Today’s guest post was written by Jim Casada.
Increasingly with the passage of time I find myself reflecting on things I did as a youngster, ruminating on glorious days in Smokies sun. Most recreational activities were simple, inexpensive, and relied more on youthful ingenuity, along with a good dose of suggestions from my Grandpa Joe and others, than any of the store-bought junk—video games, technological gadgets, and electronic gizmos–which pass for entertainment with today’s kids. My looks backward, and I’ll happily acknowledge they are longing ones, almost always bring to the mind thoughts as to how many other folks have been privileged to know the joys of these Smoky Mountain pastimes.
Here’s a sort of list asking whether you ever participated in a given game, enjoyed a particular experience, consumed some type of food, or have this particular recollection stored on the shelves of your memory’s storehouse. For each reflection, I’m simply asking: “Did you ever?” Hopefully many of you have similar experiences and this list should this leave no doubt that my Smokies boyhood offered richness and variety.
DID YOU EVER?
*Boil eggs at Easter and “fight” them for keeps—the egg which broke went to the proud holder of the one which remained intact after the small ends had been knocked together. Of course there was always some wiseacre who managed to slip in a guinea egg—about the only way they would lose would be matched against a rock. The shells of guinea eggs are that hard. A good “knocker” egg could produce the makings of a big bowl of egg salad or a batch of deviled eggs in short order.
*Play rolly-bat, either with a real baseball or maybe just a suitably sized rock wrapped with old socks. In order to get to be the batter, you had to field the ball and then throw or roll it towards the bat. The bat had been laid out on the ground sideways facing the field. If your roll hit the bat, or if you caught a fly ball or line drive hit by the batter before it hit the ground, you took his place at bat.
*Play war—with imaginary armaments such as grenades which were maypops (passion flower fruit), white pine cones, or magnolia seed pods; homemade bows-and-arrows; forts built from pines or other trees you had cut; sling shots; and the like.
*Convince a visiting cousin or some poor city slicker soul to take a bite of a persimmon which had turned orange but was still a long way from being ripe.
*Enjoy the indescribable delight of a properly made permission pudding, something as delicious as a green persimmon is disgusting.
*Buy fish hooks, shotgun shells, or .22 cartridges individually—all could be purchased that way in the 1950s.
*Come across an old still (or maybe an active one) while wandering through the woods.
*Get a good dose of hickory tea. Or maybe two doses—one at school and a second one when your parents learned of your transgressions. I must admit, back in the days when corporal punishment as part of the educational process was not only accepted but on the part of most parents actually appreciated, that happened to yours truly on more than one occasion.
*Hear grown folks talk about an elderly family member who was a bit “quare,” “not quite right,” a bit “addled,” or “poorly.” This was a standard way of describing dementia.
*Visit “shut ins” and maybe carry them some food or gifts.
*Listen to grand old radio programs such as “Gunsmoke,” “The Lone Ranger,” or “Amos and Andy.”
*Make a particular point of being near the radio when the Grand Old Opry, Louisiana Hayride, or Wayne Raney’s show on WCKY out of Cincinnati was on the air.
*Go to a drive-in theatre (and sometimes try to sneak two or three “extras” in by hiding them in the trunk).
*Browse dreamily through the major mail-order catalogs from Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward.
*Live in or visit a house which did not have electricity.
*Make the cold trek to an outhouse on a winter night or else use what was variously called the “night jar,” “necessary bucket,” or simply “pot.”
*Participate in May Day or Sadie Hawkins Day festivities when they were a standard part of spring at many schools.
*Visit someone’s home, usually on a Friday night, to participate in “making music” or maybe just taking care of the “grinnin’” while others did the “pickin’.”
*Participate in square dances with a local band, maybe just a pianist, or even a record player providing the music while a caller hollered out the next movement in what could sometimes be an intricate undertaking.
*Listen to traditional square dance songs such as “Under the Double Eagle,” “Down Yonder,” “Soldier’s Joy,” or “Buffalo Gals” at those gatherings.
*Grow your own popcorn and enjoy the special treat of shelling and popping it.
*Go on a ‘coon hunt and enjoy the hallelujah chorus of a pack of dogs on a hot trail or the tales of old men harkening back with longing to their respective “dogs of a lifetime.”
*Go “sanging” (gather ginseng for sale).
*Go “gallacking” (gather galax leaves to use in wreathes or as table decoration, especially at Christmas.
*Find a case holding praying mantis eggs while out hunting in the winter and bring it home.
*Skate on leather-bottomed shoes across frozen ponds or places where water had frozen on a sidewalk or driveway.
*Make your own fishing outfit from river cane you had cut, with the lead covering of roofing nails used for sinkers and a bottle cork for a float.
*Find yourself on one of the two business ends of a cross-cut saw.
*Use a go-devil to split wood, or, if you really want to reach back in time, split wood using wedges made not of metal but of dense woods such as dogwood.
*Split kindling from rich pine to use as a fire starter.
*Lay kindling each night in a wood-burning stove for cooking breakfast the next morning.
*Participate in hog killing and butchering.
*Gather eggs from the family chicken house.
*Put a glass egg in a nest to encourage a laying hen to set.
*”Blow” an egg and refill it with hot sauce to deal with an egg-suckin’ dog or an egg-eatin’ snake.
*Take part in a rat killin’ at the family corn crib or that of a neighbor.
*Pull weeds to feed hogs.
*Get stung by a packsaddle.
*Knock down a hornet or wasp nest after smoking it or dig up a yellow jacket nest after pouring gasoline down it—all to obtain some prime fish bait.
*Trap ‘coons, muskrats, mink, ‘possums, and fox for their fur.
*Go skinny-dipping in your favorite swimming hole.
*Burn your belly with a “belly flop” or your bottom with a “cannon ball” with jumps into a swimming hole.
*Use a rope tied to a convenient tree limb to launch out into a swimming hole.
*Get a bad case of chiggers or poison ivy.
*Use wild grape vines on a ridge as a swing.
*Find an abandoned old home place in early fall where there was fruit on apple or pear trees and enjoy a field snack.
*Eat a hunter’s lunch of tinned sardines or Vienna sausage with saltine crackers.
*Drink the finest spring water imaginable from some remote seep high up in the Smokies.
*Listen to someone recite wonderfully lyrical poems from the likes of Rudyard Kipling or Robert Service around a backwoods campfire.
*Hear a recitation of Stephen Vincent Benet’s “The Mountain Whippoorwill” and identify with half the lines in the poem.
*Mow grass with a reel-type push mower.
*Have a secret crush on some curly-haired little girl but be far too timid to look her in the eye, much less speak to her.
*Play spin the bottle or similar boy-girl games at parties.
*Run a trot line, throw line, limb line, or jug fish for catfish.
*Attempt to smoke rabbit tobacco.
*Enjoy a crackling fire in the family room or food cooked on a wood-burning stove.
*Eat a supper consisting of nothing but cornbread and milk (either sweet or buttermilk). Those who haven’t enjoyed this culinary pleasure might think it constitutes mighty slim pickings. In truth, a big chunk of cornbread made from slow-ground, stone-ground meal and crumbled in a glass of cold milk is a taste treat of great delight.
*Enjoy home-churned butter, nicely salted and pressed in an old-time wooden mold.
*Milk a cow.
*Eat fried pies with filling made from dried apples or peaches folded into a round piece of dough folded like a half moon to hold the fruit. Slathered with butter, such fare is fit for a king or any son or daughter of the Smokies.
*Pour molasses over soft butter and mashed it all up before applying the resultant mix to a cathead biscuit. The trick is to get just the right amount of molasses and butter for the biscuit, although missing your measurement isn’t a tragedy. It’s just an excuse to eat another biscuit.
*Eat fresh-made pork sausage for breakfast.
*Enjoy the genuine privilege of eating tenderloin from a recently butchered hog.
*Have hamburger and milk gravy, with cornbread, as a main dish. That was one of Mom’s favorite ways of making a relatively small amount of meat go a long way.
*Eat old-fashioned stick candy in flavors such as horehound.
*Buy loose stick candy by the piece.
*Take a hefty dose of sulfur and molasses, or maybe a cup of sassafras tea, as a “spring tonic.”
*Drink syllabub at Christmas time.
*Feed scratch feed to chickens.
*Shell corn you had raised to feed fattening hogs.
*”Plug” a watermelon to check its ripeness. I never really understood this process; once the melon was plugged it had to be used.
*Eat sauce or pies made from some of the winter squash which were widely grown, along with pumpkins, in the mountains. Among them were candy roasters and cushaws.
*Feast on country ham your family had cured, with the obligatory side dishes of redeye gravy and biscuits.
*Eat sawmill gravy (a milk gravy, usually made with drippings from sausage and plenty of sausage bits left in for good measure).
*Savor a properly made stack cake, with at least seven thin layers of cake, each one separated by spiced sauce made from dried apples or maybe blackberry jam.
*Participate in a cake walk.
*Attend an all-day singing with dinner on the grounds.
*Go to a brush arbor or tent revival.
*Prepare homemade pickled peaches.
*Pick up ripe honey locust pods from the ground and eat the meat which surrounds the seeds.
*Find a prime patch of hazelnut bushes and gather the delicious nuts.
*Gather fox grapes to make jelly.
*Find a patch of ripe pawpaws and enjoyed a woodland feast.
*Eat the sweet-sour flesh surrounding the seeds of maypop fruit.
*Sample liver mush, scrapple, head cheese, or other foods made from the parts of animals which frugal “waste not, want not” mountain folks put to good and tasty use.
*Go to school where someone who had eaten a bait of ramps was in attendance. Suffice it to say you’ll find your sense of smell works all too well on such occasions.
These are but a sampling of the experiences which come to my admittedly disordered mind as I look back, with longing, to a world I can only hope we have not completely lost. If these are pleasures you enjoyed as a youngster, you were truly blessed.
I hope you enjoyed Jim’s post as much as I did! The piece is an excerpt from a book Jim is working on that is scheduled to be out sometime this fall. If you’d like to be notified when the book is published shoot Jim and email at [email protected] and he’ll add you to the list.
Be sure to jump over to Jim’s website and poke around I know you’ll enjoy the visit.