By the time you are reading this, I will have already attended my 1971 Logan High School class reunion that was this past Friday and Saturday, and I now am looking forward to our annual family reunion to be held, as usual, the second Saturday of the month at Chief Logan State Park, this year’s date falling on Sept. 11 — a date no American should ever forget because of the horrific 9/11 attacks in New York and at the Pentagon.
Although I had planned today’s writing to be concerning either the 1969 double murder of a justice of the peace (magistrate), or the quadruple cold-blooded murder of some innocent folks at Monitor — in which justice was never really served in either matter — I find myself becoming a bit more nostalgic than usual, and that, for me, is saying a lot because I cherish the sentimental past and nearly all historical content therein.
Frankly, it’s almost unbelievable to me that I have survived on this earth long enough to even attend a gathering of former students who graduated from Wildcat land 50 years ago, just a couple of months away from Coach Willie Akers’ basketball squad — led by 1971 graduates Mark Hatcher, Alan Vance, James Green, Virdell Banks, and Arthur Blackmon finishing that basketball regular season, 25-0.
Unfortunately, Hatcher, Vance and Blackmon have passed on and are likely now having a good time trying to defend another Logan basketball and track great, James Davidson, a 1964 Logan grad and Marshall University star, who just died within the past couple of weeks. For the record, at least 111 of the 1971 LHS graduating class are now deceased.
I’ll never forget Coach Willie Akers once telling me that the two most talented Logan players he had coached were Hatcher and Blackmon. That’s saying a lot when you consider the talent that has graced the floors of Logan Memorial Fieldhouse. Oh, if gentle giant Fred Blackmon had only not perished in a car crash. He potentially could have been the best ever, and most definitely another AAA championship would now belong to Logan.
It just doesn’t seem possible that 50 years have passed since this then-17-year-old kid crossed the fieldhouse stage at Logan Senior High School, one of the rare times my mother was able to attend a school function, and I can’t even recall how she was able to get there. Come to think of it, with no family automobile, I don’t even know how I arrived that day to Midelburg Island, although likely via my cousin Marvin Burton driving his trusty Rambler (for you younger folks, no, the Rambler was not a horse, but rather a now-extinct automobile).
Anyway, recently while getting ready to make and preserve my annual supply of garlic kraut, which also consists of hot peppers, green tomatoes, and, of course, chopped cabbage, it dawned on me that I was continuing a family tradition that is increasingly disappearing in these so-called modern times.
As a few friends can attest to, I produce some pretty darned good kraut. Over the years, I have preserved (canned) lots of different foods — from green beans to tomatoes — and it’s always been something I didn’t need to do, but felt compelled to do, despite a great deal of time-consuming work involved.
Whether its COVID-19-related or not, the past couple of summers have seen a scarcity in canning jars and lids at grocery stores, which makes, in my opinion, home canned goods even more treasurable. For beekeepers, who are also a part of a shrinking minority, jars and lids are a must. And, although most of us keep and reuse various sizes of canning jars, new lids are essential to most preserving, and currently there’s a shortage of those.
What most people do not realize is that canning jars, even if they are brand new, must be sterilized before their use, or the whole process will likely prove a total waste of one’s time, as the least bit of germs can ruin any home canned product.
Preservation of food the old-fashioned way basically is more of a hobby than anything else nowadays, but it wasn’t that long ago that folks raised gardens and preserved their bounties in order to provide food for their families, at least until spring of the next year.
Whether it was a jar of apple butter or jelly opened for a cow-buttered biscuit on a snowy winter’s day, beets provided for a Thanksgiving feast, or fresh green beans cooked for Christmas Day, many mothers and grandmothers of years gone by — their aprons tied neatly behind their backs — proudly displayed their summer works. Of course, pickled corn and sauerkraut were always available at just a beckoning.
I was fortunate enough to live on a farm in Ohio for a couple of years when I was very young, and today I can appreciate that experience, which included watching my father daily milking a cow while nearby cats in the small barn meowed for a squirt of milk.
Yes, as one might envision, there were chickens running all around the property and fields of corn that seemed to have no end to them. There was water from a hand-dug well that never went dry, despite summer droughts, and there was no indoor plumbing, which meant an outdoor toilet and Sears & Roebuck mail order catalogs handy as toilet paper, indeed an improvement from corncobs. And there was peeing into a pop bottle on frigid wintry nights to keep me from trekking into the frozen snow.
While my coal camp experiences dominated the majority of my life and most certainly overwhelmed my farm-day lifestyle, what I recall vividly about the farm is a two-story house with a huge attic, the wood-burning kitchen cook stove, fireplaces for heat, butchered hogs, and the lack of something I had never even heard of at the time — air conditioning. At least in the coal camp, we had gas heat and indoor plumbing.
There is an old saying which has never left my mind: “Poor people have poor ways.”
Maybe that’s what I was thinking about the other day while making sauerkraut.
You see, while I was using the steel hand chopper and the large aluminum pan — both of which once belonged to my dear mother — in the making of my treasured kraut, my mind had allowed me to see the woman who raised seven children, as she placed canning jars into a wash tub in the backyard of our farmhouse when I was a small child.
A fire she had started boiled the water in the tub that sat on two cinderblocks — the same tub that me and some of my siblings also were regularly bathed in, as no real bathtub existed in the home.
The boiling water naturally killed all of the bacteria that existed in the very jars that during winter had provided much of the food that we had consumed. Once the boiling process was completed and the jars cooled, it would be time again for Mom to start all over — preserving my father’s production of summer produce.
While picking wild greens for canning purposes and preserving other foods may be considered just a hobby for me, I find it more important that history be preserved — even if just in a childhood memory.
A high school reunion and family reunion almost back-to-back? Well, just pardon the nostalgia, folks.
I’ll try to get back to normalcy next week.
Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.