Simpler Times, Part 2

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Jon McKinnie


In the previous article, I mentioned that as I “hit the memory replay button,” I wanted to share with you my recollections and take you on a series of trips back into the 50s and 60s in and around Union Parish. So hop on and let’s take a ride back to my life as a kid.

I remember when huntin’ and fishin’ were a way of life year round and not a sport. I ask people if they’ve watched the movie, “The Yearling”. That was my life, living on the edge of the Ouachita River swamp. Game and fish were the protein of our diets, nothing wasted. Dad’s mantra was “If you don’t eat it, don’t shoot it.” Fishing tackle was simple -- a hook, line, bobber, and sinker wrapped around a short stick and carried in your pocket. The fishing rod was fashioned from a long limb or a pole cut from the cane brakes when you reached the creek. Fishin’ bait was wriggl’ worms in a can. You strung the catch on a string or a forked limb.

There was a time when marksmanship was measured by the number of squirrel tails hanging out of your pocket or how many ducks you got by counting the shots that rang out on Reppo Creek. The bag limit was as many as you needed andnomore.Dadoncetoldacityslicker from Monroe, “I killed 247 deer with this rifle.” Later I challenged Dad, “We never keep count of the deer we kill.” Dad replied, “Well, it sounded like a good number.” Oh, that Dub McKinnie and his stories; guess I get it natural.

You discover early that regardless of how crisp and brown the fish were fried, they taste better if you caught, cleaned, and cooked ‘em on the Ouachita River bank. No matter how good the duck dressing was cooked, it always tasted better if you did the shootin’. The deer steaks were better eatin’ if you did the skinnin’.

The sweat and toil of a family farm was a way of life back then. Not a hobby or a tax loophole. We were specialized farmers all right; we specialized in survival. When we out-witted frost, backwater flood, drought and the buffalo gnats, we didn’t recognize this as an achievement, but just a way of life. Aside from proper sunshine and rain, we needed little else. We never had much money but always plenty to eat – two gardens, two refrigerators, and two freezers. We got our subsistence from the breast of nature; she fed, clothed and sheltered us. We knew of only two obligations, to our creator and our family.

Mom and Dad were simple people. Ambition burned deep in Mom, but she committed herself to raising the kids, making a little money nursing to help ends meet. Dad had no ambition, electing to keep the same job for 43 years without asking for or accepting promotions with additional responsibilities. When I was 30, I told my Dad, “When I was 16, you were the dumbest man I knew. But as I get older, the smarter you are.”

Life, at times, seemed harsh. The length of a day’s work was governed by the sun, instead of the clock. All too often we used a lantern to stretch both ends of the day. But each day had its rewards: real rest, not from tension and fatigue but from tired weary muscles; a bountiful table of food that we had planted, plowed, harvested, and brought to the kitchen and prepared by the skilled hands of a mother who knew how to feed hungry folks.

The monthly trip to the grocery store was different from today. Mom and Dad never bought prepared food, just basics – flour, sugar, meal, coffee. Fruit and candy were Christmas delicacies.

Mom always believed in making a hardy breakfast early every morning… not a box of cereal, but a real breakfast. I’m talking about bacon, ham or sometimes fried chicken, eggs (at least two), rice and red-eye gravy, a glass or two of Jersey milk (with cream on top), always biscuits, syrup, homemade butter. When you left the table, you were stuffed, not for all day, just until noon (called dinner back then, not lunch).

Dinner was always things from the garden. A pot of butter beans, turnip greens, snap beans, fried okra; depending what was fresh in the garden. Meat was usually something fried - chicken, squirrel, hog, or deer meat.

Supper was another heavy meal. Leftover vegetables, maybe something fresh like black-eyed peas seasoned with bacon drippings, rice and brown gravy, sweet corn on the cob with butter running down your arms, and hot-water cornbread. Meat was more of the same – fried fish, chicken, squirrel, hog, or deer meat – something we either caught or killed. We seldom ate beef; we didn’t kill a calf very often.

Desserts were always available, three meals a day. Mom generally had a choice of two or three: pecan pie, coconut cake, German chocolate cake, brownies, and fudge.

If she made a cobbler, cream scooped off the top of fresh milk was spooned on top of the cobbler (we kids called it “calf slobber”). Home cooked meals were as close to heaven as you could get and still have your feet on the ground… And you wonder why almost everyone in the Dub McKinnie family was overweight?

One of my fondest memories was homemade ice cream. Our Jersey cow gave the rich milk; the old hens laid those brown yard eggs. Mom combined the milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and filled the container a couple of inches from the top. We loaded it into the manual ice cream mixer with its wooden staves; around it we poured a layer of ice, then salt, another layer of ice, and more salt. Then someone sat on the freezer, and I cranked for dear life until it was too hard to turn. Finally, we covered the mixer with a potato sack till ready to eat. I always looked forward to licking the wooden paddle.

The only thing wrong with homemade ice cream: eating it too fast, followed by the infamous headache. I have read 20 reasons for ice cream headaches, but none of them make sense. Still to this day, I get a headache from eating ice cream too fast (or drinking a frozen margarita)!