Holidays were special to farm children in the early 20th century. They, like their parents, worked every day, when they weren’t in school.
Excerpt from the memoirs of Neel S. Yent, born Oct. 7, 1896 near Whiskey George. Yent recorded his life memories at the request of his children and grandchildren.
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There were three occasions in the year that all of us children looked forward to with excitement and pleasure: Christmas, Easter and Fourth of July. Christmas was the one time in the year when through the many years, all of our family was together for at least two weeks. And, of course, we children looked forward to Santa Claus. We didn’t get much from old Santa – a toy, apple, candy and nuts for each child, but we really did appreciate what we got. We always shot fireworks on Christmas night. That was the custom in those days and never on the Fourth of July. I don’t know the origin of this custom.
Then, Mama and Papa never failed to invoke the real meaning of the spirit of Christmas. The week between Christmas and New Year was always “hog killing time.” The whole family was involved in this procedure. The hogs were caught down on the range with “hot dogs” several weeks before, to be fattened in time for this occasion. Papa supervised the butchering and cutting the portions to be smoked and Mama supervised the sausage making which was also smoked, with hickory wood.
I’ve had experience with and can tell all about wild “razor back” hogs. They forage in droves, usually eight or 10 in a pack; and are the most vicious animal imaginable when disrupted by dogs. It requires specially trained dogs (Pit bulls are especially good) to brave the fury of an irritated boar, for with his long tusks he can rip a dog unmercifully.
When it came time to catch a number for these hogs to be fattened, Papa, Rufus (Neel’s brother), Angus Morrison and I would go down on the range with the wagon and dogs, select the ones we wanted, catch and hogtie them, load them in the wagon and take them to the fattenen’ pen. It was quite an experience. Papa, Rufus and Angus wore heavy shoes called brogans and I went barefoot all the time.
Now, if one of those hogs came charging at you and if you’ve got the nerve enough, just stand still and when he gets in range kick him in the snout; this will turn him every time. I wore no brogans and the nearest tree I could shinny up was my defense. However, I did have one distinction in this category. I carried the label of “pig catcher.” Everybody marked their pigs and calves with a registered design cut on each ear. An unmarked hog or cow was free game for the taking. In those days I was a fast runner and I was always assigned the job of running the pigs down so Papa could mark them. Occasionally, he had to fight the old sow away from me when a pig would squeal. A hog dog wasn’t allowed to catch a pig because of the injury he would inflict.
I have a vivid memory of an occasion that gave Papa a big laugh, but at that particular time it wasn’t funny to me. One real cold day in December Papa said, “Son, there’s an old sow in the marsh by Duck Creek Pond with a litter of pigs and we’re going there and mark all those pigs.” We had no trouble finding them and I immediately caught a pig by the bank of the creek. He began to squeal and here came the old sow in a state of fury. Papa wasn’t close enough to kick her away, so I, instinctively, jumped in the creek and swam to the other side still holding the pig in one hand. I just realized how cold the water was. When Papa could control his laughing, he said, “Swim back over here and don’t turn that pig loose. I won’t let the old sow get you.” So with the pig in one hand, I swam back across the cold creek. Believe it or not, those were happy days.
Easter was always a happy time for all of us children who really believed that rabbits laid those pretty eggs. I was a big boy before I was convinced that rabbits were not responsible for all this. Being curious, I asked Mama and Papa how the rabbits colored the eggs and they’d tell me that at that time of year the rabbits ate different colored flowers which caused the eggs to be colored. I believed all this to the extent that I’d slip out into the woods and look in palmetto patches thinking I’d find “rabbit eggs” there. It was along time before I realized why Papa would take the younger children down to the bay fishing on a Saturday afternoon before Easter. It was so Mama and the oldest girls could boil and color “rabbit eggs.” Innocence can be the keynote that brings so much happiness to little children.
The Fourth of July was an occasion which everybody, children and grown-ups, in the East Bay area looked forward to. That was the day of the annual picnic which always took place at Sand Beach about two miles south of our home. The setting was perfect for a picnic being close to the water and surrounded by beautiful oaks and pines.
The most enticing things for the children were the barrel of lemonade and the fun of going bathing. The only facility for changing clothes to go bathing was two palmetto patches, one used by the girls and the other by the boys.
Making the lemonade was quite a procedure. Several men would cut and squeeze lemons. It took many lemons to make a barrel of lemonade. After the juice, water and sugar were put in the barrel, the mixture was stirred with a boat paddle until, by taste testing, the contents were declared to be palatable for all to enjoy. Then two tin dippers were hung by the barrel which everyone used. There were no such things as individual drinking cups in those days.
We Yent children were lucky in one respect. Papa owned the barrel that contained the lemonade and there was usually some left over which we took home and next day we were privileged to drinking ‘stale’ lemonade.
Only on one of these occasions did I have a feeling of dejection. As a little boy, I possessed a secret love for Rhett McCall, a pretty girl of about 21 years. Well, late in the day of the picnic I saw her and Tom Creel sitting on a log acting sort of ‘spoony’. I knew right then I’d been spurned, that my youthful romance was over.
People came from all over East Bay to these picnics.