Hopkins County Folk Lore
By Contributing Editor, Carolyn Buntin Eveland
Growing up in rural Hopkins County before television, telephones, and computers were part of everyday life doesn't sound like it could have been exciting at all. Of course, the children of those days were lucky not to have known it wasn't exciting. If they had known how underprivileged they were why, there's no end to all the maladies that would have overcome them. Maladies such as extreme boredom most likely would have led to acute depression. This of course was because neglectful parents failed to provide their children with the appropriate outlets for creativity. Whew! Thank goodness these children knew how to have fun even though they were staring deprivation in the face and didn't know it! Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
On snowy winder days when old folks huddled around the "grate" or heating stove for warmth, children embraced the chance to literally roll in the white fluffy stuff falling outside their windows.
Upon awakening and finding the landscape all sparkly white, children could hardly be contained long enough to eat their breakfast. After stuffing food hurriedly into their mouths, washing it down with great gulps of milk, they were finally allowed to get on with the business of the day. Boys shoved beanpole legs into "long-handled" underwear, impatient with all the buttons that had to be fastened. Next came several layers of clothing before finally stuffing themselves awkwardly into coats that were hard pressed to fasten. Girls wore the usual pair of everyday stockings only adding several pair this day to keep them warm. If they were really brave and mother allowed it, donning big brother's pants came next. The girl who considered wearing pants on this snowy occasion would have been a young child and totally oblivious to the dress requirements of her older sisters. It just made common sense to them. Of course an older young lady with any knowledge of the etiquette of her day would never wear her brother's trousers. By all means however, a dress or skirt had to be worn over the pants. Decency couldn't thrown out the window just because a little snow had fallen on Hopkins County, didn't matter how young she was. Hats and "boggins" were pulled over ears and low over the forehead. Toboggans were for sledding and boggins were for the head. Everyone knew the difference for crying' out loud. If mittens or gloves were not to be had, pairs of socks pulled over the hands served quite well. Now the day could begin at last. The hushed silence of a new fallen snow was soon broken by the high-pitched war hoops of giddy children.
Children indulged in snowball fights right off the bat. Seems that the first order of the day was to ambush an unsuspecting friend and blast his hat off with a perfectly aimed ball right up side the head. The fight was on! Almost everyone took part unless they were exceptionally prissy girls and even worse, sissy boys. Snow was stuffed into shirt collars and down the coat backs of unsuspecting girls. Both girls and boys flopped backward in the snow looking for all the world as if some unseen hand had thumped them over simultaneously. With vigorous waving of the arms, snow angels took form and were inspected and judged with great sincerity. I don't remember who showed me how to make a snow angel but I remember teaching my own kids how to lay in the snow with arms stretched wide. One simply had to move the arms up and
down on top of the snow to create angel wings. Meanwhile the manly boys searched the undisturbed whiteness for animal tracks and many a poor animal ended up as the main course on the supper table that night all because it had snowed.
God was considered especially nice if He had put a hill within a mile of their homes. If God had included a curve to go with that steep hill well, then He was really looking out for them. It just couldn't get any better than that. The climb up the slippery slope began in great haste. Descending this hill on a flying sled would separate the cowardly from the bold. This business must be accomplished in very daring ways. Just to sit on a sled and fly down the hill was no fun at all! That was for the very youngest of the bunch and took no guts at all.
The real heroes of the hill came up with grand and inventive ways to master the ordinary sled. Two or three children would situate themselves on the sled and push themselves off, gaining speed as they neared the curve. All occupants of the sled had to lean the same way, if that wasn't done the much desired "wreck" took place. Bodies could be seen rolling in all directions amid screams of laughter. Some rode the sleds laying belly down with a buddy pancaked atop them. Others took up the challenge by mounting the sled on all fours. When this position was assumed, it was almost guaranteed the rider would be taking a spill at the curve. Everyone stood still, all eyes on the posturing child on hands and knees. When the big wreck came, it was considered a good run if his hat flew off, and a shoe or two could be seen tumbling down the hill, filling with snow as it bounced past the onlookers.
The ride down was exhilarating. Cold wind stung chapped faces and burned the eyes and what hair was sticking out of the boggin flew back in seemingly starched lines. It wasn't nearly as much fun if the rider made it to the bottom of the hill without a mishap. That was the whole point of the great descent in the first place. One had to take not just an ordinary spill, but be airborne the highest, make the longest succession of body tumbles, and lose at least one article of clothing in order to be proclaimed the master of the hill.
Creativity was born out of necessity in some cases. If no sled was to be had, other ingenious items were substituted in its place. Flat wide planks were used and the ride was made more fun for lack of a way to steer it. Planks hardly ever made it to the bottom of the hill, instead heading into the nearest ditch for a soft landing. Whoever rode the plank to the bottom of the hill, was considered to have great skill although he had done nothing to merit it. Everyone wanted to sit behind that person on the great plank ride to the bottom. Cardboard boxes in later years were also used as sleds. It was wonderful fun to cram as many bodies into the box as it could hold. Other kids pitched in to send the box flying downward. Sometimes the combined weight of the children was too much and the box wouldn't slide. Then came the necessary task of heaving someone out so the ride could commence. The box only lasted for a ride or two before the wet flimsy sides gave way dumping squealing children into the snow. The box then became a flat apparatus and skidded quite easily on packed snow. Boxes were great commodities to have on snowy days. One could use it to sit on the cold, wet snow. It was most often used however as a shield against the constant bombardment of hard-packed snowballs.
Old rubber tires were also pressed into service for the children. As automobiles became more common in the county, the worn out tires of these vehicles made wonderful sleds. One could belly flop across it or sit on the edge with legs stuck straight out in front. When the kids launched this spinning top down the hill, anything could happen. There was no guiding this contraption so it was quite ordinary for the tire and its passenger to overtake other sleds knocking the kids off their perch.
When wet shoes and soaked mittens became too uncomfortable to ignore any longer, the trek home was reluctantly made. Once inside and standing by the fire, wet clothes were quickly exchanged for dry ones. Socks, pants, mittens, and shoes were placed beside the stove to dry while children warmed frozen toes and fingers standing close to the heat. Children were pressed to eat and drink something warm and younger tots were made to rest. Howling with protest, they were efficiently put to bed. Sometimes if the weather was clear, sympathetic mothers were known to give permission for their offspring to quickly rejoin their comrades in the snow.
At the end of the day everyone headed for his or her respective home. In most cases the fun wasn't over yet. The family seated themselves around the kitchen table or the hearth. Little tongues licked chapped lips in anticipation as Mother brought out the freshly made snow cream. Snow cream was made from the snow itself. The snow had to be inspected very carefully when it was harvested from the ground. One must look for tiny black specks of soot that could have drifted down from the "chimley" or stovepipes. The coveted snow could not under any circumstance be collected from anywhere near animal pens and God Forbid, the always-present outhouses. Canned milk was then added to the snow along with sugar and vanilla flavoring. The result was a slushy dessert of the grandest magnitude, which had the entire family coming back for second, even third helpings.
The best fun came at night for the older children. Large bonfires were lit and the youngsters gathered around for fun and pleasure. When the full moon was shining on blankets of glistening snow, the surrounding landscape appeared as something quite magical. This surreal beauty was enjoyed for a just a moment until the guitar, fiddle or "french harp" was brought to the fireside. Favorite songs were played and sometimes there would be a little singing. Usually most of the kids were too bashful to take the lead however. As these children of yesteryear stamped numb toes and blew warm breath on freezing fingers, talk and laughter drifted over the moonlit trees and dispersed somewhere in the magic forest. Wood was fed to the fire as needed and the joyful spirits of those youngsters danced as high, higher than flames, and long, long into the night.
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Nancy Trice, © 2000