Volume IX, No. 1, Fall 1981
Story and illustrations by Vickie Hooper
"The end of fall was a beginning of a new season," Lois Roper Beard said. "We were all ready for winter. We had planted in the spring, tended in the summer and harvested in the fall. We were ready then, after we had gathered in the fruits of our summer's labor, to spend the winter months sitting around the fire getting out only to do the chores. But Thanksgiving Day we realized that we had three months ahead of us with nothing to do but going to school and doing the chores."
Sometimes, though, a family might not finish with all the fall work, so they would end up working on the holiday. Hazel Cravens said, "I can remember times when it would be a case of you finished up gathering the corn that day if you just happened to lack a few rows, or maybe Dad would gather corn before we did anything else. Of course, they tried to have the corn out of the field by then, but it all depended on what kind of work needed to be done. Of course, you had chores to do on a farm whether it was a holiday or Sunday. You still had to milk, feed the chickens and gather the eggs."
"The fall of the year left Dad to get the crops in all by himself. Every minute that we had out of school, we either did the chores or helped with the crops," agreed Bill Amos. "Then there was winter wood cutting for the heating stove and cook stove. We always cut winter wood 'til around noon. Then we'd go to one of the grandparents and have a big dinner. Sometimes after dinner, we'd have the rest of the afternoon off or sometimes we'd go back to cutting wood."
Vohn Waterman's family didn't usually work on important holidays but one time they did. "I remember one time when my uncle had an old sawmill," he said. "He was up there working on Thanksgiving Day. It got just before noon and he mashed his finger. He talked funny. He said, "Me a-gonna go home. This has been Sunday all day."
Halloween and Thanksgiving were the two major holidays in the fall. They were family or neighborhood events as the churches did not usually have any special activities or programs.
Halloween, though a popular holiday now for children, was not celebrated very much in earlier years. For some, it didn't catch on until they were grown. Occasionally there would be a party and people would go masked. Hazel remembered one in which people came for miles around. She also recalls that she didn't go trick or treating, but learned of that after she was married and moved to town.
Vohn said that he didn't go trick or treating, either when he was a boy. "I don't recall doing that, but my children always did. I get mad at children sometimes now. I'll buy up a lot of candy and then just two or three come to the door. I'm afraid to give it all to just a few because there'll be some more in and I won't have none. Boy, I have a tub full of candy around here."
"We didn't even know what trick or treating was," recalled Lois. "If we went and they had apples, they gave us apples, but they would do that anytime we went. It was never candy, unless it was homemade candy. That was great."
The fact that many people didn't have parties and go trick or treating didn't mean some of them weren't onery. Vohn told one of the pranks they played. "My dad had a blacksmith shop up there in Eldridge and Russell Fohn had a grocery store across the street. My dad had a lot of old wagons, old tractors we used and a lot of old iron junk. One time them boys took all of that stuff and put it on the front of that store porch. There was big old heavy iron pieces, but they got them over there some way."
Hazel said. "Outhouses were always turned over, just various and sundry things like that. They would lay a log across the road or wire up the gates or that type of thing. Out in our farm community fifty years ago they didn't do anything to anybody's houses, and they didn't soap car windows then. They didn't even throw eggs either, maybe rotten apples if they had anything like that. I was never in on any of the really bad Halloween pranks because when I grew up they didn't really do them. But young men back in horse and buggy days would get somebody's buggy and put it up on top of the barn or the granery or some of the outhouses."
"I did a few little funny pranks," Vohn said, "but nothing that would do any damage. "I knew better than to do anything like that, and I don't know if my children did or not. I always told them not to. One time the neighbor's boy and my boy pushed this outhouse over. It was a new one I'd helped built."
Lois remembered one of her experiences. "The only thing we had of a mask was a sock or a face. We didn't have bought things. Halloween didn't catch on 'til I was almost grown, but I do remember one time we went out and took a pumpkin and made a nice jack-o-lantern and put a candle in it. We had had a funeral and than we all got together and planned our trip for that evening. That evening late we went from house to house. They didn't even know trick or treat. We were just going for the fun of it. We went from house to house with our pumpkin and went in to show it. They put the pumpkin with the light burning on the gate post of a house across the field where an old man lived, and when the old man saw it, he shot at us. I mean he got pretty close to some of the boys! Of course, those two boys that put it up there didn't get too far away. The rest of us were way down the road, but they laid down across the road in the ditch and he shot over them. I know it was dangerous. We didn't do that anymore.
"Thanksgiving was a good day," Hazel said. "We always had Friday off from school, so it was a vacation. In earlier days, we either went somewhere or had company. When I was a kid, that was a good day to go to Grandma's. As I grew up and my brothers and sisters married, they started coming home. It would depend on the weather because sometimes it would be cold and snowy and it would be bad enough that you couldn't get anywhere."
Flora Lampkins added, "Sometimes on Thanksgiving there would be two or three families go to one house. We would all be together and each one would take something. One time when they came to my house, I would fix the meat and they would bring the dessert. Neighbors would gather more than they do now. Sometimes they would get together and have singings."
Thanksgiving was a time for being thankful and then, as now, was celebrated by having a big dinner representing the meal eaten when the Pilgrims and the Indians forgot their quarrels and came together in peace. There was a satisfaction and a security for the winter months ahead. Lois said, "The winter months were something very precious in my life because we raised our own peanuts, popcorn and apples. We had already put away scads of stuff in the apple hole, turnip hole and cabbage hole. We had all of those places and the cellar full of fruit and potatoes. We had all of that laid away. We never thought of getting hungry because we had it all there. We had prepared it with our own hands, and we were ready for anything that came. I can remember when we got hungry for a chicken, we would go out and kill one. We didn't have them put away in the freezer. We didn't go to the store and buy it. But we always had plenty of chicken and we always butchered, so we had plenty of pork.
With all this food ready, the Thanksgiving dinner was the main thing, but what families ate varied. Vohn remembered having chicken and pork as their meat. Hazel said, "We had turkey with the trimmings and pumpkin pies. Of course, the pies were out of the pumpkins that we grew in the fields. Lots of times we would kill the turkeys that we raised, too. It was good. Just about the way we celebrate Thanksgiving today."
The dinner was the main event for the Amoses on Thanksgiving. At the dinner they always had chicken and dressing. They had pumpkin pies and mincemeat. All the dishes were made without using written recipes. Roy said, "There's more chance of having wild turkey today than there was then. They were very expensive. Grandfather Amos raised turkeys, but I don't remember anybody else raising them, and I don't even remember having one for Thanksgiving."
"Grandfather Amos also had ducks and geese," Bill Amos added, "but I don't remember ever eating either one. Turkeys were a good price on the market. That was some of the cash crops on the farm."
Flora said, "One time we had a goose. We had some geese and we was going to sell them, and they all said, 'Well, lees have a goose for Thanksgiving.' So we dressed that goose. I never did dress one but my mother-in-law helped me. They didn't want any more goose after that because they're too fat. Most generally we would have chicken. That's the only time we had goose.
"We had pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes and turnips. Then we would have molasses cake. We were always baking molasses cake and we had our own molasses. We used more of that than sugar. We would make molasses candy. Then when they would get it cool enough, they had what they called a candy pull.
"The dinner was the main important thing. There was always certain things that we had at this feast that we had at Thanksgiving time," recalled Lois. "Usually we had fried chicken. It had to be from a flock of young chickens that the old hen had stole her nest out and raised her baby chickens late in the fall. We would usually have some of those chickens for our Thanksgiving dinner.
Some people were not privileged enough to have all of this food to eat. Some were lucky to have three meals a day. "There's been always the poor with us, and there will always be the poor," continued Lois. "That situation is something we can always get ready for. My mother would always let each of us pick out a child and invite them to dinner. There was this family of twelve and one of the girls was in my class. For years I invited that one little girl. Her name was Della. She's dead now. She has been a close, bosom friend to me all my life. She would come over and she would have dinner with us and maybe one of the others would have one of their friends. I never will forget that. That is one thing that I treasure in my memories.
After the dinner there were many things people could do. A woman might clean up the dishes and visit while a man might visit, go hunting, or help with one of the continual chores on the farm. But a child had a lot to choose from. Gladys Amos remembered that her family would sometimes play games.
Flora told of some of the fun children would have. "Some of the boys would come in and visit with the other boys. Sometimes we had races. They had a big wagon and we had a sawmill with a big sawdust pile down at the bottom of a little hill. They would go up on that hill, ride down this hill and run into that sawdust pile. Sometimes they would turn over and have a spill. They wouldn't hurt theirselves. We had a lot of fun.
"Then they would get a regular wooden barrel like a vinegar barrel. They would get up on this hill, roll the barrel and ride it down into the sawdust pile. They also had a truck with big truck tires. They would get in these truck tires and let them roll into the sawdust. They fell out of that and hurt theirselves a few times.
"They would cut stilts. The older boys would cut them so they could stand them up, get up on something and get up on them. They would see which ones could walk on stilts that was the tallest. We lived by a creek and when the water wasn't up, why it would be about twelve feet across, and they would see if they could walk across that creek without falling off in the water. Sometimes they would fall off and get wet, and it was cold weather.
"Then they would get out in the woods, climb a tree, pull it over and bend it down. Two or three of them would hold it and then they would turn it loose and one of them would go swinging in that tree. They would have to hang on and climb down. Sometimes they would get hurt at that.
"One Thanksgiving we had a bunch there that had a fire. The fire got out and the men had to fight fire quite awhile that evening. They had to take rakes and pitchforks and rake the leaves and trash back. It got into a fence."
Men and boys often went hunting, but not too many girls did. However, Lois and her friends would sometimes take the dog and go rabbit hunting. If it was too bad to go outside, they would stay in the house and shell peanuts and visit. They also played games, such as dominoes and the card game, authors, which they played with cards they made by cutting the numbers from an outdated calendar.
"It was a wonderful feeling that time of year," she said. "There was just a gratefulness about the whole thing, a thought of how much we had to appreciate and enjoy. We all looked forward to the winter months and the holidays."
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.