Thursday, November 5, 2009

Harry and Eunice (and the day I ate brains)

He said "I don't give a damn about money,
I've lived without it for years."
Hot biscuits and sourwood honey,
I wonder if he ever shed a tear..."

I wrote that line in a song long time ago. I was probably 13 or 14 years old. I wrote it after a visit to my Uncle Ralph and Aunt Nell's house. They lived in Dawson County, Georgia. They moved there in 1973 or so, way before Ga. 400 ran all the way to Dahlonega and turned everything in its path into a suburb.
For a city boy like me, a trip to their house was an adventure. They lived in a house on top of a hill that sat in the middle of 10 undeveloped acres. For this little boy, it was better than any amusement park. I drove tractors. I worked in gardens. I played with yard dogs that were scarred up from fights with beavers and raccoons. I went to work with Uncle Ralph and my cousin Alan and worked HARD, just so I could spend as much time as possible with them. At the end of most days we either pulled fish out of or went for a swim in Lake Lanier (or both.) Then I'd lay in bed at night and listen to what I was sure were strange critters romping around in the dark...but they were probably the aforementioned yard dogs. Best of all, I met a cast of characters that lived a much different life than the one I was accustomed to. Not one of them was more interesting, though, than Harry - the subject of that line I just quoted for you.
Harry and his bride Eunice lived down a dirt road that seemingly went to nowhere until it ended in their yard. They had no indoor plumbing. They butchered or grew everything they ate..very little came from the grocery store. They had a television but I don't remember it really picking up many stations. It didn't keep Harry from staring at it and giving animated commentary - especially when a politician was running his/her mouth about something. To my knowledge Harry couldn't read a word - but that didn't keep him from telling you about all the articles he'd read in the paper about all the stupid politicians in the world. He told me one story about the time he'd accidentally cut off a cow's tongue while the cow was licking some honeysuckle...all because Harry was on the other side of the shrub and thought that long tongue was a snake. I worried much about the cow with no tongue until Uncle Ralph warned that I needed to take Harry's stories with a huge grain of salt. Whew! A cow with no tongue is a hell of an image to have floating around in a boy's head. I was relieved to find out it was fiction (GOOD fiction, but fiction none the less...)
One morning I was awakened at daylight by Aunt Nell. "Come on...we're going over to Harry & Eunice's to kill hogs." do WHAT to hogs? And why do they need our help to kill these animals? Little did I know that when one says "killing hogs" it's actually just one hog that meets its demise. And people go to help because transforming this animal into food is a lot of work and takes all day.
Fortunately Wilbur had met his demise by the time we arrived (that wasn't really the animal's name....but I'm a Charlotte's Web fan from way back.) All my young eyes witnessed was a deceased animal having its hair scalded off...which was image enough. And smell enough. Good Lord, it stunk. I was repulsed but didn't want anyone to know it. These were strong folks and I didn't want 'em laughing at the city boy throwing up his toes at the smell of burning pig hair. In fact, I did everything they asked me of that day. I carried one whole side of this animal up the hill to the house after it'd been sawed in half. "Dang Nell...your nephew's awful strong for a city boy!" I cut up pounds of fat into little pieces so that Eunice would have just the right ratio of fat to meat to make the best sausage I ever put in my mouth. I then ground that sausage using an old - timey grinder with a crank handle until I thought my arm would fall off.
The meal Eunice cooked that evening was more than ample reward for all the hard work. Fried pork tenderloins and and biscuits that were better than any others on planet earth (probably because they included substantial amounts of very fresh lard.) And a MOUNTAIN of scrambled eggs. Remember the eggs.
Aunt Nell and I got home exhausted and full. Uncle Ralph had not joined us for the hog killing adventures..he'd had to work all day. He asked Aunt Nell how I'd done. She said "you would've been right proud...he worked hard." My chest swelled...the city boy had done good. Uncle Ralph said "How'd you like those brains and eggs Tim?" "Uh..........I didn't eat any brains..." He chuckled. I ran to the porch where Aunt Nell was having a cigarette. I wanted confirmation on the brains issue because Uncle Ralph was known to spin some creative fiction himself. "Yep, that big platter of eggs wasn't just eggs...I figured you didn't know what you were eating, but you were enjoying them so I let it be." I squealed "I ATE THREE HELPINGS OF BRAINS!" Uncle Ralph laughed for twenty minutes "Good God boy! You got more brains in your stomach than you got in your head!!"
When I was a kid, I felt sorry for Harry and Eunice because I thought they lived such a hard life. Now I'm grown I think they may have been on to something. A house in the middle of the north Georgia woods and living a life that revolves around farm and family seems most preferable to rush hours, deadlines, mortgages and "resource actions" (a very comfortable word for layoffs.) Since I've lost all this weight, I feel an inclination to transform everything about my existence. My bride's pretty adventurous and is as fed up with the drudgery of adulthood as I am. She'd probably be okay with the notion of selling our abode in a subdivision and moving to the middle of nowhere and living off the land...she might insist on indoor plumbing, however.


Elisabeth said...

First, you have got to read Ava's Man by Rick Bragg.

I grew up with hog killin's - every Friday after Thanksgiving. We killed six. One for each family represented (grandparents & four kids) and the sixth one just to split among the five. Nothing better than fresh cooked cracklins. I never did eat brains, but I sure did love head cheese and Tabasco on saltines.

T said...

dang, now I want some cracklin' cornbread....(and head cheese makes for a killer sandwich..granted, it's a heart attack waiting to happen...but it tastes awful good......