Stirring up memories
Good times, hard times and Christmas times
December 3, 2003
soon as Uncle Bud started up the fire under the big wash pot, before the
chickens were even half-way done, word spread up and down the roads and folks
started heading for Wilsontown in the Pine Hill Community, for a chicken perlow
at Uncle Bud and Aunt Hattie Wilson’s was not to be missed.
Wilson Smith, Bud and Hattie’s youngest daughter remembers those by-gone days
of the 1930s well. Virginia read a
recipe for chicken pilau in a recent “Stirring up memories.” She wrote to me from her home on Lake
Harding near Valley, Alabama to tell me about the good times and hard times
around the Wilson place.
next time I headed up to Atlanta to visit my daughter Katy, I made the short
detour to Valley where Virginia shared some of her growing up memories with me.
not sure how it’s spelled—‘perlow’ or ‘pilau.’
We never wrote it down,” she laughed.
“But it was mighty good.” Uncle
Bud would let two or three chickens cook all afternoon. He didn’t use many spices but put in lots
and lots of black pepper. He’d put
small sweet potatoes down in the hot coals, then serve them topped with butter
along with the perlow and plenty of iced tea.
“We had no electricity or radios. The Post-Searchlight once a week was
all the news we had,” The get-together was especially good when “The Front
Porch Pickers” came out and played.
Charley King and J.T. Jackson played guitars. Uncle Tooge Lynn picked the banjo, and “Ole Dad” fiddled. They could “get our feet to shuffling and
we’d all sing such songs as ‘Beautiful Dreamer,’ ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’
and ‘Turkey in the Straw.’ Ole Dad
would buck dance and do a soft shoe.”
By late evening, folks were sitting on the porch feeling all was well
with the world.
remembers that, in fact, all was not always “well with the world.” Those were hard times. The family lived in a double pen log house
on land that Bud and Hattie cleared themselves. They didn’t get electricity until Virginia was grown. They grew most of what they ate. Every fall there would be 700 or 800 jars in
the pantry to feed the family across the winter. They bought “flour, sugar, snuff and tobacco;” the rest came off
the farm. The extras Uncle Bud put in
the Model T and took to town to sell to the grocery stores.
family made sausage to sell as well. Virginia’s job was washing the
chitlings. “I’ve washed enough of those
to stretch from here to Dallas.” Then
Hattie scraped them down and filled them with sausage. Bud took the fresh sausages to town where
they brought twenty-five cents a pound.
Virginia walked to
Pine Hill Consolidated School in her bare feet until she was in about the
seventh grade. “Shoes cost $1.95 a pair
at Grollman’s in Bainbridge. I got one
pair a year.” She couldn’t waste them
wearing them to school. Her mother made
her dresses; usually she had three.
Hattie bought the material with her “pecan money.” When Virginia came
home in the afternoon to “tend to things” –do her chores—like bringing in the
water and feeding the chickens, you can be sure she wasn’t in one of those
precious school dresses.
the dresses weren’t homemade, though.
When time came for high school graduation it was another story. In 1938, Pine Hill boasted eight seniors,
Mary Frances Cook, E. W. Hatcher, Lorraine Humphrey, Joyce Lynn, Catherine Nix,
Theo Scott and, yes, Virginia Wilson.
(The group still has a reunion every year.) For graduation, two things really mattered—a senior ring and a
white graduation dress from Grollman’s.
Virginia asked her
dad about a ring. He was sorry, he told
her, but times were tough and there was no $19.50 for the ring. Heartbroken, Virginia told her mother, who
began to scour the house looking in the backs of drawers and under beds for
some “spare changed tied up in a hanky or a sock.” Aunt Hattie saved the day!
And Virginia got her ring.
got the beautiful white graduation dress as well. Her two older sisters, Ruby and Ruth, and her aunts went together
to make sure that happened.
was one lucky girl. Late in the 1920’s
the Post-Searchlight held a contest for new subscribers. Ruby entered and won the grand prize—a Ford
Model A touring car that quickly became the family car. Virginia says she’s been a Searchlight
subscriber since then.
times were hard, the Wilson family has many joyful memories, particularly of
gathering around that double pen log house.
Not just the perlows, but all year long. Hog butchering was one special time, sugar cane grinding another.
But there was nothing quite like Christmas.
lasted a week. The family might work
hard all day, every day the rest of the year, but for this one week every day
was a play day—with dinner at a different Wilson family home every night. And every night there were fireballs.
fireball is a string ball that has been soaked in kerosene for about three
weeks. At night, there was no light
except for the glow of coal-oil lamps, then the young folks lit the fireball and
quickly tossed the glowing orb from one to another. Often, they had crackling bonfires and firecrackers, too—some of
them as long as eight inches.
one memorable occasion, some of the boys climbed up on the roof, and instead of
Santa Claus, a firecracker slid down the chimney—right into a room full
visiting ladies. The coals went all
over the room. The boys thought it was
funny, the ladies did not.
were served at some of those happy and exciting Christmas week dinners. Here is Virginia’s favorite sweet potato
Praline Sweet Potatoes
3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup sweet milk
1/2 cup butter
all ingredients together and put into a buttered 2-quart casserole.
the topping, combine 1 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup butter, 1 cup
chopped nuts and sprinkle over the potatoes.
Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
Virginia made me think about going to a chicken pilau (or perlow). I missed several in November—the First
Baptist Church in Attapulgus, the Coon Bottom Pilau in Gadsden County and the
Swine Time event in Climax. I already
have these on the calendar for next year.
Is your church or organization planning one soon? If so, please let me
know. I’d love to come.
know Ole Dad’s real name, remember the Front Porch Pickers or fireballs?
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network