In 1976, Mrs. Mary Harley, 90, of Liberty County, was interviewed by her grandson, Spencer Clark. Spencer and 20 other students in Mrs. Nan Flowers’ class at Bradwell Institute recorded interviews with older Liberty County citizens about their early lives. They made a small book of these interviews called “Sand & Pine — Glimpses of Other Liberty Days.” I was graciously given permission to share these stories from time to time with Coastal Courier readers.
“Mrs. Mary Harley has lived in Liberty County all her life. She recalls that the roads were all dirt roads with rail fences alongside them. There were a few cars and horses and wagons were the main means of travel. Most of the black people had midwives to take care of them when their babies were due. There were hospitals, but they were far away — too far to go by horse and wagon!”
The churches were mostly board churches with long, hard, wood benches in them. They surely were hard during a long-winded preacher’s sermon. There was a large church bell that was rung to remind people it was time for church to start.
Mrs. Mary shared three recipes with her grandson. People long ago did not have a written recipe, and many could not read, anyway. They just knew the right amount of ingredients to put together to make the dish. This is her syrup bread recipe: Take flour, syrup and a little sugar and mix them with a spoon for about five minutes. Then, cook or bake it until it is brown. Cracklin cornbread: Take fat back, and cut it up. Fry it until all the grease is out and it is brown. Then, cut it into little parts and mix it up with flour and meal and liquid. Then, bake it until it is brown. Greens dumplings: Mix up meal, salt and water, then pat it out. Put it in the boiling greens (turnips, collards or mustard greens) and add some meat, such as streak-of-lean or hambone. When done, you’ll have a good dinner!
When asked about superstitions, she told about two of them. “For as long as I can remember, my grandparents have had many cats on their farm. Of course, having many living cats through the years means you end up with many dead cats. They’ve always buried them in the same place. The mystery of it all is that when they bury one, a patch of cattails sprout up in the spring. However, when none are buried, there are no cattails.”
The cemetery by the old church in Midway has an odd superstition behind it. It is said that 100 or more years ago, when it was being built, two of the workers got into a fight and one was killed. The murderer buried the dead man under the back wall. When they finished the wall around the cemetery, it cracked above where the man was buried. Since that day, when the repair men try to repair the wall, it still cracks in the same place.
Mary Harley remembers the old home remedies that every family had to use at one time or the other. “My mother got this cure for the flu from my grandmother. First, you go into a large field. You find a sassafras root, which is gray and white. Bring it back home, split them and ‘bald’ for about five minutes, until the water starts to turn brown. You pour this into a cup, mix with a little bit of whiskey and some orange juice, and give it to the patient. This is a cure for children’s colds: First mix some tallow (made from cooking grease from beef fat) and camphorated oil and rub on his chest and back at bedtime. Then put a shirt made from flannel material on him. After the compress is on, don’t take it off for about two weeks, or until the cold is gone. Give him only a small amount to eat, just before he goes to bed.
Grandpa had his own cough-syrup formula that he made. Take one large peppermint stick and one pint of good moonshine (homemade whiskey). Put the peppermint into the moonshine and let it melt. Do not add heat, since it will melt at room temperature. Caution: Use only one teaspoon full at a time. Too much and you will forget that you were ever sick. Store at room temperature, with the lid loose, and out of reach of children.”
Mary said, “When I was younger, my mother once told me about my grandmother and her cure for the toothache. She said that my grandmother once was sick with a toothache and couldn’t get to the dentist. Instead, she went to the store and bought some chewing tobacco. She had heard that this would help her tooth, and so it did. Now, she still chews it just to chew it! She says it keeps her teeth in good condition.
“Another cure for a toothache that I know about is this one. If you are troubled by a toothache or gum disease, use this old family cure-all. Drink one half-cup of calamine at bedtime. Drinking this solution will stop all pain from tooth and gum ailments. Warning: If you get wet or drink water within 24 hours of taking this treatment, you will become salivated and all of your teeth will fall out.” (I have had a toothache for two days now, but I do not think I will take up chewing tobacco at my age, nor will I drink calamine!)
This is Mary’s grandmother’s cure for rash: “The following is a never-failing cure for a rash. Take a piece of fried meat, no certain kind, and rub it in a circular motion onto the rash, being sure to cover the entire area. After this is done, promptly take the meat outdoors and give it to the neighborhood dog. If he eats it, the rash will be cured. If not, however, you must wait 24 hours and repeat the process.”
(Now, if I had a bad rash I could not get rid of, I would be willing to try this. I wonder if it has to be a neighborhood dog or could it be your own dog? If so, I know my dachshund would eat the meat immediately as he eats like a pig!)
Grandpa’s cure for a bee sting is to place some tobacco on the sting for a while, and it will take the poisoning out. Grandma’s cure for a black eye is to sleep on it and it will go away the next morning. Also, you can put a raw steak on it and leave it for several hours.