Tennessee Mountain Stories

Puttin’ Up Beans

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Did someone teach you to put up beans?  I don’t know that I ever remember lessons per se, but I certainly remember breaking beans with Grandma.  And I watched both my Grandmothers canning all matter of things.  Well through nothing but Christian charity I found myself with 4 or 5 bags of beans so I turned in to get them canned.  And my Ruthie was very excited to help – in fact, she said she was “super excited.” 

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Well, it’s a process… she couldn’t get the ends off the beans (I was thanking the Good Lord that they weren’t very stringy beans) and she really would only break them in half.  I’m afraid we lost a good bit to the scrap bowl because she would throw the broken beans into the wrong place.  And by the time I was finished she was sitting in the bowl. 

Canning beans isn’t a difficult task – sitting and breaking can get a little monotonous I suppose.  And I have to look up the pressure cooker settings every single time.  So what did I learn at my Grandma’s feet?  A love for preserving; a desire to prepare for the coming winter, a refusal to waste… there were so many lessons there!  And these are lessons I feel bound to pass along to my own children.  There will be more baskets of beans to break and as they get older I’ll be requiring them to participate.  Ruthie helped scoop beans into the scalded jars, she watched as I poured boiling water on top and tightened down lids.  I explained the pressure cooker gauge even though I know we’ll have that same discussion the next time we have some beans. 

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I wonder how many times Grandma explained it all to me?  I wonder how many rust spots and worm holes she picked out of the pan after I’d helped her so much?  I wonder if she knew what a gift she gave me in her teaching?

 

October in Tennessee

 

Last week I shared several events around the region during September.  Today I want to give you some ideas for Saturdays in October.

 

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October in Tennessee is a marvelous thing – I can hardly wait, although I sure don’t want to wish away these last weeks of summertime.  But October brings clear blue skies that’ll nearly break your neck for want of staring at them.  And cool temperatures that prompt leaves to turn colors that man will try the whole year to replicate in paint or fabric and we can never quite achieve the beauty the good Lord showers on His trees.

Hmmm.. okay, but what’cha gonna do on these beautiful weekends?  Let’s get out and learn something!  Let’s go see the kinds of things our grandparents were doing on beautiful autumn days.  Here are some ideas:

October 6, 2018 will find the good folks in Allardt, TN weighing pumpkins just as they’ve done for the past 26 years.  There will also be crafts and food,  beauty queens of all ages, a parade, races and a pumpkin-rolling contest.  Whew, can you really pack all that fun into just one day?

That same day Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville will host their Fall Fest at The Hermitage.  Billed as a “spectacular weekend of art, music and history”, this event on the beautiful Hermitage grounds sound very fascinating to me.  Tickets to the event are free but you would have to pay the $20 admission to the museum to actually see the house or their regular exhibits. 

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On October 13th Rogersville Heritage Days offers visitors a “traditional community celebration” complete with demonstrations of pioneer skills, antique quilts, cars and farm equipment along with Appalachian dancers and Civil War reenactments.  I’m particularly fascinated by Rogersville’s history because I keep seeing that town named when doing genealogical research.  It seems that a number of Plateau boys were taken captive from Rogersville during the Civil War so I’ve been wanting to visit the town anyway.  This one is definitely on my list for the season.

Rogersville is a bit of a drive so if you’re not keen on the road trip, Monterey will be hosting their Standing Stone Days that same weekend.  There is a train excursion associated with this day, but you do have to go to Nashville to board the train – there’s no boarding in Monterey.  You can see antique cars on display, crafts and food will be available as well as a flea market.  This is Monterey’s 125th year so the Standing Stone Day should be a great festival this year.

The third weekend in October doesn’t seem very popular with festival schedulers but there’s still lots to do that weekend.  Why not visit one of the area corn mazes?  Autumn Acres in Crossville has 10 acres of corn cut into 3 different mazes.  They also claim hay rides, a petting zoo and “kids corral” with slides, tunnels and a hay mountain.  For $17 VIP admission, everyone goes home with a pumpkin. 

In Sparta Amazin Acres of Fun offers 3 different mazes, a busy bee zip line and tire mountain.  Their admission is $12 each with additional cost for wagon rides.

Slipping into November, The Museum of Appalachia will have their annual Fall Heritage Days November 9th and 10th.  There’s a $20 admission to this event but it includes both the museum’s regular exhibits as well as the special weekend displays of hands-on activities like rag doll making or weaving, and mule and tractor contests as well as tons of pioneer demonstrations and bluegrass music.

 Cody Hull band

Cody Hull band

As I said last week I didn’t mention any of the county or agricultural fairs that abound in the next 3 months.  And I only made a passing comment here or there about the music in these festivals.  There are dozens of bluegrass festivals all around the area during the fall and they are always worth a visit. 

I can’t wait to hear what y’uns do with your fall weekends.  I’ll try to post pix of my adventures on Facebook.

Fall Fun, Learning and Remembering – SEPTEMBER 2018

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If you’ve read the “about” section of Tennessee Mountain Stories, you may have noted that when I started the website I intended to visit places and events of interest and report back on them here.  Well I have lots of good intentions.  We’re now better than 5 years into the blog (how time does fly when you’re having fun!) and I don’t think I’ve reported on any events.  Well this year I intend to do better (see my good intentions!)  So, I sat down to chart out my family’s fall calendar and just as I expected, Tennesseans did not let me down.  Without even counting county and agricultural fairs and music festivals, I found a different event around the area for every weekend in September and October save two and I wanted to share some of the ones that looked most interesting to me.  I won’t be able to make all of these but if you’re attending (or vending!) at one of them I’d welcome a note and any pictures you wanted to share with the readers of The Stories.

We aren’t quite to harvest season yet but Middle Tennessee certainly sets us up for the festival season with the Highway 127 Yard Sale.  Now we’ve talked about this sale here before (and I’m sure we’ll visit it again – it’s happening this very weekend you know.

Then September always kicks off right with the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee.  Events last eleven days and culminate on Saturday evening September 1st after which a new horse will be the World Grand Champion Walking Horse.  This event is a little different than the historical festivals I focused on during the rest of my search, but it is so quintessentially Tennessean that I can’t help but note it.  My family has a reunion that’s almost as long-standing as The Celebration so I rarely get to attend but I always feel like I’m there in spirit.  Horses are so much a part of our history and heritage, and frankly such a part of my own childhood that it’s hard to imagine loving history and studying history without appreciating those beautiful beasts.

September 8th will find mountain men and women celebrating in Spencer, Tennessee at the annual Mountaineer Folk Festival.  This event is “dedicated to the perpetuation of the cultural history of the Cumberland Plateau”.  It will include music, storytelling and food – what mountaineer wouldn’t want to attend?  But better still are the pioneer skill demonstrations.  This is really what draws me to all of these events.  I love to watch the ones I know nothing about and study those skills I’ve attempted to learn.  Always I come away wanting to learn more!

The next weekend I’m interested in the Days of the Pioneer Antique Show in Clinton, Tennessee.  This one even has a tractor pull – okay that leaps a little forward in history from the Walking Horse Celebration a couple of weeks earlier, but it sure is fascinating to watch those old machines work and to realize how they began to change the face of the Tennessee farm.  This event is held at the Museum of Appalachia which is a little pricier than most of the other events at $15 per person (advanced purchase price).  However, it’s an enormous show and you have access to some of the museum’s static exhibits and the cost is about the same even on weekends when there is no festival. 

September 22nd Cookeville hosts the Upper Cumberland Quilt Festival.  This show is in its 29th year and seeks to preserve the art and heritage of quilting and related arts, showcase quilts and needle arts”.  While most of the items on display will be new creations, this was once every wife and mother’s best means of expressing her creativity and filling her home with beauty.  It’s a skill worth celebrating.

At the same time The Mount Juliet Pow Wow will be honoring and remembering our Native American Heritage – something I long to learn more about because Cherokee roots are so deep among our people. 

 Winding up September, I found a couple of events I am very interested in on September 29th.  In Cookeville’s Hyder-Burks Pavilion the Middle Tennessee Antique Engine & Tractor Association will host their annual Fall Festival and Show.  Again this will include not just the old tractors but living history demonstrations.  Add in a flea market and swap meet and there’s just no telling how much fun could be had there.

If you’re interested in a little drive, or maybe you’re reading this from the Eastern Time zone and the drive wouldn’t amount to much for you – Townsend is also hosting a Fall Heritage Festival.  Now good Bluegrass music abounds at most of these events – it is after all the music of the mountains!  But Townsend advertises their demonstrations specifically, promising not just tractors and stories but spinning, weaving, molasses-making and apple-butter making as well.

Wow, there were so many events to share with you (and I only chose 1 or 2 each weekend in a very limited part of Tennessee) that the article got really long.  So I’ll break this off at the end of September and share the October events next week.

Normal Families

A friend was recently sharing with me how her adult children are causing her grief and the feeling of failure she has as a mother.  She asked, “Are any families normal anymore?” Well you guessed it, that got me to thinking…

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The question of normalcy is not about right and wrong but about what everyone else is doing.

The Cleavers defined family in 1957 and that’s the picture many of us maintain today.  Mama at home in high heels and perfectly coifed hair, Daddy comes home with an un-mussed suit to two children who are not never angelic but who always see their mistakes within the allotted 30 minute time slot.  Oh for a sit-com life! 

So when was the world filled with Cleaver-like families? 

Well, not in the Old Testament where the very first family was so filled with jealousy that Cain killed his brother Abel, Abraham fathered a child with one of his servants, Lot tried to prostitute his daughters to the Sodomites, and Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery.  It really just goes downhill from there with Old Testament families burning their children to satisfy a pagan god, men taking multiple wives (let’s don’t even get started on Solomon and his 1,000 woman harem) and warring and killing within families.  Now we know that God shows us the extremes of human depravity to teach us the importance of obedience and the cost of sin.

We’ve talked here before about families that gave away children because they simply couldn’t feed everyone; that created homes with children from more than one family living together.  When maternal mortality rates were near 40% in the 1800’s and the life expectancy just beginning to climb beyond 40, what we now call blended families were downright normal as men would remarry quickly after losing a wife in childbirth – sometime with the newborn surviving and needing care – and a widow had little means of supporting herself and her young children.

As we discussed here a few weeks ago  the census records often show us “boarders” or “servants” living in a home who we know to have been nieces or cousins; these people were more part of the family than paying guests.  Even strangers renting a room often married into the family in the days of limited travel and sometimes limited courting opportunities.

So this question of family troubles is nothing new – but Solomon said that, didn’t he? Ecclesiastes 1:9 “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

Garden Mystery

Well we’ve come to the time of year when fresh garden vegetable abound.  Now, I’m not a very good gardener.  I was working in the garden a couple of weeks ago and thought to myself that I’m glad my Grandpa couldn’t see the poor potato patch I’ve raised – he’d just shake his head; he wouldn’t say a word but I know that he would be thinking that I might starve to death this winter.

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But that fear that my family will hunger drives me to keep putting out a garden despite my poor skills.  And this year I did it again.  My favorite garden vegetable is Squash – as I’ve mentioned here before.  And I try to plant it several times so it keeps producing until the harshest of frosts.  This year I opened a packet labelled with a beautiful yellow squash on the front and planted a few hills.  After a few days of heavy rain they were well sprouted but had washed out of their place and were growing between the rows.  I moved a few but decided I could work around the rest.  I was mistaken.

As the plants grew I knew they weren’t squash because they put out these great long runners.  Could I have mistakenly planted cucumbers in those hills?  Not to worry, I love cukes too.  Then the leaves broadened and I knew they weren’t cucumbers.  Then the melons set on looking like those crook-necked squash I’d hoped for.  However, they were quickly striping-up.  Now I have huge plants – in fact they’ve taken over that part of the garden and I’m having to fight them back just to gravel out my pitiful potato patch.  We’ve been calling them the “Squash from Planet X” because they  look like something from a science fiction movie.

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I’m hoping y’uns can help me out in identifying them.  I’ll try to use them but I don’t know how until I can identify them.

This mystery makes me think about the generations of gardeners and farmers who had no opportunity to go to the local Farmer’s Co-op and buy a package of seed.  Instead, they carefully saved seed from plants they marked early on and left to fully mature.  Seeds were placed on a newspaper and set in the sun to dry out then stored in an envelope – or just wrapped up in that paper and carefully labelled.  Sharing seeds with family and neighbors was the sweetest of gifts and a favorite variety of beans or tomatoes were guarded like the most valuable treasure. 

Do you think anyone ever failed to label an envelope?  Or got a seed-present from a friend but didn’t get a good description?  Did any of those master gardeners ever face this mystery, wondering what was going to grow and what they’d do with it in the end?

And would my gardening abilities improve any if I didn’t have a reliable food supply network and I knew I and my family would be hungry if I didn’t raise enough food and didn’t store it properly?  Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’d be better at it in that situation.  In fact, I recognize that time is my biggest enemy in the garden.  There are too many things making demands of my time and the garden often falls too low on the priority list.  If my existence, or even my wintertime comfort, depended on it that garden would surely be more important!