“old days,” those years which seem to tug at our nostalgic senses, weren’t as
good as most of us like to believe.
Even East Texans living in the1940s
considered the past as being less complicated and somehow more pleasant.
But in 1948-49, when eighty-year-old Andrew Allen Veatch of Sabine County sat
down to write his unpublished autobiography, “The Sage of Lone Vale,” he observed
that he had lived in those so-called “delightful times, and I should not like
to go back to them.”
Veatch grew up in an East
Texas that was sparsely settled and the Civil War had left the region “perhaps
more distressingly affected than any other section.” Confederate money was worthless,
“yet it was the only kind we had,” said Veatch.
To survive, Veatch said
East Texans depended on home-grown vegetables and meat from “razorback hogs, the
meanest in the world.” He said the hogs were never fed, but “found their own living
in the woods,” and could outrun a deer.
“When other food in the woods
gave out, the razorbacks would root up pine saplings, chew the roots and go on
living,” he said. The hogs were hunted down, using dogs, a tradition which still
exists in parts of East Texas.
His family, Veatch said, had corn ground by a water mill six miles away and every
housewife spun and wove the cloth, turning it into garments. Women and young girls
knew how to knit and their knitting needles supplied the family with socks and
stockings. “Hats were made of palmetto, which had been cut and bleached...and
shoes were made (by shoemakers) from leather tanned at home,” he recalled.
such shoemaker was L.N. Morris, whose quality work earned him the nickname, “Leatherneck
Medicines were scare and the East Texans
turned to nature for remedies, using red pepper, watermelon seeds, corn husk tea,
charcoal, pine rosin and tar, sassafras, black haw and dogwood bark, roots from
wild plants, and weeds such as one he called “the devil’s shoe string.”
observed caustically: “Some of these remedies may have been worthless, but at
least they had the merit of being harmless...the strongest curative power was
our faith in its efficiency.”
Soap making was the most
arduous task in a household. Families made lye, an ingredient used in soap, by
filtering water through wood ashes, and there were four other steps essential
to producing soap, as described by Veatch.
First, it was unwise to make
soap except in the dark of a March moon.
Second, at least two pounds of
pine rosin had to be added to chunks of fat meat or “old cracklings” to create
Third, the lye and soap grease were combined in a kettle
sitting over a fire in a fireplace.
Fourth, to stir the mixture, a “soap
stick” had to be cut from a sassafras limb cut from the right side of a woods
trail. It had to be slightly crooked at the end which touched the soap mixture.
the mixture was always stirred to the right. If stirred from the left, even for
a few seconds, the soap would be of a poor quality.
The next time you
complain about having to drive to the store for a bar of soap, remember Andrew
Veatch and the “good old days.”
August 15, 2005 Column, Updated 9-16-12
Bob Bowman's East Texas
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers
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