Time marches slowly over here at the Old Folks Hotel in Opelika. My daughters keep me company, and they’ve gotten really good at finding places to wheel me around. I’m always nice and patient with them, even when they tell me to drink water for the hundredth time, because the one place I don’t want them to push me in the wheelchair is OUT. They ask me a lot of questions about the old days, and I sure wish I could remember more. Millennials talk a lot about keeping journals which never would have occurred to me growing up, but now it would be helpful since I tell the same childhood stories over and over, almost as many times as my daughters ask me to drink water.
What fascinates them the most is the way we got our food. I’ve written articles about my amazement at the produce section at the grocery store. Even the lowly cucumber has four offerings: Organic, English, mini, and what I call regular. In the ‘30s on the homestead, it took us all summer to grow a row of vegetables. Now in Kroger it practically sickens me that half the produce will be thrown out by the end of the day. Do we really need petite tomatoes and grape tomatoes and roma tomatoes and what I call regular tomatoes? Is our Lanett Kroger Produce Section a commentary on our country that we have gotten spoiled by options?
My friend Gerald Andrews came by last week, and we enjoyed talking about the old days. As I sat there and ate my tray of mystery meat, we explained to my daughter how hard it was to make meat last for a whole week back then. Much to Traci’s dismay, Gerald went into graphic detail about hanging up hogs and bleeding them dry. It reminded me of the various jobs I had on the farm, none of them I was particularly good at.
One of these tasks was slopping the hogs. On our farm, slop was the leftover food on plates, food that spoiled, soured milk, and any other foods that our family shunned. A five-gallon bucket was kept near the kitchen where we collected the slop, and then every day it would be dumped into a trough in the pig pen. The pig pen (sometimes referred to as a sty) was an enclosure no bigger than a closet. The hog was confined to wallow in his own waste and allowed absolutely no room to exercise. As a kid, I avoided slopping the hogs because it made me sad to see how they lived. Even now, I still feel sorry for the pigs…although I sure do love bacon.
On many occasions I was asked to murder a chicken. I explained how easy it was to kill a chicken but how hard it was to catch one. Something a little less murderous, but I was equally inept at, was shelling butter beans. Being someone who doesn’t mind getting cancelled, I can say that this was a woman’s work. Annie, who was a dear lady that helped us, could shell a bushel of butter beans before I could shell a handful. A well-kept garden was a necessity, and if you didn’t can vegetables, you didn’t eat during the winter. I remember Danforth’s grocery store in LaFayette never had produce year-round. Oranges and apples in summer were non-existent as were garden vegetables during the winter (except for turnip greens). As a result of eating very little greens during the winter, my buddies and I often developed boils from poor nutrition. Fortunately, in 2023, we have vitamins the size of small dogs that can provide our daily nutrient intake. Have all these supplements made us a healthier nation? Perhaps do a little people-watching at the local mall and decide for yourself.
I was also very bad at stripping the **** on milk cows. The cows were kept in a stall in cold weather, and invariably they lay in their excrement that always ended up on the udder. I had to bring cold water in the milk bucket and try to clean the udder before milking. Usually, the final product contained a little brown color in the milk, which was not chocolate milk.
Thankfully I discovered Forestry and got off the farm and into the woods. Now full circle, beyond the barren courtyard out my window at the Old Folks Hotel, I can see loblolly pines in the distance. I’m grateful I made a living outdoors.