Hopkins County Folk Lore
Going To Town on Saturday MorningBy Contributing Editor, Carolyn Buntin Eveland
Early in the morning, Hopkins County's early settlers were harnessing horses to wagons in preparation of a visit into the nearest town. Men would be driving wagons of all descriptions loaded down with needed supplies on the return trip home. It was a Saturday of course and these trips were only made once a month if that. Sometimes these treks into town couldn't be made for two or three months during the inclement winter weather.
It was a lot colder in Hopkins County in the month of November then than it is now. Heavy coats were already in use and a deep snow could have fallen by now. Getting in the supplies for winter was essential.
A visit to the general store was one of excitement for the early women settlers. Often stranded miles from the nearest neighbor, the pioneer women jumped at the chance to "go to town". The best clothes were donned; the prettiest bonnet and even the best shoes were waxed with hog grease for that perfect shine.
If the children were allowed to go, pictures of candy filled their heads causing tiny feet to dance in excitement. Smaller tots were kept under the watchful eye of the mother while other children of any size would be free to roam the small town. Older boys had to stay with their father for the loading of heavy goods into the wagon.
Soon the family set off in a horse drawn wagon over bumpy dirt roads for the usually long trip into town. Leaving early in the morning as soon as chores could be completed was wrought from necessity as the trip could be long and extremely slow going.
Mother and the smaller children were dropped off first at the local general store. Of course, items of need were to be purchased but more than anything the store was the local gathering place for women to meet.
The town would be bustling on a Saturday morning as people attended to shopping and business matters. Women held long skirts just above the toes in an effort to protect hemlines from the dirt and dust of the street. In the very early days, businesses had only hard packed dirt for sidewalks. As time went on, most owners obliged their customers by building wooden sidewalks and porches onto the storefronts.
Bolts of material were lain across the counter for comparison while the ladies talked non stop, giving and receiving as much news as possible until the next short visit allowed them to talk again. Who was ill, who had given birth and who was getting married were the topics of conversation. While our pioneer mothers spoke of the deadly croup their child had just overcome, that same little tot would be swatted repeatedly for sneaking into the cracker barrel without permission. Other children looked longingly upon the candy jar with salivating mouths and pleading eyes. In the end, a few pieces of candy might be purchased for the same tike who had just been reprimanded for snitching crackers.
Fancy "already made" bonnets were tried on a dozen times by a dozen women. Most declined to buy since money for the early settlers in Hopkins County was scarce. They opted instead to choose from the many rolls of colorful ribbons on display. New ribbons for an old bonnet could be justified; an extravagant new bonnet could not.
Needed items of cookery could be purchased here as well. If the town offered no mill, ponderous bags of meal and flour could be had. Jugs of molasses, cane syrup, and honey were there for the taking. Salt and sugar too were bought here along with dried beans and fresh produce when in season. Why, a person could even buy bottled tonics here if they so chose. Oil and lamps were sold for lighting those long winter nights and at the same time seeds for early spring planting were for sale. Hoes and shovels to tend those gardens were hung from the walls while stacks of wooden buckets filled every corner. The store had everything a family needed including rope and nails. Father himself would visit here before the day was over.
Children confined too long upon the hard boards of the wagon bed, raced through the town in wild abandonment. Meeting their counterparts from neighboring farms spurred the children into flight. They ran into the general store, making sure mother remembered to buy candy for them as well as the little ones, they hooted as they ran down the street as if their pants were on fire. They would investigate the livery stable, the mill, and stand in front of the saloon hoping to witness a bar room fight. The boys shot marbles in rings of dirt and young girls sat upon the porch edges pretending to be elegant ladies watching the world go by.
In the meantime, father was conducting business as usual. He too thoroughly enjoyed meeting with neighbors and swapping information. Crops and chores were discussed endlessly. The farmers wore battered hats and suspenders held up their homemade britches.
It was hard for women to talk without fingering material, fondling lace or some other activity that kept their hands busy. Not so with the men. Lounging against the nearest wall or fence of the livery stable, a blade of straw between their teeth, men were in no hurry to move along. Men announced the date of their fall hog killing, inviting neighbors over to help in the arduous work at hand. Horses were for sale here and even if the farmer was flush with horses of his own, quality time was taken in the rubbing of shanks, examination of the teeth and the checking of hooves. Hogs and sometimes a cow could be had for sale as well.
The livery stable was usually a blacksmith shop as well. It was a warm place that called numbed hands to stretch over the hot anvil as the winter months came calling.
Here the settlers brought tools in need of repair, had their horses shoed, mended broken chain links or purchased new ones on the spot. Barrels of nails in different lengths were waiting for the farmer who needed them. Sometimes even slabs of lumber could be found at this store. These heavy items were laboriously stacked upon the wagon floor weighing the conveyance down considerably.
The next stop was the mill if it had one. Bushels of corn were brought here for grinding into meal. Earlier in the season, wheat would have gone through the same process at this same place. Fathers and strong sons hoisted heavy bags into wagon beds for the long trip home.
In the meantime, the Post Office was a place that must be visited. News from the outside world could be gathered here, a world that was far removed from our pioneer families. Here letters were posted to far away relatives and friends. In turn, long awaited letters from far off kin were snatched from the hands of the clerk with hungry sighs. News from loved ones far away, probably never to be seen again, were read, and reread time and time again. The only links the family now had to fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers left behind, were these precious letters. They would never be thrown away, instead stashed lovingly in a safe place to be read again on long lonely nights.
Newspapers could be found at a variety of places in town. World events and the latest government news could be found in its pages. Even if a person couldn't read, one only had to stand nearby to hear the conversations that took place among those that could.
The days had grown shorter with the approaching winter with darkness descending early in the evening. It was time to round up the family and begin the trek home. Father had made his necessary rounds including the general store and mother had rounded up the children. Larger youngsters were perched upon the many sacks of supplies in the wagon while younger ones were snuggled between the bags, covered by a blanket to sleep the miles away. Provisions of bread and bacon or sausage were handed out. The little family filled hungry guts while the wagon bumped and thudded its way along the path home.
It was dusky dark as the wagon pulled inside the barn. Babies and young children were pulled from the wagon and steered for the house. The unloading and storage now took place among grunts of effort by father and sons. Horses were rubbed down, fed and the necessary kitchen items brought to the house.
Once inside, mother had "stoked up" the fireplace and a light evening meal was in preparation. Bursting with the news of the day's affairs, the family sat down to sup together. Amid spoonfuls of beans and fried potatoes, each member recounted the news and happenings they had gleaned from their neighbors. It was a time of family closeness as blackness covered the farm, the firelight cocooning them in a world of their own. Perhaps a world of loneliness, back breaking labor, failed crops and illness and death, but never the less; it was their world. A world that celebrated each birth be it foal or human, a world where friends come to the aid of one in trouble, a world that this family had built with the sweat of their brows and thanksgiving in their hearts. They took nothing for granted but gave thanks to their Creator for every blessing given them. As the last lamp was blown out, each eye fluttered closed, a feeling of utter contentment lulled one and all to sleep.
Copyright © 2000 by Carolyn Buntin Eveland
Nancy Trice, © 2000