field notes ➤ James Etter, 1982

❝ Big Dinner Tables

Families like the Candlers—both big and generous—were common around Oktaha. Most families, regardless of the number of mouths they had to feed, and the frequent uncertainty of their economic existence, managed to feed a few more; it was considered an honor, in fact, to do so—even if there might not be a scrap left for the chickens.

There were sizable families in the community from the start. The Newberrys had seven children. Columbus and Mary Jane Hill had twelve. Hardy Colbert and his wife Dicey had eight. . . .

The custom of children eating at friends’ homes was so accepted that a busy mother often simply counted the bodies as she set the table, taking no notice of who she was feeding.

At Charles C. Hill’s house, it was said, sometimes youngsters would keep coming through the back screen door as a meal was being served, and, counting those who lived there, some of Mack Hill’s kids, some of John Brown’s youngsters and maybe a few others, there might be twenty eaters at one time.

It also was said that some of the boys in town were like wandering, ownerless dogs, having eaten at so many different houses some people didn’t know where the youngsters originally belonged. Ruth Woods often would start cooking breakfast without having any idea how many overnight guests would be emerging from the boys’ bedrooms.

And it seemed some of the boys had better noses than the best hunting dogs in the country. . . .

At hog-butchering time, young people somehow knew instantly which house was the first to have a barrel of cracklings in the kitchen; they were at the back door like cats where someone was cleaning fish.

The big families helped themselves survive by working together to bring in food and money. Most of them had at least one milk cow, often a calf or two and a butcher hog, laying hens and frying chickens and big gardens, and even some pecan and fruit trees. They also avoided waste, often skinning a cow that died or was killed for beef, and using all the fertilizer when the boys of the family cleaned stalls and chicken houses.

The men and boys also took to the wilds for food—fish, rabbit, squirrel and frog legs—and animal pelts for selling. The sight of ‘possom hides stretched on a board and hanging on barn walls was a common one around the countryside during the cold months; they were mailed off and sold, the price at one time being a quarter apiece. And the whole family during the spring gathered wild onions, poke and dewberries and blackberries.

Many families cooked and ate crawdad tails, and it was said that Bill Long, who farmed northeast of town and had a family of six children, prepared the crawpappies in such quantities that he boiled them, pincers, shells and all, in a five-gallon can. ❞

Oktaha, a Track in the Sand
by James M. Etter
(Oktaha Historical Society, 1982)

One thought on “field notes ➤ James Etter, 1982

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s