I just spent the week working as a craft interpreter in an 1890's village. It's a much closer era than what I usually portray, so there were many people with memories of grandma and grandpa and how they lived. The 1890's are only 120 years distant, so people in their 80's right now still touch that era in their memories of their elders.
And I heard the most wonderful stories - expansions and elaborations of the published facts that I had to rely on from my study of the area and era. As I began to fit more into my role as an interpreter I realized that it was my job to act as a bridge. I needed to collect these stories and elaborations of life before electricity, motor cars and telephones - and bring that knowledge forward to the people of this age where water comes from pipes at the turn of a faucet and information floods our lives.
Much of what I heard filled in the gaps in the written knowledge and made what I knew seem workable. I knew that hogs were a very important staple of life here in the Ozarks and that butchering is done in the Fall, after it cools down. I knew that hogs ran loose and everybody had their own special ear notch to mark their hogs.
But this week I listened as a man reached back in his memory . He told me of being a child and going with the other young people to round up hogs. Everybody from the surrounding area would gather at one farm, he explained, and the kids would go out and beat the bushes and drive the wild hogs toward the farm yard. "There weren't many pigs that could escape us kids," he glowed with pride, even after all these decades.
They would pick about 6 hogs from that farm to butcher, turn the rest back out and everybody would go to work, killing, butchering, cutting meat, rendering lard, making cracklins and packaging it all up. The kids hauled wood and water and were kept busy wrapping meat and doing what ever chores the adults sent them on. He explained they would divide up the meat and after a few days of working and visiting, everyone would head home, with their share of the pork, sausage patties, lard, cracklins for cornbread and what ever else people brought to share.
He said that would last everybody a while. Then, when they started to run out of meat, word would go out and everybody would head to the next farm for another hog round-up.
Another gentleman told me about his grandparent's neighbors, who were too poor to have a summer kitchen outside, so during the summer, they just hauled their wood stove out into the front yard and cooked in the open. I wondered that they were rich enough to have a wood cook stove, but were seen as poor because they didn't build a summer kitchen.
I heard from one woman of her grandparent's challenges moving from the farm into the city of Memphis in the 1960's. One of the first things they did when they moved in was to go out back and dig and build an outhouse. "Grandpa said you eat in the house," she explained, "You don't --- in the house."
There were many other stories. I am going to try to write them all down. Perhaps they will only be quaint bits of history. But those little memories may bridge the knowledge gaps between self-sufficient yesterday and the unknowns of tomorrow.