Agriculture, Foodways, North Carolina, Oral History

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 5. Plowing through.

Week 5 of the 52 Ancestors Challenge asks bloggers to consider “plowing through.” I immediately thought of two very different recollections by my grandmothers of gardens their families’ tended in their childhood.


Me: Did you grow all your vegetables and stuff, or was there a store?

My mother’s mother: Child, Papa would, every spring of the year, Papa would start out with this great big garden. Everybody would be out there hoeing and carrying on and planting and doing. And he wouldn’t go back out there anymore, and in a few weeks, the weeds would have taken over. [Laughs.] Oh, we might have some things that grew quickly first. Now, we always had potatoes, white potatoes. He would plant white potatoes, and what else would he plant? Green peas. You know, like snow peas. And I can see now, the cabbage with the worms eating that up. [Laughs.] That was no good. And what else did he have out there? Tomatoes. He’d have tomatoes. That was just about all. There’d be just those things that’d come early in the spring. And we wouldn’t have anything later. And then we had somebody who came in and – we lived on about an acre. It was just about an acre of land. And he would have all this cornfield, cornfield and pole beans. Ohhh, I can see those beans and great big ears of corn. I don’t think Mama ever canned any corn or anything like that, but we would eat corn, and all the neighbors would eat corn from that cornfield. And this old gentleman that I told you that helped Papa…. What was that man’s name? I can’t think of it, but anyway, he was the one who cultivated the land and did the planting.


My father’s mother: Yeah, they said he could use it and grow a little cotton. Old Man Price was in a house over on one corner, and the school over here. And while he was working, plowing that garden where was on the side, Professor [Charles L.] Coon[, superintendent of Wilson city schools] let him have whatever he put in it. He would buy all the stuff to go in the ground, if he would just work it. The part there where was to the children’s playground. But they had it barred off, the children didn’t actually go over in that part. So he’d plant that, and then he’d [inaudible] me and Mamie had to get up two o’clock in the morning, go down there and pick up potatoes. Light night. It’d be so bright you could see ‘em. He’d plow it up, turn that ground over, and all them old potatoes down there, put ’em in baskets, and what we couldn’t see ‘fore it got real daylight, we had to go out there and pick ‘em up when it got day.

Interviews of Margaret C. Allen and Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.




Foodways, Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Oral History, Virginia

I never ate a bite in my life.

My grandmother, Margaret Colvert Allen: Papa was a hunter.

Me: He hunted?

My aunt: Papa was?

Grandma: Yeah. He hunted.

Me: So, he had hunting dogs.

Grandma: Yes, indeed. He had a place made to put his dogs in and — hound dogs, you know. Hunting dogs.

Me: Did — he hunted deer or smaller things?

Grandma: Naw. He never hunted deer. But he hunted rabbits and squirrels and quail. [Inaudible] and he would catch ‘em [inaudible] but I didn’t ever cook one. [Laughs.] His mother used to cook possum.

Me: Used to cook possum?

Grandma: Oh, possum, honey. They would cook those dern things.

Me: Well, possum stew. I guess I have heard of that.

Grandma: Hmm?

Me: Possum stew. I guess I have heard people talk about that.

Grandma: Naw. They didn’t have no possum stew. They’d bake this thing.

Me: Awwww!

Grandma: And, look, wait a minute. You know they’ve got big mouths. Long mouths. A possum. And he’d put a sweet potato in the possum’s mouth. [I laugh, hard.] I don’t remember cooking one, but my grandmother sure used to cook ’em. And Papa cooked ’em. But I refused to cook ’em. Not me. And you know these people when I came here ate muskrats?

Me: [Laughing.] In Newport News?

Grandma: John’s people ate muskrats. And you know the merchants would have ‘em hung up all on the outside the street, you know, like you used to have chicken cages where you could go and pick ….? Well, they would have these muskrats killed, and they were real bloody, and they would be hanging, and they’d just be killed. I mean, it wasn’t nothing wrong with ‘em if you liked that kind of thing. I cooked it for your daddy, but I declare before God I have never eaten a bite. [I laugh.] Not a bite.

My aunt: When I went to Africa, and we would take our day trips, they would have some kind of animal that they had split open –

Me: Butterflied. [Laughing.]

My aunt: And a rodent. Some kind of rodent. And I ain’t eating that. They had some kind of little rodent. And they had, like, barbecued it or something. And his head was still on.

Grandma: What you mean – little or big?

My aunt: Ma’am?

Grandma: How big would it be? ‘Bout the size of a squirrel or something like that?

My aunt: I don’t think it was a squirrel.

Grandma: Aw. Well, I don’t know what they were then. But, honey, these merchants on Jefferson Avenue used to have those muskrats hanging out there, honey, and you talking ‘bout bloody, and they would have skinned them, you know. And they were hanging like that. Ah. And bloodied. Ooooo. They would be so bloody. I fixed one and cooked it, but seriously, my hand to God, I never ate a bite in my life. I never intended to eat a bite. And my daddy didn’t like ‘em either. So my grandmother used to always bring him something down, she’d come down sometimes Sunday afternoon or Saturday night.

My aunt: Grandma Allen?

Grandma: No, no, no, no, no. My daddy.

Me: Harriet.

Grandma: She would always bring him something. Always bring him something. And this day she was supposed to have brought him some rabbit. Fried rabbit, you know. And I never shall forget. He sat over there by the window. Now, he’d had his dinner. He’d had Mama’s dinner, but when Grandma came and brought something he had to have some of that. He sat over there, and he ate, ate that piece of what he thought was rabbit, and he got down to the bone, and he knew it wasn’t rabbit. Because he didn’t – and he said, “Mama, what is this?” And she was crying laughing at him eating muskrat when he swore he’d never eat a bite. And she, I can see her right now. She was sitting over there, and, child, she was laughing. Laughing ‘til she cried. And Papa said, “You better be glad you’re my mama, ‘cause I certainly would whip you today if you weren’t my mama.” He was so mad.



Interview of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.