Is this our Indian summer? The warm days that we experienced in October may have been called Indian summer, but according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, it comes after a killing frost or hard freeze. We certainly have had that; three hard frosts in a row has blackened all the summer flowers and laid the garden low.
The almanac also states that if All Saints’ Day on November 1 brings out winter, then St. Martin’s Day on November 11 brings out Indian summer. If warm days, sometimes smoky and hazy, with clear cold nights describes Indian summer, then we are experiencing it. Sometimes we enjoy this season for a week or so, but other times it is just a few days.
There are different theories as to the origin of the name. Some sources say that the mild, warm weather gave the Native Americans more time to hunt for food and prepare for winter. Others think that they took advantage of that season to attack the settlers. The smoky haze could have been attributed to prairie fires that often raged during this warm, dry spell.
Whatever the source of the name, we all bask in this delightful spell of warm weather. It won’t last—with 77 degree weather forecast for Friday, the bottom falls out afterwards. Snow flurries are predicted for the following day. My description is that Indian summer is the sweet kiss of warm weather before Old Man Winter sinks his fangs in us. There is another dictionary meaning that describes it as a period of ease and tranquility or of renewed productivity toward the end of a person’s life or of an epoch. I’d better get busy on my new book.
This is the Month of the Beaver Moon, or Frost Moon, and time to wrap things up before cold weather. The dahlia bulbs are dug and in the cellar, and the hyacinth and crocus bulbs nestled in the flower beds where the marigolds so recently reigned. The doghouses are stuffed with new straw (our dogs are coddled; they have blankets in the garage near a gas heater.) Sparkie has his little house in our bedroom—a Jack Russell can’t tolerate cold.
This was hog killing time when I was a kid. Around Thanksgiving was the traditional time to butcher, and Daddy often did it on Thanksgiving Day. (With a cooler and a meat shop, things are different today.) Daddy would make preparations the night before, carrying water and pouring it in the big black wash tub near the creek. Firewood would be gathered, and the fire started at the crack of dawn the next morning. When the water was near boiling, he would take his gun and go across the creek to the hog pen.
This was the signal for us girls to go in the bedroom and hide our heads under a pillow so we couldn’t hear the shot ring out or the squealing of the poor pigs. (I read in the newspaper where a lady wrote and decried the killing of animals, stating that she bought her meat at a supermarket. Wonder where she thought that came from?) It is not a good idea to pet the animals that you are raising to butcher for food. Matthew had a pig named Charlotte that he loved, and we had to sell her instead of butchering her.
Daddy and neighbor Boone would pull the fat hog next to the fire on a sled, and cover the limp body with coffee (burlap) sacks. The water had to be the right temperature; if it was too hot it would “set the hair” on the hog, and if it wasn’t hot enough, you couldn’t scrape off the bristles. Hot water was poured over the sacks, and with the steam softening the bristles, they could easily be scraped off with long knives. (Nowadays, the boys and Criss skin the hog—but I miss the cracklings that Mom rendered in the oven, and the hunks of skin cooked in a pot of brown beans.)
We had fresh liver and onions the day of the butchering, and then when the hog was cut up the next day, we had ribs and backbones. You can’t buy backbones in the supermarket the way farmers used to cut them, and neither can you buy the flavor. Mom would grind fresh horseradish from our garden, mix it with vinegar, and we would eat it with the fresh pork. She usually cooked apples, made biscuits, and we had a feast. Those really were the good old days! The Heavenly Father supplied our every need, and He still does.
We used the whole hog, down to the grunt. The head was made into souse, or head cheese, and the feet were pickled. Mom canned a lot of it, and every scrap was made into sausage. Daddy would cure the hams and bacons in a sugar brine, and then smoke them. After it was smoked, he left them hanging in the rafters of the smokehouse for the winter. I can almost taste those big pink slices of smoked ham swimming in its own gravy, made by pouring a little water or coffee into the skillet after frying the ham.
What I don’t miss is the greasy kitchen when we rendered the lard and canned sausage, and that cloying smell of hot grease. A lot of things are much better today.
William Cullen Bryant wrote, “The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year, Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sere.”
I can’t agree; I love November. Brown are the fields and meadows, while fallen leaves on the forest floor are browner yet. I love it when the brown turns to gray, with cold, gray rain slanting down from sullen, gray clouds. Wood smoke from neighboring chimneys spirals upward, more gray against a grayer sky, promising warmth and cheer within the dwelling.
November brings Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday in the whole year. It is such a warm, family time, a special time to thank the Lord for our many blessings. He is so good to us, and I thank Him for placing me in this particular spot—in the hills of Clay County. I am content here in our humble abode with family all around me. What more could a person want?
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Stay, stay at home, my heart and rest;
Home-keeping hearts are happiest,
For those that wander they know not where
Are full of trouble and full of care;
To stay at home is best.
Weary and homesick and distressed,
They wander east, they wander west,
And are baffled and beaten and blown about
By the winds of the wilderness of doubt;
To stay at home is best.
Then stay at home, my heart, and rest;
The bird is safest in its nest,
Over all that flutter their wings and fly
A hawk is hovering in the sky;
To stay at home is best.