A Cold Winter Night
You never really rest on a farm. In good weather we were always out in the field. The work, started in the fall when we turned under stubble. Then in the spring we started getting the land ready for planting.
We started planting such things as Irish potatoes the first dark night in February. Gardens were fixed and beans always planted on Good Friday. We planted some corn in March, then some in April. Our bottom land was never planted until the full moon in May.
We tried to get through picking cotton before Christmas, but if the weather was bad, we might not finish until March of the next year. We always got our corn in before Christmas. We would always have two cribs full, 300 or 400 bushels. When corngathering and cottonpicking were finished, woodcutting started. There were always 100 to 150 cords of wood to cut and stack.
We told time by the sun. When we wanted to know if it was time to go home for dinner, we’d take a step. If the toe of our shoe showed out from under the shadow of our wide-brimmed hat when we stepped, that meant it was 11:30 and time to go to the house to eat. AT the end of the day, we just worked until there was no light to see by. Then we went in, threw the shucks or the feed to the stock, ate supper, sharpened hoes or fixed cotton sacks while the womenfolk cleaned up the kitchen and then everybody went straight to bed.
In bad weather we worked all the same. Nobody stopped when it rained or turned cold. We’d work in the blacksmith shop sharpening plows or repairing wagon wheels, in the barn mending harnesses, or in the corncrib shucking corn.
I started working in the blacksmith shop with Papa when I was about nine. Papa would show me how to fix a wagon wheel. It was time for me to learn to make and repair things around the farm.
“Break this wheel down, Tom. It’s too loose to stay on the wagon anymore. Now, take the steel tire off it and work a piece of hickory wood around it. Tack it on there, and then heat that wagon steel rim and put it back on the wheel. You’ve got a new wheel out of it. Now all you have to do is make the spokes.”
And we’d turn to shaving sticks to put new spokes in the wheel.
Papa always let us call it quits earlier in the day when it was cold and rainy. WE headed to the house. I loved days like this because you could count on Mama to have a big plate of friend pies waiting when you got to the kitchen for supper. Mama would spend almost all day in the kitchen during bad weather, frying pies made out of dried apples and peaches we stored out in the room on the porch. What a delicious smell on a rainy winter day!
When supper was over, the whole family went to sit in front of the fire in the big room where Granddad slept. Mama would sew patches on clothes or make new overalls and dresses by hand. Papa would put new half soles on our shoes or mend broken laces.
With the wind howling outside and everything about us cold except our front sides facing the fire, we’d enjoy some baked sweet potatoes roasted in the fireplace and a big pan of peanuts which we had grown and which Mama had roasted that day. We would eat so many peanuts that the floor around us would be covered with hulls.
Granddad would cook johnnycakes before the fire. Johnnycakes were made with corn meal. A batter was made from the meal and put on a board that was made from white oak. One side would get brown in the fireplace, and then Granddad would turn the johnnycake over to brown the other side. We would then take the cake while it was hot and put butter on it with a little sugar or syrup. Then we’d put this in our mouths. That was eating!
Granddad would tell stories about his days in the Civil War. If we were lucky he’d bring out the gold-plated pistol he carried into battle at Franklin and Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge. Papa would tell hunting stories of running wildcats in the mountains, how an old bearcat could slip a whole pack of hounds. Everybody would reminisce about the time we had a big snow and went rabbit hunting with sticks and one single-shot 22 rifle.
I could never forget those cold winter nights, a big fire going, peanut hulls covering the floor, a pile of roasted sweet potatoes on the hearth waiting to be buttered. The johnnycakes will soon be ready. Don’t’ call now. The family are busy with their most enjoyable time. The country boy is at home where he will tell you, “This is living.”