SMYRNA, Tenn. -- The new year seems like a good time to reflect.
Smyrna neighbor Danny Hargrove and I moseyed back in time to Gile’s Hill, Danny’s rural boyhood home near downtown Eagleville and to my own Missouri farm roots.
With it being below freezing at 28-degrees outside, Danny revisited hog killing day 1954 back on the farm.
“Although our farm was technically over the line in Williamson County, we claimed Eagleville as our home town,” Danny recalled. “We had great neighbors, like Mr. Malcolm Pitts, and Gile’s Hill was a great place to grow up. My first memory of hog killing day goes back to age 9, when I was promoted to stirring and tending the cracklings.
“And I’d walk a mile today for some of Mary Alice Lamb’s legendary fried chitlins (chitterlings, aka hog guts),” Danny added. “And I want my beloved grandchildren, Jason (5) and Chloe (4) to know this important family history they’ll never experience.”
For unlearned college-educated folks, a crackling is glob of pig fat with a particle of meat attached. When rendered (cooked down), yielded hot grease, and when allowed to cool, it turns into lard for future vittles ‑‑cooking needs throughout the year.
“I remember how good those hot tasty those cracklings were, but you best not eat too many, for they’d make a farm boy sick to his stomach,” Danny gazed back through his window of memories at age 66.
“Cooking cracklings in our big black wash kettle meant something else, too,” Danny added. “It meant you got to stand next to the big warm fire, which was good since it was freezing cold.”
With this mile post memory, we talked about our loving, but tough farm mothers.
“Momma (the late Annie Walker Hargrove) was a small-framed lady, but strong for her size,” Danny shared. “She could handle a knife and axe well on hog-butchering days.”
“My mother (the late Ruby Lee Whittle) was also small, but strong in her shoulders, arms and hands, which served her well as she blocked the hams and shoulders on hog killing days back in Missouri,” I shared with friend Danny Boy.
“And Mother Hargrove seasoned up some of the best-tasting sausage you ever put in your mouth,” Danny added. “Daddy (Herbert ‘Bubba’ Hargrove) was a good, honest, hard-working sharecropper in that era.”
I asked friend Danny about the requirements of a good old-fashioned hog killing day.
“It had to be below 32 degrees,” he said. “In fact, a few degrees below the freezing point to make sure the meat stayed cold in order not to spoil. That allowed the men folks time to butcher our family’s five hogs that we had fattened up with extra corn and slop leading up to hog killing time.”
That brought a memory of my own farming father.
“Daddy Whittle was the one chosen to shoot the hogs. It was farm pride to only take one expensive bullet and fire it between the pig’s eyes, to kill it instantly and not make if suffer,” I added.
We both recalled that if the cold weather hit on a holiday it didn’t stop farm families from killing hogs.
“I recall we killed hogs several times at Thanksgiving,” Danny noted.
“And one year, when cold weather finally hit in late December, we killed hogs on a cold and blustery Christmas Day,” I recalled.
“We prayed and gave thanks to have the meat to eat later in the year after we’d seasoned the sausage and preserved it in fruit jars, and cured the bacon, hams and shoulders,” Danny described.
“I remember Daddy Whittle taking an extra ham and shoulder to this needy and sickly sharecropper/part-time preacher man’s family who lived near our farm,” I shared back to another century.
“Neighbors would help neighbors. Ain’t that way in our country no more,” friend Danny assessed in the present.
And that was the way it was back in Americana’s small family farm era that has faded forever in the past.
(Writer’s Note: Danny Hargrove and I have one more experience in common. His Uncle Joe Eady (deceased) was noted for smoked and barbecued whole sticks of baloney at his small barbecue joint formerly located back in the 1990s at the end of Weakley Lane north of Smyrna. I would often take my citified newspaper pals from Nashville and Murfreesboro to dine on his Uncle Joe’s cuisine.
How tasty was Uncle Joe Eady’s barbecued baloney?
“Uncle Joe’s baloney was so good some country music stars would come and buy entire sticks, and take it on their airplanes and buses,” Danny verified.)
May your New Year be blessed and filled with good health and prosperity! Thanks for reading.