GARDENING BY RONELLA: Memories of autumns past with Ma and Pa
by Ronella Stagner, Columnist
Sep 18, 2013 | 87 87 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Fall on Ma and Pa’s farm was a time of preparation for the winter to come. I loved every minute of my time with those two kind, loving people. My memory of the time I spent with them is clearer than at any other time in my life. I especially loved the smells on their place.

I loved going down to the tobacco barn with Pa to check on his firing tobacco. It was a short walk and you could smell that special tobacco barn smell as soon as you left their yard going down that little narrow road to the barn. We always walked in the middle of that little road because, as Pa told me, there were some small caves where rattlesnakes denned in the winter and were sometimes seen around those caves, which were covered in vines. I guess the barn was just an ordinary size barn but it seemed so huge to me as I looked up into the top tiers of tobacco.

That is the same barn where Pa once stored the one and only car he ever bought. I remember that it was a little Ford Roadster. He drove it once, after being shown how to start and stop. He drove it down to the barn to park it and everything went just fine till he got to the middle of the barn and forgot how to brake. My uncle swore that he hollered, “Whoa!” and then proceeded to drive straight through the end planks of the barn. Pa gave that little car to his son and never attempted to drive another car. I was too little to have witnessed this event but I heard it many times. So I can’t verify it as truth.

Fall was such a busy time at the old Lewis farm. The apples were picked a final time and Pa made cider, which eventually turned into vinegar. The last of the pears were picked for Ma to can. Ma was just a flurry of activity getting all her canning done. She loved to make preserves and jelly so she had rows and rows of pretty jars of watermelon rind preserves, pear honey, etc.

I have mentioned Pa’s square hole in the ground where he stored root crops through the winter. I only remember a little about it. However, I do remember that he dug a deep hole, lined it with straw and put layers of parsnips and other root crops with lots of straw between the layers, ending with deep straw and covered with a wooden door that just fit the hole. I played no part in this hole so I remember little about it.

One thing I well remember is getting ready for a “cold spell”, which would be judged by Pa to be just right for hog killing. Ma would sew muslin or “domestic” sacks as she called them, for stuffing with sausage. Ma was in total charge of the sausage making process since she knew just how to season and stuff the sausage. I have never eaten sausage as good as Ma’s, with the extra sage and lean pork.

I so hated hog killing time since I could hear the hogs squeal and I understood it all when I was very young. We never named Pa’s pigs as we did Daddy’s, which were never slaughtered but raised for breeding. Several neighbors came to help with the process and when they left, they carried parts of the hogs home with them. I might take a peek outside near the end of the yard where they hung the hogs up but Ma and I kept well into the back of her kitchen until she was needed for something. I thought it was a terribly barbaric thing to do and I know it was an inhumane way to slaughter. My father would have no part in killing an animal. If we had meat, it came from a grocery or he would buy a ham from some farmer. If we had fried chicken, Mama had to kill the chicken when he wasn’t nearby. They were his pets and I can still imagine seeing him stoop for an old hen to hop on his shoulder to ride around. I thought him quite silly but that was Daddy.

If I hated hog killing, I loved Pa’s gathering nuts to store for winter. He would bring in hickory nuts, black walnuts, peanuts, hazel nuts but we had no pecans on our farms. Was there ever a kid who didn’t eat a green peanut? I think it was the sickest I ever was.

Wheat threshing came in late summer and that was the grand event of the whole summer and fall. I can still see in my imagination the old steam engine coming up the lane, covering both sides and edges of the road. It was a great event with neighbors coming to help and their wives, Ma’s good friends, coming to help her cook. They brought some grand cakes and pies with them. Ma’s old dining table would seat about 10 easily, I think, and it would be filled probably twice with the men coming to help. I always hung out at the edge of the dining room to hear the tales and laughter. I remember that Pa would fasten up his little dog in an outbuilding because the copperhead snakes would be chopped up in the threshing and his dog would be bitten or be killed by the thresher.

It is so strange that my memory is still clear about things that happened at that old place and I have long forgotten memories of times at my parents’ home. Ma and Pa’s home was a haven for me and for my little sister who came along several years later. I am thankful for that loving, God-fearing sweet woman and for my dear Pa and for the love they showed us.

Please feel free to call me at 270-522-3632 with questions and/or comments.
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