A Mill Village Thanksgiving remembered
By Bill Shepard
Editor’s note: This column first appeared in 2016.
The long-awaited holiday had arrived. It was the first since school had begun back in September. The kind old principal had made a lot to do about the two days we would have off to celebrate the Thanksgiving holidays. Already I was thinking about the longer holidays that would be arriving soon. As usual, I was waiting to hear him announce that school would be out early on this day. The two big fat hogs grunting in the pen could not know that was in store for them as the Thanksgiving holiday approached. It seemed such a short time ago that they were little piglets and playing in the straw bed that Dad and I had prepared for them. It was my delight to watch them chase around in the sun, squealing and burying themselves in the straw. Each year, as far as I could remember, and early in the springtime, Dad and I would take a ride through the country nearby in search of two pigs to buy. Dad always seemed to know some places to go. It was fun to hear Dad and the farmer go back and forth as to the price to be paid for the pigs. Having settled on the amount to be paid, the pigs would be placed in a burlap bag and we would be on our way home. Through the long summer months ahead, I would pull butter-weeds for the pigs and help in a small way to care for them. By winter, the pigs would have changed into large fat hogs. The meat and the lard from the two would last well into the summer months ahead. It was Thanksgiving morning! It was still dark outside and I had awakened. I could hear voices coming from the small kitchen and I knew that Mama was preparing an early breakfast. Outside I could hear voices also, and I knew what was about to happen. I hurriedly dressed into warm clothing and headed for the kitchen. Dad had already eaten his breakfast and had joined the man he had hired to help with the hog-killing that was about to happen at the Shepard house on this Thanksgiving Day. This year could have been any one of the late 1920s or 1930s. I knew that already a big fire had been kindled around the black wash-pot that had been filled with water. A lot of hot water would be needed to scald the hair on the hog that would soon be brought from the pen. A large barrel lying nearby would be filled with hot water and the dead animal would be placed inside and turned over and over to make sure that the hair was loosened and could be removed easily. If the temperature was not just right, the hair on the hog would not loosen and that would make the process much harder. The man Dad had hired to help had a reputation of being an expert in how to butcher hogs. I went outside and stood shivering in the cold and waited to hear the sounds that would son be coming from the pen where the hogs were. Any moment now there would be the sound of a rifle shot and a squeal, and I would know that the dead animal was on the way to the house. I did not have long to wait. More neighbors arrived to help and it was soon over. The helpers would have all gone, each carrying with them a small portion of the hog that had been butchered. The fat from the hog would be cooked into lard. That would take another day. The fat would be cut into small pieces and cooked in the same wash-pot used earlier in the process. The fresh pork, sweet potato pies, collard greens, and hot cornbread would make a great Thanksgiving feast at the Shepard house. Seated around the large table, the family waited for Dad to give thanks for the food that had been provided. That being over, the feast would begin and another Thanksgiving Day would become history. It was a day to remember! As another Thanksgiving Day approaches, I remember those of the past, and I am thankful.