GrandPapa's Letter part 11
We had not as many Holidays then as are now observed, but there were some never to be forgotten ones; I suppose the Glorious Fourth of July should be first in the memory and heart of a boy trained as I was, but alas! Truth compels me to say that it is not; To my poetic imagination "Butchering Day" stands pre-eminent; What a time that was; Then it was, after many days of preparation that "Old Sol. Perry," the antedeluvian darkey who lived away over on the East Hill, "came, and saw, and KILLED."
"The Judge," (Father was always called "THE JUDGE,") prided himself on having, not only the finest PIG PEN, but the best pigs, and pork in the country, and on these momentous occasions, after one or two bullocks had been shot and dressed and properly disposed of; Old Sol. prepared the hogs for their fate:
We were never allowed to see the actual killing done, but were kept inside the house until that part of the program was over, THEN we all rushed to the barn to see the men dip the hogs in scalding water, and with the bottoms of old iron candle-sticks, deftly remove their bristles, and hang the bodies, as white as the driven snow and shining and glistening like columns of marble, out in the open air to cool and dry.
The greatest fun however, and that which we really enjoyed the most was seeing the swarms of poor people, who seemed to know by instinct when to come, following each other into the barn to claim and carry away the Livers and Spare Ribs; These always were, and are to day, to my mind the choicest bits of meat in the world, but it was an unwritten law, always observed at Father's house, to give to every person who came for it, Spare Ribs and Liver, so long as there were any lo give; Good meaty Ribs they were, too; and not the poor stripped and almost polished BONES for which we pay double prices now-a-days. We children often clamored for them when all were gone, arid sometimes traded other & choicer pieces for the RIBS.
Did you ever eat "scraps"? I presume you do not know what Scraps are? When mother and the girls tried out the lard, which came to them in great flaks or leaves, and looked like great chunks of ice, there remained a crisp rich remnant or crust, of the most tempting color, which was called "scraps," and they make a very rich and toothesome substitute for butter, of which we youngsters were very fond.
After this came candle making, for you must know that every good housewife, (and your Grand Mother was of that ilk, ) made up her own winters supply of candles very soon after the tallow was supplied, and that with us was on Butchering day; The "modus operandi", was as follows:
First the tallow must be cleansed & made fit for use, and then it was boiled in the great cauldron in the Pig pen, and finally was brought into the kitchen and heated again, and there the candles were made. The candle rods, which are straight pine sticks, two and a half or three feet long, and a little larger around than a common lead pencil, were whittled out by the boys, in the winter evenings, and it was no small feat to make them just right, and we all tried to make the best; These rods being in readiness mother cut as many lengths of candle-wicking, which was a loosely twisted cotton twine, which came to the consumer in balls as large as your two fists, and were among the commodities always on sale at the store; as she intended to make candles, each one being a little more than twice the length of the finished candle, and doubling them in the middle, placed a rod in the middle of each wick, putting six or eight wicks on each rod; Then two strong and straight sticks, ten or twelve feet in length were placed across two horses or chairs standing say ten feet apart, and the rods with the candle wicks hanging down almost to the floor, were hung on these sticks, which were a little less distance apart then the length of the rods, and then all was ready for the dipping of the candles.
Seating herself on a low chair or stool, midway between the kettle of hot tallow and the rack bearing the rods, Mother would deftly dip all the wicks on one rod into the hot tallow, and drawing the wicks across the edge of the kettle, so as to remove all the tallow that would scrape off, she would hang that rod in its place on the rack, and would repeat the performance until every rod of wicks had received a bath in the molten tallow and been replaced on the rack, to drip and cool; The first dipping would barely moisten the wicks, but as they cooled, the process was repeated, over and over again, until at last, unwearied patience and unlimited baths combined to convert each wick into a full fledged candle, of "one candel power," When the end approached, and the kettle was getting short of materials, the wise worker, instead of refilling it with the precious tallow, as we would have thought necessary; for every candle must of course be dipped its full length every time; would fill the kettle with hot water, which we were sure wouldn't burn, But we learned that while the water would not burn, it was equally true that it would not stick to the candle, and that the thin scum of tallow on top of the water would adhere, until it was almost entirely skimmed off, and so the candles grew to proper size and proportion.
Candles made in the manner above described were of course not absolutely perfect in shape, and they were very appropriately called "tallow dips, " but the mothers of that day were not without their little vanities, any more than those of the present time, and one of the requirements of housekeeping and of furnishing was a supply of "mould candles" for use on festive occasions, and to excel in making them was another & perhaps a finer branch of the Art of house keeping? These were made of extra white tallow, and sometimes of bees-wax, and were cast in moulds, made of tin, and large enough to contain a dozen or less at a time; They were very fine and it required some KNACK to keep the wicks straight in the moulds when the tallow was poured in, for unless the wick was perfectly straight, and exactly in the center of the candle the wicks would burn out at the side instead of directly down, or the candle would have "thieves" in it, and was an annoying failure.
The only illuminators in use with us were these home made candles, and the Whale Oil Lamps, which were dirty and stuffy, and apt to smoke, and to smell awfully unless the mother herself gave them attention: I remember that at about this time some "petrolium," was brought to our village for sale, it came in small vials, was called "Mineral Oil" and was duly certified to be a sovreign remedy for brusies, sprains &c. & was sold only as a medicine; It was collected from some Spring in Pennsylvania, by placing woolen blankets in the Spring for a while, and then wringing the oil out?
We used to sit down of an evening, from six to ten or twelve of us, around the dining table, upon which stood a couple of lamps, made entirely of Glass, standards and all, and perhaps two or three candles, in brass candle sticks, with a brass snuffer tray, holding a pair of brass snuffers, which was pushed across the table on demand, and with which it was expected any one of us could snuff the candles without danger of extinguishing them: and read or write, or study, or sew, or play jack straws, or checkers, or back gammon as duty or inclination moved us; and the evening on which from one to a dozen of the neighbors failed to call, were few and far between; for we were a lively set, and always blessed with plenty of company; partly doubtless because there were no theatres or amusements of that kind, partly because the village was full of students from abroad, but mainly as I believe because the spirit of hospitality was rife in the house, and the Judge and his family were good and lively company, and liberal providers. On these occasions cider fresh from the press, and doughnuts and other cakes, fresh from the fire, were always to be had in company with the best of apples and other fruits, and nuts, and all was merry as a marriage bell? When older people were present the cider was mulled by the introduction of a heated poker into the pitcher, and the younger ones might pop corn to their hearts content,
The students in the Academy were both the sons and daughters of well to do, and prosperous farmers of the vicinage, and "boarded themselves, " which means that a couple or more of them would take a room together, either in the Academy Building, or in the house of some villager, and, bringing food enough from their homes to last them a week or two, would care for themselves as best they could, going home on Saturdays for fresh supplies, and returning on Monday, full and happy, to enter again upon the fight for an education. If you think that an evening in a hospitable house, with plenty of dough nuts and cider and a lot of lively young people to keep them in countenance, was not a treat to youngsters so situated, you are probably mistaken.
And this brings to mind the "Donation Parties, " Once a year, in the Fall or early Winter, each Clergyman in the village must have a Donation Party, due notice of which was given from every pulpit in the place; Although I now recall but two such parties which I personally adorned with my presence, I do not doubt that all had a family resemblance to those. On Thursday afternoon the Minister's House was put in order for the incursion of his dear people, by a committee of ladies self appointed for the purpose, and soon after noon the parishioners began to arrive, laden with all sorts of gifts and supplies for the Respected, or Beloved, or Feared or possibly the Despised Minister and his family; It made a difference, of course, in the nature of the gifts they brought whether he was a favorite or not, but I believe the Pastors at P. always had the respect and affection of their people. First would come a dear old Deacon from one hill or the other, with a sled load of fire wood, if he felt very amiable it would be cut up into stove lengths, and nicely split and carefully piled in the wood-shed, at the rear of the house; But if he did not feel quite right, and thought that perhaps the god (good?) man of the house would preach a better sermon after a little exercise, it might be only ordinary cord wood, with a few knotty pieces in it, and it might be thrown down outside the fence, so that the dear Dominie would have it to carry in and cut and split before it was suitable for use in his stove?? However, this was not likely to happen, and even if it did, perhaps some more considerate parishioner would discover it before the Parson did, and himself cut and carry it in as his donation.
Following this would come stores of apples, and potatoes; of oats for the horse and hay for the cow, and by night fall the house and barn, the celler, woodshed and pantry would have put on an appearance of plenty likely to warm the hearts of the recipients, and make them ready to welcome the coming of the sisters and young people in the evening; After an early supper the fun began in good earnest and the house wife would be mysteriously called to the parlor, while the women stored her pantry with "sugar and spice, and all things nice, " or she would be invited to view the pantry thus replenished, while other willing hands placed a nice quilt, containing all the colors of the rainbow, and a lot more, or perhaps the names of each of the donors written by themselves in squares of their own making, on her bed; and the Ministers study, (wherein it was wickedly said that he kept a light burning all of Saturday night, to make people believe he studied while in fact he slept,) would be invaded, and stored with dainty slippers for his wearied feet, and good quill pens, accompanied with wise suggestions as to the use to which they should be put, or perchance with a text, from which he was asked to preach a sermon, and thus every member of the family, quadrupeds included, was given a present, suitable or otherwise, before the day ended.
At the proper moment all would be invited to the Dining Room, where stood a table set with plenty of food, and displaying such of the gifts as might appropriately be shown thereon, and the Minister would ask a blessing, and then invite his dear friends to partake of "this bounteous repast, so mysteriously provided and spread before us, and partake they would? ?. If it sometimes transpired that certain of "the sisters" came to the feasts with large and empty baskets, and left with them well filled, I doubt not they needed all they took, and were welcome to it. And if the boys did insist upon the girls going out with them to slide down hill in the evening, and did make a good deal of noise about it, who could blame them.