"We saved everything but the squeal!" Until the last years of the past century, Thanksgiving was indeed Thanksgiving for my family, but of a different nature, though just as meaningful. Not just a meaningful feast, but a feast to celebrate a hard day's work and relief in assured survival for a coming winter. Thanksgiving was set aside as the day for hog killing. In they came, friends, and family and neighbors, swarming over the farm and set for working. And save everything but the squeal they did, from the tips of the ears down to the end of the tail, there was a use for every part of the critter.
I grew up watching my folks save everything. Pa saved bits of twine into huge balls, folded paper bags into neat packages. Even away from the farm Mama would save foil containers frozen goods from a store came in, my father would store away boxes. Saving everything but the squeal was ingrained, an instinct born of a fact of basic survival, and a lesson passed through the generations.
They plodded their weary and hopeful way along an old Indian trail that led through a natural Gap in the mountains, the ancestors of my ancestors, and perhaps yours. It was a trail barely wide enough for a horse or mule bearing supplies, and a body to walk along beside. With no room for more than the basic supplies to carve a living from a wilderness, they would have had to bring faith in their ability to coax what they needed from an untamed wilderness. They would have left behind china that would break and "pretties" good for nothing but "pretty" and they would have mourned for it. They would have bought only the tools and seeds to begin again, deer skins to ward off the dew of the morning and the rain of a storm. The hope of rich new land for the taking beckoned, and the dangers and hard work were outweighed by the promise. They had faith in their abilities to coax, to discover a way. And they would have wasted nothing.
Salt licks, bee hives, sugar trees.they were waiting. Nasturium juice for poisoned ivy, calendula for soups and stews, lavendar to clean out wounds, rosemary for headaches, gourds for dippers and bowls, they brought the seeds. In the wilderness was cherry bark and mullein for cough syrup, butterfly weed for fevers, spider web to staunch bleeding, a veritable apothecary for one who understood the signs of it. With hair of a buffalo and the fluff from a plant's pod they would card the beginnings of linsey woolsey, spin the thread, build a loom of saplings. And with sumac and butternut they would dye it cloth they made of it. A bear ravaging livestock would be destroyed to save their own, but the meat and the hair of it was useful and the fat of it could substitute for candle making. They cleared the new ground and raised their crops and dug deep holes lined with straw to save their fare through the winter. They hunted game and salted the meat of it and saved it for the coming days. I think these hardy pioneers, with faith in their own abilities to make something of nothing, to use every part of every bounty Providence provided in a wilderness must have rooted the ideas of the more recent ancestors who "saved everything but the squeal!"
I am reminded of a more recent period in our history, one my uncles often spoke of. The Depression spread an aura of gloom across a country, creeping like a gray mist over the economy and times we know were "tough" beyond imagining for our people of today. But not Down Home. "Down Home", my family tells me, life went on like it always had. With no dependency on banks or stock markets, Hog Killing Day was Thanksgiving, and another major event to insure a family's survival. Those who had gone north to work in factories, to "do better" than folks down on the farm, came back, say my family. They swallowed pride, came back and glad they were to find biscuits dripping with honey, and country ham again. Down Home folks had not changed their ways in a hundred years or more, and so "the Depression was a foreign country" stated one uncle emphatically.
I honor the ancestors, I try to walk through their lives in my mind, but like most of you, I can barely understand, for I am far from the days of "saving everything but the squeal!" I would have no clue how to begin, and if I were to have to pack for basic survival and set out on a trail no wider than two could walk abreast into an untamed wilderness, I doubt I would be one of the survivors. Fierce of spirit yes, but faith in my abilities, no. It has often occurred to me how dependent our country has become on technology, and how few there are who eat only that borne by the fruits of their labors, or who know how to coax a living from the land without any outside source of help or supplies. And I wonder now, with so few even in the "Down Homes" of our nation, folks living as they always had, if there would even be a handful who could indeed cope should some catastrophe occur and the wheels of technology grind to a halt.
just a thought,
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