Hard work - and fun times - were at heart of 'good ol' days'

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJanuary 27, 2014 

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    Email David Lauderdale at dlauderdale@islandpacket.com.

Thanks to Jean Tanner of Bluffton for sharing stories of growing up â€" when Bluffton was rural â€" on land owned by her father, the late Jesse Simmons.

Jean is the mother of Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner.

"The Good Ol' Days"

By Jean Tanner

In today's society when you hear someone refer to the "good ol' days" it makes you wonder if they speak from experience or hearsay. Speaking from the experiences I had growing up in a somewhat more modern version of the "good ol' days," I can testify to the fact they were also hard times and hard work, albeit fun times too.

The home I grew up in was built by my daddy's hands on 50 acres at the headwaters of Stoney Creek near Pritchardville. He was a carpenter by trade and a farmer at heart, so when he wasn't busy working as a carpenter for wages to support his family he was farming every inch of those 50 acres with some kind of productive vegetables. Land that wasn't planted with produce was being used to raise farm animals, including cows, hogs, chickens and turkeys, even a few guinea fowl.

The spring season was busy, getting all the vegetables planted that would be picked and processed to carry the family through until the next planting season. There were fields of butterbeans, peas, string beans, squash, cucumbers, corn, watermelon, cantaloupe, sugar cane, sweet potatoes and peanuts. When the truck-farming vegetables had been gathered to satisfy the needs of the family, Daddy would open the fields for anyone in the area to come and pick what they wanted.

The field between my childhood homestead and my home now -- running along S.C. 46 -- has seen bountiful crops of white butterbeans, peas, peanuts and cantaloupe. That soil was really suited for those crops. Then, farther back on the property, what we referred to as the "back field," was more suited for corn, sweet potatoes and sugar cane.

When we were through picking off all the peanuts, the bushes would be strung along the fencing to dry and be used as fodder for the livestock. The same thing was done with corn that was left standing in the field to dry. One variety of corn was planted for home use and another to harvest, dry and store in the barn for the livestock to eat during the winter months.

When the sweet potatoes were harvested they were stored in what was called "banks," which was a layer of taters, a layer of soil and so on until it looked like a large pyramid that was covered with pine straw to protect it from freezing. When you needed some for cooking you'd just dig down in the mound and get out what you needed and cover it back up.

During the winter it was not unusual to walk in the kitchen and smell freshly roasted peanuts or freshly baked sweet potatoes, foods rich in protein, fiber and good carbohydrates, to fill up on.

Then there was the sugar cane, a crop my daddy really loved and one that received special attention "€" from saving the part of the stalk with "eyes" for planting the next spring, to gleaning stalks to run through the cane mill for the juice to make syrup. He was well known for his delicious cane syrup and folks would come from all around to pick up a quart, or a gallon, for their pancakes and biscuits.

One particular harvest of the sugar cane crop stands out in my memory because we -- Daddy, my husband, myself and two of our young sons "€" worked from daylight to dark 50 years ago on the day of President John F. Kennedy's funeral to get the crop in before a hard freeze that night.

We worked as a team going down each row. One person would use a cane stripper that was placed at the top of the stalk and raked down to the bottom to rip off the foliage, leaving the stalk exposed and ready for the next person with a machete to chop it down. The stalks were then gathered and stacked at the end of the row. When the whole field was readied, a flatbed trailer pulled by the tractor came along and the stalks were loaded and taken to the barn for protection from the cold. Now that was a day of hard work.

Around Thanksgiving, it was time to cook syrup. Not only the honey bees knew there was plenty of sweet juice to buzz around, but the neighbors knew it too and would show up with jugs to fill with the nectar from the stalk. If you've never had a swig of fresh, cold, just-squeezed juice from a sugar cane stalk you've missed out on one of the finer things in life.

The livestock part of the farm varied from beef and pork to chickens and turkeys, all raised for food. While it was always fun to gather the chicken eggs from their nest, it was not fun at all when it was butchering time.

Now, raising chickens was one thing, when they'd go along their merry way pecking around and clucking till nightfall when they'd go to roost in the chicken house. But raising turkeys was something else. They could be standing in their pen and if a rainstorm came along we'd have to literally go pick each one up and put it in their shelter or they'd stand right there with their heads upraised and drown.

It was times like these that made the "good ol' days" hard work and hard times. But they were the "best of times" -- times everyone needs to experience so they can look back at where they've been, where they've come, and appreciate their life and the knowledge they have acquired along the way while living in a modern world.

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