There was a time not very distant from today when family gatherings were an important aspect of our mountain culture. Nothing bound families together more thoroughly than the sharing of good food and precious memories.
The old-timers told stories to the youngsters about things they had experienced over the courses of their long lives. These gatherings allowed generational bonding and strengthening of family ties. A strong family tree with deep roots and tight knit branches afforded greater protection from life’s many storms, trials and tribulations. There is an old German saying that blood is thicker than water which meant that family comes before all else.
One of the most time honored family gatherings was Sunday dinner at the grandparents house where kith and kin would gather to share food prepared with all the love grandma could muster. These were raucous affairs with children of all ages adding to the clatter. It was a chance to forget the cares of the week and make merry if only for a day. It was a time to share love and laughter with the family and it was a time to enjoy breaking bread one with another and all under the family blanket of love.
An old time family gathering seldom seen now was dinner and church on the cemetery grounds. A practice rooted in the time before embalming which necessitated a quick burial leaving no time for the family to gather in and have a service. A time was selected each spring to hold a service on the cemetery for all those buried there over the course of the preceding year. There would be much preaching and signing and tributes to the departed until late afternoon at which time a kind of picnic would be had usually featuring fried chicken though it could be as simple as a piece of cornpone and buttermilk. At times these would lead to revivals that lasted for days.
Another favorite family gathering usually happened in the fall on a crisp frosty morning, hog killing time. On the appointed morning family members would arrive, some with wash tubs to heat water in. The tubs were filled with water and fires built under them after which the first hog was killed, bled and hung. The next step was to remove the hair by a method known as scraping. To loosen the hair the hot water was poured over the hog in a process known as scalding which also washed the hog clean. After all the hair was removed and the carcass thoroughly washed the hog was gutted, washed again and then worked up into hams, bacon, ribs, chops and such. Some of the ham and middling’s (belly) along with other cuts would be ground into sausage. All the fat trimmings were saved to render lard from for cooking or making soap. Some of this fresh meat was immediately fried and eaten with cathead biscuits with the tenderloin being exceptionally tasty.