Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sepia Saturday -- Salt of the Earth



Kind of timeless, this first picture.  When do you think?  1901? 1925? 1933? 

Nope - 1974. The year  after we bought the upper part of the Freeman farm in the mountains of North Carolina.

It was the farm Louise Payne Freeman grew up on. And after many years of sharecropping, she and her husband Clifford bought it from the other heirs.

Clifford and Louise grew up in a time that was almost timeless --no electricity,  no cars or trucks; they cooked and heated with wood.  No bathroom -- just a zinc tub in the kitchen on Saturday night, a 'little house' out back, and chamber pots under the beds. Raising most of your own food was the norm -- a grocery list might consist of flour, salt, baking powder, and coffee.

Louise told me that she was 'a great grown girl' before she traveled as far as the nearest little settlement -- two miles away.  As a young man, Clifford left the mountains to go to Detroit to work in the auto plants but, after tasting the city water, got back on the bus and headed home -- where he belonged.

The power pole in the second picture is a tip off that we're in more modern time.  (Clifford and Louise didn't get power till the Sixties.) Clifford is riding Nell, his slow-moving thirty-three year old mule. He's had two hip replacements and can't hardly go, he says.

Louise, a few years younger than he at sixty-nine, is a 'stout woman' and can out climb the thirty-something Florida woman taking the picture. They're heading up the mountain to salt the cows --  a weekly chore. Their cow dog Patsy  is following Louise.
My son and my nephew were thrilled to get a ride on Nell.

And my husband and I were thrilled to find ourselves adopted by these mentors. We learned how to plant potatoes, to raise a crop of tobacco, to milk a cow, churn, and make butter, We learned how to raise pigs on that extra milk and how to butcher them and put up all that good meat.  John learned how to plow with a team of mules; I learned how to wring a chicken's neck.

We learned the language of our new home -- branch for stream, chat for gravel, poke for bag --  and we learned to love and respect these folks for their wisdom and goodness.

Thirty some years later -- we are the old folks now,  passing on the lessons learned to the younger generation.  

And the stories I heard and the realities of the mountain farm have all found their places in the setting of my mystery series, just as there's a bit of Louise and Clifford in more than one of my characters.

Truly, they were the proverbial 'Salt of the Earth.'



Go HERE for other Sepia Saturday posts . . .


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47 comments:

The Silver Fox said...

Fascinating! (I would've guessed the 1930s, btw.) Just goes to show, the "sepia" aspect of SS is malleable, and history is history. Period.

I have numerous oil lamps -- due to my interest in old-timey stuff like the American West, and Massachusetts' whaling history -- and during occasional long-term power outages, have relied on them. The light they provide is so inadequate! No wonder people rose at dawn and went to bed so early, years ago. Even recreational reading is a chore under those conditions.

Martin H. said...

Louise and Clifford would have had a hard, but good life, and you obviously saw something in it yourselves, that was right for you.

Both Mags and I agree, our happiest times have been when we've had less and lived more.

Pat in east TN said...

Louise and Clifford sound very much like my neighbors, Arnold and Ruth, when we had our farm. Absolute treasures!

Poetikat said...

Excellent post, Vicki! I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Who can blame Clifford for turning right round and heading back home from the madness of Detroit?

You can wring a chicken's neck? Wow.

Kat

Vicki Lane said...

Silver Fox - When Clifford and Louise finally had electricity put in, there was one bare bulb in the ceiling of each room. The concept of a reading lamp wasn't there. Reading was for the front porch on Sunday -- and the only reading material they had was the Bible and Progressive Farmer magazine.

And yes, they still went to bed when it got dark.

Martin -- They were happy and fulfilled and the hardest working folks I've ever known.

Pat, back in the Seventies, when so many back to the land hippies were moving to our area, John said that you'd go into town and see all these old farmers, each with his hippie apprentice. (Maybe he saw your husband and Arnold!)

Thank you, Kat! Yes, I can but I prefer the hatchet method.

Bachelor said...

Oh my gosh! What a great tribute to an inspiring couple. They truly were the salt of the earth! Have a great weekend! :) The Bach

Carol@ Writers Porch/ Book House said...

Vicki,
This made me cry. It made me think of when we bought out farm in the Yellow Creek Valley of Dickson, Tn.
My son Marty lives there now.We were outsiders in a place where everyone was kin or grew up together. Thank God, we were adopted by the oldtimers. This made me think back on those people now all gone and the love I had for them and they for me. I was blessed by getting the chance to be a part of their lives and they really were "the salt of the earth" just like Louise and Cllifford. You were blessed too!

tony said...

Life As It Should Be Lived! Never Lose These Things.Keep 'Em Safe In Your Poke!

Vicki Lane said...

Thanks, Bach! You too!

Great times, Carol, and great folks!

Too right, Tony!

Queenmothermamaw said...

Hi Vickie, I would have placed that picture back a few years but Silver Fox is right SS has no time limits and from experience knew folks in the 60's and 70's with no water indoors or electricity either. Reminds me of visiting my grandparents farm in the 40's and 50's. Riding the mule, churning the butter and baths behind the big kitchen stove. Only thing remaining on that mystical farm today is a Lone Oak Tree and the cellar. I am gonna have to read some of your work.
QMM

R. Burnett Baker said...

Those of us in cities don't stop to reflect on that life...

My family came from farmers in the Texas Panhandle, and my parents have been in the East Texas Piney Woods for nearly 40 years. We think of "those people" as backwoods, or a throwback, even.

Yet, they are truly the "fabric" of our society. They are us.

We need to reconnect....

Wonderful story, Vicki!
Rick

subby said...

I was guessing late '60's on this, actually...but going by the fashions here could put this a few different eras. The skills you learned are a blessing :)

Vicki Lane said...

Children appreciate the magic of that life, QMMM-- unless they're forced to live it. Those of us who chose it modified it to suit us -- Clifford and Louise didn't have that luxury.

So true, Rick. I'm amazed at the things people don't know about where their food comes from. Then again, I don't know anything about where the Internet come from.

They are, indeed, Subby! Carry it on!

Valerie said...

I imagine that kind of life would be hard and cruel but deeply satisfying. As a reader I found your post immensely interesting. Thank you.

Mel said...

My goodness, great photos and story. I was trying to guess the year, and decided the 1930's, was I ever wrong! What a rich history to draw upon, and what a gift you were given to know and learn from these people. It is never a bad thing to learn how to grow and prepare your own food, including wringing a chicken's neck!
Great post!

Lyn said...

Writers are lucky, for everything that lives inside can become a little tale, a mystery, or, literature...more!
Taken in to your tale so quickly...thanks..

Meri said...

What a treasure, to have known and learned from these down-to-earth people. But truly, I'm so glad to know that you don't have to empty chamber pots every morning. Me, either.

Barbara said...

A wonderful story.... but I must admit I winced at the butchering parts. But I bet those animals lived a far better life than the factory farm animals.

Vicki Lane said...

Thank you, Valerie! It was hard, indeed, and cruel in places. But I don't believe the Freemans would have traded it for anything.

Thank you, Mel -- I must say at this point in my life, my flock of chickens is only for eggs. But decent tasting, humanely raised, store bought chicken is so expensive that we are probably going to raise some meat chickens this year.

Oh, yes, Lyn -- everything that happens or I overhear is grist for my little mill!

Meri -We went the outhouse/ chamber pot route for the first four or five years we lived here, just because a septic tank was another expense. I never really minded the outhouse -- chamber pots, however, are kinda yucky.

Barbara -- A MUCH better life, for sure.

Leah said...

It really is truly amazing how out-of-time these photos seem!

I just loved this post.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

I've been looking, yet again, at some old photos while I'm down here at home in SW Georgia and may bring some back with me to scan. I find them endlessly fascinating and could look at them for hours. My grandparents' lives become more and more "real" to me the longer I live. I vist the homeplace often in my dreams, even though it burned down over 30 years ago.

willow said...

I guessed 1933 and then giggled when I read 1974. Delightful salt of the earth, these two. I'm glad they're living on in your stories.

Vicki Lane said...

Thank you, Leah! Just imagine how out of time we felt when we moved to the farm from the suburbs of Tampa, Florida!

I have a homeplace I revisit in my mind, Kay. It's still there but strangers live in it. They've made tasteful changes and I can't complain but Oh, how I loved it as it was . . .

Thanks, Willow -- oh, yes, they and their voices are alive and well in my fiction!

Merisi said...

Hippie apprentice, I like that! ;-)

Jean Baardsen said...

I used to love lobster - till I had to cook one myself. It was so big, it had to be held down in the pot while it boiled to death. That was the last time I ate lobster. The chickens would be safe with me. Enjoyed the photos and story!

Tammy said...

Love the post, Vicki. Sadly most of our 'oldtimers' have passed on, and a wealth of knowledge with them. My Grandma was much like these folks and worked hard most everyday of her life. The other day somehow it came up about someone made soap. One of the guys kinda looked funny and says WHO makes their own soap now (like it was such a silly thing). I said I make my own WASH soap sometimes, and lots of folk choose to make their own soap (among many other things). It just made me realize how totally reliant we've become on having a store on every corner. Anyway, loved the pictures and story. Have a great weekend.
Tammy

FireLight said...

Well you fooled me...I guessed 1933...Have you ever seen the film THE SONGCATCHER? It is all about songs from these mountains...what a different world and what an amazing pair!

Victoria said...

Great story about Clifford and Louise, Vicki! Their lives were pretty much like my paternal grandparents. My grandmother welcomed "ever new-fangled thing" that would make her life easier. My grandfather, not so much. He though the old ways were the best ways. How did Clifford and Louise feel about new inventions?

P.S. Take a peek at my blog...I finally got pictures of the Bald Eagle! :)

Vagabonde said...

This tale reads like a page from one of your books Vicki, and it’s good. I wished I had known people like Clifford and Louise. Growing up in Paris I was a long way from this type of life. Although my second cousin lived in the country (then - now it is suburban Paris.) Her grandmother (my great aunt) had chickens and rabbits. I used to watch her kill the rabbit, skin it, then cook it. She would cure the pelt then make us some warm vest. We did not visit her often but I loved going there, it was like a different world from Paris, more miles than it really was.

Vicki Lane said...

Merisi -- it was totally true -- a mutually beneficial relationship. For example, my husband installed a bathroom for Clifford and Louise (in spite of which, they still kept a chamber pot under the bed.

Jean -- We were once given a coupon for a big Maine lobster dinner for six. And we never sent in the coupon because of the boiling alive thing. A quick painless death for the animal doesn't bother me so much.

Tammy, all the old timers I knew are gone now -- we are the old timers, I guess. Louise had quit making her own soap by the time I know her and I never learned how. I have a friend (younger than I and another transplant) who makes wonderful goat milk based soaps which she sells. My NY editor adored the lavender scented bars I sent her one Christmas.

Firelight - not only have I seen SONGCATCHER but the Jerwsey cow in the milking scene was my cow! The movie was shot near here and they rented our milk cow Poco. The woman playing the banjo in the scene at a party is a friend and was my son's eighth grade teacher.

Victoria, Louise was pretty delighted, after we bought the upper part of their farm, to trade in her wringer washer for an automatic.

And the eagle picture on your blog is TERRIFIC!

Vagabonde --I grew up in the suburbs of Tampa, Florida and my greatest joy was to visit my aunt in Alabama who had a garden and chickens and a barn with a hayloft! I couldn't have been happier if it had been a castle!
(Love your comment 'more miles than it really was'!

Barry said...

A beautiful and thoughtful post. As the generations turn there is much that gets lost if the arts and skills are not handed down.

PattyF said...

What a moving story, Vicki! You make me very sad that I wasn't blessed with knowing them. I've always had a soft spot for the elderly and looked with sympathy on those of the younger generation who pooh-poohed the notion that older people had anything to offer. They miss out on a unique opportunity.

My husband would love to live a self-sustaining lifestyle like Clifford and Louise. Over 21 years of marriage, this city girl has learned much about country living ... but I have yet to wring a chicken's neck. (I'm uber-impressed!)

Tammy said...

Oh..I forgot to say that my Grandma used an old coffee can for their night chamber pot--talk about uncomfortable, but hey, any port....;-)
Tammy

Vicki Lane said...

Thanks, Barry -- there's always something to be learned, isn't there?

Patty F -- It's a life we enjoy -- though we are a good ways from self-sustaining, we keep trying to raise more of out own food. The current economy plays a part in this too!

Waste not, want not, Tammy! Your grandma must have been something!

L. D. Burgus said...

What a nice story to share. You experienced the relationship with them and learned from them. The photos speak volumes also.

lettuce said...

amazing - this is a wonderful post and what an excpetional privilege to learn from them

Pat said...

Such a great encounter. You are richer by far for having known them and for knowing you would learn from them. BTW I love your blog and wish I could take your writing class, but MN a bit away from NC. I will have to buy your mystery series.

Annie Ha said...

1974! Love it!

Vicki Lane said...

Thanks for stopping by, Lettuce, LD and Annie!

And, Pat, thanks for the kind words. Yep, that would be a bit of a commute! If you read one of my books, let me know what you think!

The Clever Pup said...

I thought "salt of the earth" before you said it. Great folks. And another donkey contribution.

Vicki Lane said...

Well, half a donkey. Nell was a mule.

Rhonda in OK said...

thanks for sharing this sweet couple -what a treasure that you have known them

Alan Burnett said...

Wonderful story, and you are so right, there is a timelessness about the photos.

Tipper said...

Love the photos-love the words. Makes me wish I could have known them too.

Miss_Yves said...

So poor, apparently- but so rich !
"The salt of the earth", as you write ...
I guess I recognize this way of life you describe in your novel !

Vicki Lane said...

Rhonda - this is such a nice way to keep memories alive.

Thanks, Alan!

I'll bet you've known some like them, Tipper!

Vicki Lane said...

Miss Yves, You slipped in while I was posting my last comment! Oh yes, these are the people I write about!