Corn shuckings were often chances for neighbors to get together to enjoy food and dancing while getting needed work done.
PHOTO: SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS LITERARY FUND
Excerpted from the book Foxfire 2. Copyright©1973 by the Southern Highlands Literary Fund, Inc., and Brooks Eliot Wigginton. Published by Anchor Press/Doubleday & Company, Inc.
"They'd come in and shuck m'corn, sing, and have th'best time. You've never seen such a good time as they had! I wish you could go to a corn shuckin' sometime. "
Thoughts like this one expressed by Aunt Arie were what really kindled our interest in researching this chapter. When we got into it, we became truly fascinated by the various community activities that people were involved in back in the "old days". Simple things like candy pullings and ice cream parties and singings delighted people no end . . . particularly young people.
What really amazed us, though, was the way people took a dull, arduous task and turned it into a time for fun and warm fellowship. Corn shuckings and house raisings and log rollings became a time for neighbors to pitch in and have the best times of their lives while working with and helping each other.
We decided that the best way to get the real feeling across would be through the words of the people themselves. Here is what they had to say.
Florance and Lawton Brooks: We used t'have them old shuckin's. They'd just pile up their corn in their barnyard, y'know, instead a'puttin' it in their crib. And then they'd ask all their neighbors around t'come in. And they'd always bury a drink right in th'middle a'that pile and pile their corn on top a'it. Then we'd have t'shuck all th'corn t'find it. We'd shuck all night t'get t'that half-gallon a'liquor. Then we'd all have a drink and probably have a dancin' th'rest a'th'night, if we got done in time.
God, you never seen such shuckin' corn.
Then sometimes they'd have it where th'man that found th'first red ear got t'kiss th'prettiest girl, and sometimes he'd shuck like th'devil tryin' t'find a red ear a'corn. Somebody'd find one generally ever'time. It was funny because back then 'at was th'worst thing a boy and girl could do would be caught kissin'. That's th'worst thing you could do!
Ever'body'uz invited. Wasn't nobody skipped. They invited th'young and old. They all come together. And you never seen such corn shucks in your life. And if we got done at midnight'r'somethin' like that, why we'd have a big dance from then on to towards daylight. We never counted none on sleepin' that night. No way when we was havin' them big corn shuckin's 'cause we knowed it'd take th'biggest part a'th'night.
'Bout all th'way we had a'havin'fun was at them shuckin's. But I thought it was mighty nice a'them t'have things like that. I wish they'd have'em now back like they used to. There'uz lots a'fun in that.
Will Zoellner: Sometimes th'first one that got a red ear'ud get a ten-dollar prize. That's what they called pokeberry corn. Looked like poke come in it. And ever' once in a while you'd get a plumb red ear. And th'girl that got th'red ear, she chose her partner t'dance with later.
One I went to — was about fifteen families lived over there, Ledfords and Penlands and Duncans — whoever got th'first red ear got a Jersey cow. Nicest thing you ever looked at. Well, we got t'shuckin' around there, and finally got in a fight throwin' corn east and west. Somebody socked me with a ear down th'side a'th'head and I caught th'thing, and it'uz a blood-red ear! When it hit my head, I seen th'red corn fly. I cracked it right quick — pulled th'shuck off — and says, "Look what y'done! Gimme good luck!"
So I got that, 'bout a two-year green-colored Jersey heifer. I sold it, got about a hundred dollars fer't.
Mrs. Harriet Echols: Used t'be all these areas in here was big farms. Mr. Cabe would haul up wagonloads of pumpkin, watermelons, and corn. Well, they and all their neighbors'ud get their corn gathered in, and then they'd start'n'they'd go from place't'place . . . maybe twice a week they'd have a corn shuckin' at a different place. And all th'men'ud get in th'barn and shuck, and if there was too many women, they'd go help shuck too.And then th'others'ud cook supper . . . have a big supper just like we have goin' t'a church supper'r' somethin' like that.
And then they'd put th'corn in log cribs made where th'air could go through and finish dryin' th'corn they'd gathered in from th'fields. And they'd store th'pumpkins in a barn and cover'em with th'shucks and th'leavin's from th'corn t'keep them through th'winter.
And, well, it's just fascinatin' how they did.
Aunt Arie: Well, Pappy'ud raise a big crop a'corn — maybe two hundred bushels — and put it in a crib shed. On a certain day they'd have a corn shuckin' and get all th'neighbors from ever'wheres t'come in here. If we had'em like we used to, we'd have ever'one a'you younguns come down here and we'd have th'best time.
They'd always come at dinner time, some of them before dinner. Well, they'd sit down t'eat, and then they'd go on t'shuckin'. Sometimes they'd shuck till twelve at night before they'd ever get up, and sing and holler and hoop and all th'devil! And they'd take th'shuck and hide people in'em and do ever'thing. Why they had ever' kinda fun in th'world. That made people love t'go to'em. If you'd been contrary or hateful, wouldn't a'been nobody'd wanted t'go.
When they got th'corn shucked, they'd put th'man of th'house on a rail and carry him t'th'house and set'im down and comb his head . . . comb th'lice off his head down on th'floor and stomp'em with their feet. You know, that wadn't so, but they just done that fer th'devilment and fun!
Marinda Brown: I always got th' biggest thrill out a'that, just th'children and me. Just th'very smallest children would get in and shuck corn and always look for th'red ears. Ever'body that found a red ear had t'be kissed. I didn't like that too much, though!
They'd come all day and just spend th'day, y'know, and go up into th'night. And then they'd have a dance. We'd have our lanterns and lights around, y'know, and we'd shuck up into th'night and have a big feast with tables loaded with all sorts of good foods.
Mrs. E.H. Brown: That was just a good time for us all. We enjoyed bein' together and doin' somethin' t'help somebody, too.
Mrs. Harriet Echols: If they was goin' t'build a new barn, they got all th'logs t'gether, and all th'neighbor men got in and put up th'barn. They'd build a barn in a day and put in th'sheds and stalls and ever'thing. And if they didn't finish, they'd come back th'next day and cover it. And they didn't have any pulleys'r'anything t'horse those logs up. Three'r'four men'ud get on each end of a log and they'd just come up with it.
Of course, th'kids at that time was usually at school, y'know. And th'women gathered there and cooked, and they'd have up a quilt and be sewin' on it.
They got all th'material t'gether and had ever'thing there, and they'd set a certain day fer'em all t'meet, and then they went t'work.
Annie Perry: This house was built that way. Th'neighbors'ud cut th'logs and split th'logs. Then they'd cut th'notches in th'corners t'keep'em from rollin' off. My grandma said that th'logs this house'uz built out of was right out of our woods . . . cut right around in rollin' distance. This house'uz built in 18 and 69. My grandmother moved here in August and she didn't have a fireplace t'cook on, and she didn't have a cookstove.
After the raisin's they'd put th'stock in if it was a barn, and they'd have a dance if it was a house. Called it a house warmin'.
Lawton Brooks: Most of 'em we built was log houses, and we'd pitch in and in a couple a'days we'd have a man a house built. Ever'body'd just go in and help a man. Wasn't countin' on gettin' a dime out of it. 'Course they'd have a big supper, and when we got done we always had somethin' at th'end . . . some kinda big party'r'dance in th'house 'fore they ever moved in when they wasn't nothin' in th'way.
You take fifty men and it didn't take but a little bit t'build a dadblame house. It went up fast. Some done th'notchin'. Some done th'layin' up. Some carryin' th'logs. Some peelin' th'logs. They'uz always a job fer every bunch, and ever'body'uz on their job and they kep' ever'thing goin', y'know. God, it didn't take long t'build a big house. Puttin' down th'floorin' was th'biggest job in it. 'Course they didn't get matched floorin'. They just got rough plankin', and they'd jam'em down as close as'ey could and go on about their business.
But it was lots a'fun.
Aunt Arie: We had a house raisin' t'raise this house, and we had a barn raisin' t'raise th'barn. We had t'go t'th'mountains and get th'logs, and then get th'nails and whatever we needed t'have ready, and then we asked a whole lot a'men t'come in and raise th'house.
You'd need four men with good axes, and they'd have t'know what t'do.Each one took a corner of th'house, and th'others stood on th'ground and got th'logs ready and rolled'em up there where they notched'em and put'em down. Next thing y'know, they'd got up th'square of th'house.
And somebody'ud lay them rafters off a certain way and cut th'notches in th'rafters and nail'em t'gether at th'top and put'em up. I've helped do all of that.
Th'house ain't hard t'raise like th'barn. See, th'house is made out'a little logs, and th'barn is made out'a big logs. And th'barn's got four big stalls in it . . . maybe more. It took eight men for four stalls. You hardly ever got a barn raised in one day. No sir. It was too big. Too much.
There's not many people knows how t'put a roof on that won't leak. If y'don't get th'shingles on right, it'll leak. Now I've helped put on shingles.
Mrs. Ada Kelly: A new couple'ud start t'build them a house, they'd have a house raisin'. Th'men all around th'community'ud go in and get th'framin' of th'house up and all they could that day, and then they'd have a house coverin'. . . meet and cover th'house and go on with it till they finished. Then th'couple was ready t'move in.
You couldn't get anybody t'do that fer y'now, could you? But they wasn't any vacant houses around then. My father built his house. I'uz born in a log house. Had two rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs and a big old fireplace.
Richard Norton: When somebody went t'build a house, ever'body flew in and helped'em. T'get th'logs up, most of th'time they used what we called skid poles. They'd lay up poles against th'house, and four'r'five men'ud get ahold a'them logs and roll'em right up them poles on th'house.
Sometimes they got'em up there first and notched'em after they got'em up there. They generally used smaller logs, and they'd turn'em up and notch'em and then turn'em back over t'fit.
Margaret Norton: People'ud work all fall piecin' quilt tops, and when they got'em all pieced, they'd invite in all th'neighbors and have a quiltin', and that quilt'ud be for th'person that invited'em in. And whoever they had th'quiltin' for furnished all of'em dinner. If it'uz at your house and it'uz for you, you'd furnish th'whole dinner . . . even if they'uz twenty women there.
They could quilt one out in a day easy. Lots a'times we've had quilts out at breakfast and quilted two.
Marinda Brown: People used t'get t'gether and they'd just put up one. They could make as many days out of it as they wanted to. They'd piece one fer one family, set in and draw another one fer another family, y'know; just kind'a kept it goin'.
Annie Perry: They had quiltin's, but I never could quilt. My stitches were s'long you'd have t'keep your toenails broke off t'keep from gettin'em hung!
People were neighbors. They all helped each other t'do things. If you got anything t'do now, y'do it yourself or you let it go undone, whichever y'want to.
Lawton Brooks: Ever'body planted these old clay peas. I ain't seen'em in over twenty years. Th'seeds of'em's about t'run out. People used t'always plant'em in their cornfield.
Well, they'd go and pick'em and carry'em and pile'em up in great big ol'piles. Put'em on big sheets, y'know. Then we'd all cut us a pole t'beat with and you'd just beat, then you'd stir up a while, and then you'd beat again.
Th'hulls'ud pile up on top. Then you'd stir t'get y'some more up that hadn't been hit, y'know. Then you'd beat'em again. They'd grow lots a'them back in 'em'days. They'd grow'em and sell th'things. You could buy'em fer nothin' nearly a bushel. But still, that was a way a'gettin' some money. You had t'do th'best y'could. They growed them peas, and what they didn't eat, they sold. And they'd get out there and we'd thrash'em out fer'em. Thrash'em old peas out, have th'goodest old time y'ever seen.
Margaret Norton: When you'd have a singin', you'd usually have a group of people get together and sing and have refreshments like tea and coffee and ice cream, y'know. They'd gather at different persons' houses, or at th'church — whoever had a pianer'r'organ — and they'd play and sing just like any other get t'gether.
Usually y'sung religious songs, but sometimes they'd have like a sports party where you'd just sing sports songs. But usually it was religious songs, and we'd sing for two'r'three hours and have a few refreshments and go home.
And then sometimes they had'em all night long. You'd start at eleven o'clock and then go th'rest of th'night. As fer me, I'm not a good hand t'set up till all hours. I'd go t'sleep!
Harry Brown: They'd have'em in their houses, and then sometimes they have'em up there at Andy Cope's fish farm. He's a great singer, and this fella' from Lakemont — Horace Page — all them go up there and sometime they sing all night.
I'd just go t'listen t'it. I never did sing. They used t'have old-time songs, y'know, like, "Walkin' in th'King's Highway," but they don't sing anymore. Oh, and, "They're Namin' th'Prophet, That Honorable Man," and, "On Down t'th'River Jordan." But th'songs they sing now is different from when I'uz growin'up.
And sometimes at th'church we'd have what they called an "all day singin' an' dinner on th'grounds." That was good too.
Florence and Lawton Brooks: Lord, yeah. People used t'have singin's at their houses. Sometimes we'd walk ten miles t'one. They'd have songbooks, y'know, with gospel songs, and th'house'ud be full a'people. They used t'do that lots, move all over th'settlement. When me an'Florence was married we done 'at fer a long time. Fer years after we'uz married we went nearly ever'night. Lots a'times people'ud have t'walk four'r'five miles, but they'd go. They'd be there. They'd all go.
That was about th'only thing that went on durin' th'week, and that'ud give th'young people a place t'go, and they'd always go. If a old boy got him a girl, he'd have her come t'th'singin', y'know. Had a nice time. Always had a nice time. No joke about it, it was nice. I think there ought t'be lots more. Wouldn't be half as much meanness done.
But they quit all that now, I reckon. Don't hear tell a'that no more.
Lex Sanders: In log rollin's, you'd go all over th'community and gather up maybe twenty-five men. Then they'd cut logs and clear land and do a whole lot a'work in a day.
It'uz like th'old workin's. Lot a'th'women'ud come t'th'workin' and get dinner. And as a general thing, when they had a log rollin', they'd be eight'r'ten women there that'ud have a quiltin' too, and maybe make one'r'two quilts while th'men'uz cuttin' and rollin' th'logs.
Richard Norton: They had log rollin's when they cleared th'land. I remember when they'd go t'what they called "new ground" and they'd clear it off, y'know. Then they'd have big log rollin's, and they'd pile all them logs up and burn'em. Th'women'ud always cook dinner, and they'd be twenty-five men maybe, and they'd clear a big field in a day, roll it up and burn it, y'know.
Mrs. Ada Kelly: When they made syrup, th'last run of th'syrup they'd cook up a whole lot of, and they'd cook it down till it got real thick. And just along toward th'last before it got ready t'take up, they'd put some soda in it. I really don't know what that did to it, but it seemed t'make it get whiter or something.
And a boy and a girl would usually butter a dish and cool it off some and then get it up in their hands, y'know, and work it fill they could get it in a ball. Then th'boy would get at one end and th'girl at th'other, and they'd pull backwards and forwards till they got it so it'd pull out in great long pieces.
Then they'd divide some of it and pull it out in long pieces sort of like stick candy and lay that out on a platter'r'something When it got cold, you could just take a knife and crack it all, and itd be sort'a like yellow stick candy. It was real good.
And they always had boys and girls doing it together. That was all th'fun there was in it. Just invite th'young folks in t'make syrup candy.
Will Zoellner: Y'grease yer hands with lard so it don't stick on yer hands. If y'ain't got no lard on yer hands, it gets all over yer hands and gets warm. And y'go out there and get yer partner and cut that syrup out in big pieces, and then y'pull that and keep a'pullin' around and around till it gets plumb yella'.
Sometimes we'd go and have a corn shuckin' and candy pullin' and a all-night dance on New Year's. Dance th'old year out and th'new year in, and have stuffed turkeys and have a midnight supper. Then we'd have a drink outside. Had all kind'a cider where we were there. And once in a while had some blackberry wine . . . take a little swig a'that.
Mrs. E. H. Brown: They'd have those candy pullin's, and they'd have it all braided and in all kinds of shapes, y'know. They'd get it t'where they could pull it out and shape it any way they wanted to.
Maude Sellers: Oh! I've pulled candy till I had blisters on my hands!
Mrs. E.H. Brown: They'd have a dishpan fulla stick candy broke up into little pieces, and they'uz different colors, y'know. And th'pan was covered. And a girl and boy would pair off and go and reach under there and get a piece a'candy. If they each got a piece alike, why they could keep it, but if they didn't, they had t'put it back.
Last one I believe I remember ever bein' at was at my husband's home, and he carried me home that night after th'candy breakin'.
Richard Norton: We'd just buy this peppermint candy . . . all kinds a'candy. Somebody'ud take a dishpan and cover it up and you had t'reach in there. If you and your partner didn't get th'same kind'a piece, you had t'pay it back, but if you did, you kept it.
There'd be twenty-five, y'know, sometimes; and it'd circle 'round and 'round, and you'd see who got th'most candy . . . who was th'luckiest, y'know. And boy would they have fun when y'had t'put your candy back!
Mrs Harriet Echols: We had ice cream parties too, usually on Saturday night. See, most ever'body had four'r'five cows, and we'd make boiled custards (you know that's fixed with milk and eggs and sugar and flavorin', and it's delicious; but where y'put a lot a'eggs in it, it's s'rich y'can't eat much of it). And we'd get about five ice cream freezers and invite th'youngsters in, and we'd get in th'parlor and get around th'organ'r'piano and sing and play games. See, we didn't have anywhere t'go. And that's what we did for our recreation was our parties.
And we had our singin's, and we'd meet during th'week and we'd go t'prayer meetin' on Wednesday night and sing and practice songs fer th'choir and fer church on Sunday. And then on Saturday nights we'd have our ice cream supper . . . and in th'wintertime a candy pullin'. And we'd gather nuts and have a nut crackin' t'make our candy if we wanted t'make fudge'r'anything like that.
And three'r'four of th'girls would get t'gether and make five'r'six cakes, and we'd have cake and ice cream.
And we went t'dances in th'wintertime, and we'd have apple bobbin's, and we just had th'best time.We never went to a dance without our parents, and we'd just roll back th'rug if they had a rug; and if they didn't, we'd put meal on th'floor. And th'band would come in from th'little town. There was several of th'old men could pick a guitar or banjo or fiddle. And, well, we just had a good time!
Margaret and Richard Norton: People used t'help each other kill hogs, too, when they had hogs t'kill. Th'neighbors'ud come in and help. Ever'body got a mess a'meat and went back home. You had four'r'five hogs t'kill, and half a dozen'r'more'ud come t'help y', and they'd do it for a combination and a mess a'meat.
R.: We just give'em a mess a'meat a lot of times. Me and my uncle, we'd gather together and kill big hogs. We'd always dress one out then, and then we'd kill two'r'three more for th'other feller, and two'r'three more for th'other feller till we had'em all killed and dressed out. We could get it all in one day.
M.: We had square dances, too. They'd get all th'furniture out of th'room, and had somebody a'callin' and somebody a'pickin', y'know.
R.: We always had Bill Lamb play th'fiddle, and had some banjo and guitar pickers, too, y'know. They was a lot a'young people around here then.
M.: We had th'whole place covered up with young people. They hadn't got this crave then t'go up t'Atlanta'r'some big city. They just stayed on and helped farm in th'summertime and then go t'school in th'wintertime and have fun.
M.: Had barbecues, too.
R.: We just dug out a square place and piled it full'a hickory wood and burnt it down t'coals. Then we'd take poles and gather that hog — 'course his innards took out and ever'thing, y'know — and we'd run'em through his hind and shoulders. Th'poles'ud be long enough t'reach across that hole and we'd put him down over it and we'd have t'turn it ever' so often. Cook'im all night.
M.: They'd sit up all night, and next mornin'th'stew'ud be made — th'Brunswick stew.
R.: We cooked generally two sheep and a hog.
M.: Th'other people'ud bring th'vegetables and th'bread and th'things that went with it. And we used t'get in t'gether and have bean stringin's and pea shellin's, too. We did that here last summer.
R.: We pile up a big pile there on a paper on th'floor and we all get around it, y'know.
M.: And ever'body gets'em a pan and a chair and a place t'put their hulls. First thing you know, you're finished. And at Christmas time here we have a Christmas tree for all our children on Betty's Creek. The'women all come and we fix up th'presents there. So that's a get-together. We still do that. And we have got together and preserved strawberries.
R.: All th'old people used t'double up like that. One'ud need some work done, and they'd all just pitch in.
And even that doesn't exhaust the list. In addition to the above, people grouped together for box lunches (each girl filled a cakebox with a picnic lunch for two and decorated its exterior. The boxes were then auctioned off, and the boy with the highest bid shared the lunch with the girl who had made it); wool cardings and spinnings; and workings (when a man was sick, the neighbors would gather to plant or tend or harvest his garden and do his chores until he was well again). And that probably isn't all, either. The sense of community and interdependence was so highly developed that there was simply little people didn't do together. That amazes us now, but it also attracts us in some mysterious way. Perhaps that interdependence is the source of part of our nostalgia for a simpler time.
Mrs E.H. Brown: I believe people enjoyed themselves more. They didn't have very much for entertainment, y'know, and when we did have some little something, we really enjoyed it. And ever'thing was nice. Ever'body behaved themselves. I used t'go to country dances, too. I never went t'a public dance in my life. It was always t'some neighbor's house. And ever'body had better behave themselves. If they didn't, they was invited t'go home.
My daddy was always th'fiddler. I've often told people I cut my teeth on a fiddle bow!