Assuming the weather forecast for the next week, when you will be reading this column, lives up to expectations, it would be hog killing on Blair Branch. During the 1950s and 60s, it would not have been unusual for coal miners on the holler to take a day off work, during the first cold spell in November to round up a few neighbors and relatives and finally get some fresh meat ready for kitchen tables.
Most miners, on Blair Branch, worked for small companies with fewer than 20 employees and most of the individual mines usually had only four to six workers, including the men who hauled coal from the mines to the railroad tipples. Most, like my dad, in addition to their “day jobs” had to depend on growing much of the family food supply in gardens or small subsistence farms. Miners on Blair Branch simply did not make much money in the 50s and 60s.
I can quickly recall/recount and name at least 25 families on the holler who fattened hogs every year. If I put my mind to it, I could probably count 30 or more all living within 2 miles of our place. From this time of year, throughout early March, rare was the weekend when someone wasn’t butchering hogs on Blair Branch.
I can’t recall a single instance, from back in those days, when anybody sent their hogs to commercial slaughter and processing businesses. We simply kept our hogs in “pens” and butchered them on the spot, when the time was right. This week would have been an ideal time.
While many, if not most, families owned “deep freezes”, our name for electric freezers, my parents and many of our close relatives preferred curing and preserving our pork by storing it in an outbuilding and covering it with salt.
I have written about the procedure on numerous previous occasions and I have yet to fail receiving correspondence from readers who point out that it’s no wonder why so many of my contemporaries died of strokes and heart attacks. This probably won’t be the last time that happens.
One Thanksgiving in the late 1960s, I invited a college buddy to spend the holiday at our place. Bob had grown up in a suburb of Atlantic City, New Jersey. I had told him we were going to be killing at least one hog and most likely helping out with two or three others. He was actually excited about the prospect of participating in the experience.
When the .22 rifle cracked and the hog toppled over, Bob’s face turned ghostly pale. When my cousin, Arlie Adams, cut its throat so it could bleed out, Bob ran behind the barn and promptly lost his breakfast. When I asked him to help scald and scrape hair off the carcass, he insisted that he would rather watch.
By that time, he had already plugged his nostrils with wads of the toilet paper Mom had bought after she knew that company was coming. I have no idea as to how my friend would have plugged his nose with the old newspapers and mail order catalogues we usually kept in the outhouse.
After the hog was scraped clean and the carcass thoroughly rinsed, Arlie rolled it onto its back and sliced it open from stem to stern. When its entrails came tumbling out, Bob made another mad dash to the rear of the barn and returned with his face an even whiter shade of pale. Somewhere, along the way, he had found a big red bandana and claiming his face was cold, he wore it over his face for the rest of the day.
To his credit, he helped make several trips to our smokeless “smoke house” to carry in hams, shoulders, “middlings” and other cuts of meat. When he finally took the bandana off, he had some color back in his face.
A few days later, when we were back in our dorm rooms, another New Jersey student asked him if he had enjoyed his trip to Blair Branch. Bob said the visit was amazing but it would be a long, long time before he would, intentionally, eat pork again.