Danny Fulks – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Sun, 16 Sep 2018 15:31:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 http://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/cropped-DewLogoSquare825-32x32.png Danny Fulks – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com 32 32 She Took Up The Banjo & Never Looked Back http://likethedew.com/2009/09/06/she-took-up-the-banjo-never-looked-back/ http://likethedew.com/2009/09/06/she-took-up-the-banjo-never-looked-back/#comments Sun, 06 Sep 2009 11:47:30 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=5660

second_seasonIn 1981, at the age of five, Kristin Scott played mandolin for family and friends at home, even as she learned about circles and squares in kindergarten at Foster Park Elementary School in Union, South Carolina. Nothing unusual about that in her family, or in the region. Her father, Fred, played mandolin and guitar; her mother, Carolyn, gave support. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and Don Reno’s records played on her mom’s record player. But the unique inspiration for Kristin was her maternal grandfather, Arvil Hogan, who played professional music with a group called the Briarhoppers, a country and bluegrass band whose home base was Charlotte’s 50,000-watt radio station, WBT. The band featured the Decca Record Company’s singing team, Arval and Whitey Grant.

Arval Hogan was born in Andrews, North Carolina, near the Smoky Mountains, Lake Chogie, and the Nantahala River in the southwestern corner of the state, a place tempered by thousands of years of limestone; the charm and heartbreak of the Cherokee Indians; the sounds of dulcimers, guitars, fiddles, and banjos; long winter nights where families and neighbors played music, sang old-time ballads and hymns, and learned vocal harmonies together. Songs and instrumentals were handed down. Playing string instruments was so common that few thought of it as a special gift. In these mountains and valleys, long before Kristin Scott was born, Arval Hogan was nurtured, made whole by the music, character, and religion of these up-country folks. As she explained in an unpublished interview in Nashville with the author in October 2005, Grandpa Hogan had told her many times, as she packed up her mandolin and tagged along with the Briarhoppers to bluegrass festivals, that her life’s work should be doing something she enjoyed and all else would work out. This message and its underlying philosophy became a central focus of her life.

Appalachia and its eastern plateaus produced artists who were the best friends banjos ever had. From Lexington, Kentucky, there was J.D. Crowe; Don Reno from Spartanburg, South Carolina; and Sonny Osborne of Hyden, Kentucky. And, of course, Earl Scruggs from Shelby, North Carolina. In 1934, at the age of ten, Scruggs played a three-finger style that revolutionized banjo picking and bluegrass music as it is known and played today throughout the world—music from the roots of white, rural working folks, a social corollary to jazz and blues produced by Southern blacks like the Mississippi delta’s Robert Johnson. Scruggs’ banjo compositions, led by “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” his mastery of tone, timing, innovation, and rhythm earned him a revered position in Americana music, a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, the adulation of millions of fans and imitators. So Bela Fleck is from New York City, Scott Vestal is from Oklahoma, and Alison Brown’s jazz-tinged banjo licks were picked up in California; but Scruggs, known all over the world, is their hero, too.

Now comes Kristin Scott Benson, voted the 2008 Banjo Player of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association. She is the 32-year-old wife of world-renowned mandolinist Wayne Benson and mother of two-year-old Hogan. Her adult life has been an extension of days on the road, weekends and summers roaming the friendly grounds of bluegrass festivals playing mandolin on stage with her grandfather, Arval. She has been a member of the Larry Stephenson Band; part-time member of Larry Cordle’s band, Lonesome Standard Time; studio musician on Tom T. Hall’s CD for Blue Circle Records, Tom T. Hall Sings Miss Dixie & Tom T; and in November 2008, she became a member of the award-winning Grascals and will travel with them for their 2009 gigs.

At the age of 13, she took up the banjo, played the old Scruggs’ tunes over and over, and never looked back. She was the girl-next-door who played sports, rode four-wheelers, earned academic honors at Union High School, and found playing banjo with friends and solo lessons fun. Benson became so enthralled by the excitement of learning the banjo that her parents often suggested she spent too much time at it.

By 15, she was playing professionally with the Harmony Express. As a senior at Union High, she played in a gospel band, then professionally withPetticoat Junction and the Larry Stephenson Band all the while earning a bachelor’s in marketing, summa cum laude, from Belmont University in Nashville. Benson toured with Sally Jones, Laurie Lewis, and Larry Cordle to Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, and Italy. In the spring of 2006, she taught at East Tennessee State University as an adjunct faculty member in their esteemed Bluegrass Music Program. Her fellow band mates told of her courage and spirit of adventure. These words from Kristin’s eulogy for Arval Hogan, 92, at his funeral in 2003 give insight into Benson’s appreciation of the region’s musical heritage and her own:

Playing music often creates many special and beloved memories and Whitey and Hogan are blessed with great stories. Whitey recently recalled a show in Greenville, South Carolina, when Hogan forgot his mandolin. Luckily, they were playing with Bill Monroe, so Hogan borrowed Mr. Monroe’s mandolin that evening. At another show in Lexington, Kentucky, with Flatt and Scruggs, Whitey and Hogan were thrilled to meet their heroes, the Delmore Brothers. They were also happy to have Earl Scruggs as a guest on their set to play banjo on one of their popular tunes of that time “Jesse James.”

Benson’s second CD for Pinecastle, Second Season, is her best studio work yet. As producer, song selector, and primary musician, the organic nature of her work is apparent through the 12 tracks. Although the sounds are modern, recorded on fine equipment, mixed at a high-tech studio, and performed in good taste, a natural evolution of ancient tones that could only come through the soul of a person cognizant of the heritage of mountain music are laid down in these tunes. Benson knows the difference between art that will be preserved in the Smithsonian Institution, recognized by the National Heritage of the Arts, honored by peers in professional associations, and music done primarily for money or novelty. Listeners looking for raucous, gutbucket sounds, off-the-wall tuning, or corny pieces like “Whoa, Mule, Whoa” from the days of buskers and minstrel shows will not find them in her repertoire.

Four of the tunes were composed by Benson. “Trying Times,” inspired by a family situation, is built upon an introduction that invokes empathy. A story without lyrics, Benson’s banjo is complemented by each musician’s take on the story with bluesy notes, their parts blended seamlessly into the whole. “Freedom Park,” named after Charlotte’s 98-acre park of trails, sports’ fields, trees, scenery, is one listeners can whistle and is bound to be covered by other artists. This bouncing tune evokes thoughts of children laughing, people playing and sharing a moment of respite in nature, apart from screaming expressways and hot city sidewalks. Played with a fast tempo, it has a touching melody that builds up to a feeling of warmth as mandolin, guitar, fiddle blend to complete the musical scene. When Benson reached back to one of Earl Scruggs’ classic tunes, she chose one Scruggs plucked away from the Big Band era of World War II when swing music was popular. “Bugle Call Rag,” often performed by Glenn Miller and Cab Calloway, written by Jack Pettis, is played with smoking fervor, straight- ahead banjo made real by Benson—not a copy of Scruggs’ version, but renderedwith her personal melodic touch including muted strings that call for reveille, an all-American riff.

One of Nashville’s premier songwriters, Larry Cordle, vocalizes in a Dylan- like style on a plaintive, unresolved love song, “Something ’Bout You.” Benson controls the banjo from the song’s smooth, clean kickoff throughout as a lead instrument, like a fiddle or mandolin. The song’s message and vocal rendition could complement the soundtrack of a Hollywood romance. “Gospel Way,” with lead vocals from Larry Stephenson, is a fast-moving spiritual delivered with fervor in the Southern tradition of worship made joyous. Josh Williams sings lead vocal on the song. “No Southern Comfort” adds the obligatory melancholy lyrics about lost love. The song is replete with sweet harmonies, Southern magnolias, and dreams of the old Dixie Highway. It gives Benson a chance to display her superb backup banjo skills, executed as well as those of J.D. Crowe. “Scottish Hornpipe,” a difficult tune to play on banjo, will remind listeners of an Irish pub with dark wood, men smoking pipes, dart games, and fellowship. Another tune easy to whistle was written by Bill Emerson, a musician’s musician. “No Steering, No Brakes” moves as fast as a Porsche up a twisting two-lane blacktop in the Cumberland Mountains—fast, clean, with distinct melodies, powerful notes complement the adventure. Other tunes include “Far Enough Away,” a Benson composition played with a gentle touch—a sleepy, melancholy song that would not be out of place at a wedding or in a child’s room at bedtime. “Don’t Tread On Me,” “Imagine That,” and “Sandy River Belle” complete the disc.

Benson is accompanied by talented musicians Shad Cobb, Mickey Harris, David Grier, Sally Jones, Cody Kilby, Andy Todd, Jim Van Cleve, and Josh Williams.

Second Season is a solid, diverse CD. The collection focuses on Benson’s strengths and her coming of age as an artist, yet it is a treat to listeners who look for something in addition to instrumental prowess. The tracks offer diversity with quality songs and instrumentals fresh to aficionados of bluegrass and beyond. With vocal numbers included at unpredicted intervals, Second Season is a favorite on bluegrass radio playlists, and the tunes attract attention at live shows. Benson’s good taste and ability to capture classy musical goals that have evolved since she began playing at age five have come to life in Second Season. With attention to tradition and personal heritage, she has traveled unimpeded from the bluegrass roots of her childhood to contemporary bluegrass and Americana music.

Editor’s note: This story was submitted to LikeTheDew by the author and published originally in the Appalachian Journal – A Regional Studies Review (VOLUME 36, NUMBERS 1-2; Appalachian State University). To find out more about Kristin Scott Benson and listen to some of her music, you can find her on Facebook, MySpace, Amazon, and YouTube.


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Fried chicken for breakfast http://likethedew.com/2009/09/02/fried-chicken-for-breakfast/ http://likethedew.com/2009/09/02/fried-chicken-for-breakfast/#comments Thu, 03 Sep 2009 02:42:03 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=5573

Greasy Ridge—twenty-two miles of rugged two-lane in southern Ohio— got its name from pioneers killing bears, butchering for hides, meat, lamp oil, from the 1820s through the Civil War and after. The name told the story. Not romantic like Winter Haven, Lakeview, Oak Ridge, Squaw Valley. A family with fifty-acres could get by. But they worked. Sweat of the brow. Like the Bible said. It was no place for dead beats. Surviving took grit. Elbert Davis had it. He cleared flats on fifty acres using a one-hand crosscut saw, mattock, mowing scythe, corn cutter, goose-neck hoe, hillside plow, team of work horses. Davis walking up to a big oak before dawn, looking up saying, “Mr. Oak, you son-of-a-bitch, you’re comin’ down today.” It might have been after dark, coal miner’s carbide light shining from Davis’s cap, but the tree fell.

Unidentified family, horse buggy, frame vernacular house, Waterloo, Ohio, near Greasy Ridge, circa 1900.
Tagg Road, a spur running north from Greasy Ridge Road. The John Clary family, circa 1904.

Time never did much for Greasy Ridge. By 1920 road conditions improving, cars showing up among the buggies, wagons. Small country stores, churches, a tobacco market, pinhookers trading cured tobacco, moonshine runs, Jess Brown’s old school bus turned into a rolling store taking squawking chickens in trade for lard, sugar, salt. Wagons, buggies, expresses, Model T’s and A’s, men, women, children traveling about on foot. Doctor Elmore McGuire driving a Chrysler, seeing patients for three dollars, passing out dope in white envelopes, delivering babies for a mess of green beans. Tombstones with little concrete lambs marking the graves of children in family graveyards. Families of ten in fall becoming nine in winter. Eight the next year. Grandpas and grandmas dying at home, children bewildered, looking on, smelling medicine, salve melted in a spoon over a kerosene lamp, wick flickering. Hot coal fires blazing in fireplaces through the night, snow piling on doorsteps, wind blowing through cracks. Kids snuggling in big, mohair chairs, couches, hearing mournful prayers. Undertaker Clifford Wells getting out of bed, harnessing horses, picking up the corpse in a horse-drawn hearse, bringing it back to the house next day, kin and neighbors sitting up with the body, grieving through the preacher’s sermon in the church, grave diggers easing the coffin into a wet grave.

Long since gone broke, this store on Greasy Ridge belonged to Wilbur Dunfee, a physically handicapped person affectionately called Hop-And-Half.
Unidentified family, horse buggy, frame vernacular house, Waterloo, Ohio, near Greasy Ridge, circa 1900.

Elbert Davis, wife, kids getting by on Greasy Ridge. One of a hundred families living off the land. Hunters, gatherers, white Protestant Republicans, all. Trees, shrubs giving up hickory nuts, walnuts, hazel nuts, chestnuts, papaws, persimmons, grapes. Workers tending cherry, peach, apple, quince trees, canning in Mason jars for winter, serving children treats with toppings of rich cream from crocks in rock cellars. Jersey cows giving milk, having baby calves in the spring selling for a quarter a piece at market, keeping one for butchering. Natural springs along the steep hills leading to Buck Creek providing watering holes for wild life, people, livestock. Wild, black raspberries vines stretching in shade over the creek safe from ground hogs, people. Food so good even the rich were envious. Women drawing water from cisterns, men grubbing flats into new ground, following horses behind a hillside plow. Tobacco, wheat, corn, watermelons, muskmelons, strawberries springing up green in long rows. Honeysuckle, ragweed, crab grass creeping into fields in the night. Weeds, brush, trees, vines fighting to take clearings back. Long shadows falling at the confluence of Piss Trough and Buck Creeks, men trolling for catfish, sunfish, suckers, soft-shelled turtles. Ducks laying eggs near water, some falling in, glistening against gravel. Milkweed seeds floating in the wind, nuts riding on water traveling to fertile spots downstream. Copperheads making lairs under rusting hay rakes. Hornets restless in big, gray nests hidden high among tree leaves. Honey bees carrying nectar from cannas to their homes. Hawks winging toward the ground eyeing baby chickens. Humming birds, hovering in mid-air, beaks inside blue morning glories. City people driving through Sundays in Hupmobiles, buying tomatoes, looking for places to hunt.

Hand hewed rock cellar on Williams Creek, near Greasy Ridge, Gallia County, Ohio, built circa 1910. Family cellars were used to store milk, potatoes, apples, canned goods, turnips.
Long since gone broke, this store on Greasy Ridge belonged to Wilbur Dunfee, a physically handicapped person affectionately called Hop-And-Half.

Skilled men and women gathering, preparing food. Elbert Davis’s wife, Gladys, serving fried chicken for breakfast. Gladys squeezing blood from chicken livers served soft, brown, cut up easy with a fork. Tasty, like a French cook fixes snails. Opening and scraping the chicken’s gizzard, cleaning it, leaving nothing for cats but legs, head. Cash money hard to come by but the white leghorn pullets, foraging for food on the land, by the water, free range, fried up in lard made a crispy, delicious setting. Middle of the table where folks could reach in. Biscuits, gravy, jams, jellies, coffee on the side, pork cracklings—energizing all for day’s work, play. Children taking sausage biscuits to school in lard buckets, cold, still good. Butchering hogs, cutting them up, smoking, salting hams. Frying up fresh tenderloin, gourmet food, high on the hog. Women turning cabbage into kraut, cucumbers into bread and butter pickles. Gardens rich, full, pretty, a few petunias, zinnias, four-o-clocks decorating the sides. Not worked for looks or places to meditate; the good earth and sun, with women’s work, producing food. Hollyhocks growing inside old car tires, kitsch to one, folk art to another. Fresh vegetables early through the summer, pumpkins, turnips in autumn, canned goods for winter. Gladys peddling away on a Singer, using feed sack goods, making shirts, dresses, tops for children. Not noticing, even though voices on radios warned of shifting sands.

Hand hewed rock cellar on Williams Creek, near Greasy Ridge, Gallia County, Ohio, built circa 1910. Family cellars were used to store milk, potatoes, apples, canned goods, turnips.
Hand hewed rock cellar on Williams Creek, near Greasy Ridge, Gallia County, Ohio, built circa 1910. Family cellars were used to store milk, potatoes, apples, canned goods, turnips.

Good times passing, depression coming in the 1930s, World War II following close behind. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal bringing towers with wires, handymen getting houses, barns ready for electricity. Price supports for tobacco creeping in. The Works Progress Administration building roads, bridges, jobs for idle men, a paycheck. Bill Hayes, a moonshiner, bootlegger, turned down for WPA, bureaucrat in Ironton sending him back to his business, telling him he doesn’t need a job. Hitler rumbling in Europe, Tojo bombing Pearl Harbor. Sugar, gas rationing. Young men receiving draft notices, joining up, looking for travel, money, adventure. Leaving behind 4-Fs, ridiculed. Elbert Davis’s two sons thinking of milking cows, growing hay, instead, serving in Uncle Sam’s Army, coming home on furloughs. Daughter Ellen, staying, taking care of aging parents, not marrying. Older men and women working, producing nitroglycerine, driving used cars, steel factories on the Ohio River smoking 24/7. Veterans returning after the war, using up their rocking chair money, going to college, migrating to northern cities, now finding life beyond the ridge, fitting in, buying new houses, settling in suburbs. Returning on Friday evenings, going back north Sunday evenings, finally breaking bonds of home, having money, kids enrolling in shiny new school buildings. On Greasy Ridge, stores, post offices, churches closing, people finding jobs in towns, moving north, strip miners setting up. New residents putting up double-wides on small plots, moonshiners leaving, weed growers coming in, others applying for jobs across the Ohio in Huntington, West Virginia.


Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from “Tick Ridge Faces the South: True Stories, Memories, Rare Photos from Appalachia & the South” by Danny Fulks. This excerpt was submitted to LikeTheDew by the author and published originally in Backwoodshome.com.

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Catfish Biscuits http://likethedew.com/2009/08/27/catfish-biscuits/ http://likethedew.com/2009/08/27/catfish-biscuits/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2009 16:25:12 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=5484

June was the month of smooth rhythm. Tobacco and corn had taken hold. Honeysuckle vines sprouted tender buds. Onions and radishes popped through the ground. White leghorn pullets got fat on cracked corn and bugs. Strawberries were ripe. The Mud River, spring floods passed, slithered on west toward Huntington, West Virginia. The bottomland was rich with good dirt where corn, tobacco, watermelons, and muskmelons grew green and strong. Squirrels, rabbits, ground hogs, raccoons, ruffed grouse, deer lived in the woods.

Unidentified Appalachian woman, circa 1935 (Samantha McDonald collection)
Unidentified Appalachian woman, circa 1935 (Samantha McDonald collection)

The white leghorn pullets were plump and slick as deep summer came. Rhode Island reds and black Minorcas were coming on. Momma, ax in hand, threw out a handful of cracked corn, reached in and grabbed a white, fat one. Squawking, the bird struggled as she laid it on the chopping block, cut its head off. It died in a fit of flips and flops. She dipped the bird in a tub of scalding water, plucked its feathers, singed its body with a burning newspaper. Cut it up with a butcher knife, rolled the pieces in flour, deep-fried them in an iron skillet filled with hot grease. Brown gizzards and chunks of liver decorated the platter. I gnawed on a crisp pulley bone. The men came in from the field at noon. Dad, older brothers, and farm hands. Called hands because they were hired to lift, pull, dig, cut, hoe, work teams of horses. Momma and sister Bessie worked in the heat of the kitchen. They kept the fire hot in the coal stove, skillets and pans on each burner. Bessie fixed a mess of mashed new potatoes from the garden. Ham sizzled in a skillet. A pan of cool water from the well held fresh green onions and radishes.

Momma called the men—washed up with Lava soap, roll-your-own Bugler cigarettes snuffed—to the table. The kitchen was redolent of grease, sweat, cooked meats, horseflies. Odd cups, saucers, plates, many from boxes of soap powder, rested on a table covered by faded oilcloth. A workday, there was no table grace. The men ate well, talked easy. They teased and laughed about skinned elbows, chigger bites, poison ivy, a guy they called “Wide Ass,” a finger wrapped in a dirty rag, still bleeding. After the third request for more potatoes, dad dumped the whole dish on a hand’s plate. More laughter. Momma and Bessie kept the dishes filled. More tea? More coffee? How about a piece of rhubarb pie?

Rural Appalachian family, circa 1940
Rural Appalachian family, circa 1940

In the shade of a maple tree in the yard, men pulled on cigarettes lit up with country matches struck on the legs of bib overalls. Back in the fields, one man worked behind the horse-drawn cultivator as others weeded the tobacco bed in the afternoon sun. Still in the kitchen, Momma and Bessie ate the chicken’s back, neck, gizzard. They cleared the table, washed and dried dishes, put them back in the cabinet. In a few hours, they got them back out and set the table for supper. Again, the stove was fired up to bake a berry cake, fry meat, scramble eggs. The family ate supper together. Hands fended for themselves. Momma saved enough corn bread so we could have it with milk at bedtime.

Momma and Aunt Ora passed the summer days squeezing juice from blackberries for jelly, canning peaches, corn, beans, tomatoes. They pickled cucumbers, churned butter, fried up catfish, served it on biscuits. They nurtured pole beans, sweet corn, potatoes in the garden. Tobacco, corn, hay, muskmelons grew on through dog days until they were laid by. Pawpaw, one leg gone from gangrene, buried in the Hamlin graveyard, sat on the porch in a long-sleeved shirt, strung beans. Emerson White came by each week in an old school bus converted into a peddling wagon. Momma traded eggs and chickens for sugar, lard, meal, cereal, a few treats. In the cellar, thick cream rose to the top of milk in a crock.

Major Belville with a foxhound and a lamp oil lantern on a cold winter evening, circa 1920. Belville was something of a Paul Bunyan character known for hard work. Armed with a sharp axe, he attacked the great oak trees on his land, turned them into lumber, left the ground in shape to farm. When it got dark, he lit the carbide lamp on a miner’s cap, chopped on through the night.
Major Belville with a foxhound and a lamp oil lantern on a cold winter evening, circa 1920. Belville was something of a Paul Bunyan character known for hard work. Armed with a sharp axe, he attacked the great oak trees on his land, turned them into lumber, left the ground in shape to farm. When it got dark, he lit the carbide lamp on a miner’s cap, chopped on through the night.

The high event of late summer was the all-day meeting with dinner on the ground held at the Greenville Valley Baptist Church. Great oak trees shaded the gathering of church members, a handful of hungry guests, welcome because they were on relief. Men in boaters, women in feed sack dresses carried covered dishes from car trunks up the steep plane to the long table. Momma brought fried chicken, potato salad, Kool-Aid. Over the years, everyone knew what dishes to expect. One lady always brought cooked ham, another green beans, others a variety of local grub.

Heavenly Father, we thank thee for this food/ We thank thee for those who prepared it/ We ask that thou would bless us all, help us to live our lives closer to thee/ We ask for this blessing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost/ Amen. Amen, Brother Harold.

The table set, a feast waited as men, women, children lined up with paper plates. Mincemeat, apple, and peach pies topped off the big dinner. Jasper Sheets, getting by with an acre of tobacco farmed on the halves, gorged hisself, got foundered. Children romped in the soft grass, snuck into the woods, threw rocks at wasp nests on the outside toilet. Worn out babies slept on blankets, sucked on sugar tits. Men smoked, chewed, talked about Roosevelt. There was gossip that several jars of Belle Walter’s peaches had come up. Wasted by broken seals. Women ridded the table, packed up the scraps. Cigarette butts and quids of chewed tobacco were left in the crushed grass. An aura of calm splendor graced the scene. And for those short hours the sadness of life dissipated. The preaching, praying, singing of melancholy, gospel songs went on until it was time to go home and milk. That evening we made fun of Ethel Fowler’s green beans. Just like last year. Not fit to eat.

John and George Null gutting a hog in late fall, Webster Road, Gallia County, Ohio, near Waterloo. Rural Appalachians were survivalists. They had ancient skills for raising domestic animals, butchering, preparing, and preserving meat. Anyone who ever ate tenderloin (meat from high on the hog) fried in lard, knows what gourmet food tastes like. Those old ladies would fatten you up, say you looked peaked if you didn’t eat good. A few men drank homemade whiskey from water glasses with their meals.
John and George Null gutting a hog in late fall, Webster Road, Gallia County, Ohio, near Waterloo. Rural Appalachians were survivalists. They had ancient skills for raising domestic animals, butchering, preparing, and preserving meat. Anyone who ever ate tenderloin (meat from high on the hog) fried in lard, knows what gourmet food tastes like. Those old ladies would fatten you up, say you looked peaked if you didn’t eat good. A few men drank homemade whiskey from water glasses with their meals.

The heat pressed on through September and the harvest of tobacco, corn, turnips, pumpkins, orange and yellow gourds. As the year wore on and November came, dad cut down on a fat hog with a twenty-two. He and the hands strung the hog up to a tree limb, dipped it in a barrel of scalding water. They scraped its hair off with butcher knives, gutted the carcass. They threw away the guts, cut up the hams, tenderloin, pork chops. Momma fried up the fresh tenderloin, canned sausage in Mason jars, fried the brains. We took the leftovers to school in a lard bucket. The men smoked hams over a fire made from saplings, salted slabs of bacon, stored them for winter. Rabbits, squirrels, and ground hogs got us through when the good meat was gone.

There were a few special dishes for Christmas. Momma cooked a goose, sent my older brother over to Simms Store in Hamlin to get fresh oysters for dressing. The aroma of potato soup and heat from the wood stove permeated the kitchen. Rags stuffed in cracks around the edges of windows and doors kept out the cold. Feeding and milking cows, cleaning out the barn, carrying wood and coal went on every day. The barnyard was covered with frozen cow crap and mud. Winter days were short and bleak. Long before daylight, Momma was up stirring fires, frying eggs, baking biscuits, fixing red-eye gravy. Coal oil lamps flickered. Farm programs and hillbilly music came through on the battery radio: “Pass the biscuits Miranda/I know that I’m going to die./ Dam those biscuits, Miranda/I knowed they’d get me by and by.”

Coon dogs, field trials, all-night hunts were mainstream activities for men in Appalchia, circa 1947.
Coon dogs, field trials, all-night hunts were mainstream activities for men in Appalchia, circa 1947.

In February, ground still frozen, smooth rhythm began again. Sites for tobacco beds were picked out. The tinkling of supper dishes from the kitchen proved Momma was in her place. The big, greasy breakfast before the men went hunting was as sure as the smell of gun oil. Hoppy number nine. June came, again we planted. Another batch of baby chicks hatched out. Momma got the butcher knife, dishpan, went up the road to pick greens. Dad harnessed the horses. Nineteen-forty-two, the War came. Brother Harold got drafted. I learned to milk, how to squirt it from the cow’s tits to the cat’s mouth and in Freddie McGuire’s face. Pawpaw went to be with the Lord, joined his leg in the grave. Bessie got married and moved to town. We got a better used car. And, like the high rituals of acolytes, candles, robes, toasts, formal dinners among the rich, the simple rituals of the poor went on.


Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from “Tick Ridge Faces the South: True Stories, Memories, Rare Photos from Appalachia & the South” by Danny Fulks. This excerpt was submitted to LikeTheDew by the author and published originally in Backwoodshome.com.

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