Charlotte Nolan Comments On
October 23, 2013
Fall is definitely here in full swing. There’s a nip in the air which begs for warmer clothing as autumn marches toward winter.
It is harvest-time; a season which was a busy time here in the mountains years ago. There were “workings” that provided both work and recreation. Neighbors came to help do the tasks that one family could not accomplish alone. Plantings, harvest, barn raisings and fencings were all occasions that provided a circle of fellowship. Tables were spread with the best food families could provide. Adults worked and caught up on all the news while the children romped and played all day.
For instance, making molasses was a fall chore and social event. Juice was pressed from cane stalks and boiled slowly in large pots until it became thick and ready to stir-off. Many youngsters brought cane sticks or wooden spoons to dip in the warm foam and lick off the molasses. Apples dipped in hot molasses were popular, as was a taffy pull. Children played games while adults talked, laughed and had a good visit.
Another “working” was bean stringing. The day before the stringing, beans were picked, carried to the house and poured onto newspapers spread out on the floor. Neighbor women and children came the next day to help. Mothers took the strings off the beans. With large darning needles and pieces of twine about three feet long, youngsters strung the beans on the thread. Depending on the weather, the beans were hung on the porch, by the fireplace or near the wood-burning kitchen stove to dry. Oddly enough, it is still a cherished tradition here in the mountains to serve shuck beans for dinner on Thanksgiving and Christmas days.
Before the day of heat pumps and furnaces, there was a great need for quilts, so quilting bees were very common. Feed sacks and worn-out clothing provided material that could be pieced together to make the quilt top. The quilting technique was not only an art but a group endeavor. The quilt was tacked into a wood frame hung from stout ropes hammered into the ceiling. Once in place, this enabled several women to sit to work collectively stitching the three layers of goods together. As the saying goes, “many hands make light work.” In this fashion, several quilts could be finished in one day.
Here is a little known tradition which was new to me and quite frankly, I found it fascinating and amusing. The single ladies liked the quilting bees especially for the custom of “shaking the cat.” When a quilt was finished and taken out of the frame, a live cat was placed on the quilt, and then it was folded once with the cat inside. The girls held the quilt on the ends and sides, shook it for a few seconds, then opened it. If the cat jumped under the arm of a girl, she would get married first. When the cat jumped over a girl’s arm, it meant she would become an “old maid.”
After a quilting bee some women, as might be expected, went home with sore fingers. In spite of that, they were wiser for having caught up on all the latest news of the community. Also, they were richer because there were quilts to add to their collection which would keep the family warm during the winter. Those quilts often became precious heirlooms which were handed down through the family for generations.