Wednesday, May 20, 2020

REMEMBRANCE by Cheryl Pierson

Many years ago, my aunt entered an essay contest at Austin College in Texas. Aunt JoAnne was my dad’s younger sister. Her essay was about hog-killing time on their small farm in southeastern Oklahoma, but in her rich way of telling a story, she said so much more.

Aunt JoAnne was my dad’s only sister, and she was a strong “influencer” in our family. She had a very dynamic personality, and was full of surprises. Born in 1929, she was seven years younger than my dad and they loved each other dearly. Though she accomplished many things, her family was the most important—the dearest thing—in her life.

This is her recollection of the yearly ritual of hog-killing. She remembers this particular time when she was nine years old. When she wrote this essay, she was in her late seventies or early eighties, and she passed away 2 years ago at the age of 88.Here she is below, writing a letter to her husband, my Uncle Earl, during the Korean War when he was overseas.

This is a treasure to me because it lets me have a glimpse of her as a child, of my grandparents as younger people, and of other family members like my Aunt Grace, who was my grandmother’s sister. Remembering Aunt JoAnne and the wonderful stories she told about our family (she knew and remembered so many things—I tried to write some of them down!) as I read this essay makes me wish she had written more things like this.

My dad, Fred, with little sis, JoAnne in front. Behind them are two of their first cousins. This was taken around 1933-1934 or so. Dad would have been about 11 or 12, and JoAnne would have been 4 or 5.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse back in time.

By: JoAnne Jackson
This was, for sure, hog killing weather—the deep, frigid
cold of late November, 1941. The blue "norther" had
subsided to a deep and bitter cold. Yes, fine weather for the
yearly ritual at our small row-crop farm.

Everything was ready. Only yesterday, Dad filled the
old black wash pot with well-bucket after well-bucket of
water and then staked wood from the ample woodpile to
surround what would become a scalding cauldron. My
mother had stitched long, white tubing that would encase the
pork sausage. Every crock, dish pan, and kettle was
thoroughly scrubbed.

By lamplight, Dad had carefully sharpened every utility
knife, giving close attention to the butcher knives. I watched
closely the rhythm-like back and forth motion of metal on
whet stone.

Aunt JoAnne (RIGHT) and a cousin–both were 5 years old in this picture, and a few days after this was taken, her little cousin died of a ruptured appendix.

One of the largest shoats had been penned and fed rich
rations of grain and ‘shorts’, a thick, smelly mixture we
called slop. Discards from the kitchen were thrown in, also.

Next morning, Dad was up before sunrise, starting fires
in the wood heater and kitchen stove. He then went to coax
the kindling and larger sticks to a kind of red-hot furnace
around the wash pot.

At light of day, Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill drove up,
sitting high on the spring board seat of their farm wagon.
The horses were led into the barn lot, where they would
spend a day's rest with plenty of grain and hay spread on the
wagon bed. No occasion—certainly not hog killing—could be
undertaken without the counsel and experience of this wise
old couple. They had seen much of life's sweetness and

My dad, Fred, and my Aunt JoAnne clowning around by “striking a pose” many years later.

Mom poured the last of the morning coffee; steaming
cups were held close, everyone appreciating the soothing
warmth—and I was not to be left out; my small cup was
filled with cream and milk, a teaspoon of sugar and 2 or 3
teaspoons full of the hot beverage. Oh, the rich goodness of
that caramel concoction!

Talk turned to news of weather, family and community.
I was puzzled when, briefly, there was mention of England,
Germany and France—I surely didn't comprehend the names
Hitler and Mussolini.

Then the long day's work began. When Dad reached
for the .22 rifle, I ran back to my bed, lying face down with
eyes squeezed tight, holding my hands over my ears. But
even so, the crack of the rifle and high shrill squeal of that
animal I can recall vividly these decades later.

I watched from the kitchen window as the work
progressed. Boiling water was poured into a metal barrel
and then tilted downward ever so slightly. This became a
seething cauldron; ugly, but necessary, I knew. A make-shift
pulley and hoist would lift the dead animal into that scalding

Dad and my uncle worked in close harmony, scraping
clean the hot clinging bristles, exposing the pink-white
coloring of snout, belly and back. Then followed the more
tedious work of quartering, slicing and discarding.
All day they labored, and that labor would provide meat
for our table. Long winter months lay ahead, but our
provisions were more than ample: spare ribs, loin,
backbone, jowls, bacon, sausage, and ham. Come
Christmas, a ham would be served, for our house would
overflow with cousins, second cousins, uncles and aunts,
toddlers and babes in arms (sweet, sweet fellowship, hours
of play and whispered secrets).

The sun was low when my mother called supper. The
coal-oil lamp in the center of the kitchen table provided a
mellow light.

Both men washed up, using wet hands to pat down
their hair, rumpled and tangled from a day that allowed no
time for combing.

Our places were set, four high backed chairs and the
kitchen stool for me, a child of nine years… Oh, that feast:
fried tenderloin, red eye gravy, small red potatoes boiled
with the jackets on… Everyone became seated and quiet as
our heads bowed to repeat The Lord's Prayer.
Mom then brought the first pan of her wonderful buttermilk biscuits to
the table, hot from the oven, Everyone ate heartily, the men
enjoying a "roll your own" cigarette of Prince Albert tobacco
as they relaxed in the warmth of that small, cramped kitchen.
But hog killing was not over just because the hog was
killed. Much remained to be done.

Meat for sausage was ground, seasoned with just the
right amount of salt, pepper, and sage. One must be extra
careful with the sage, for even a little too much would ruin the
whole crock. (Words spoken by that lovable Aunt Grace, an
authority on sausage making. And indeed, she was.) The
white tubing was packed tightly with the sausage, then hung
by long baling wire from rafters in the smokehouse.
Then came the day for rendering fat to make our lard;
and the delicious crunch of the "cracklings" was the by-product.
A cup of crushed cracklings made a skillet of hot
cornbread really, really good.

Pork cracklings–a favorite dish “then and now”–you can buy them in bags to snack on these days!

The old black wash pot was put into service that one
last time for soap making. Mother's lye soap was a product
she was most proud of. She knew by memory the exact
amount of grease, lye, and whatever else went into this
product. She wielded a long-handled wooden paddle to stir,
being careful to stay clear of the hot coals. When this
mixture reached a consistency that was absolutely, 100
percent right, and ashes covered the coals, she kept stirring,
only more slowly. lt took two or three days for the soap to
set up. LYE SOAP! In those long-ago years it was used to
wash dishes, to scrub our bare wood floors, and to bathe our
bodies when times were especially lean. When our city kin
visited in the summer, my aunt always asked, "Mary, do you
have an extra bar of your soap? The girls so love it for

The week's hum of activity gradually wound down.
Uncle Bill added a bit more preservative to the hams, sides
of bacon were wrapped and hung, buckets of pure white lard
were put in the storm cellar—placed on shelves next to
Mom's prized lye soap.

These were my people: resourceful, honest,
hardworking, humble, and always true to their convictions of
right and wrong.

Only days later, December 7, 1941, our close-knit,
secure world was rocked asunder. WWII was upon us and
our way of life forever changed.

Now, in quiet times, I see them still, seated in lamp light
at our kitchen table, heads bowed in prayers of praise and
thanksgiving. The Lord had provided for another year.

Do you have a memory like this of your childhood that stands out in your mind? Please share!


  1. Cheryl, what a treasure to have this wonderful memory.

    1. I wish I had more of her writings. She was a very very special person, and I sure do miss her.

  2. Cheryl, A fond memory from my childhood is rolling cigarettes for my dad and my grandpa. I learned to roll them by hand and also with a cigarette roller (high-tech gadget for the time). I inherited, so to speak, that mechanical cigarette roller. It's packed away...somewhere. lol

    1. Oh, Kaye, how neat is that! I would have to pull that thing out and put it where I could see it!

  3. Cheryl, This reminds me of my grandparents and their neighbors (my mother's aunt and uncle) making sausage one fall when I was a little boy. All four had their arms in a huge washtub up to their elbows, mixing ground pork, salt and spices. My grandmother would fry a little piece to see what else needed to be added before it was officially sausage. I positioned myself by the over so I could get as many bites of it as possible. I'll never eat sausage that good again. I also remember being out with my grandfather while he boiled a cauldron full of what would become cracklings. My mother told me a few years ago that one time when she was little her parents accidentally let her see them actually killing the hogs. In Tennessee (or at least with my family) they did it with a sledgehammer instead of a gun. I also remember the first time I helped my grandfather and the other farmers around the hollow haul hay; I was 13 and they paired me up with a 78-year-old farmer (neither of us was strong enough to pick up a bale on his own). Thanks for reminding me of these times.

    1. Louis, isn't it odd how we remember things when we read something like this? I remember when I was little how we'd go to my grandparents in the summer and spend the entire weekend bringing in the garden my granddad grew--tomatoes, and corn, and okra, and squash, and I have never had any tomatoes better than those! Of course, it was my job to help "silk" the corn (which I hated, because my mother was a perfectionist!) and also to wash and cut the okra to put in freezer containers for the fall and winter ahead of us. Oh, those stickers! But I love fried okra, so I didn't complain too much.

      My husband talks about when his family killed hogs and made sausage and cracklin's like my aunt describes here. He's from West Virginia, but much of it is the same as this piece talks about. Like you, he says there will never be sausage to equal that. BUT, they had a big pig they named "Farm King" and when it was his turn, none of the kids would eat the meat. (My husband lived "up the holler" in WV, right outside of Charleston.)

      Now that's a fun memory of working with the older guy and neither of you could pick up a bale on your own. That was a good way of you being with someone who could teach you things, and you were able to help him feel useful. Thanks for sharing your memories!

  4. What a treasure trove of memories from your aunty, Cheryl. I always wanted to stay overnight at my grandmother's place because she had a huge feather bed that I could almost get lost in. Poor Oma, she usually ended up with my feet in her face as I was a "mover" back then. And we had a chamber pot under the bed so we didn't have to go outside to the outhouse. She had a fenced in garden in which were two long rows of raspberries that I'd be sent out to pick some for dessert. A lot of berries never made it to the bowl . Nothing like eating sun-warmed raspberries from the bush. One not-so-favorite memory, partly, was the white bantam rooster that used to chase me around the yard and Oma would have to grab a broom and chase him off. One Sunday we had him for dinner and I heartily enjoyed it, I'm sure.

    1. Elizabeth, I wish so much there were a ton of other stories like this--she KNEW them, but didn't write them all down as she did this one. I tried to take notes and write down things when we sat and talked, but of course, it's nothing like THIS -- her own memories. You sound like me--my older sisters dreaded taking turns sleeping with me when I was little because I threw my legs across them and was all over the bed. LOL Now I sleep right on the very edge of the bed--so strange how things change. Those raspberries sound wonderful--that's how I feel about tomatoes fresh from the garden. And that rooster? I bet you were thrilled to sit down and eat him for dinner! LOL!

  5. I had an earache when I was somewhere around the age of five. I was staying that day at my great-grandparents home. I remember sitting on the south porch looking out over the pasture area and my right ear hurting something fierce. It was evening and both Ma and PaPa were outside with me. (Did I mention I was spoiled by the family?) Finally, PaPa lighted his cigar and asked me to lean in closer. He puffed on that cigar and then blew the smoke into my ear, telling me it would make it quit hurting. It did, and to this day, whenever I smell cigar smoke I think of that evening so long ago. Doris

    1. Doris, I remember my mom talking about how my granddad would do that with his cigarettes when my aunt Opal would get ear infections. Mom was the oldest of 11 kids and she could recall all kinds of things from childhood--and that was one of the things she talked about. Maybe a combination of the warm smoke and the nicotine relieving the pain? I love it that cigar smoke reminds you of that! Isn't it strange, the things we associate in our minds? My dad smoked cigars when he was trying to give up cigarettes. I don't even think about cigarette smoke in regards to him, but when I smell a cigar I think of him, everytime.