Hopkins County Folk Lore
Memories of a Country BoyBy Contributing Editor, Carolyn Buntin Eveland
Recently my sister, Shirley Buntin Coventry, from Marysville, Ohio visited with my mother in Hopkins County, KY. Most country people still follow the old customs and when a relative lives far away and returns home, all the neighbors, cousins, aunts and uncles come a callin'. There's nothing any better than getting together to reminisce about family and those good old days. On this particular evening, our cousin Paul Buntin and wife, Beverly Clayton Buntin came to visit with us. Paul and Beverly have lived for many years in the Nebo area of Hopkins County. Paul is the son of my father's brother, Justin Buntin and Opal Board. He was raised on the Caldwell side of the Tradewater River right outside Dawson Springs in the Whitey or White School House community. Country people never come callin' if they can help it without bringing something to the widow or widowers of the family. Usually this is fresh garden produce in the summertime. Being the good nephew that Paul is to my mother, he picked nice, plump, juicy Cantaloupes from his garden just for her. Of course my sister and I got to them first.
Soon the merriment was underway as my sister and Paul recalled old times, old faces and familiar places. Hoots of laughter bounced off the walls as we giggled and talked our way through several hours of memories.
Now Paul is the kind of cousin everyone should have. He has an excellent memory and tells the best of stories sending us into gales of laughter. Like the one about the church meeting he attended with his father. . . . . .
There was an old house sitting on the corner of Niles Row Road and HWY 109 in the Charleston Community. It was being used as a Holiness Church about 1940. Now Holiness is a word that everyone in Hopkins County used for those of the Pentecostal Religion. Even those who were members of that faith called themselves that, so it wasn't a slur at all. There are still churches there with Holiness used in their official titles.
In the Holiness worship service, members of the congregation were known for their physical demonstrations of feeling "God's Power." The singing was the best and no one could keep a foot from tapping or fingers from drumming no matter how conservative they were. Pianos and guitars hammered away as the whole membership sang with gusto and fire. The congregation stood, stomping feet and clapping hands until they were red and stinging. As the music built to feverpitch, invariably someone would "get happy."
Getting happy meant just that. When the power of the Lord jumped on a person they could react in unpredictable ways. Some would tremble all over, others would raise their arms in the air, voices ringing out in praises to God. Some ran screaming up and down the aisles. This was called "Shoutin." Some members would dance. Trance like, with eyes closed, feet pounding in time to the beat, people danced out from their pews, into the aisles and front of the church. At times the dancing continued long after the music had stopped.
But there was a greater power than the above known as "getting' slayed in the Spirit." With just a touch of a hand, anointed by the Mighty Power of God, a person could get "slayed." Usually a preacher or someone who was being possessed by the Holy Ghost at the time would slap his palm on the forehead of a person to anoint them. That person would immediately fall to the floor in a semi-state of unconsciousness. Usually there were "brothers or sisters" (normally older members of the church who watched for these occurrences) present who made sure the descent to the floor was gently made. Sometimes there were not.
Paul says in those days it was common practice for drunks to wander in the holiness churches on a regular basis. I remember that too. There was usually always one or two that had been tipping the bottle before they arrived and I've seen some who had obviously just crawled out of that bottle. No one knows why they came. It could have been in pursuit of "getting saved" or to enjoy the music. The churches were tolerant of these men for they were always well behaved in the Lord's House. Thinking it was better to expose them to the joys of God's work, rather than berate them for being in their present condition, the sinners were allowed to be seated. Besides, the berating would come, not from the singers but when the fire and brimstone preacher took to the podium. Then, by golly, those men would be told in no uncertain terms that they were going to split hell wide open with a broomstraw if they didn't change their wicked ways.
As Paul and his father enjoyed the service, two old drunks staggered and weaved their way through the door and found themselves seats with a bird's eye view. The music, clapping and dancing was "raisin' the roof" off the church. One pretty young woman was especially "happy." She had danced and shouted her way through most of the service. With eyes closed and near frenzy, she whirled close to the two drunks who were watching with great interest, even yelling out a few "Amens" of their own. The woman was suddenly slain by the Spirit and down she went. Hitting the floor hard, her legs came up and so did her dress. An old sister ran to the fallen angel's assistance and pulled her dress discreetly over her legs. Once again, the leg's rose to the ceiling and again the dress fell away, exposing legs and thighs. The church sister hastened to her once again but before she could reach the thrashing woman on the floor, one of the drunks became so excited he yelled at her, "If it's the Lord's will for that dress to be up, then leave it up"!
Paul had another story about a self-proclaimed preacher who thought he could preach with the best of them, but nobody else considered him a preacher so it was doubtful if he was really a preacher at all. Get the picture? This man shall remain nameless for obvious reasons. He lived near the Purdy Town community between Dawson and Beulah, back in the "hollers." Matter of fact it was in Happy Holler that he lived. Not finding a church that would hire him as a full time minister, he got his preaching done anyway. Attending different churches, he waited impatiently for the call to "testify." To testify usually meant two or three sentences thanking the Lord for His blessings or what happiness Jesus had brought to one's life. When it came his turn to testify, this man flat out preached and it went on and on. The congregation was held in hostage.
At times the man sat on his Happy Holler porch in the darkness of night. If he couldn't preach in a church, well, there were ways around that. Dashing into his house, whether he had company or not, or maybe especially if he did, he returned to the highest point of his yard and began to preach the gospel into the night air at the top of his lungs. . . . . with a bullhorn.
Paul had an ideal childhood. He and his friends rode horses through woods and over tops of bluffs, playing hide and seek on horseback. The fir trees were so thick then, one could jump from one limb to the other, then from tree to tree and never touch the ground. This game was known as "playing squirrel." One day the game came to an abrupt halt as one of the boys, Gale Pritchett fell from a tree breaking his shoulder very badly. That cooled their antics for awhile, but in the true tradition of country boys, not for long. At the age of seven or eight, Paul and his friend built a little log cabin. The boys used a cross-cut saw to cut the wood and even put a roof on it. They even stored food in there. One day they entered the cabin all geared up for a little snack to find one of the neighborhood boys had been there and helped himself to all their food.
Paul vividly recalls going to work one day with my father, Jewell Buntin. My dad and Paul's father worked in Obie Beshear's coal mine located on Olney Road near Dawson Springs, KY. My father had promised Paul that he would take him down in the mines sometime. Receiving permission from Mr. Beshear and my Uncle Justin, the big day had arrived. Paul was eight years old.
My father's job was driving the coal cars from deep within the mine to the near surface with a mule. Those mules were uncommonly small, while possessing great strength and were called Bank Mules. Shetland Ponies were also used, but not this day. In the depths of the coal tunnels, miners shoveled coal into the empty cars. Placing Paul atop the rounded heap of coal, the return trip to the surface began. The only lights in the deep blackness were the carbide lamps placed intermittently and headlamps the miners wore on their hard-hats.
Paul's father worked on the "outside" of the mines operating a cable hoist. As the loaded cars neared the mine entrance, Daddy would hook the hoist cable to the car. A button was pushed which turned on a light in the tipple letting Uncle Justin know that a loaded car was ready to pull up. Putting the hoist into action, the car was pulled to the surface where the coal was dumped into the shute. Another empty car had been waiting for Dad and back down into the darkness he and his young nephew went.
My father was known as one of the biggest jokesters around. His pranks and antics were legendary, even if not discreet at times. As Paul sat perched on top of the mound of coal, the trip to the "top" began again. As the mule trudged his heavy load uphill, he began to pass gas. Not one to miss an opportunity, my Dad snatched his carbide lamp off his head, and placed it behind the straining mule. The mule continued to do his business and Paul says a blue flame shot from behind the mule's buttocks a foot long! Paul also says that this day was one of the best days of his life.
As a young man, Paul and his friends participated in hunting and fishing as recreation. In one night of frog gigging, they killed 24 frogs and one squirrel. Building an open fire, the frog legs were fried along with potatoes, and the squirrel. Of course Paul ate too much and became ill. But this was only one night and there were many more country nights to follow when the moon was full and a man could sit by his fire, sharing food and laughter with his friends.
Paul's dad was a busy man. In addition to farming, he also worked in the coal mines and ran a little country store that sat next to their house. Paul used to help him make apple cider for sale at the store.
Two wooden barrels were set upon a trough. On top of the barrels the apple press was attached. Apples were dropped into the press, the lid was closed while a crank was turned grinding them into mush. The apples and the juice were then dropped into the barrels. Finally the juice began to run from the hole in the bottom of the barrel and into the trough. Containers were at the ready and the juice was bottled on the spot.
Coca-Cola bottles that had been returned to the store were used for bottling some of the cider. New caps were placed on them and sold to students who attended Whitey School for 5 cents a bottle.
My sister Shirley loved apple cider and would drink as many bottles of it as she could. Ultimately, she learned that rotten apples, including the worms were also used in the making of it right along with the good fruit. After fifty years, she still shakes her head at the memory, makes a terrible face, saying "After finding that out, I could never drink another drop and to this day, I still can't."
Making cider sounds simple, doesn't it? It was simple but labor intensive, the process taking many hours of backbreaking work.
Farmers in those days also raised Sugar Cane for the making of molasses, syrup and juice. Using a "corn knife", the cane was sliced off even with the ground and piled into bundles. The skin and leaves were stripped away immediately. The canes were then loaded onto a wagon and hauled away to the mill.
In the middle of a circle stood the grinder where the cane sticks were placed. Underneath it lay an underground trough which the juice would seep into. A mule was harnessed to a pole which was attached to the grinder. As the mule walked around the circle, the reason for the underground trough became clear. Nobody wanted the mule to step in it perhaps breaking a leg or worse. As the mule circled, the grinder turned, crushing the cane. The juice ran into the trough, from there it flowed into a waiting vat. While it cooked, foam settled on top of the liquid where it was scooped away from time to time.
Afterwards, the juice was sold in the Buntin store. Other people sold it from their yards or along the sides of the road. In addition to molasses and syrup, cane juice was used in the making of rich desserts.
Then there was hog killing day for the farmers. Neighbors always assisted each other and gathered at the appointed house for the big day. Uncle Justin had a vat that measured about 6 or 7 feet long, 2 ½ feet wide and 2 feet deep. A platform for butchering the hogs was built alongside it. A fire was built under the vat. Water added to the vat had to be hot enough to scald the hair from the hogs hide. Paul says his dad taught him how to tell when the water was ready for the hogs. He took three fingers and drew them three times, fast, through the water. If his fingers were almost burned, the water was hot enough to do its job.
In the meantime, hogs were being rounded up and killed. There were various ways of accomplishing this task. Some men cut the throats, others shot them. The jugular vein was then cut and the hogs were turned on their sides, emptying the body of blood. The entrails were removed and the pigs were ready for the vat. After the hair had been scalded away, the hogs were hauled to the platform and cut into portions as pork chops, shoulder, pork loin, etc. Everything was washed, packaged and labeled as the day wore on. After the liver was removed, it was rushed to the house where most families enjoyed it for supper that night.
There was work still to be done in the days ahead such as the making of sausage, cracklin's, and rendering of lard. People worked hard for their living in those days. Mostly self reliant, people ate the animals they raised and the food they grew. That was the way of the farmer in those days.
As a young man, Paul followed in his father's footsteps with many long hours of work performed each day, often seven days a week. At 4:00 am he rose and headed for the barn, milking 10 cows by hand. Pouring the milk into a hand cranked "separator" the work of dividing the Blue John from the cream began. His brother Jimmy, visiting with us a few days before had also told me about this same process. Until then I had never known what Blue John was. Blue John is the skim milk that's left over after the cream has been separated from it. Turning the crank was hard work. One had to maintain a constant speed so the cream would be consistent in thickness. The separator had two spouts. Blue John would pour from one spout into waiting buckets, the cream came from another spout.
Some people also drank Blue John but mostly milk straight from the cow was used for drinking and cooking. Almost all the Blue John was fed to the hogs. The cream was taken to the house also. The separator was then cleaned before he left the barn.
After all this work, Paul left for his day job. Upon returning home he again milked the cows and completed the same process as he had that morning. This time however, the separator was taken apart and cleaned with boiling water. It would be after 11:00 pm that night before his chores were finished and he could finally head for bed.
The cream was finally taken once or twice a week to be sold. The old train depot in Dawson Springs was one place that Paul took his cream to be sold and The Creamery at Princeton, KY was another one. You might say it was very profitable when a gallon of cream sold for about a dollar each. Now consider this, it took 15 gallons of milk to make 1 or 2 gallons of cream. Remember all the painstaking work it took to get those 15 gallons of milk and turn them to one gallon of cream?
Butter was usually made at home for the family. Pouring milk into an old fashioned hand churn, the making of butter began. The dasher sat inside the churn, attached to a long stick or handle coming through the churn lid. The churn was positioned between the knees of the churner. Up and down went the handle of the churn powered only by tiring arms, over and over again. The lid was removed after a period of time and the milk checked. If the milk was processing as planned, the taste would be "blinked", or taste old. After another check further along, the milk would become sour and began to "clabber." When the cream had formed into little semi-solid chunks on top of the milk, the butter had been made. The clabbered milk left in the churn was Buttermilk. As our family agreed, there was nothing better than fresh buttermilk straight from the churn eaten with crumbled cornbread.
The butter was scooped into the hands after removal from the churn. Working the butter by squeezing and pressing, all excess liquids were removed from the butter. Next came the buttermolds, something of which I wasn't aware of. Butter molds were usually round, having a design on the inside of the mold lid. My sister recalled that our mother's mold had an engraving of a rose as did Paul's mother's. As the lid was pressed into the butter, the design was transferred onto the top of the butter. Dressing up the kitchen table, it was almost a shame to slice into the butter rose.
My sister remembers that when processed margarine first appeared on the market, it was totally white. A packet of yellow food coloring was included with some brands which helped it appear to be more like butter.
I can't thank Paul enough for giving me insights into the ways of our family that I had only heard of, but never knew. I hope we can get together again soon and cover more uncharted family memories.
Oh by the way, for you wanna-be dairy farmers out there, here's one last tip from Paul. Jersey and Guernsey Cows give more milk than Holsteins. Happy milking!
Copyright © 2000 by Carolyn Buntin Eveland
Nancy Trice, © 2000