncle Lonnie and one for Momma and her sister Ruth to sleep in. They didn’t have electric back then so at bedtime an old coal oil lamp was used to make the way to the bedroom after supper. In the dim light of the coal oil lamp, the plan was about to fall into place.
When all were in bed for the night, Uncle Lonnie would remind the kids once again of the story of Raw Head and Bloody Bones. Every so often, he would stop and the girls would hear a rattle. Uncle Lonnie would ask, “What was that?”
Mom and Ruth pulled the cover up, just a little closer around them, praying that they hadn’t heard the noise they just had. Maybe, they had only heard a mouse. Maybe it wasn’t anything at all just their mind playing tricks on them.
Again, as the room got quieter, they could hear the noise, like the sound of a chain. Lonnie said, “Maybe it’s Raw Head and Bloody Bones and they want to tell us something!” Again they heard the chain-like rattle.
“Are you trying to tell us something? For yes, rattle once, for no, rattle twice!” Uncle Lonnie asked. Clang went the noise! Yes, it seemed Raw Head and Bloody Bones were ready to talk.
The flickering light from the lamp made the red stains on the ceiling dance and come alive, as if blood was oozing from above. Closer the girls got, now holding hands under the cover afraid of what Uncle Lonnie was going to ask next.
“Are you Raw Head or Bloody Bones?” he nervously asked “ Rattle once for Raw Head, or twice for Bloody Bones.” Two clangs followed.
“Do you want to talk to Juanita or Ruth? Rattle once for Juanita or twice for Ruth.” Lonnie softly whispered as he labored to catch his breath as if scared himself. One clang followed.
“Don’t ask Bloody Bones anything else Uncle Lonnie!” Juanita begged, but still the questions and answers followed.
“Bloody Bones, has Juanita been a good little girl?” he asked this time. One clang sounded. You could hear a sigh of relief from the sister’s bed.
“Well then, has Ruth been a good little girl?” Lonnie asked puzzled. This time, two clangs sounded. You could hear the two small girls gasping for air as the blanket now was completely over their heads.
“Are you h-u-n-g-r-y Bloody Bones?” Lonnie slowly managed to get out. One loud rattle sounded.
That wasn’t the sound the sisters wanted to hear. Screams filled the room as the two little girls quickly ran to the bedside of their Aunt Bertha, jumping under the covers as Uncle Lonnie began laughing uncontrollably.
Little did Momma and Ruth know that just before bedtime, Uncle Lonnie had rigged up a string from the headboard of the bed, up the wall to a bent nail, across the ceiling to another bent nail, then down to a ring of skeleton keys hanging behind a cast iron skillet hanging on the opposite wall. When the string was pulled from Uncle Lonnie’s bed, it would clang on the backside of the skillet and make the scary rattling sounds.
The stains on the ceiling weren’t anything but stains left from a leaky roof. Mom didn’t tell us that until we were much older. When we were young, seven small kids could be hard to handle sometimes. It made us a little more aware of how we acted when we visited Aunt Bertha and Uncle Lonnie’s.
The story brought the two sisters closer, each always wanting to be the protector of the other. They shared a bond that not even two scary monsters could break. A family’s love is stronger than that.
Momma told the story many times of Raw Head and Bloody Bones. We even pulled the prank ourselves a few times when we had friends staying over and wanted a good laugh.
As I re-tell the story today, it’s another one of the ways I keep my Momma’s memory alive and the strong love she had for her family.
Wednesday, 14 March 2012 12:49
Pickin’ my brain…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
My parents and grandparents had a saying for everything back when I was young. I didn’t need an explanation for any of them. I knew what they were talking about because we used them almost every day. But today, most have been lost to time.
Here are some of the old mountain sayings and afterwards an explanation for those who need to know exactly what they meant. I really had fun with this one. I hope you enjoy it.
I haven’t thought of a lot of these sayings ‘in a coon’s age’ (a long time). So for a week I have been ‘pickin’ my brain’ (trying to remember) to think of as many as I could. I guess you could say ‘I’ve been as busy as a bee’ (really busy) or as the old timers might say ‘as busy as a one armed man hanging wall paper’ (super busy).
So if I don’t come up with some of the ones you know ‘don’t get your panties in a wad’ (upset or mad) or ‘go off half-cocked’ (with only some of the facts) thinking that ‘I don’t know my head from a hole in the ground’ (not very intelligent). I’ll do my best to have this article ‘chugged full’ (over-flowing) of the best ones. But I’m sure there will be many more I will omit.
In my old ‘stomping grounds’ (where I was raised) everyone lived and talked the same way. I guess you could say the ‘apple never falls far from the tree’ (being just like your parents). My Momma and Daddy taught me that you earn your way ‘by the sweat of your brow’ (by working hard).
If I weren’t getting my job done quick enough my Daddy would say that I was ‘slower than molasses in January’ (too slow). He might then tell me to ‘use more elbow grease’ (put some muscle into it).
If we were in a hurry to get something done we would ‘give it a lick and a promise’ (just enough to get by with until we had more time to finish the job). If we didn’t finish the job at all we were said to be ‘sorrier than cyarn’ (never did know what that was, but it wasn’t good).
When we came into the house and didn’t close the front door Momma would ask, ‘were you raised in a barn’ (somewhere the door didn’t need closing)? She would say ‘that was a poor excuse’ (trying to explain why we hadn’t closed the door) when we tried to explain why we left the door open.
If we then tried to maybe accuse another ‘guilty bird’ (another person) for the deed she would say ‘if the shoe fits, wear it’ (if you did it, admit it) if she knew we were guilty.
Ever since I was ‘knee high to a grasshopper’ (very young) I was taught that I should never ‘bite off more than I could chew’ (attempt what you can’t accomplish). If I got more than I could eat at the table I was told ‘my eyes were bigger than my stomach’ (wasting food). I was often reminded to never ‘get above my raisin’ (forget where I came from). I am glad to say, I never did.
When I got mad sometimes I ‘flew off the handle’ (got real angry) because I felt like I got ‘the short end of the stick’ (not treated fair). I was often warned to ‘not let my mouth get my butt in trouble’ (say something I would be sorry for later). I was also cautioned to ‘hold my tongue’ (not speak) until I thought things out.
If I got mad and didn’t say anything I would set there ‘like a knot on a log’ (not moving) wanting to give someone a ‘piece of my mind’ (tell them what I really thought). Then at other times I would just speak up and give them a ‘piece of my mind’ or ‘down the road’ (telling it like it was). That was called ‘letting off steam’.
If I was wrong in my accusations I was told I ‘was barking up the wrong tree’. If I didn’t believe a word I heard I would say ‘well that one takes the cake’ (a lie). Or if I was shocked or speechless I might say ‘Well shut my mouth’.
Chickens played a large part of our conversation back then. I was told to ‘never count my chickens before they hatched’ (not know the results first). I was constantly reminded that a smart man would ‘get up with the chickens’ (early, before daylight) and ‘go to bed with the chickens’ (just at sundown). We were expected to be sitting at the breakfast table ‘before the cock crows’ (at daybreak).
If we needed something we couldn’t get or afford we were ‘looking for something that was as scarce as hen’s teeth’. If we were in a big hurry we were said to be ‘running around like a chicken with his head cut off’. I was told ‘a whistling woman and a crowing hen never comes to a very good end’ (to try to be something you’re not).
If a person wasn’t real smart they were said to be ‘dumber than a door-nail’ (really dumb). The really slow were said to be ‘dumber than a coal bucket’ (dumber than a door-nail). Saying that to someone would be an ‘insult to injury’ or ‘rubbing salt in a wound’ (rubbing it in).
But I knew lots of people when I was young whose ‘bread was only half done’ (a little slow) or whose ‘elevator didn’t go to the top floor’ (even slower).
‘I do declare’ (I’m telling you) if you’ve heard most of these sayings we are like ‘two peas in a pod’ (act or think alike). What’s that? You can’t admit it? ‘Cat got your tongue’ (afraid to say)?, ‘Well if that don’t take the cake’ (I’m surprised).
Or maybe, you are afraid to admit it because some people would believe that you are ‘over the hill’ (old) or ‘older than Methuselah’ (really old) and maybe even ‘too old to cut the mustard’ (you know what that means, don’t you). ‘You don’t say’ (Hard to believe)?
Hope you had fun remembering these. I sure had fun writing it ‘more fun than a barrel of monkeys’. ‘Ain’t that the berries’ (something great)!
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