The old Blackburn Homeplace
Told as if narrated by my mom as a little girl:
Growing up I lived on an old dirt road down from my grandparent’s homeplace in Wilkes County, NC. I’ve walked up that dusty or muddy dirt road every day of my life that I can remember growing up. When I finish my chores around our farm I head up that way skipping and jumping over the many ruts in the road to see what goodies my grandma has made that day.
She’s always baking and cooking something sweet besides the daily three meals per day for papa and two of my uncles that work on the farm with papa. Almost any time you go to her kitchen there are sweets to snack on. It might be a homemade coconut cake, apple pie, peach cobbler, blackberry dumplings, or fried apple cinnamon fritters. Most times a combination of two of them sitting hot and fresh in the pie cabinet.
Grandma is the first one up every morning before the chickens. She gets up so early she wakes up the roosters to do their job of waking up the rest of the farm. She cooks from an old wood cookstove that is still in the house since when I was growing up. They’ve had it since they got married, a gift from papa’s papa.
Winter or summer, hot or cold she fires up the wood cookstove to start Papa’s breakfast way before anyone or anything is up a stirring. She heads out the back door drawing water from the well on the back porch for the coffee, going out to the chicken house to gather eggs freshly laid to fix for breakfast, then stopping on her way back to the house to milk the cow for fresh cream for the coffee and milk for a cake of bread. She does more before the sun comes up than most do all day. That’s why women are strong these days. They know what hard work is, not one bit afraid of it and takes pride in being the best wife & mother, family always coming first.
Papa is up by the time she makes it back to the kitchen from her morning chores. Dressed in his faded worn overalls, he walks towards the kitchen drawn to the smell of the fresh coffee boiling on the stove that drifts through the air all the way to the bedroom.
He grabs a tin coffee cup out of the faded yellow cupboard on the right as he enters the kitchen.
The cupboard had been in grandma’s family. Her grandma gave it to them as a wedding present even though used. No telling how old it is now. They had gladly taken it with much gratitude. They didn’t have anything when they got married to furnish a house and were grateful for what they were given. Grandma painted it a pretty light yellow and was so proud of it. But the years have taken its toll on it, again looking as it had when they received it, worn and faded.
Looking over to the stove, he sees the big iron skillet with fresh eggs frying with a big juicy piece of smoked fatback. He crosses the room to the wood cookstove that has the kitchen quite warm, smelling delicious with aromas from the top to the oven. Grabbing the coffee on the stove he pours him a steaming hot cup from the old coffee pitcher that had also been handed down to them when they got married by his sister.
Mornin’ papa, did you sleep good?
Good as can be expected I reckon.
Grandma is bending down looking, reaching into the scorching hot oven. After checking to see if the bread is done by sticking a fork in it, she grabs the pan of bread sitting it on top of the stove. She takes a spoon out of a small ceramic bowl that is sitting on the back of the wood cookstove spreading fresh melted homemade butter across the top of the homemade bread. Then she covers it with a towel to keep it warm.
Meanwhile, papa sits down at the little side table across the kitchen where many a conversation had been discussed about the coming day’s work.
The table was handmade. Papa had built it many years ago when he and grandma had gotten married. It was strong and would last another hundred years or so. The top was plain like a butcher block. It had worn places where momma made most her dough for her loaves of bread, pies, other great tasting dishes and from many meals that had been eaten there.
He holds his tin cup up to his mouth blowing the coffee slowly to cool it down for a drink. He thinks about the day ahead as he continues blowing. It had rained the day before in the afternoon cutting their workday short. He had sent his sons Ulysses and Lincoln home early. There wasn’t anything else they could get accomplished in the rain. Nothing needed mending that he knew of and all the machinery was working fine.
Momma, I guess we will be working up in the west field today, we got a bit behind yesterday with the rain and all. We need that rain plus some. The corn looks good, but for it to make it til harvest time it better do it some more raining. The other fields are looking good too so far.
Yeah my vines and the gardens can use more rain too. I can water my vines from the well, but the gardens are just too dang big to do all that carrying from the well.
Grandma gets his plate ready for breakfast loading him down with eggs, a good part of the chunk of smoked fatback, and a huge piece of the homemade bread.
Turning around she walks over to the table sitting his plate down on the table in front of him. Going back over to the stove she grabs the pitcher of hot coffee to freshen up papa’s cup. Filling up his cup she asks him if he has enough to eat like she does every morning. And just like every morning before for almost 30 years, he tells her she’s trying to fatten him up like the hog.
My grandpa has a fifty-acre farm that takes him and two of my uncles to run daily. They work from way before the sun comes up until some days after dark. There are cattle to feed, water, and milk. They have goats, turkeys, and pigs too. Chickens are fed then they scatter everywhere all over the farm hunting insects. Sometimes they have ducks.
The fields are full of crops from spring until fall with every vegetable and fruit you can imagine. Rows and rows of corn fill most of the fields. The rest are potatoes, green beans, peas, onions, beets, okra, carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes, squash, eggplant, cucumbers, pumpkins, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, and more I cannot remember. The rest of the fields are for growing hay for the animals to eat all year round. Nothing is store-bought except flour, sugar, coffee, or tea at their house. They use all animal parts down to the hides not wasting a thing and grow what they want to eat all year.
All over the farm, there are fruit trees of all kinds. Mostly apple trees lined up starting beside the house going down by the root cellar that’s dug out of a hill next to the creek. But also there are pear trees lined along the creek going to the west field, plum trees as you go up to the east fields, and crab apple trees growing near the south fields. There’s a field that produces strawberries every year. Along the edges of that field are giant blackberry patches growing.
Growing just behind the house out the back door neatly in rows are the muscadine vines. These are my grandma’s. She cares for them and harvests them. Every fall she makes dozens of jars of muscadine jelly, jams, and muscadine wine. There are jars upon jars stored in the root cellar that lasts all year long.
I eat my jelly with a big chunk of her homemade bread, a slap of fresh homemade butter and a glass of fresh homemade buttermilk. I do every day as soon as I arrive.
Harvest time is the best time. We all gather to help pick, string, cook, and can all of the fruits and vegetables. My aunts, cousins, and I all sit for hours on the front porch stringing beans and peas in the old handmade chairs papa built, listening to grandma tell us tall tales of her youth back in the old days.
One story she told us is her coming home one night from her grandparent’s house through the woods. It was a short cut that led her through to the pastures on to her house.
There wasn’t a moon that night so she was having a hard time seeing what was around her. She knew the trail, knew it so well she could walk it with her eyes closed she had walked it so many times in her life. That night was different though. It was a cold blustery night. The trees swaying back and forth in the wind making eerie noises and scary images to a girl that age.
About middle ways, through the woods, she hears something behind her that sounded like someone following her. It was on a winter evening around 8pm so it was too dark to see behind her so she sped up. She wasn’t running but was walking pretty fast. She could hear whoever it was getting closer behind her it seemed with each step she took.
She was at such a fast pace that she wasn’t able to watch for stray branches and briars. The branches were hitting her in the face while the briars were tearing at her clothes. Her pantyhose were ripped open in several places, but she wasn’t worried about getting a whooping for it when she got home at this point.
By now whoever it was running up on her was close enough she could feel their hot breath on her neck. Crying and screaming she is running now as fast as she can as she breaks through the woods into the pasture. She trips over cow paddies falling to the ground. Terrified she screams louder holding up her hands in front of her. She feels something warm, soft, and wet on her left hand! Then she hears a low mooing sound. It was a stinking old cow!
“Bad cow!” She screams at it. Then she gets up brushing herself off as she starts walking towards the house.
Now she is worried about her clothes. Her pantyhose was ripped from the briars and dirt on her clothes from falling in the pasture. She should have come home earlier before it got dark and maybe all this wouldn’t have happened.
She takes her time making it through the pastures eventually making it to the house dreading her punishment for ruining her clothes. They were poor and didn’t have but about two changes of clothes each. With seven kids it was hard to clothe them all. This was the depression and nobody had much of anything.
Walking in the door she peeks in to sees no one is in the front room. She can hear her mama, papa, and six brothers and sisters in the back of the house in the kitchen all talking and laughing about something. She couldn’t make out what it was that was so funny though.
She walks in the kitchen slowly hoping her papa wouldn’t notice her. But that wasn’t the case. Her little brother laughing points at her and yells, “look papa what the cat dragged in!” Her papa turns in time to see her as she is walking up to the table.
Dasha, what in tarnation happened to you?
Grandma bursts out crying and trembling telling her papa what had just happened to her on the way home taking the short cut through the woods and pastures.
Her papa grabs her sitting her on his knees hugging and consoling her. When she finally stops crying her papa laughs telling her what a wild cat she looks like with her clothes torn, her hair tossed all over her head in disarray, and her face streaked with tears through the dust and dirt. Grandma didn’t get a whooping and all was well.
This story is my favorite of all the stories she repeats every year when we are sitting on the porch during harvest time. I don’t know if she repeats them for the younger kids that are a year older and really listening for the first time or because she just likes telling them over. I don’t mind one bit, they are the best part of the harvest to me.
The front porch where we all sit at harvest time or in the evenings in the spring and summer winds around the side to the back of the old house. The roof extends out from the house covering the porch all the way around from front to back. On any given day you will find a hodgepodge of chairs that don’t match, tools hanging on the walls or leaning against them, several tables here and there, and much of the time papa’s old hound dogs laying around.
There is an old well right as you step out the back door on the back porch for water that supplies the house for cooking, cleaning, baths, grandmas vines, and her flower gardens. The indoor plumbing that most are starting to install is not a necessity grandma says. She can do just fine as she has all her life with her well water.
I can remember many a day running and playing on that old porch. We were always drawing water out of the well in an old wooden water bucket that I’m sure my grandfather had fashioned out of a log. My cousins and I played there for hours. We never tired of pretending we were living there back in the old days.