Appalachia Gardening Profiles of Mountain People

Hoeing Corn

Today’s guest post was written by Kenneth Roper


I was about 5 or 6, don’t think I had even started to go to school yet, and it was my job to take the water to my thirsty brothers and dad, hoeing corn up above the house. Daddy had a 2 1/2 gallon bucket and a long handle dipper. He had me to always take some of our four Fiests to take care of any Copperheads on this journey. We had a big spring just below the cornfield and tater field and it was hard for a little boy to carry a pail of water, especially uphill a bit. But I remember the sound of that dipper hitting the sides of that bucket as the boys took impatient turns to drink a dipper full. Daddy always drunk last and he wore an ole Stetson Hat that was full of holes. The band was always wet and there was two red cherry trees that provided a place to rest “in the shade at the end of the row.”

I was too young to do any hoeing like my older brothers, didn’t know the difference from ragweeds or corn, but I watched and learned how they’d reach almost into the next row to pull fresh dirt up around the corn. Every now and then I’d hear a hoe dinging a rock and one of my brothers would complain. If it was a big rock, it got taken to one of many rock piles they had made. But daddy assured us that the smaller ones would help hold moisture longer.

After setting the water bucket in the shade, daddy would let me and sometimes Harold go over to  the creekside of the field and play on a huge sawdust pile. Charlie Solesbee and old man Trim once had a sawmill set up there, many years before we got Trim Cove. There was a big Yellow Cherry tree nearby and it had 4 big shoots coming from one stump. We gathered lots of yellow Cherries for mama to can along about July.

One time Harold and I was playing with our cars made out of Carnation Cream Cans and ran into a hard lump right in the middle of our roads. Harold tugged and finally removed it and rolled it down the sawdust pile. But it left a hole and when I was filling it back up, I saw what I thought was a poor Blue Jay’s wing and wondered how it got there. Then the Blue Jay started to unfold and it was one of the biggest black snakes we ever saw. We started hollering for the dogs and they came at an instant, grabbed that thing and commenced to slinging. Daddy and my brothers came running over to see what all the commotion was about. Daddy said that thing was about 7 feet long and made me and Harold go home to get cleaned up. We had had enough excitement for the day anyway.


I hope you enjoyed Kenneth’s memories as much as I did!


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  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    February 15, 2020 at 9:35 am

    Growing up we put out fifteen acres of corn, three acres of cane and two acres of garden, my Dad was convinced none of it would make if it wasn’t hoed twice. While smaller I was a master with the hoe but when I got older I became a master with the horse and cultivator. We traded out work with some of the neighbors so we were in the fields from the time school was out until it took back up and were allowed to miss school when it came time to make molasses which took the biggest part of a week. I remember so many of my team mates hated to see Football Practice start but I was actually glad as it got me out of the fields. We never killed Black Snakes but caught them and released them into rat holes or the corn crib, they’re much better ratters than cats. We had several dogs that were a quarter fiest and three quarter chihuahua, they would run and tree anything I wanted to hunt especially squirrels. Time has a way of softening memories about how hard we worked but I know we were lucky to have half of the Little Tennessee River running between our fields and an island where we summered cattle, chickens and hogs since we could take a plunge into the river when we got to hot,

  • Reply
    July 11, 2018 at 11:15 am

    I grew up on a farm and my brothers and my daddy did plenty of hoeing in the hot summer sun. I remember hearing “that’s just a little old fiest dog” used in a derogatory manner. I did not know it was a breed of dog or a desirable pet. I would have a problem drinking from a dipper used by others, but I remember when people did. I remember once drinking cold well water from a metal dipper and it was delicious, like I never had before or sense.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    July 10, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    Tipper–Like a bunch of other folks, I thoroughly enjoyed Ken’s musings on yesteryear. I’m a bit surprised that no one mentioned that feist dogs, in addition to being pure poison on snakes, can be trained to make mighty fine squirrel dogs.

    Having heard the burning goat story, I’ll echo Don and implore you to get Ken to tell it. Ideally it might be your first venture into “movie” making with Topton’s answer to John Wayne as the star. When Don and I heard him tell the tale, we both were reduced to helpless masses of laughter.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    harry adams
    July 10, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    As with all the other comments, this brought back a lot of memories. I never had to hoe field corn as Daddy had a 1 row planter and was able to plow it before it got to tall. We had to pick it by hand with a burlap sack with a strap sewed on so that it would hang off the shoulder. I was 16 that year and it was all I could handle when that sack got full. and that field wasn’t more than 5 or 6 acres, but it seemed like a 100.

    Everyone must have had terriers for snake dogs back then. Daddy’s was named Spot and we still have pictures of the snakes he killed.

    This makes me think of how poor we and most everyone else was, but how much fun we had and how we were happy.

  • Reply
    Lee Mears
    July 10, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    I still have Granny’s aluminum dipper that went with the water bucket. It has all kinds of dents and dings in it. (sorta like Papaw’s Ford Fiesta, probably) It hung at the outside spigot tho, down near the garden. Can you even IMAGINE drinking out of same vessel as other family members much less the public?????? I remember seeing dippers hanging at different springs running out of the ground or rocks so everyone could get a ‘sup’ of water.
    Just no telling what you’d catch. The employees at CDC don’t even shake hands , they bump elbows.

  • Reply
    July 10, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    My uncle Lon got copperhead bit on the hand one time. He kept saying he was alright and wouldn’t let me take him to the doctor. Meantime his hand was slowly swelling. When it got about the size of his head he decided to let me take him to the ER. He bout didn’t make it. The doctor told him if he had waited a little longer he would have died.
    I borrowed Grammaw’s Iver-Johnson .22 pistol and went looking for the copperhead. I found him and shot at him 5 or 6 times and didn’t even make him mad. I went back and got a hoe. One shot with than and one Mr. Snake was in two pieces.

  • Reply
    July 10, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    I sure can relate to hoeing out corn rows when i was a little girl and so can my older brother.and my mother too.I have 2 younger brothers, the youngtest one wasn’t born yet. My younger brother carried water sometimes.We would fill up a gal. Jar with ice in it and put it in a so what we call a poke and that would keep it colder as we keep it in the shade under a tree.We raised all of our food. There was no going to the store and getting all kinds of stuff. The only thing daddy bought at the store was coffee and his prince albert in a can. And sugar.0 we raise and hunted everything. Never went hungery. And as for them o black snakes, i have had my share of them. I never like snakes then and i still dont like em.. My dad got bit by a copper head one time. He took care of it his self. Never went to the doctor. We just didnt do that. We doctor ourselves. Different now… God Bless!!!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    July 10, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    Thanks for putting my true story from the things I remember when I was a kid. I had 5 brothers and they’re all dead except me. I’m the last of the Mohicians, I recon.

    I called Donna Lynn at our Christian Radio Station today and requested “Cabin by the Side of the Road,” by Ray and Pap. I love that song! …Ken

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    July 10, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    I learned something today. Didn’t know what a Fiest was, suspected it was some kind of dog, and looked it up. Found out it is actually spelled Feist and is a terrier, so it probably got its name from being Feisty!

  • Reply
    July 10, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    I really enjoyed this post, as it brought back vivid memories of working in those huge gardens my parents planted. Dad worked long hours, so once the garden was planted it was left up to Mom and what work she could get from her kids. I absolutely loved working in a garden and watching it grow. That was back when sun tanning was popular, and I would just slather on cream and get a tan and a workout. Our mountains were kind of cool a lot of the time, so I did not seem to get overheated. Sisters younger and did not care much for any of it. The only bad part was eating green beans or tomatoes and macaroni it seemed like for days during canning season. All other work had to be put on hold, as canning and picking produce was a sunup to sundown endeavor.

    Maybe I was a bit “tetched” as many of my friends said they had enough of that growing up. It would have been a boring Summer without a garden, because there was just not a lot to do except work. We had a little feist named “Bigun.” We loved that little dog. I hope Paula finds a good hoe. It seems like I saw them everywhere with wooden handles in early Spring. Lowes maybe? A bucket with dippers were everywhere! Oddly enough folks didn’t seem to get sick much, and a big ole shot of Penicillin took care of most problems. Once our water went out at the grade school, and our principal gave us a talk because we went to a hand pump and all drank out of the same cup. I remember paying close attention and never liked to drink after anyone after that. Thank you, Ken Roper, for a great post.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 10, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    Yes AW, I remember a water bucket and single dipper at church. We had the same thing at home to and at Grandma’s house. Never thought anything about it then. We never got “running water” in the house (regularly anyway) until I had left home.

    As to good hand tools Paula …… I’m very tempted to say nobody makes them anymore. I especially dislike those blasted pressed on heads that come off and cannot be reattached. Your best bet might be to go to an estate sale or auction of farm property. If you could find one there with the handle worn smooth by use you would be carrying on a legacy.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    July 10, 2018 at 11:17 am

    Ron, I picked cotton as a child in a bottom so long the end of the row could’nt be reached in a day. So discouraging & the cotton was rank and taller than some of the pickers!

    We did hoe corn one year on some rented land beside the prettiest little rock bottomed creek I ever saw. I remember jumping OVER a huge snake beside the field–wouldn’t have thought I could get that high. Generally it was cotton that was “chopped”–another terrible day’s work.

    We had a gallon jug wrapped in newspapers for drinking water. Mama cooked for the “hands”. Some people enjoyed it or at least romanticized it but I hated, hated, hated field work.

  • Reply
    July 10, 2018 at 11:04 am

    I hoed a few rows in my time, I remember the corn making me itch, speaking of fiest dogs, best dogs God put on the earth and I’ve owned several different kinds over the years.

  • Reply
    July 10, 2018 at 10:23 am

    My Daddy knew 2½ gallons was way too heavy for a little boy so he let me use a 10 quart water bucket.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    July 10, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Tipper, I did thoroughly enjoy Kenneth’s memories. I have many of my own of hoeing. Which brings up a problem I am having. I can’t seem to find a good hoe anymore. I used to have the most wonderful light, sharp wooden handle hoes but now all I can find (that I can afford) are these big, clunky, heavy metal handle hoes. Do you or your readers know where can you get a good one at a reasonable price now?

    • Reply
      Lee Mears
      July 10, 2018 at 3:54 pm

      I’d look on line. I order just about everything on line and ordered a weeder two months ago, one of those hoe looking things which moves a bit. (I’m a great describer?) It only works for surface weeds tho, you cant dig up anything rooted. However, I’d check out tools on Amazon , see whats there that might look stronger. I fear my hoes will hold out longer than I will and I’m almost sure they came from Home Depot in Atlanta 30 years ago. I’m absolutely over run in weeds, the grass is mostly weeds, the landscaping, the potted plants and between the bricks in the patio. The violets have grown to bush size. I’m thinking weeds survival skills have evolved like roaches, they would still be here thriving after a nuke attack.
      Good luck with the hoe shopping, an estate sale IS probably your best bet for a quality tool.

      ps: (My new recuse in a Feist. A neighbor found him and was going to take him to the shelter and I said ‘NO’. First vet visit, $300.00. He didn’t have a name for three months except “Dog” but I finally named him Kip two weeks ago. I cant remember to call him Kip tho, most of the time I still say ‘Dog’, but he doesn’t seem to hold it against me. )

  • Reply
    Nancy Schmidt
    July 10, 2018 at 10:15 am

    My husband had been a Kansas farmboy, but his mother’s people were from North Carolina and Virginia, so naturally his talk included those terms and sayings he heard from them…the term “feist” he’d always used for little aggressive yappy dogs who seemed to be on the lookout for trouble coming in. And “main strength and alkwardness” I learned from him and have passed on to our own family It surely describes how some odd tasks end up being accomplished.
    Especially love the language contributions that come up in your site.

  • Reply
    July 10, 2018 at 10:10 am

    I thought my buddy Ken was talking about Ford Fiestas. Then I got to thinking, Ken’s family were poor people like us and wouldn’t have had four cars. Then I got to thinking some more and decided that it would take four Ford Fiestas to equal one real car. Or more! But as far as killing snakes with one of them, you would have to run over it twelve times to kill it. Or more!

  • Reply
    aw griffgrowin
    July 10, 2018 at 10:06 am

    I enjoyed Ken’s true story.
    I’ve hoed more tobacco than I have corn. Dad could always hoe more than I could. He would hoe 1 row and be half down another row while I was finishing one. That brought back a lot of memories..
    Does anyone remember just having 1 bucket and one dipper for everyone to use at church?

  • Reply
    July 10, 2018 at 9:50 am

    We used to plant our corn in a spiral. Daddy would start in the middle of the field with the horse and a layoff plow. He would go in an ever expanding circle until he reached the edge of the woods. We had only one hoe and we had to take turns with it. Daddy would send us to the field one at a time and expected us to hoe one row before we came back in. I always went first because I could start in the early morning before the sun came up and be done before it started to get hot. I’m smart like that. The rest of the youngins would have their row in the heat of the day but I honestly can’t remember ever seeing any of them in the corn field.

  • Reply
    July 10, 2018 at 9:30 am

    Ken, a 2 1/2 gallon bucket full of water surely must have been a heavy load for a little boy. Those are some powerful and lasting memories. You have painted a powerful picture of days gone by. What I wouldn’t give to see young boys helping their daddy hoe corn and enjoying a cold drink of water from a dipper.

  • Reply
    July 10, 2018 at 8:50 am

    Tipper, I thoroughly enjoyed Ken’s post on “Hoeing Corn.” Brought back memories of my parents stories of their childhood. I misread the word “Fiest” as I think feast and then I thought that isn’t right, its “Fiest” meaning a little feisty dog. Looked back at it and remembered my grandfather had what he called a little “Fiest” and I am sure that he took care of any copperheads around there too. Ken’s remembrance of the sound of the dipper hitting the side of the water bucket brought up a memory to me. I think certain sounds that were unique from our childhood remain with us. I remember walking with a pail early morning and the sound of the handle of that pail creaking as the pail swung back and forth has always been a pleasant sound to remember. Back then, way out in the country, there was a serene background silence with only the birds singing. Not all the noise of today with cars, airplanes, lawnmowers, etc.

  • Reply
    Stephen Suddarth
    July 10, 2018 at 8:45 am

    Liked that story, reminds me of starting when I was 10 , I’d work with Daddy summers doin’ his trade as Drywall finisher-i carried water too, he taught me the trick of using 2 five gal. buckets at the same time- balances out the load. Fill em as high as you know you can carry for as far as it takes to get back to the job house. Excuse me but he used a word I’ve never heard -said they carried “Fiests” for the copperheads. Anyone know what that is ?

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    July 10, 2018 at 8:10 am

    Really enjoyed the story, Ken. I bet, as John Prine’s line in Paradise (Muhlenberg County) goes, the air smelled like snakes after you, Harold and the dogs got done. And an excited black snake will sure enough stink.

    Someone (Tipper are you listening) needs to persuade Ken to tell about a goat on fire. While Ken could write about it, I’d dearly love to watch and listen to him telling it.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 10, 2018 at 7:40 am

    I recall a year when my Dad planted a 4-acre and a 6-acre field in corn. And it was a rainy year. The weeds got a head start and the corn got too big to plow out. So he decided himself, my brother and I and our Grandma (a volunteer) would hoe it out. (If no better way was available, he would tackle whatever with “main strength and awkwardness” as the saying was.) It took about three weeks I think.

    I also recall my Grandma asking us two boys if we were going to shout when we got done. I remember that because my Grandma was highly skilled with a hoe, having worn out several. I don’t recall if we did shout but I do recall that those rows seemed to go on forever. It is not a good feeling to start hoeing on a row when you cannot see the other end. (There is probably a sermon or two in there somewhere. A hand tool works on both ends; its regular job on one and building character and muscle on the other.)

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    July 10, 2018 at 6:23 am

    Thank you, I enjoyed the glimpse into your childhood

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 10, 2018 at 5:37 am

    Thank you, Ken, what a beautiful story of your childhood and family. Your dad seems to have taught you a lot about life and living. I never knew you were the youngest in the family. I was the youngest in my family, but then there were just two of us, my sister was four years older than me.

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