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Adventures of Ron Huckleberry…#27 Night work with Dad and observing a hog-killing event
Ron’s dad manages a loan company in Huntsville. The clients are primarily low-income clients and often from the black-community. It‘s common for Ron’s dad to drive to the homes of these clients in the evening to collect payments due on loans.
Ron loved to ride with Dad in the evening as he went from house to house collecting the loan money. One evening was really miserable and raining. The area they were in had no well paved streets and the parking situation was very bad. Dad had moved a little too far off of the road to the right and the front right wheel slid into a deep ditch. There was nothing Dad could do to get the car out of the ditch.
Dad knew Ron was scared, but assured him all would be OK. “I’ll get some help. You sit here in the car and I’ll be right back”. Dad wasn’t gone long and returned with four young black men.
Ron sat in the front seat and watched as the young men calmly grabbed the bumper and with one easy lift had the heavy Hudson back onto the road. The men were very satisfied with the money Dad paid them and soon continued on their way.
Ron asked Dad how he got the men to help him. “It’s normally easy to walk into a bar and offer some money for some help. Most of the guys can use a little extra cash to buy more drinks.
Dad carried a book in a black leather case, which contained a record of the money owed and the amount paid each month. He normally instructed Ron to sit in the car and wait as he went to a house to collect money.
This particular evening Dad seemed a bit nervous. He returned to the car, made some notes and told Ron he would have to come to his house again, because the man was still at work. He then went three houses down the street and soon returned. “Ron, I’ll see if the man is home”. He stated.
After a while Ron was worried about Dad because he had been in the house an awful long time. Ron had been instructed to never leave the car, but he decided he should check on Dad.
Ron carefully approached the house and peeped into a window. Dad was sitting in a room with two men, a woman and about six children. Dad was OK and as soon as Ron felt Dad was ready to leave the house he ran back to the car, before Dad saw him.
Dad walked to the car with a young man who was carrying a beautiful foot stool, which he put in the trunk. Dad thanked him and we drove off.
Dad explained that the man did not have the money to make the payment, but that he had found a nice stool at the city-dump and hoped Dad would accept the stool as payment for the month. Dad explained that this type of horse-trading was not uncommon. “I just hope Mom likes the stool”. Dad said.
When Ron and Dad got home they naturally showed the stool to Mom. She was very excited. The stool was actually a beautiful antique stool.
One Saturday afternoon about 4 p.m. Dad and Ron were on a tiny farm to make a monthly collection. Again Dad had been in the house for a long time. He finally came to the car and was really smiling. He opened the trunk and began taking everything out of the trunk and placing it in the back seat.
Soon a woman brought out a large piece of material and placed it in the trunk. A moment later a man approached the car with a tiny pig, which he placed into the trunk. Dad and the woman went to the rear of the house and soon returned; each carrying a tiny pig. These two pigs were also put into the trunk. The man soon returned with a fourth tiny pig. Now we had four tiny pigs in the trunk.
Dad and the man placed a limb so that the trunk lid would not close completely. They secured the lid so the pigs could not get their heads out. Dad was soon thanking the couple and we drove off.
Dad was extremely happy. Dad wanted to phone Mom, but the family had no phone, Dad drove to a filling-station and phoned Mom. He explained about the pigs and that he was driving to see Mr. Taylor, his friend.
Dad and Ron drove a long distance in to the country and to a large farm. Dad and his friend talked for a long time. Dad offered him two pigs if he would raise the other two for him until hog-killing time. Dad wanted the meat.
Mr. Taylor was happy, so they soon had the pigs in the barn. Mr. Taylor placed the tiny pigs on the ground near a huge sow, which was caring for her tiny pigs. Mr. Taylor explained that in most cases the sow would accept the new children and would feed and care for them like her own.
The deal was that Dad would give Mr. Taylor the four young pigs. Mr. Taylor would give Dad a large grown pig at hog-killing time this year and one more grown hog the following year. Both Dad and Mr. Taylor felt they had a good-deal.
Dad and Ron visited Mr. Taylor a few times before hog-killing time and all four pigs were doing fine. Dad was always making deals.
Later Dad and Mr. Taylor made another deal. Dad would buy six large bags of grain and return Mr. Taylor would kill and butcher the hogs for Dad…if Dad would come and help a little at hog-killing time.
Mr. Taylor was a specialist on hogs. He carefully watched the pen of hogs as they grew. He choose special hogs and they were “Put-Up”. This means that these special hogs were placed in special pens and up off the ground so they could not roll in the mud or eat any more than they were fed. In most cases these special hogs were fed the best food or slop and given a lot more of it, so they would get fat and produce more lard.
The hog killing time was near. The weather was cold and now Mr. Taylor was only waiting for the moon to be just right. The moon had to be right or the meat would not keep, so the old story went.
Dad had insured Ron that he could accompany him on that big day. Dad had all of our old clothes laid out and ready as we waited for Mr. Taylor’s call. Two evenings later the call came and we prepared to be at the farm at 4 a.m.
Apparently Mr. Taylor raised pigs for other people too, because when we arrived there were already eight other cars parked near the house. Dad soon jointed the black and white men that were standing around waiting for instructions from Mr. Taylor.
There was a lot of activity as everyone was doing something preparing for the activity. There were six open fires burning. On one was a grill with three large metal pots of coffee for the workers. Three of the fires were near small fenced-in area where the hogs were killed. Ron guessed the other two fires were for hand-warming, because it was very cold.
Near the butchering area there were six huge black iron “witch” kettles hanging on tri-pods. Each had a big hot fires burning under them. The water in the kettles was already almost boiling. A large trough was located near the kettles.
There were two very large tables located fairly near the water kettles. Mr. Taylor had constructed a boxed-in alley from the pig pens to the table area. The idea was to get the hogs to leave the pens and go up the alley to a small wired-in area near the tables. The alley was not much wider than the hogs.
Even hogs can sense death…their own death. It was not easy to get the hogs to leave the pig sheds and pens. It was even more difficult to get them to go the last few yards up the alley to the fenced-in area. Two dogs were used in the alley area to persuade the hogs to move-on through the alley. The dogs nipped at the hog’s legs and barked.
Once the hogs neared the fenced in area they more readily moved forwards as they smelled the aroma of the hog-slop that enticed them. As one hog enters into the fenced in area there it is killed.
A lot of planning is required to insure that the hog-killing process is accomplished in an orderly manner. Two huge black men stood near the slop-trough. One had a large heavy ax. As a hog ate, the man walked up beside it, and with great precision, swung the ax, hitting the hog just in the correct spot on the head.
This procedure was to insure that the hog was stunned sufficiently so that it did not feel pain as another man, with a very sharp knife slit the hog’s throat. Almost as soon as the hog was dead a man was tying a rope around the rear feet and legs. Then three or four men quickly pulled the hog near the three burning fires. A tripod was constructed over each fire. The pulley rope was attached to the hog’s rear feet and it was hoisted over the fire where it hanged over the fire until most of the hair was burned off.
The hog was then pulled over to and placed into the trough. There boiling water was poured over the hog as workers removed any remaining hair. It was therefore very important to keep the fires going so that there was sufficient boiling water.
The hog was soon being hoisted by rope and pulley above the trough. There the team of trained butchers with razor-sharp knives quickly removed the hog’s head. The head was carefully handed off and moved to the far table.
With the hog hanging there by the hind feet it was actually split down the middle with a razor sharp knife into two huge pieces. The cleaning began. The intestines were removed and handed off to be well cleaned. Then the hog was hoisted over to the large table where butchering was completed.
Almost no part of a hog is unusable. The feet were cut off. Great soups and broths would soon be made. Pickled feet were and are a delicates.
Generally white folks did not keep the chit lings (guts/intestines), the feet, the tail or the ears. The head was a real prize. Nothing is better than hog-brain and scrambled eggs. The head was prized by some for hog-head cheese. The hooves were used to make medical tea and hoof soups. When grounded and dried it was to some a powerful medicine, which was too often forced down unwilling ill children.
The ears were cut off and grabbed by some. People were known to actually fight over the hog-jaw and tongue.
Since this was more of a commercial hog-killing than a one family killing, it was important to keep the meat segregated and labeled. That is why some people had their pickups and trailers backed up to the cleaning and cutting tables.
Mr. Taylor definitely supplemented his income from raising other folk’s pigs. Many people were on hand to help him and each other…and themselves. Often a hog-killing was like a small party. One day you went to help your neighbor and next day they came to help you kill your hogs. Hog killing seemed to be one of the few times the white and black folks worked together.
The butcher experts cut the hogs into pieces for immediate eating or for hanging in the smoke-house or for being packed in layers of salt in wooden bins that had holes in the bottom to allow moisture to drain away.
Old timers took time to explain and pass-on to city-slickers how to smoke or salt the meat, which would keep all year if done correctly. To salt meat correctly one needs a proper salt-bin. Moisture must be allowed to drain off, therefore most bins had legs or were on something that would not absorb and retain moisture. One had to first put down a good layer of salt, then one layer of meat, covered with a good layer of salt, then another layer of meat…and so on.
One could later go to the salt-bin, uncover a large piece of meat, slice off what was wanted and then recover the meat with salt. Salted meat first has to be boiled in a skillet of water. Pour off the water and then fry the meat.
Dad and Ron listened to much discussion on how to smoke ham. The type of wood used to produce the smoke. The height the meat needs to hang above the smoke. The best time of day to smoke meat. How long and how often to smoke meat.
For sure it was important to hang the meat. Since it often hanged in the smoke house all year, it was important that it was properly hanged, so rats could not reach it or jump from one piece to another. Some liked to cover the meat after it was smoked. Others said it killed the smoke taste.
Every tiny piece of fat was kept for pig grease and lard. Butter might have been used in baking, but lard was used to cook everything else. The grease was often canned and used all year.
Even children were happy that the pig skin was kept.
Grandmother keep the pig’s hide
Grandmother make it hard-fried
Anything better will make me cry
If you don’t make it I think I will die
It’s the truth I don’t lie
I like cracklings better than pie
Mr. Taylor tried to give the city-slickers the safest jobs so not one would get hurt on the farm. Dad and three others had been tasked to help get the hogs out of the sheds. Dad was given a long thin pole and told to go to the rear of the shed and poke between the wall boards and poke the hogs to encourage them to move outside.
The shed was low, had about two inches between each plank and had a tin roof. Dad took the pole and was poking the hogs. He moved the pole to the top board on the wall to get the best angle for poking. The hog would not move, so Dad poked harder. The pole suddenly slipped off the hog’s back and Dad’s hand flew forward…hitting the sharp edge of the tin roof. The metal cut through the right side of his middle finger on the right hand and almost cut off the knuckle.
Ron was sad and upset because Dad was in such pain. Ron was also sad because they had to leave and would not be able to see any more excitement of hog-killing.
Mr. Taylor offered to take Dad home or to the doctor, but Dad insisted on driving home. He had wrapped his hand in two handkerchiefs, but the blood was still soaking through. When we go home Mom almost fainted. Dad insisted on changing and cleaning up before Mom took him to the hospital. Naturally he needed a few stitches and a shot, but he felt he needed to go back to Mr. Taylor and insure he got his meat.
Mom drove us back to Mr. Taylor. He had already packed all of our meat and he personally insured it was all placed into the car. There were three crates of meat. Dad and Mom had a rented compartment in the local commercial freezer and that is where most of the meat was taken.
Claudia, our black maid, had told Mom she would like any of the meat and etc that we did not want, so Mom brought her quite a bit.
While there, Mom, Dad, and Ron were invited to kitchen where several ladies were busy doing their thing. Ron was shocked at the distasteful smell of the kitchen, but he did enjoy some crisp cracklings. Dad sat and enjoyed a real treat of hog-brain and scrambled eggs.
This was the last time Ron every experienced a hog-killing event.
© GENE HUDGENS
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