Picture Post Card

My grandmother recently shared with me a small group of pictures that came from her own grandmother.  My Great-great grandmother lived from 1886 until 1977 so these are pretty old pictures and quite a treasure.

As I looked through them I flipped each one over to see if any names or identity clues had been left.  Several of them were setup to be mailed as a post card.  One had actually been used to write a letter, although no address is included so it was clearly mailed in an envelope.  I found this little glimpse of turn-of-the-century communication to be so charming I just had to share it with you.

The note is written to Elbert and Euphemia Hixson from her sister Lizzie. I have inserted punctuation (neither period nor comma was used throughout her writing) as well as paragraph breaks in hopes it’s a little easier to read.

Dear Phemie & Elbert,

We have been looking for a letter from you ever so long, are still expecting you all up here this fall.  I am thinking of visiting Tennessee next summer if I don’t change my mind. 

I believe we’ve had the driest time I ever saw.  My well gets low when I wash but soon fills up again.  Sure have fine water and I have my winter stove wood already up too.  That is a great relief. 

Write soon.

Lizzie Hixson



There you have it.  Less than 250 words written to a sister she had not heard from.  In that she manages to share travel plans, weather report and winter preparations.  She doesn’t explain the picture on the post card – maybe this was her usual writing stock and her sister would not have wondered about the image.  With both greeting and salutation on the card, I wouldn’t expect there was anything else in the envelope. 

Don’t you just wish you could ask her a whole bunch of questions after reading this?  I sure do. 




Country Roads

Ah, the thought of a country road conjures movie scenes, old tales and song lyrics galore. 

Now I didn’t grow up on a dirt road – in fact they’re pretty hard to find these days.  Nor do my children play in a dusty path, but you couldn’t convince them that they are missing anything as they pick through gravels and find even the tiniest depression that holds water for splashing little shoes.  A trip to the mailbox is full of adventure and watching them again brings to mind fanciful memories.

A couple of weeks ago I included a picture of Ernest Hall standing no doubt along the path to his father’s  Roslin, Tennessee farm with a split rail fence on one side and a barn on the other side.  He’s probably in his early twenties but the joy in his smile makes you think that the hard work on that farm has not begun to dim his spirit.

So many of the stories I’ve heard all my life include walks along the Plateau’s country roads.  I recently drove from I-40’s Plateau Road exit across to Hwy 62.  The first novel I wrote (and have yet to release but I promise I’ll get it out one day) was largely set in the Elmore Community along Clear Creek Road.  Two characters in the book needed to travel toward that Plateau exit and I sent them along the Keye’s Road.  Today that road is a very narrow two-lane roughly paved road.  It’s bordered by over-arching trees, fence rows and homes.  I couldn’t help but imagine walking along it in the early morning hours at the beginning of a long journey.  Of course, in those no-fence-law days so many people took the nigh-way that well-worn paths crisscrossed the mountain.  We mainly have to stick to the roads these days but it’s still fun to think of the quiet of those days without motorcars.  It challenges me to think of the distances my forefathers traveled on foot.  And it thrills me that I have enough stories that I can begin to picture their steps along these same routes.

Hmm, now that I think of it country roads are almost as much fun for me as they are for my children.

Silly, Wiggly Jell-O

Is fruit flavored gelatin part of your childhood memories?  It certainly is in mine.  My Grandma always had a box on hand and she used it in all kinds of recipes.  But I find I never make it myself until the marketing department at Royal Gelatin cleverly added Spiderman’s image to the box.  You guessed it, my son spotted that right away and I couldn’t think of a good reason to say no that time.

Well as I mixed up the sweet blue stuff I remembered learning to make gelatin with Grandma and always finding a red or orange bowl in the refrigerator.  Images of the bowl of Jell-o on the table beside a plain cake and whipped topping surfaced. I never really cared for Jell-o on my cake but Grandma thought it was a great combination.

I assumed the popularity of gelatin was relatively recent since it does require refrigeration to set-up.  Imagine my surprise when Wikipedia reported that “the first use of gelatin in foods is attributed to Medevial Britains”.    It was even once considered something of a health-food for its high protein content.  Now, the box I mixed up this week shows only 1 gram of protein, but I suppose the kind they made from boiled cattle hooves would be significantly higher.

As early as 1845 dried gelatin was exported from Scotland to the United States.  Now gelatin is used to produce not just the instant dessert from my childhood but a host of other foods from marshmallows to yogurts, gummy candies and ice cream.

It didn’t take long for America’s sweet tooth to create the fruity dessert we are accustomed to.  In 1895 Pearl B. Waitand his wife May began experimenting with adding fruit juices to gelatin.  They would name it Jell-O.

The company’s slogans through the years are part of our American jargon and we all know you “can’t be a kid without it.”  Aren’t you glad “there’s always room for Jell-O!”

Don’t Fence Me In

Lots of us love old things and we often try to re-create them.  Split rail fences seem to be one of the most popular of these things but so many of us are just bad at building them.  I see them with fence posts holding them up, I see them in nearly a straight line.  Then, I saw this lovely split rail fence at Bledsoe Creek State Park in Gallatin, Tennessee and was thrilled to see one built halfway correctly so it got me to thinking about fences in general.

Fully fenced farmstead

Fully fenced farmstead

So just how was I to go about researching fences on the plateau?  Sure, I can ask questions but if everyone remembered how to build the things we wouldn’t see so many bad examples.  And, we’ve well established that photography was a luxury item not widely enjoyed by our ancestors on the Plateau so no one was wasting film on their fences.  Yet most of the old pictures I have were snapped out of doors so guess what’s in the background?  I found this pretty exciting to pour over my collection looking behind the main subject.  And I learned so much about the different fences of yesteryear.

This picture is labelled 1907.  The horizontal fence may be boards but very likely palings which could be produced on the farm without a sawmill.

This picture is labelled 1907.  The horizontal fence may be boards but very likely palings which could be produced on the farm without a sawmill.

Fences on both sides of the dirt road.

Fences on both sides of the dirt road.

First of all let’s establish that these days we fence animals IN.  In fact, if your stock is roaming and does damage (like wandering into the path of a moving vehicle) you are liable for that damage.  And that was true in the earliest days of the United States.  However, between the years of 1858 and 1947 the law required crops to be fenced in and allowed the animals access to ‘open range’.  That just sounds like something from a Western movie where cowboys rode out to round up the cattle and brand them so they could be differentiated from the neighbors’ herds.  But this is Tennessee Code. 

So if all the animals are gonna’ be roaming, anything you don’t want eaten or trampled had better be surrounded by a fence.  Are you going to go buy a few rolls of barbed wire?  Well it was available, having been patented as early as 1867 and with 150 companies producing it in the last quarter of the 19th century.  And there was some barbed wire in use on the mountain.  But we’ve established here many times that cash flow was always at a minimum in Appalachia and therefore our farmers used whatever materials they had in abundance. 

Paling Fence

Paling Fence

Trees.  That’s what the mountain had to offer in abundance for many, many years.  Hence the famous split rail fence.  But the more industrious land owner could split out flat palings to make something more like a board fence, or a picket fence. 

Rail fence built with Saplings

Rail fence built with Saplings

Every young boy knew how to split rails.  My grandpa told me at one point he could sell them for a penny apiece.  If you really put your head down you could make a dollar in a day – big money!  But notice the group picture here – that zig-zagging fence is made of saplings.  Do you get the idea that they were clearing out some land that had lain fallow for a few years and was taken by saplings so they just used what they were cutting?  I tell you what, the resourcefulness of these folks awes me.

So once you’ve got the barrier between you and the wild hoards, you’re going to need a gate.  Gates are expensive.  It’s not too hard to build a gate but a gate made out of palings would get heavy pretty quickly.  So the common gate was the draw bar.  Simply put four posts in the ground and lay more posts horizontally between them.  It might take a minute or two to get it open but it will certainly serve the purpose. 

Photo courtesy of Farm Hand's Companion

Photo courtesy of Farm Hand's Companion

Again the more industrious fencer could build wooden gates then find a way to hang them.  Any ironware meant money so they made wooden hinges with three boards mounted two on one side and the third on the other side and joined by a dowel in the center.  Pa Mac from Farm Hand's Companion shared with me some examples of these hinges he photographed in the Smokies and I'm pretty amazed by them.  He also reports he's saving special wood to try his hand at making them so we'll have to be watching his blog for a report on that.

Horizontal posts are a Draw Bar Gate

Horizontal posts are a Draw Bar Gate

I'd love to hear if any of you have seen these hinges in use on the Plateau, or if you've experienced opening a draw bar gate!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the backgrounds of these family pictures.  Maybe this little exercise will lead us to see more detail in all of our old pictures.


Goin’ Sallet Huntin’ by Callie Melton

 The following is taken from an article written by Callie Melton for The Standing Stone Dispatch in the early 1980’s.  I present it verbatim

Going sallet hunting in the Spring was a necessity even more important than making soap.  The holed-up cabbage, turnips and Fed Allreds had long been used up… so had the kraut and the smoked apples.  We were tired of leather britches.  Bacon, hominy, pone bread, Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes were ood to fill an empty belly, but did nothing to satisfy that craving for a mess of something fresh.  So when the first touch of green appeared in the woods and fields, we knew it was time to go sallet hunting. 

The women would take their baskets and knives and make an occasion of it, for it was rare indeed for the women to be away from the house like this.  They would start out right after breakfast, and would wander all through the nearby fields and woods until they got their baskets full.

They picked blackberry brier leaves, rabbit lettuce, pok weed shoots, broad leaf plantin, narrow leaf plantin, spotted dock, sour dock, creasy, violet leaves, lamb’s quarter, sheep sorrel, pepper grass and dandelions.  You picked only the very young tender leaves, and just the right amount of each kind o plant.  You couldn’t pick too much sheep sorrel or dock, or pepper grass for their flavors were so strong that they would spoil the whole mess.  When you got home, you picked over your sallet, washed it seven times under running water, and then you put it on to par-boil.  In the meantime you had put a good-sized hunk of smoked hog jaw in the pot and put it over the fire to cook… you had to cook your meat almost done before you put in your sallet.  After you sallet had parboiled for a few minutes, you drained off the water, then put the sallet in the pot with the hog jaw to finish cooking. 

Cooked Greens.jpg

The pot simmered over the coals until the sallet was tender.  The liquid in the pot was pot likker, and it was saved for the youngest and the oldest in the family… most usually there were three generations in every household.  You would put a big piece of pone bread in a bowl and pour some of the pot likker over it, then feed it to the baby.  Grandpa and Grandma would do the same way with theirs, except they would cut up an onion in their bowls.  If you didn’t have scallions in the garden, you just went out and hunted wild onions… sallet was’t sallet without an onion to go with it.