In my youth, I lived with my grandfather Eley Frazer, Sr. who was a retired mail carrier out of the Buffalo Post Office. In that age, mail was delivered to the Buffalo Depot by the local train known as the JOHNNY RAY. Eley Sr. ran a rather large farm operation with the basic crops being cotton and corn. Also on the farm were pastured acres with grazing for beef cattle and milk cows. Also, an important source of food was the hog pen, which required daily slopping. Along with the farming operation, Eley Sr. ran a grist mill, a syrup mill and a general store with tobacco being the main sales item.
There as a young lad, I found out that I flunked a lot of the basic expectations of a farm boy. For example:
When my older brother, Eley III, sailed off to Okinawa on an LST in World War II, one of the chores I was expected to carry out was milking the cows both morning and night. I never got the hang of it as I had to strip the teats like emptying a tube of toothpaste rather than the rhythmic squeezing that my brother mastered. It took me twice as long and most of the time the cow was finished eating and ready to move and I was still stripping. The cows were kept in a stall at night and in cold weather. Without the freedom to lay outside the stall, they lay on top of some of their manure that almost always ended up contaminating the udder. The farmhand and I would always bring cold water in buckets to cleanse the udder but it was impossible not to get a little brown tinge into the milk. Some of my so-called buddies told me that I was making chocolate milk. I always tried to skim of the chocolate before I gave the pail to my grandmother.
I flunked the cotton picking course 101as well. Mr. Shirley Owens, who was Superintendent of Education at that time, had a large cotton patch that bordered my grandfather’s yard with convenient access for me to try to earn a little extra spending money. I started picking at daybreak and picked until dark and only had 78 pounds. Those stinging worms hurt as bad as a wasp sting and my fingers were raw from scratching out the boles of cotton. However, Mr. Owens paid me a cent per pound and that 78 cents allowed me to buy 15 chocolate bars as they cost a nickel each.
Another farm task that I flunked was preparing chickens for food. You got the chicken out of the coop and severed his head. Then you hung the chicken on a limb of the pear tree in the yard to let the blood drain. The next step was placing the chicken into a wash bowl of scalding water in order to pluck the feathers. Somehow severing the chicken’s head was a little too barbaric for me and I shunned the task whenever I could. However, it never bothered me when I ate the chicken.
As a lad, I never was allowed to have first choice of chicken parts. That was especially true when the Preacher came over after church and he often did. The adults ate the white meat and the younguns ate the gall bladder, legs and wings. Now, as an adult, I get the white meat and you can have the rest. Today, however, wings are a popular food among the population but I will still stick to my preference of white meat – thank you.
Speaking of eating farm raised fowls and animals, I flunked out on learning how to enjoy dining on certain parts of the pig. My grandfather and all his siblings loved chitterlings (hog intestines). I have watched them being cooked and the water they are cooked in always looks like water in a toilet bowl after a #2. I saw what other parts of the pig were cooked and it kind of destroyed my appetite for pickled pig feet, mountain oysters and eyeballs. Somehow my ancestors thought that eyeballs were edible. During hog killing time, inevitably the brains would be mixed with scrambled eggs and I was tricked into consuming them.
In shelling butter beans, I completely flunked the course. As a male chauvinist, I would like to say that this is a woman’s job. Annie, a dear lady who helped us, could shell a bushel of butter beans before I could shell a handful. The garden was a necessity and if you didn’t can vegetables, you didn’t eat any during the winter. Remember that Danforth’s Grocery Store in LaFayette never had produce year round. Oranges and apples in the summer were non-existent as were garden vegetables during the winter except for turnip greens. As a result of a diet of mostly meat during the winter and the absence of green food, I would have “risons” or “boils” during the winter and they were hard to cure.
Another job I flunked was slopping the hogs. If you don’t know what slop is, it is food that is generally inedible leftovers, spoiled food and clabbered milk. A five gallon bucket was kept near the kitchen and daily this slop was dumped into a trough in the pig pen. The hog pen (sty) was an enclosure no bigger than a closet. The hog was confined to wallow in his own waste and absolutely had no place to exercise. Hence, the process was called “fattening the hog” and indeed the major part of his meat was lard. I flunked the course because I never liked to confine an animal to wallow in his own waste.
Another farm task that I failed was cutting the worms of out of preserved hams. The meat was salted and placed in a salt box for curing and preserving. Flies would lay eggs on the meat and the eggs would develop into worms called “skippers.” It was impossible to cut all of the “skippers“ out of the meat prior to cooking. I liked the country ham but always felt I was eating some worms when it was served.
The conditions described herein would appear to the millennials to be an exaggeration of the facts. However, farm life was as described above. We sometimes refer to big food corporations in a negative manner. Knowing what it takes to grow and preserve food, it is a blessing that we can pick up a can of soup and buy any fresh vegetable, fruit or nuts year round. I am amazed that a stalk of bananas can
We have a negative view of some the world’s activities and rightly so. But we are so fortunate to have products available to us produced by hard working laborers in some place in the world. I went into alocalgroceerystore yesterday and I had the thought that Babylon King Nebuchadnezzar never had a fraction of the foods available for consumption. We reap the benefits of the Maker who allowed the labor of man to produce an abundance of blessings.