Guest Contributor – War Pig – Autumn Memories

My favorite time of the year is Autumn. The summer temperatures moderate, there are usually fewer storms and rains, the air gets crisp, apples are harvested and cider pressed. The light is flat and the colors of the trees are amazing. Falling leaves are a pain to rake but they are also fun to run through, making ‘whoosh’ noises as you run. They also show up little dust devils, tiny cyclones a few feet tall as they whirl and crackle in the miniature tornadoes. We’d see them and run through them to feel the whirl of wind and the leaves. The nights get longer. It’s harvest time on the farms and I helped my paternal grandparents on their farm. Corn and soybeans were picked and put in gravity bed wagons, then hauled off to the local grain mill. The proprietor was a large man, some six feet six and at least 400 pounds. Every trip we made to the mill, he gave me a candy bar and a cold soda. If we made six trips, I got six candy bars and six sodas. I was rail thin back then with growth and constant exercise so they never bothered me.

My favorite month of the year was October. Not just for Halloween, but in general it’s moderate in wind and rain. The almanac says October usually has 19 fine days and I believe it. Football season on Saturdays and Sundays. Some days you wake up to frost in October. One year there was snow in October. It melted off the next day but there was a skiff of snow on the ground.

Another thing that happened in the late summer and autumn was we would find radiosondes on the farm released by the National Weather Service. They were instrument kits sent aloft on balloons for atmospheric readings. They also had a parachute attached. When the balloon burst at altitude, they floated back down on the parachute. The instrument kit has a paper box you unfolded, put the instrument in it and sent it back, free to the Weather Service. You put on a note where it was found and when. We used to find three or four a month in autumn due to the wind patterns. We were allowed to keep the parachutes and us kids had a ball with them. We’d tie one around our waist and see how fast we could run with the chute dragging behind holding air. Or we’d tie various objects to them and go up in the hay loft of the barn and drop them to see how they floated to earth. On really blustery days we flew them like kites but you had to use strong cord as they really caught the wind.

Yes, Autumn is my favorite season, and October my favorite month. The scents of autumn. The smell of leaves, of fires in fireplaces, of smoking meats. It brings me back to my teen years. Hard work in the fields getting the harvest in then plowing and preparing for next year, or planting winter wheat.

A couple of other things happened in Autumn. Uncle Wink grew tobacco. It was harvested and put in special barns to dry. Sometimes in October or November, the weather was just perfect. The dried tobacco was too brittle to move as it would crumble. But in a certain weather, foggy, cool it was time to move the tobacco to the burly. The leaves regained their flexibility. The whole family descended on Wink’s farm and any boy strong enough was put to moving tobacco bundles (50 pounds or more apiece) from their drying poles. The smaller children and the women cooked for us all. I can still smell the tobacco from those days.

 

The other thing that happened was the hog slaughter and butchering. Again, at Uncle Wink’s farm. Every family in the larger family bought a hog or two as a feeder pig. Wink raised them and we all chipped in for feed and such. Wink and his sons, doing the labor raising the hogs, got their hog for free. On a Saturday when it was crisp and cool, we all arrived at Wink’s. The hogs were rounded up and they were slaughtered and butchered all in one weekend. They were killed, had their throats slit, bled, then were opened up and cleaned, washed then scalded and scraped. They were skinned and cut up and wrapped and put in Wink’s ice house or went into his large smokehouse. Each family’s packages marked with their symbol. In a monstrous copper pot, the cracklings were made over an open fire. Everyone got their share of cracklings. At first me and my brother could only skim the cracklings out of the pot or keep the fires in the smokehouse going with lots of smoke. Later we were set to grind sausage. Between two kegs of nails a board sat and on that board was a two-handed manual grinder. One of us would stuff fresh pork into the grinder along with the correct amount of sage for each family. Ours had a lot of sage in it as dad liked it that way. The other would grind using the handles. We converted a #5 tub of meat into sausage. When one of us had their arms give out, the other cranked and the first grinder stuffed and seasoned. We took turns grinding all day except for meals. I’d like to know how many tons of sausage we ground over the years. I can still taste those hickory smoked hams we got out of it. Can’t find anything like that now.

We both had amazingly strong arms due to the sausage grinding and we won several arm-wrestling bouts at school. A few bullies got their comeuppance when they picked on the wrong, skinny kids with the stout arms.

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Jason
Jason
1 month ago

I have similar memories around autumn. Although the most common thread was the presence of extended family. We didn’t raise tobacco, but my grandfather leased fields to a man that did. I got my taste of pulling tobacco as a young child and got a few bucks as a reward. I was too young to do much, but getting those few dollars meant the world to me. Every now and then you’d see one of the laborers take a leaf straight off the plant, cut it up and share it with his buddies. They’d roll the leaf right there and… Read more »

War Pig
War Pig
1 month ago
Reply to  Jason

I did focus on the good parts. There’s nothing like a home smoked ham, is there? Uncle Dana liked his bacon. Autumn also meant that Grandma opened up the first of the bread and butter pickles she had put up the year before. Absolutely delicious. She always allowed them to sit a year in the dark root cellar before she served them to let the flavors mingle. Autumn was also the season for putting up apples and pears in jars. You make simple syrup and leave it plain, or add cinnamon or mint (makes the jars ruby red or emerald… Read more »

Jason M
Jason M
1 month ago
Reply to  War Pig

We DID have good times! You talking about the fish fry brings up more good memories. Late every summer the entire extended family would get together. I mean the “very extended” family. Both my grandfather’s and grandmother’s families and their children and grandchildren. The men would seine the pond in the cow pasture behind the house I grew up in. All the bigger fish they caught would be cleaned and fried that same day for a giant fish fry. My grandmother made the world’s greatest hush puppies and coleslaw to go along with the fish. Come to think of it,… Read more »

Jason M
Jason M
1 month ago
Reply to  War Pig

Just had another thought when I re-read your post. My grandfather used to complain about Canada Geese. I’ve never had it, but apparently it was not uncommon as a Thanksgiving meal a couple generations ago. Grandad told me that the problem with them was that you had to soak them for hours before you cooked them because they ate so many of the wild onions that grew around here the meat tasted too much like onion. He said it smelled bad when you cooked it…to the point that you had to leave the house. He could exaggerate at times though,… Read more »

War Pig
War Pig
1 month ago
Reply to  Jason M

Wild turkey has a flavor totally unlike domestic turkey. They feed on insects, acorns and other goodies. Just as wild rabbit tastes better, in my opinion that tame rabbit. When mom was laid up in hospital one year before Christmas, I went up to dad’s and cleaned and cooked for him. My own dear wife had passed on by then. I took up three squirrels I had shot and the first meal I made for him was mashed sweet potatoes covered with squirrel gravy. Saute the squirrels in a cast iron pan in butter until the meat falls from the… Read more »

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