Thursday, September 26, 2013

You Scratch My Back And I'll Scratch Yours

My grandfather, Eldon Smith ~ whom we called: Pap ~ made a living by moonshining. I believe I mentioned that in a previous post. What I didn't mention before, though, was that each year Pap raised one or two pigs to feed the family through the winter. At one time he also kept a cow or two for the same purpose, but I mostly remember the pigs. The trouble with Pap raising pigs was that when the time for butchering came around, Pap couldn't bring himself to kill the pigs, so that task fell to my dad, Bernard ~ whom we called: Pappy.

As my brother, Leon, and I grew up, we participated in the raising of the pigs along with the butchering. Well, I shouldn't really say that we "participated" in the pig butchering because Leon would only have been seven or eight years old when our family butchered its last pig, and I would only have been six or seven years old. So pig butchering day was more of a "run around and see what we could get into" type of day for me and Leon.

Did I mention that Pap couldn't bring himself to kill the pigs to be butchered? That was because he made the same mistake every time he got two pigs in the spring: he'd name them. And once the pigs were named, they were his friends, not potential breakfasts and suppers in December. So through the year, as Sally and Tom (or Benny and Jane, or Smokey and Gertie, or whatever) grew up, Pap would fatten his pigs with slop and cornmeal, watching them grow fatter and fatter until that day in mid-October when strips and chunks would be cut off to be renamed bacon and loin chops, and intestines would be washed thoroughly to become the casings for the ground-up sausage.

In his later years, Pap kept his pigs in a pigpen (a twelve by twelve foot building) that stood on my dad's property. Pap had sold the portion of his property on which his own barn stood a few years earlier, and so the pigs became my parents' responsibility. I don't know if my parents considered the pigs to be theirs (because they were kept on their property, they might have), but Leon and I knew that the pigs were Pap's ~ until butchering day, that is. So me and Leon were helping Pap with his pigs when we carried the buckets of slop to them, pouring the mixture of milk and left-over food scraps into the trough, overtop the two or three scoops of corn meal that would first be spread out evenly in the trough bottom.

We loved helping take care of the pigs, and I was just big enough. If I stood on the trough edge, resting my belly on the top of the trough wall, and by stretching as far as I could, I could pat the pigs on their scratchy hairy backs. Me and Leon did that while the pigs were eating ~ they wouldn't stand still for you to touch them otherwise.

So what about that thing shown at the top of this post? It was called a pig scraper (or a hog scraper by some people). The purpose of the pig scraper was to scrape all the hair off the pig when it was being butchered. That concept ~ to scrape the hair off when the pigs were being butchered ~ was kinda lost on six and seven year old Larry and Leon. We thought that the pigs liked having their backs scratched ~ while they were living. I knew that I felt real good when my back itched and mom would scratch it for me.

So we assumed that the pigs probably felt real good too when Leon and I scratched their backs for them. And what better way to give the pigs a good scratching than to use the pig scraper. The only thing was that Leon and I didn't realize that it probably hurt the poor beasts. Every time I see a pig scraper I can't help but be transported back to the 1960s, and in my mind I can almost smell the slop and cornmeal. And each time I experience that kind of vivid memory I feel sorry for those humble pigs who grunted and snorted while two little boys scraped a few hairs off their backs.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I Hope This Post Doesn't End Up Being Half-Assed

When the first Europeans began to move into the North American wilderness in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, they had to construct houses in which to live. That was easy enough for me to say, but as the old saying goes: "It's easier said than done."

The fact of the matter was that it took quite some time and energy to cut down the number of trees needed to build even a modest-sized structure. If the immigrant family was from Western or Southern Europe (which included Britain, Spain, France and the Netherlands), they probably intended to build a wood-frame structure. If the immigrant family came from Northern Europe, they would no doubt have intended to build a log cabin structure. Either method of building would take a little time to accomplish, especially if it was to be performed by the family's father and maybe a son or two.

So what was a family to do in the meantime for shelter? The most common solution to this dilemma was a structure known as a half-faced camp. The half-faced camp consisted of three walls and a roof made of light saplings spaced somewhat close together and interwoven with brush and smaller twigs. The fourth, open, side of the structure was higher than the rear so that the roof sloped from front to back and directed any rainwater away from, rather than into, the interior space. Outside of the structure, but close to that open side, would be kindled the fire for cooking and heating. The half-faced camp would be used as the family's home while the house was being built. The illustration above is of a form of half-faced camp published in 1859 in The Prairie Traveler, by Randolph B. Marcy. Instead of saplings, brush and twigs, the structure consists of a piece of fabric stretched to the ground from supporting branches.

In the North American Colonies, especially in the ones settled by English colonists, the English language bulged with words and phrases that developed and grew from the environment. Such words and phrases have become known as homespun words and phrases. The temporary structure that the immigrants constructed, the half-faced camp, gave birth to one of those homespun phrases (or rather, hyphenated words): half-assed.

Dictionaries give the meaning of the hyphenated word half-assed as something that is done only partly, or done without much effort, resulting in a product that is deficient in some way.

I'm sure that nine out of ten people that use this word to describe something in their life that is rough, or otherwise misses the mark in terms of preferred quality, do not have any idea that the word they have used was derived from a shelter against the weather.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sometimes You Just Need A Duck's Quack To Be Heard

In the days when the menfolk would be out in the fields plowing, sowing, tending or reaping their crops, when the housewife wanted to call them in to dinner or supper, she had three ways of doing so. She could give a strong, loud call to them, hoping they would hear. She could send a young child out to tell them to come in. Or she could blow on one of these things - a dinner horn

This tool is made out of tin. As the images show, it has a slight bit of detail in texture, but it was not made to be pretty; it was made to be functional.

The tin dinner horn has a permanent reed, and there are no holes on which the user can play different notes. It has only a single sound ~ something like a duck's quack.