Repost: New Year’s Traditions on the Farm

Growing up on the farm, we had a few traditions—mostly imported. New Years was a family holiday. Kith ‘n kin visited on Thanksgiving and Christmas. New Years, however, was just Mom, Dad, me and later Grandma.

The farm was located in the middle of coal country in southern Illinois. The population was mostly Scots/Irish/English who brought mining skills learned in the coal mines of England and Wales. During the Union/Mine Owner wars of the early 20th century, many East Europeans were brought in as strike breakers. After the strikes were resolved, the East Europeans—Poles, Hungarians and various Russians, became good union members and added their traditions to those of their predecessors. However, the new traditions were more aimed at religious holidays than of New Years.

One tradition that became almost universal was the tradition of the gift of coal. The tradition was that the home would have good luck if the first person to cross the threshold in the new year was a dark Englishman, Welshman, Scot, Irish (add other nationality here) wishing everyone within Happy New Year and bringing a gift of a bucket of coal to warm the hearth. My Dad fit that job description and since I was the next oldest (only) male in the house, I assisted with the tradition.

Come New Years, around 11PM, earlier in some locales, the men of the house would leave with a bucket of coal, their shotgun, and, for those who imbibed, a bottle or mason jar of holiday cheer. In town, they would usually head for the closest bar or other gathering place and wait for the mine whistle indicating midnight.

At the farm, we had three close neighbors; John Davis, our neighbor just across the road from the farm, Sy Malone, a friend of Dad’s who had a small farm a quarter-mile to our west, and Ken Shoemaker who lived a couple of hundred yards to the east. All were coal miners or had been. Ken Shoemaker was also a bus driver for the High School. John Davis’ place was the most central of us and he had a heated barn for his heifers. That was our gathering place.

Ken and Sy usually arrived early bringing some ‘shine that Sy made in the woods in back of his house. John would join next. By the time Dad and I arrived, they were sitting around a kerosene heater and usually well lubricated. The men talked and drank. Dad sipped tea from a thermos he had brought. I listened. I heard quite a bit of gossip, bragging and stories while waiting in that barn.

Remembering those times, I’m amazed that with all the drinking that occurred, there was never a firearm accident. I think folks were more used to guns in those times. Many were WW2 veterans such as Ken and Sy Malone. John Davis added to his mine income as a trapper and occasional commercial meat hunter. Dad was a long-time hunter as well. They were experienced folks who acquired gun-handling habits that just weren’t broken even when one has consumed large amounts of alcohol.

In coal country, the time standard was the mine whistle. The whistle blew at shift change each day, at noon, and on New Years Eve, at midnight. The closest mine to the farm was about five miles away. That mine, Orient #2, was on the north edge of West Frankfort. Dad, John and Sy worked there. Ken worked occasionally at Orient #3.

When midnight neared, everyone loaded their shotguns—usually with #6 or #7 1/2 shot, and went outside to listen for the whistle. At the stroke of midnight, delayed only by distance, we heard the mine whistles; Orient #2 to the south, followed by Old Ben #9 to the south-east. Another whistle arrived from the west, followed slightly late by Orient #3 from the north. The men raised their shotguns and in turn fired three times into the air. Nine shots in all. 

As the sound of their shots faded away, I could hear the patter of falling shot and the echoes of other shotguns rolling in from surrounding points. In the far distance, I could hear the Sheriff let loose with his Thompson sub-machine gun that he had confiscated from Charlie Birger just before Charlie was tried for murder and later hung—the last public hanging in Illinois.

As the gunfire died away, each man picked up his bucket of coal, his shotgun and began the trek home to be the first dark-headed man to cross the home’s threshold. In lieu of hair, John Davis wore a dark hat.

It was a short walk for Dad and me, just across the road and up the drive. Dad walked up to our front door and knocked. Mom would answer and Dad would exclaim, “Happy New Year!” and we’d go inside to the warmth. Mom would have coffee or more tea for Dad, a glass of milk for me and either cake, sweet rolls or home-made doughnuts depending on what she and Grandma had made that day.

New Years was a family celebration, but New Years Eve was one for males. A celebration in the cold or in a warm barn; a gathering of men, boys, talk, drink and memories. A communal celebration of the coming year.


The crew finished right at dusk last night.  This morning they’ll take the trash trailer off to be emptied and bring it back to haul off all the ladders and scaffolding.  This morning is cleanup. They have a large magnet to roll over the yard to pick up loose nails and metal scrap.

This afternoon we’ll write a large check and it’s done.

It was supposed to take a week to ten days.  Instead it took a few days shy of a month.  The final appearance, though, is great and it is worth the money spent.

Now I’m off to complete some chores that have lain silent for this last month.

A quickie

Just a quick post before I take off…

I was over at Hot Air when I saw this.  This article really made me curious.

It begins: Radio ad asks Iowans to caucus for Palin

posted at 10:35 am on December 28, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Iowans might feel a bit overwhelmed by the choices for next Tuesday’s Republican caucuses for the GOP presidential nomination, but one independent group has begun running radio ads insisting that there is still room for one more choice. Calling itself “Sarah Palin’s Iowa Earthquake,” the group will target specific markets in Iowa asking voters to line up behind the Republican Party’s most prominent non-candidate, and other ads will apparently follow.

Here’s another source from Breitbart on the same subject.

Now wouldn’t that just put a twist in the Establishment’s nickers?                           

Fini…, Pt II

Well, the project didn’t quite finish yesterday.  There’s still some touch-up and fixes yet to do. We’re supposed to have the final walk-around today. I think we’ve reached the 95% stage.  The windows still need work and touch-up with paint.  It’s is looking nice.

I’m in ‘n out today. It’s going to be busy.


If all goes well the siding project will be finished today.  They have to replace some siding that cracked on one side.  Note: concrete siding does not flex easily!

After the north side is finished, they’ll need to permanently fasten the window sills (new sills too), paint over the nail heads and chalking, and re-attach the front door and garage lighting.

They hoped to be much further along but yesterday after they were all setup and started working, it rained.  They got pretty wet and had to come in side to warm up.  One worker almost got hypothermia.  Rain with temps in the high 30s is not nice. Nor welcome.

When they finish, it’s walk around time.  Checking to see and approve the work, checking the paint touch up, checking the windows, and checking all the minute details.  Once we’ve signed off, we’ll write a very large check to the builder.  Man, do I love fixed-price contracts. Otherwise, we’d be waay over budget due to the weather.
The crew-boss told me they were booked continually through this coming March.  They are all young guys, mostly in their twenties, a couple in their early twenties and one older one who is the expert cutting the siding to fit. It’s not measure twice, cut once.  No, with concrete siding, it’s measure thrice, cut a template, install for fit, then cut the siding.

They are all Christians, too.  On the first day, I walked outside and one had a radio tuned to a local Christian station.

Mrs. Crucis and I are glad it’s about over.  We don’t like parking in the street and we’re looking forward to getting our garage back.
Happy New Year!

The Race

What race? The one for the ‘Pub nomination for President.  All the recent polls have Romney in the lead followed closely by Ron Paul.  Newt Gingrich is in third—a distant third according to some polls.  The state media clearly wants Romney to be that nominee.  As he did in the last election, Ron Paul has a very effective machine. The proof of that is shown in the polls.

However, Newt is still in the running.  Thomas Sowell, writing for the Investor’s Business Daily favors Newt.

Gingrich Past Shouldn’t Block A Future Sans Obama

If Newt Gingrich were being nominated for sainthood, many of us would vote very differently from the way we would vote if he were being nominated for a political office.
What the media call Gingrich’s “baggage” concerns largely his personal life and the fact that he made a lot of money running a consulting firm after he left Congress. This kind of stuff makes lots of talking points that we will no doubt hear, again and again, over the next weeks and months.
But how much weight should we give to this stuff when we are talking about the future of a nation?
This is not just another election and Barack Obama is not just another president whose policies we may not like. With all of President Obama’s broken promises, glib demagoguery and cynical political moves, one promise he has kept all too well. That was his boast on the eve of the 2008 election:
“We are going to change the United States of America.”
Many Americans are already saying that they can hardly recognize the country they grew up in. We have already started down the path that has led Western European nations to the brink of financial disaster.
Internationally, it is worse. A president who has pulled the rug out from under our allies, whether in Eastern Europe or the Middle East, tried to cozy up to our enemies, and has bowed low from the waist to foreign leaders certainly has not represented either the values or the interests of America. If he continues to do nothing that is likely to stop terrorist-sponsoring Iran from getting nuclear weapons, the consequences can be beyond our worst imagining.
Against this background, how much does Gingrich’s personal life matter, whether we accept his claim that he has now matured or his critics’ claim that he has not? Nor should we sell the public short by saying that they are going to vote on the basis of tabloid stuff or media talking points, when the fate of this nation hangs in the balance.
Even back in the 19th century, when the scandal came out that Grover Cleveland had fathered a child out of wedlock — and he publicly admitted it — the voters nevertheless sent him to the White House, where he became one of the better presidents.
In a world where we can make our choices only among the alternatives actually available, the question is whether Newt Gingrich is better than Barack Obama — and better than Mitt Romney.
Romney is a smooth talker, but what did he actually accomplish as governor of Massachusetts, compared to what Gingrich accomplished as speaker of the House? When you don’t accomplish much, you don’t ruffle many feathers. But is that what we want?
Can you name one important positive thing that Romney accomplished as governor of Massachusetts? Can anyone? Does a candidate who represents the bland leading the bland increase the chances of victory in November 2012? A lot of candidates like that have lost, from Thomas E. Dewey to John McCain.
Those who want to concentrate on the baggage in Gingrich’s past, rather than on the nation’s future, should remember what Winston Churchill said: “If the past sits in judgment on the present, the future will be lost.”
If that means a second term for Barack Obama, then it means lost big time.

There is much more at the website. I urge you to read his complete article.

Sowell addresses the attacks from the left and the ‘Pub establishment that Gingrich is a conservative.  Their point usually is that he isn’t a Tea Partier.  Well, neither are Romney nor Paul.  Paul likes to present himself as one but I note that he has no endorsements from any Tea Party organization.

Sowell notes Gingrich’s accomplishments when he was in office.

  • Engineered the first Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 40 years. 
  • The first balanced budget in 40 years. The media called it “the Clinton surplus” but all spending bills start in the House of Representatives, and Gingrich was speaker of the House. 
  • Produced some long overdue welfare reforms.

And finally, don’t forget The Contract with America.

Proponents say the Contract was revolutionary in its commitment to offering specific legislation for a vote, describing in detail the precise plan of the Congressional Representatives, and marked the first time since 1918 that a Congressional election had been run broadly on a national level. Furthermore, its provisions represented the view of many conservative Republicans on the issues of shrinking the size of government, promoting lower taxes and greater entrepreneurial activity, and both tort reform and welfare reform.                           

What has Romney done?  This is Sowell’s answer to that question.

Romney is a smooth talker, but what did he actually accomplish as governor of Massachusetts, compared to what Gingrich accomplished as speaker of the House? When you don’t accomplish much, you don’t ruffle many feathers. But is that what we want?
Can you name one important positive thing that Romney accomplished as governor of Massachusetts? Can anyone? Does a candidate who represents the bland leading the bland increase the chances of victory in November 2012? A lot of candidates like that have lost, from Thomas E. Dewey to John McCain.

At least McCain was a fighter..frequently supporting the democrats as much as he supported the ‘Pubs.  Romney?  Romney is no fighter.  When the going got rough, he switched positions.  Would he be a conservative President?  Only if the ‘Pubs win both houses of Congress.

Romney’s position when controversy and opposition occurs is to follow Rodney King’s infamous statement, “Cain’t we all jest get along?”  If, somehow, the democrats retain control of the Senate. Romney is just as likely to rollover to their positions as he would if the ‘Pubs were in control.

Romney would be nothing more than a rubber stamp. He’d be a Sheep in a Wolf’s clothes. If the ‘Pubs gain control of Congress, he would go along with anything that reached his desk.  That is exactly what the ‘Pub establishment wants. They have no great interest in curbing government either. Pork and the ability to spend keeps them in office.  That is the primary interest of the establishment of both parties.  The country can fend for itself as long as they have their power and perks.

Newt, at least, is no rubber stamp.  That alone makes him much more desirable for President than Romney.

Repost: A Gathering of the Clan

When my Grandmother lived with us on the farm, Thanksgiving and Christmas was always a big deal. Many of our relatives lived at both ends of the state.

My Aunt Anna May (note: My Aunt Anna May, at age 99, is still with us,) and a bunch of cousins lived near Cairo (rhymes with Aero. Kayro is a syrup. K-Eye-ro, another incorrect pronunciation is a city in Egypt,) Illinois. Mom’s other two siblings, Aunt Clara and Uncle Bill, lived near Chicago along with their batch of kids and cousins. We lived betwixt them with a local batch of cousins and therefore often hosted the gathering of the Clan at the holidays.

In the late 1950s, most of the cakes and pies were hand-made including pie crust. Betty Crocker was expensive and not to be trusted according to Mom and Grandma. A week or so before the guests arrived, Mom and Grandma started making pie dough. They would make it in small batches, enough for a couple of pies and then store it on the porch. The porch was unheated and was used as a large refrigerator during the colder months.

Mom and Grandma collected pie fillings most of the year. When cherries were in season, they canned cherries. When blackberries and raspberries were in season, they canned the berries—along with making a large batch of berry jelly and jam. When apples were in season, they canned and dried apples. When the holidays arrived, they were ready.

About the only things they didn’t can was pumpkins. Mom and Grandma purposely planted late to harvest late. I don’t remember a year that we didn’t have pumpkins or sweet-potatoes for pie filling.

The count-down started with the pie dough. When the dough was ready, Mom began baking pies. When a pie was finished, it’d go out to the porch covered with a cloth. The division of labor was that Mom would make pies, Grandma would make cakes.

Grandma liked sheet cakes. I rarely saw a round, frosted cake unless it was someone’s birthday. Grandma’s cakes were 12″ by 24″. Icing was usually Cream Cheese or Chocolate. Sometimes, when Grandma make a German Chocolate cake, she’d make a brown-sugar/coconut/hickory nut icing. The baking was done right up until it was time stick the turkeys, hams or geese in the oven.

The last item Grandma would make was a apple-cinnamon coffee-cake that was an inherited recipe from her mother. It was common-place that when everyone arrived, we’d have a dozen pies and another dozen cakes ready. That was our contribution. The guests brought stuff as well.

The holiday gathering wasn’t just a single day, it was several. Thanksgiving, for instance, lasted through Sunday. A Christmas gathering lasted through New Years. We weren’t the only relatives in the central part of the state, but we were the gathering place. Come bedtime, the visitors left with some of the local cousins and would gather again the next day at another home and the visiting continued.

It was not unusual for us to have twenty or thirty folks at the house at one time. Our barn was heated for the livestock, so the men and boys—and some girls, gathered there. Dad would turn a blind eye to the cigarettes, cigars and bottles—as long as no one started a fire. Grandma’s jugs of Applejack appeared as well.

The women would gather in one of our side bedrooms where Grandma’s quilt frame was set up. They would sit, talk, quilt and plan future family affairs. A number of weddings were planned in those sessions. Sometimes before the bridegroom was aware of his upcoming fate.

Come Christmas Eve, the women, along with a number of kids, put up the tree and decorations. At 11PM, those who wished went off to midnight services. There were a number of preachers in the Clan and those who didn’t want to drive to a service and were also still awake attended a Clan service in the barn. That was the only building able to house everyone at the same time.

On Christmas, the Clan dispersed to their more immediate relatives. Mom, Dad, Grandma, my Aunts and Uncles, my sister Mary Ellen, her husband Dick and their two kids arrived. Sometimes my Aunt Emily and Cousins Richard and Dorothy (Dad’s niece and nephew) from Dad’s side would come down from Mt. Vernon, IL for Christmas.

More often than not, Dad, Dick, my Uncles and I would go goose or duck hunting early on Christmas morning. The Muddy River was only a few miles away and if we arrived right at dawn, we were likely to find some Canadian Geese or Mallards sitting out of the wind on the river. We rarely spent more than three hours hunting before we’d return home, wet, cold and tired ready for breakfast.

We would have a large breakfast around 9AM and afterwards while Mom and Grandma started on dinner, we’d open presents next to the tree. I remember once that Mom hide a pair of snow tires for Dad’s pickup behind the couch. I really have a hard time believing Dad wasn’t aware of them.
Over the years, the Clan has dispersed. Most moving to locations where jobs were available. The elders have passed on and with them the traditions. Cousins have lost touch and few live on the old homesteads.

It was a different time, another era. Some families still maintain the old traditions. They are the fortunate ones.