December 23rd – Spent the last two days at the Crenshaws’ place. I’m so tired, but it is a … good kind of tired? Is there really such a thing as a good kind of tired? Well if there is a “good” tired that is what I am, at least now after the ruckus has come to an end. No butchering tomorrow or the next day to give what we’ve already done time to cure so that it can be hung in the smokehouse. I'm glad as it is supposed to be Christmas for pity sake! After that, well if the cold holds we’ll be back at it because … well, better to start at the beginning.
Yesterday morning we were up before the chickens … before anything really should be up and moving if you want my opinion. We had to use the olive oil lanterns that I made out of some old, cracked mason jars to see to take care of the animals who weren’t exactly thrilled to be woken up, especially the cows who complained the entire time we were milking them. Putting our backs and minds into it we finished up as quickly as we could and then headed out. It wasn’t even five o’clock yet and I fed Rand his breakfast on the wagon seat while he drove.
It was pitch dark except for the two wagon lanterns that shed light just far enough down the road so that the mules could see where they were putting their hooves and so Rand wouldn’t drive us off the road. And quiet; the only sound came from the creaking of the wagon, the harnesses, and Hatchet’s occasional complaints about being tied to the tailgate by his lead string.
“Shut up horse. You are still on my list,” Rand muttered after a particularly caustic whinny. To me he said, “If there is time I’m going to have the boys ride him in the corral. Mick helped me train Hatchet and he knows all of his tricks. He’ll watch Tommy. I don’t know if there’ll be any other boys about or not but Mick and Tommy would be the only two that Hatchet would know enough to let them ride him anyway. Uncle George can use it as a bribe to the boys to hurry up and finish their chores properly and it will give Hatchet the exercise he needs and the attention he is apparently looking for. Got any crumbs left in that napkin? Those were some good sausage biscuits.”
I’m glad I know how to make biscuits that make Rand happy, that’s something I can say I do well. I fed him mine because my stomach was starting to turn just thinking about what I was going to be doing. I’m not normally squeamish but I tell you, helping to clean the intestines to use for sausage casings just about did me in. I didn’t embarrass myself but it was close a time or two. Mrs. Withrow was there and she kept giving me the eye. She’s cool though. I think I might want to be something like her when I grow up. You might say she looks frail, but few are brave enough to say it to her face. She might be elderly … she’s got to be in her eighties easily … but she sure has a lot of hurry up and go left in her. She ran circles around some of us.
One of the things that I forgot to mention, and which I was kindly reminded of … much to my stomach’s tossing and turning … was the blood sausage Mrs. Withrow made to go with our late afternoon meal one of the days we were butchering. Trust me, I know that with the way things are we need to use everything we can all up, but it’s going to be a while until I can get my head around blood sausage. Maybe if I hadn’t been watching her make it I wouldn’t be having problems, but golly gee … snouts and tongues?!
First I had to help make up this stuff called Prague Powder #1. Basically this is a curing salt and it is a ration of 15 to 1 of table salt to sodium nitrate. That gives you a pound of the stuff to work with. Next you put four pounds of pig snouts and four pounds of pig tongues in a kettle and cook them for two hours. They didn’t smell half bad either … so long as you didn’t look IN the kettle. After they cooked for two hours you let them cool and then ground them up through a one-inch grinding plate; I pretended to be working on something else so I wouldn’t have to watch that part.
Once you have the snouts and tongues ground up you grind up a pound of pork skin through a one-eighth inch plate. Then when the meat was finally blessedly unrecognizable it was put into a mixer and mixed well with all the seasonings including one pint of blood, one medium onion that’s been diced up, two tablespoons ground black pepper, one teaspoon of thyme, one teaspoon of ground cloves, two level teaspoons of Prague Powder, one teaspoon of ground marjoram, one tablespoon of mace, and six tablespoons of regular salt. Once you have it all mixed evenly you stuff the mixture by hand into beef bungs (large diameter casings).
But wait, you aren’t finished. Next you have to cook the stuffed casings for approximately three and a half hours in 200 degree F water (hot, but not boiling). Mrs. Withrow used a skewer to see if the sausage were cooked sufficiently; by that she meant that they weren’t dripping blood. Gag! When they were finished they were removed to a container holding ice-cold water, cooling enough that sausage can be handled, and then the sausages were put into a cooler … a homemade one since the temperatures got down into the 20s that night … and they were served up the next day.
That wasn’t the only sausage we made … thank goodness … or I would have been going nuts. But Rand actually likes the blood sausage so I’m going to have to learn to fix it, but it won’t be this butchering season. I’ll do it next butchering season. Really. I will. I just need to convince myself to take one for “the Cause.” Rand being just about the only “cause” that I would actually learn to make blood sausage for.
The other sausages that we made were kind of like Slim Jims but not the really hot ones, although I guess we could have if we seasoned them different. The “Slim Jims” were made with beef rather than pork. The thing I learned about some of the smoked sausages is that you have to start with really cold pieces of meat which is another reason why you have to catch the cold weather when you can. You start with ten pounds of beef that is so cold it is partially frozen and then you grind it through a really fine plate. Then you add two level teaspoons of Prague Powder, four tablespoons of paprika, six tablespoons of ground mustard, one and one-half teaspoons of cayenne pepper, one teaspoon of black pepper, one teaspoon of white pepper, one teaspoon of ground celery seed, one tablespoon of mace, one teaspoon of granulated garlic, one tablespoon of granulated onion, two and half have ounces of regular salt, one-half teaspoon of marjoram, one quarter cup of molasses, and six ounces of powdered buttermilk. You mix the heck out of this because the seasonings must be completely even throughout the ground meat.
You stuff the “Slim Jim” blend into small diameter casings; Uncle George used commercial casings for this. Put the stuffed casings in a smoker preheated to 100 degrees F and let them smoke for eight hours. Then you have to increase the temperature to 165 degrees F until the internal temperature of the sausages reached 145 degrees F. Then you quickly remove from the smoker, give the sausages cold showers until they are room temperature and then leave them to dry. Once they were dry they could be cut into six to eight inch lengths or left whole until you were ready for them. Rand brought ours home in a loop and then had me cut them in five inch lengths and seal them up in airtight jars.
We made other types like summer sausage, salami, pepperoni, honey-cured bacon (that is still curing), something called Lonzino which is a dry cured pork loin (would have been expensive in the before time), bresola which is an Italian beef sausage, and a German sausage called bauerwurst.
We also brined some meat – mostly beef – for things like corned beef, pastrami, and tasso; and we made bacon that way too. Mrs. Withrow didn’t get onto me about wasting time writing all the recipes and directions down. In fact she asked me a couple of times if she was talking too fast. I told her, “No, ma’am. The lady that I used to work for was half Puerto Rican. You talk at a snail’s pace compared to Ms. Belle and she expected you to get it the first time around or she would give you what for real quick.”
That surprised a laugh out of her and she told me, “Well child, I was raised by my German grandmother and having been on the end of that stick myself, I’d rather you get it right than worry about being fast until you do.” Maybe Mrs. Withrow isn’t quite so scary as I thought at first.
As busy as we were everything went pretty good day before yesterday. We accomplished a lot, at least I think we did. It helped to have so many hands helping out. But then again, that was a lot of animals being butchered; pigs, cows, goats, ducks, geese, chickens. We even had several deer, a couple of pheasants, four wild turkeys, three sheep, and another family brought strings of fish to trade for pork and beef. By the end of the day my brain felt like it had slipped into a Salvador Dali painting where nothing was as it seemed. Too much slaughter, too much blood, too much noise, too many people. By the time we left in our wagon the sun was going down and I was so tense that you could have bounced a penny off of me and made change.
“What’s wrong Babe? Someone upset you?”
“Sorry. Didn’t realize it showed. No, no one said anything. It was just … a bit much. Too noisy. Too many folks pressing up against me everywhere I turned.”
“If it bothers you that much, why don’t you stay ho … “
“No! I … I mean no. Sorry. Didn’t mean to yell. I’ve got issues Rand. You know I’ve got issues. But I don’t want them to hold us back. I dealt with it when I was in school. I’ll deal with it now. I’m just a little rusty. I won’t embarrass you.”
“Did I say anything about you embarrassing me?!” Rand asked a little peeved. “Trust me. I understand. I had to bite my tongue a few times with the family. I expect to be ordered around like a field hand by Uncle George but I don’t like it. I didn’t expect to have to put up with it from some of the others. Just because I haven’t been living at the farm for a while doesn’t mean I’ve completely forgotten what needs to be done.”
“Like I said, I expected it from Uncle George. Par for the course. But when Jonathon and Clyde started in on me … I just don’t have the patience for it. I’m my own man with my own la … we have our own land and … Well, it just didn’t sit well with me.”
“Rand, you won’t hurt my feelings if you call it yours. I know what you mean and I don’t think you mean to cut me out or take advantage … OK, ‘nuff said. Next year maybe we can do all of this ourselves since we won’t be doing so much of it.”
“Maybe. Sure would be nice to be a little more self-sufficient but Babe … regardless of what some people might think, unless you want to go back to living in the Stone Age there is no way to be totally self-sufficient and even Stone Age people traded between tribes or groups or whatever they called each other.”
“Oh I know that it’s just … “
“Rand? Does it, you know, ever kinda bother you that we have so much … not that everyone knows … and people still treat us like the poor, half-baked cousins they are doing a favor for? We’re good for manual labor but we don’t quite seem to measure up in the social department?”
Rand laughed and said, “It’s not quite that bad. OK, maybe a little. Does it bother me? On days like today a little I suppose. But pride goeth before a fall and we both agreed to keep most of what we have to ourselves. There’s a certain cost to that I think and this might be one of them. If people don’t think you have stuff they are going to guard their stuff like you are the neighbor that is constantly going to come borrowing something and giving it back broken.”
“I guess so. It just seems that we’ve proven ourselves enough. Do we have to start over every stinking time? And your family ought to know that you … “
“Babe, you forget, you’ve only known me since I grew out of being the jerk I used to be. My family remembers it all. Sure, I’d like to say that it should be buried in the past where it belongs but I keep trying to tell you but you just don’t want to believe me. I was rotten. The only thing different from me and Chase Peters at one point was that I never got into the drugs and I was hung up on just one girl, not that I didn’t experiment a time or two or flirt. Our whole crowd was into that, even Julia though she hid it lots better than the rest of us.”
“Your Uncle George says you weren’t really as bad as you think you were.”
“Yeah, well Uncle George doesn’t know everything and I ain’t going to tell him more. I’ve got enough problems in that direction. Not that I’m proud of it. It’s one of the reasons I needed to leave home to go to school. I needed to get away from the old reputation and prove to myself that … well … I needed to get away from my old friends and habits and make some new ones and prove to myself that I really was a different person. I acted different, but I still had a lot of changing to do on the inside. And now sometimes the old hurts and other baggage still want to get in my head. Like today with the way I felt I was being treated.”
“I can totally understand that. I’ve got bad habits that I’m trying to break too. It’s just hard to separate the truly ‘bad’ from the instincts that have helped me stay alive this long and survive. Sometimes they aren’t too different, at least for me.”
Rand nodded his agreement and understanding and we kept up our conversation until Rand needed his full concentration to drive the wagon in the dark. I’m glad I know the Rand of today because I don’t know that I would have liked the younger Rand too much. On the other hand, it’s good to know that he hasn’t always been this close to perfect. I think being married to a saint would be miserable; I’d be afraid of never being able to measure up or keep up.
Sleep was actually easy to find that night. Wonder why? (yes, that is sarcasm) I’m glad we got the sleep that we did because the next morning was pretty awful. It wasn’t exactly colder but it was damp which had me aching from my lower back all the way down to my feet, even after Rand had me put a lap blanket over me. I don’t usually like to do that because the mules sometimes get balky over it for some reason.
The air was cold and calm, at least until we got within hearing distance of the Crenshaw place. Rand and I weren’t talking much but then I started hearing a kind of buzzing sound … or that’s the way my brain thought of it. I taped Rand and asked him what the noise was since it was too early for the big bugs to be out and he stopped the wagon for a second.
“Uh oh. Get in the back and stay down. Hand my shotgun up here and you take the rifle. We stopped in the tree line right before you get to the farm and the “buzzing” turned out to be some angry people bickering in the firelight of a bonfire that had been lit to light the yard and generate some warmth. A man and woman looked like they were acting as the spokespeople for the angry group. We heard the man speak first.
“Listen Crenshaw, we ain’t got nothing to eat at my house. It ain’t fair that y’all have all this here and you ain’t willing to share it.”
“Don’t tell me what’s fair Lem. You see all these people here behind me? They’ve been working for their share. Some of these animals are theirs. We’re just sharing the load to save some time and effort, but no one around here is getting a free ride. You get out what you put in. Nothing is free in life.”
Then the woman’s voice rang out as we snuck around back of the malcontents, “That’s so easy for you to say George. You don’t have babies at home to take care of and you have plenty of help.”
“What’s wrong with your eyes woman?! I got three grandbabies on the way! And you do got help Lucretia. Or you would if you could keep your man’s head out of the jug for more than a few hours at a time. You let him get away with acting like he does. He’s drank up all of your money and traded just about everything else you had that was worth anything. Now he spends time on that datburn still … and stealing people’s crops to fill it with … when he should be doing better for your family like setting traps or trading work for food. Anything would be better than what he does right now. As for the way things are, we’ve all helped you as much as we can but our temporary help is all give out. We have our own families to feed too. Your own Daddy promised to take care of you and the kids if you’d just leave Hiram until he sobered up but you turned him down time and again … and now it’s too late. Your Daddy is dead and your Momma not too far from it and your brother is done with you and refuses to pour good resources down the same old drain.”
“Oh you think you have all the answers don’t you George. You’re just like my brother … always preaching like you know what’s best. Well I’m done listening to folks like you and him. Lemuel is right, it’s time we took what we need since no one seems to want to help us out in our hard times.”
She was pulling a gun, with her kids standing right there with eyes as big and round as silver dollars, and it happened again. I acted without thinking, but Rand was right behind me so at least I wasn’t acting alone. I stepped out of the bushes while some people screamed and ran and did that old trick where you push the back of someone’s knee so that it gives out and they lose their balance. I didn’t stop there though; I pushed so that she went down face first in the wet clay puddle she had been standing in front of.
Rand had the man called Lem down with a knee in his back to keep him there with the guy squalling and complaining about his bad leg and being on disability and I don’t know what all as I tuned him out after the first few whines. Clyde ran up and got their guns while some of the other men took out after the angry crowd that had suddenly turned yellow and tried to run. It was a regular brawl for a little while and feisty Lucretia bucked me off and then we were scrabbling around in the muck and mess. An elbow to my temple dropped me long enough for her to twist loose and make a run for it but she left her kids behind.
“Girl, get up here and let me take a look at that cut. Sit here while I see if it needs sewing.” Mrs. Withrow wasn’t the kind of woman you lightly disobeyed. She looked around at the mess the yard was in and said, “My word. What are decent folks going to have to put up with next. George! George Crenshaw, them girls of yours need to sit down and catch their nerves. Rand … you find one of these young bucks and you go fetch Lucretia’s brother to come pick up these three chillrun and tell him to bring blankets, they barely have underclothes stitched on. Roberta, Clarice … stir my pot so the stew don’t stick. Anyone else with bumps and bruises make a line so I kin look you over.”
With Mrs. Withrow’s … umm, encouragement … ringing in everybody’s ears the yard was quickly set to right and work resumed. The children’s uncle came and collected the children and Uncle George sent a box of food home with them so long as the man promised not to return the children to their parents until they straightened up. “I been trying to get my hands on the kids since before Dad died. This might just give Momma a reason to keep on living. The kids are too young to be completely ruint yet so hopefully we can do for them a sight better than what they were getting.”
Mrs. Withrow whispered to me, “You think you have time yet to run that treadle of yours? I’ve got some old blankets cut down for coats for those children but there is no way I’m going to get all three finished in time for the tree.” So guess what I’m doing tomorrow on Christmas Eve?
My back is killing me. Lifting, hauling, and brawling … what a day. The only thing that has helped is that the weather has warmed up on us by about ten degrees during the day and between fifteen and twenty at night. Uncle George was grinding his teeth a bit but he is hoping that the weather cools back off soon so that we can finish the butchering after Christmas.
As for me, now that the horse liniment that Rand rubbed into my back has started to work, I’m finally off to bed. Rand has promised a good back rub. I don’t know what is going on except that it must be the cold weather. I’ve worked lots harder and longer than this without feeling so wiped out and sore.
December 24th – Why do I have to get sick now?! I feel awful. I’ve got to get over this.
All day I’ve felt icky. Luckily the only real work I’ve done is basting those three little coats together and then finished them up for Paul to pick them up when he came by before dinner time. Well, I made popcorn balls but that wasn’t hard except for trying not to smell the one batch of candy that I burnt. Rather than waste the mess, Rand put it in hot water and melted it and then mixed it in with Taz and his harem’s slop bucket.
I can’t be sick tomorrow. I just can’t.