The following transcription is from a series of recordings my father made in the early 1990s:
Making Honey back in the 1930s
Behind Mr. Earl and Bea [Bryan] Denham’s house, Pop Denham and Joe Bryan had bee hives all out in the yard. Ouida and Juanita Seal and I watched them when they would rob the bee hives. They would take the slats out of the bee hives and the slats would be covered with honey. They would always give us a little bite of the honeycomb.
I remember back in the 1930s they had a big hay baler down on the Peck place. Bermuda grass and lespedeza grass were grown and then cut and left to dry on the ground. After the cut grass had dried in the fields a day or two, the hay baler would come through.
There would be a man on a tractor pulling the hay baler and two men would be sitting on benches on each side of the baler. The men sitting on the baler benches would be sticking hay wire in through the hay press and tying off the bales before the bales moved out the back.
It was a slow operation as it moved down through the fields. You could look behind the baler and see many square shaped bales of hay. Others would come along in a truck and load up the bales and take them to the barn.
As well as I remember, a bale of hay weighed about 65 or 70 pounds. Modern day bales of hay are great big and round. I don’t know what they would weigh.
There used to be a little shotgun house on the depot street near Dr. Gordon’s house. Mr. Ralph Slade had a grits mill at the little house. People would bring their white and yellow corn there and put it in the machine and it would grind the corn into meal.
I don’t think the people were charged for the grinding. Mr. Slade would get a portion of the meal as his pay and would sell this meal to other people.
Back in the 1930s, Mr. Richard Cloy used to make syrup. The Cloys lived up the road towards the dip in the highway, about three miles from Sicily Island heading towards Wisner. They raised their own sugar cane. I would go up there around syrup making time.
Mr. Cloy would cut the cane and run it through his syrup mill. The mill was just some big round wheel shaped pieces of metal. There was a big long pole that came out from the top of the metal pieces and a horse or a mule would be tied to the pole and pull it around and around to turn the wheels. As the wheels were turning, they would stick the sugar cane in and it would mash the cane flat.
Juice would come out one end and into an iron looking pan sitting on a fire on the ground. I don’t know how long they cooked the juice but they cooked it to a certain thickness.
Mr. Cloy must have made about 300-400 gallons of syrup each year. He sold the syrup to local people. It was part of his farming operation and he probably made a little extra money every year from selling the syrup. There were others on the Island who made syrup but Mr. Cloy is the only one I remember making it back in the 1930s.
Gathering Dry Corn
Back in the 1930s, when the corn dried in the Fall, field workers pulled it by hand. This hard, dried corn was used to feed the cattle, chickens and hogs. They would take a couple of horses or mules and a wagon and go out in the fields. Men would walk along beside the wagon breaking the dried ears of corn off the stalks and tossing them over in the wagon.
As children, we couldn’t just go to a store and get a treat anytime we wanted one. Some were lucky to have gotten a nickel a week. Others might have gotten a nickel once every month. Many children never had any money.
If we wanted a treat that didn’t cost a thing, we would go out in the fields and get a stalk of sugar cane. In the late Spring, we’d go pick dewberries. Dewberries were found on small briar bushes close to the ground.
A couple of weeks after the dewberries went out, we’d pick blackberries. Blackberries were found on bigger, bushier briars that were up off the ground. Dewberries and blackberries looked a lot alike and tasted about the same.
Maypops grew on vines along the corn fields and cotton fields. They were about half big around as a golf ball. When they were green, they had little seeds on the inside of them that had a sour taste to them. When the maypops got ripe, the seeds had a sweet taste to them.
In the woods and swamps there were red hall trees. The hall apples that grew on these trees were very small and red. They had a mellow apple flavor to them. They weren’t quite as sweet as a regular apple.
Possum grapes grew on vines in the woods. They weren’t as big as the end of your finger but they had a good taste to them.
Right here in town there were wild cherry trees. The tiny cherries that grew on these trees were a blackish color and had a bitter taste to them.
Mid-July the figs would get ripe. Fresh figs off a tree were mighty good.
I remember Uncle Jim and Aunt Lena McLelland had a mulberry tree. A mulberry looked something like a blackberry or a dewberry except the mulberries were oblong and grew on trees and they had a different taste.
When I was a little boy, we would find patches of what we called rabbit grass. It was a certain kind of clover that we would chew. It was sour.
Pears would get ripe in about September. Along about December, we’d gather pecans. There were always lots of sweet pecans in this part of the county.
The people that lived out around the edge of the hills gathered hickory nuts.
There were several black walnut trees around here. I remember there was a black walnut tree across the road from Mr. Willie Benge’s house and one across the street from me at Mr. Joe Bryan’s house.
Black walnuts had a hard hull on them. When you cracked the hull, you’d get down to the nut. You’d need a sledgehammer to break those things. I remember Mr. Joe had an old anvil out there on a stump and they would use a sledgehammer to crack the black walnuts. There wasn’t much of a nut down in there and it was rich and oily. They had a different sort of taste.
We looked forward to watching the seasons change. We would know by the season which of our treats would be ready to eat. We didn’t have the money to get candy, cookies, ice cream and cold drinks. We searched the fields, briar patches and meadows for our treats.
Note: Parts 1-37 of 'The Stories That Should Be Told' can be found in the Tags List on the right-hand side of the blog.