A Hog a Day Part 8

Taking his cue from Mr. Grady Rose, Daddy decided he needed to go into the hog business. In theory, all he had to do was harvest wild hogs and watch the money roll in. Mother reluctantly agreed.  In fact, he did accrue a few expenses to get a few starter sows and a boar or two, timber to build trap pens, and corn to bait the traps.  Of course, he had to have a gun and knife for protection, and mud tires to negotiate the deep woods and oh yes, a hog dog for the hunt, expenditures that severely stressed an already overburdened budget.  Daddy brought home about a hundred dollars a week.  Groceries took twelve dollars of that.

Daddy took to hog hunting enthusiastically.  It became  a sport rather than a money-making venture.  I don’t recall eating a lot of pork or having to help count the extra money it brought in. The boars were very aggressive to men and dogs.  Daddy stitching his dogs up after they were slashed by hogs.

Daddy‚Äôs hunting buddy, Jimmy, was amazing. ¬†He‚Äôd lost a leg as an infant, but had compensated so well, he seemed not to miss it at all. ¬†When an angry boar charged a group of hunters aggressively, the other men scattered into nearby trees while Jimmy agiley¬†jumped on top of his crutch and balanced as the hog ran beneath him. ¬†He used his crutch to vault over fences rather than hunting for a gate. When my brother Billy was little, Mother had learned to dread what he might say to people. ¬†Early one morning as she stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes, she saw Jimmy headed for the front door. ¬†She rushed to get to the open front door greet him before Billy got a chance open his big mouth and ask about the missing leg. She was too slow. ¬†As she rushed in, Billy announced, ‚ÄúMama, a skeeter bit his leg off!‚ÄĚ

Daddy made an interesting acquisition from one of his hunting buddies.  For a nominal amount, he became the proud owner of the Hog Wagon.  It was a school bus on a cut down frame with a cage on back for transporting hogs and sometimes children.  This amalgamation was unlicensed, of course, since it had no windshield or doors.  A battered bench seat covered with burlap bags replaced the bus seat.  The V8 flathead engine made it very powerful when run in first gear, an invaluable feature for a vehicle used in swampy areas.  We hung on for dear life when we were fortunate enough to get a ride on this beauty.  Daddy also employed this powerful machine to pull up stumps when clearing pasture.

We were seriously the envy of neighborhood kids.




A Hog a Day Part 7

Mr. Grady Rose traded hogs and raised watermelons, a brilliant plan. During that period, Bossier Parish, Louisiana,  had open range laws.  That meant livestock was free to roam, decreasing the responsibility of the farmer and making driving after dark a challenge.  Motorists were responsible for damages, should they be careless enough to hit one.  Black livestock presented a real challenge at night since they were cloaked in invisibility.  Passengers, as well as the driver, watched for livestock.  The ever present threat of livestock certainly cut down on speeding.  Contrary to what you might expect, accidents were rare.

The point of this story is that Mr. Grady was deeply involved in the hog business, a vocation that required a great deal of work, but little cash outlay.¬† Since he had captive labor in his four boys, it was an ideal career choice.¬† The hogs ran wild in the woods, feeding on acorns and other vegetation. ¬† In the spring he baited catch pens in the woods with corn and caught the sows with his mark in their ears when their litter was young.¬† He cut his mark in the piglets ears, castrated the males, and turned them loose to grow. It was a grave offense to tamper with animals with another man’s mark.¬† Marks were well-known by other hog farmers in the community, so word was passed on to neighbors what part of the woods a man’s hogs had recently occupied, making it easier to track them.¬† Of course, one couldn’t expect to harvest all the hogs bearing his mark, but it was a good crop.¬† No man wanted word to get around that his mark was found on young pigs following a sow with another man’s mark.¬† Men have been shot for that!

A few months later, the pens were baited again to catch the unneeded sows,¬† castrated males for slaughter or personal use, or take to market.¬† Uncastrated adult males, or boars were not good eating, due to their hormone load. Catching the hogs was dangerous business.¬† Adult males had sharp, curved tusks and fought fiercely, especially when penned up.¬† They’d also attack in the woods.¬† Hog hunting was considered fine sport by many.¬† Once captured, Mr. Rose penned hogs up in pens at his farm to fatten.¬† That’s where the melons came in.¬† They were a cheap, abundant crop, easily harvested.¬† The hungry hogs gorged on the fat melons that burst as they hit the ground.¬† It looked for all the world like a bloody battle as they squealed, grunted, and gobbled their way aggressively through the heap.¬† I never got enough of watching.

Mother usually bought melons from peddlers who drove through the neighborhood selling from the back of their truck.¬† One kid would flag while the others ran around like mad trying to find enough change to purchase a melon which commonly sold for a dollar, but if the peddler came at the end of the day and wanted to unload, we might get two for a dollar.¬† I never got satisfied on melon and would eat as close into the rind as possible, trying to get every sweet taste.¬† I was stunned to see Mr. Grady split a fine melon, pass the heart to one of the watching kids, and toss the rest to the hogs. I’d never experienced such luxury.

My Brief Career as a Religious Educator

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Despite my parents’ earnest efforts, I never developed a taste for church. Church required dressing in starchy clothes, a miserable Saturday night hairdo session, major shoe polishing efforts, memorization of Bible verses, claiming to read my Sunday School lesson, and worst of all, not getting to spend the night with my heathenish cousins who didn’t have church inflicted on them.

It probably wouldn’t have been such an issue had my older sister not been the poster child for Christian kids. She could be mean as a snake all week, then nearly kill herself to be in church every time the doors opened. In all fairness, it is possible her meanness toward me was a result of torments I’d heaped on her, but if she was such a great Christian, you’d expect her to be thankful for the opportunity to turn the other cheek, like the Good Book says.

Any way, the summer after my junior year in high school, Mother came home from Sunday School with “Big News!” Mrs. Miner had asked Mother if I would take the primary class in Bible School. Mother assured her I would LOVE to, forgetting I wasn’t cut from the same cloth as my saintly sister. “Why, it was an honor to be asked,” Mother told me. “No one else your age was even asked.¬† Naturally Phyllis was also honored with an invitation to teach the juniors.¬† She was so excited you’d have thought the invitation was straight from God’s lips.

“I will not teach Bible School. I hate bratty kids and crafts, and I am going to enjoy the first year of my life not stuck in Bible School half a day.” I told Mother. This defiance came as a big surprise to her, since I normally went along with her. Daddy was so strict, that by the time I was that age, I’d pretty much given up on getting my way about much of anything, but this Bible School business was over the line. I’d had enough!

“Oh, yes you are,”. She insisted.” I’ve already told Mrs. Miner you would. Besides, she can’t get anyone else to take that class.”

“Mother, I hate Bible School. I won’t do it even if you beat me to death, and then I’d go to Hell for sure, getting killed over not teaching Bible School. Do you WANT me to go to Hell?”

Pulling out the Hell card was all that saved me. Mother considered and backed down. She’d made it clear on many occasions she had no intention of allowing any of her children¬†to go¬†to Hell.

Well, I didn’t teach Bible School and I didn’t have to go to Hell, but I got the next worse punishment. Mother gave up and taught “my class” but threatened me I’d better have the house spotless and lunch ready every day when she got in from Bible School. She was mad as hops for having to teach, which seemed odd when it was such an “honor” to be asked. Oh yes, I checked with my friends, all good Christians, and Mrs. Miner had unsuccessfully badgered them to take the class before she bothered cornering Mother about me. I guess they didn’t know what an honor it was.

That Monday morning the house was a real pigsty. Mother never was a meticulous housekeeper, but we’d had swarms of relatives in. Sunday evening supper was late, so the dishes waited for me in cold, slimy gray water ensuring they’d be as disgusting as possible for me.¬† I was always involved in housework, but this was the first time I was threatened with a job of this magnitude to¬†accomplish alone in less than four hours.

Mother took pleasure in calling out over her shoulder as she headed off to Bible School. “This house better be spotless and lunch on the table when I get home…..and Oh, yes, clean out that refrigerator, too!”¬† The saintly Phyllis smirked as they got in the car.

I didn’t bother to tell her that she, Phyllis, and I couldn’t have gotten all that done if we’d been working like like our lives depended on it. It looked like a week’s mess piled up. I started in on the dishes, a Herculean challenge. All the countertops were covered, the stove, and a pressure cooker and¬†several dirty pots waited patiently on the floor for their turn. Grandma apparently thought more pots was the answer to all Mother’s problems, so every time she went near a thrift store or replaced one of her pots, she sent her castoffs to Mother. Mother was a master of disorganization and grabbed a fresh pot for everything she cooked, tossing the used one on the dirty stack. A stack of crazily leaning miss-matched pots and lids always lined our counters, unless we’d just done the dishes.

I set in washing. The glasses, plates, and bowls went pretty fast. There were way, way more than the rack would hold, so of course, I had to stop to dry and put away several times. The dreaded silverware was next. I made fresh, hot dishwater to soak it during the drying and put away process. While they soaked, I tackled the refrigerator. It was a small, older model with few shelves. Never fear, those shelves were stacked two or three layers deep with ancient vegetables nobody wanted the first time, dried mashed potatoes, wizened onions, potatoes, and turnips with dirt still clinging from the garden. None of our bowls had lids, so leftovers quickly crusted over.  I scraped out the dried leftovers in a bucket for the hogs, and made a new stack to start after the silverware was done.

We didn’t have air conditioning, but our house boasted an attic fan.¬† For best effect, one closes the doors to unused rooms so the fan will pull a breeze though the areas in use.¬† I had the kitchen windows and back door open.¬† By the time I got the silverware done, a few wayward flies had worked their way in through a hole in the back door screen, not bothered at all by the cotton ball¬†on the screen¬†¬†that was supposed to terrify them senseless.¬† They didn’t share the family’s low opinion of the leftovers and were buzzing about them happily.¬† I took time out of my busy schedule to treat the hogs to that bucket of slop.¬† It’s impossible to climb up on the rails of a hog pen and dump slop into a trough with splashing some on yourself.¬† This just added to the fun.¬† A number of the flies journeyed with me to the hog pen, but a few slow learners lingered in the kitchen.¬† They were all over the slop I’d splashed on myself as soon as I got back in.¬† I didn’t have time for a showere, so I washed¬† my feet and legs with a washcloth.¬† The flies found a few spots I missed and pointed them out.¬† Of course, I had to swat them and sweep them up with the rest of the kitchen before I could continue.

About eleven-thirty, I realized¬†it was way past time ¬†to get lunch going.¬† We weren’t baloney and cheese sandwiches kind of people¬† We were big meal in the middle of the day people, a meat, dry beans, and two vegetables and biscuits or cornbread.¬† I couldn’t have made a quick lunch if my life depended on it.

In a panic, I perused the refrigerator and found nothing but a couple of eggs and a package of frozen sausage in the freezer.¬† Desperately, I scrambled the sausage and made a pan of sausage gravy and biscuits.¬† We often had biscuits and gravy for an emergency meal.¬† Just as I pulled the biscuits¬†out of the oven, I put away the last dish away and finished mopping the kitchen as they got out of the car.¬† The rest of the house was untouched, but the kitchen sparkled.¬† “Don’t come in the kitchen.¬† The floor is wet!”

Even though the rest of the house still looked like a disaster zone, the kitchen looked good.  Mother looked self-righteous, but somewhat mollified till she asked what was for lunch.

“Sausage gravy and biscuits.¬† I forgot to put a chicken out to thaw and put beans on.”

Mother was furious.¬† It was summer.¬† I guess she’d thought I would¬†somehow found time to gather and prepare¬†okra and tomatoes from the garden like she would have if she’d been home.¬† “I can’t eat biscuits and gravy!¬† I am on a diet.¬† I have to have vegetables or I’ll put all that weight back on!”¬† In a huff, she went out and got tomatoes and radishes, and ate them with two fried eggs.

It still beat the Hell out of teaching Bible School,