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Author Archives: Sheila Ingle

Yahoo to the New Book Cover of “Tales of a Cosmic Possum”

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Can I say this book cover wasn’t what I was expecting?Book Cover.jpg

But then I didn’t know what I was expecting either, and it is perfect for Tales of a Cosmic Possum.

My surprise was real, as I gazed at the mountain-blue nuances. The dark coolness of shades drew me into the Appalachian range where the Ingle family lived with its customs, food, and sayings that were once foreign to me.

When Make and Lizzie Ingle left Erwin, Tennessee, to work in Tucapau Mill in Startex, South Carolina, they left their open, mountain shelter behind for the clacking noises of cotton mill workers. Not far behind them, Amanda and John said good by to their hand-to-mouth struggle on a small, North Carolina farm in the hills and moved to the sweltering. work environment of Clifton Mill #2.

Neither the mountains or the farm land could support either family any longer. A weekly pay check was necessary for survival, and so they moved to the Upstate. These cotton mills, where they worked, changed their families’ lives for four generations.

Their stories show these unknown women as heroines. They all have fortitude, hardiness, and gumption, which they passed on to their children, because that is what Appalachian women do.

And, so the countdown begins until I hold my fifth book in my hands. Thank you, John, for sharing your family’s stories with me! It’s been another adventure.

Hand Crafts

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John and I spent part of this past Saturday in Belmont, SC. The Belmont Historical Society hosts an event every year to celebrate yesterday’s days.

On their property is a restored cotton mill house, that gave me the visual several years ago that helped me start writing Tales of a Cosmic Possum. It is set up to portray a 1935 typical home in a mill village.

Sharing their crafts was a basket weaver, a wood carver, a weaver, a tatter, an expert on crewel work, and three women playing old games for children.

Basket made from white oak

The wood carver’s work was exquisite. On display was a candle box, several plates and bowls of various sizes, a wooden egg, and trivets. When he retired at 55, his wife suggested he find a hobby. At age 83, he is still enjoying it. Using three major cuts, he has borrowed designs from old butter molds and Dresden lace embroidery patterns.

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We sold our books, and John had the opportunity to shoot his Kentucky rifle replica. A trio of singers and guitarists serenaded us, and the museum was open to visitors. Their period rooms started in the Revolutionary War and follow the history of Belton through World War II.

And, yes, as you know, I love handmade items and had to buy a few for gifts.

It was the tatter that caught my eye the longest, as I watched her walk around and tatt without losing a stitch. Tatting is a way to create knotted lace with a small shuttle. Irish immigrants brought this gift to America. Wearing collars of tatted lace, the women soon found that this was a source of extra money for them.

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Nanna, my grandmother, tatted. She made doilies and decorated the hems of dishcloths and pillow cases. I treasure some of her work, and I love for people to notice its beauty in my home.

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It seems I am being pushed away from my knitting and maybe to another typed of handwork. If you don’t do handwork, I would love to encourage you to try.

As Phyllis George said, “There is something soothing and satisfying to watch your own creation take shape. Crafts make us feel rooted, give us a sense of belonging and connect us with our history. Our ancestors used to create these crafts out of necessity, and now we do them for fun, to make money and to express ourselves.”

Riding the Rails During the Great Depression

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A hobo is a traveling worker who has little and is homeless. Unlike a “tramp”, who works only when forced to, and a “bum”, who does not  work at all. They carried their worldly goods in a bindle; this was their term for a bundle of bedding carried in a sack.

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During the Great Depression, people went across the country in search of work. But without a job, they didn’t have money to pay for transportation. The only way to get across the country, and potentially get the job, was riding the rails. This is how the hobos of the Great Depression lived from day-to-day.

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The above image illustrates the panic and reality that men faced in trying to feed themselves on the road and their families at home.

Sometimes families traveled together and made-do with camping along creek banks for a water source. They carried what they had with them, and often children had an essential to carry along.

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They had to think about food all the time. Finding it was a daily task, and they all knew it. Hobos developed a series of symbols in order to “talk” to each other, leaving messages so other hobos would get information. Friendly farms where they could find work and food were marked, as were the unfriendly farms where they would find neither.

John’s aunt Jenny Belle, who I write about in Tales of a Cosmic Possum, ran a boarding house in Union, South Carolina. Because of her kindness and proximity to the railroad, sometimes hobos stopped at her home. She always made sure they left her house with something to eat, even if she couldn’t help them any other way. If any farmers needed help, she would share that information with them, too.

In a list of thousands of men and women who rode the rails are names of many who later became famous –

  • Novelists Louis L’Amour, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, and James Michener
  • Actor Clark Gable
  • TV host Art Linkletter
  • Oil billionaire H. L. Hunt
  • Journalist Eric Sevareid
  • Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

Teens struck out on their own for an adventurous life riding from one place to another.

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Unbelievable, but true, many hoboes attended the 1889 National Hobo Convention in St. Louis. The group constructed a strict ethical code for all hobos to follow. This is a partial listing of those rules.

1. YOU DO YOU.

“Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.”

2. SHOW SOME RESPECT.

“When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.”

3. DON’T BE AN OPPORTUNIST.

“Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.”

4. GET A JOB.

“Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again.”

5. BE A SELF-STARTER.

“When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.”

6. SET A GOOD EXAMPLE.

“Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals’ treatment of other hobos.”

7. BE MINDFUL OF OTHERS.

“When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as badly, if not worse than you.”

8. DON’T LITTER.

“Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.”

9. LEND A HAND.

“If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.”

10. PRACTICE GOOD HYGIENE.

“Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.”

11. BE COURTEOUS WHEN YOU’RE RIDING THE RAILS …

“When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.”

12. … AND WHEN YOU’RE NOT.

“Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.”

13. HELP OUT THE KIDS.

“Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.”

14. SAME GOES FOR HOBOS.

“Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.”

15. LEND YOUR VOICE.

“If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it. Whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!

The hobo culture was amazing. Starting after the Civil War as people were displaced and continuing on until after WW II, this way of life appealed to some men, but for others it was a necessary choice. Even the danger of jumping on and off those trains couldn’t stop them from that leap.

I enjoyed finding out about hobos and their lives, but I know it would not have been one I would have chosen. But then Lulu, my grandmother, used to say “sometimes you do what you have to do.”

“I grew up poor. I never had any money. I was a hobo, you know, ride the freights.” Art Linkletter

Mill Hill Recipes from “Tales of a Cosmic Possum”

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Women in the mill hill villages depended on their own gardens, chickens, cows, pigs, as well as buying from the Company Store for their food. Fruit trees and pecan or walnut trees usually produced bounty to divide with neighbors. They freely shared with each other, and all had a kitchen specialty. Though they had little, the matriarchs made the best of what they had.
They cooked on a wood stove with light from the windows or kerosene lamps. Water was provided from a common well that several families shared. Wooden utensils stirred and turned food heating in cast iron skillets and bean pots (We have John’s mother’s/Lois.), and porcelain pots.
Meals were plain, uncomplicated, and similar. Any left overs were eaten at the next meal or fed to the animals. Drying and canning vegetables from summer and fall gardens improved winter diets. Nothing was wasted; even watermelon rinds were made into preserves. Though menus were sparse in variety, biscuits or cornbread topped with homemade butter and honey never grew old.

Here is  one.

Simple Slaw
Choose a solid and firm cabbage from your garden, and squeeze the cabbage head to check to see if it’s ready for the table or not. Cut the cabbage off the stem. Wash cabbage, and shake excess water out. Strike the bottom of cabbage down on table to loosen the core. Twist the core to remove. Cut the cabbage to slaw consistency with a very sharp knife. Add salt, pepper, and Duke’s mayonnaise to taste. (In 1917, this favorite was created by Mrs. Eugenia Duke at Duke’s Sandwich Shop in Greenville, SC.) Stir and serve this extra for Sunday dinner or when company was visiting.

Tales of a Cosmic Possum is just weeks from being published, and I am going to share some vignettes with you.

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Strawberry Preserves: Part of My Heritage

Growing up I can remember my great-grandmother Minnie, as well as both my grandmothers, Edythe and Lucile, making preserves. For many years, my mother continued this tradition of making strawberry preserves in May, blackberry in July, and peach in August.

For my grands, canning and preserving was not a choice; it was a way-of-life. Both these generations lived through the Depression and knew the importance of saving any bounty. They each had specific stock pots that they used and shared jars with each other. All four covered the preserves with parafin wax to seal the jars and used Sure Jell as pectin.

Communities used to have canaries for locals to use; this brought a lot of fellowship to this task.

None of them grew these fruits, so they either picked them or bought them at a road side stand. Mother had a favorite stand in Inman owned by the Settles family, or she would find the fruit she needed at the old Farmer’s Market on Kennedy Street. Critt and I didn’t mind following her around on these shopping sprees, because she we always received free samples.

Farmers brought their produce, fruit, and plants, rented a space, and waited for the Spartanburg matrons to show up. As you can see from the above photo, parking spaces were angled. Patrons parked and walked down one side and then the other.
Conversations between buyers and sellers were usually short, because the goods were clearly marked by price. But meeting friends along the way made the excursion a bit longer. The ladies went home from a relaxing time at the market.
There was not an emphasis on buying local or fresh like there is today, but for many homes this was a good choice.
None of my family’s four homes was air conditioned, so the heat from the stove and the boiling of the fruit made this a hot chore. I can remember all of them with kerchiefs tied around their heads and wiping their faces with aprons, as they melted a bit from the excessive heat. All chose early morning for making preserves.
And here I am in the present, because this morning I made strawberry preserves from three gallons of strawberries from Strawberry Hill. And the only thing different about my morning from their mornings is that I didn’t use paraffin to help seal the jars. On three burners, the jars, lids, and bands boiled for sanitation, and on the front large burner, I stirred and stirred and stirred those strawberries. Yes, some of the sugary fruit popped out on the stove and my hands, but the finale was worth it all.
Now in the pantry are several dozen jars of the most delicious strawberry preserves. Yes, John and I both taste-tested it and decided no improvement was needed.
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Yes, there was a bit of drudgery to this morning, but I still enjoy the tradition of having preserves on hand to serve and give to friends and family. No, I didn’t have to spend the morning like this; Smucker’s makes delicious strawberry preserves. I have to admit there was a lot of satisfaction in choosing to follow in my family’s footsteps in this task.
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“Way Down Yonder in the Paw Paw Patch”

Where, oh where is dear little Danny?
Where, oh where is dear little Danny?
Where, oh where is dear little Danny?
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Come on girls, let’s go find him,
Come on girls, let’s go find him,
Come on girls, let’s go find him,
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
Way down yonder in the paw-patch.

Where, oh where is dear old Nellie?
Where, oh where is dear old Nellie?
Where, oh where is dear old Nellie?
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Come on boys, let’s go find her,
Come on boys, let’s go find her,
Come on boys, let’s go find her,
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
Way down yonder in the paw-patch.

Where, oh where is dear little Jimmy?
Where, oh where is dear little Jimmy?
Where, oh where is dear little Jimmy?
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Come on girls, let’s go find him,
Come on girls, let’s go find him,
Come on girls, let’s go find him,
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ’em in your pockets,
Way down yonder in the paw-patch.

(If you know this song, I believe you might have ended up singing it as you read the words?!?)

Categorized as a children’s song or campfire song, I can remember singing about the paw-paw patch on the playground at school. Even though it really didn’t make any sense, we certainly enjoyed the acting out and vocalizing of it. I didn’t know Jimmy, Nellie, or Danny, and a paw-paw was also beyond my ken.

This song was similar to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.” All three songs included action and repetition, though nonsensical. I have always loved music and grew up in a family that sang along in the car, raking leaves, or at church.

Shel Silverstein understood children and songs.

“There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.”

Whether adult or child, songs speak to us. Sometimes it’s the rhythm, sometimes the words, but more often it is the melody that sears our hearts. We sway, tap our feet, hum, or clap our hands to become part of the song. It not only tickles our ears, but we savor its essence.

I have a friend that listens to NPR daily and particularly enjoys the musical sections in the afternoon. Her grandchildren have learned to recognize famous composers and their works from their visits with her. What a legacy she is passing on to them.

As I muse about music and its importance in my life, I want to draw closer to it, and I challenge you to do the same. It is good for the soul. As Julie Andrews sang, “The hills are alive with the sound of music….”

“Where words leave off, music begins.”
― Heinrich Heine

1775 Charles Town

Charles Town was the 4th largest city in the 13 colonies in 1775. There was a lighthouse near the sand bar to guide ships into the harbor.

As one visitor said, it was “Fine, fertile looking country, well wooded with noble lofty pines and oaks forming a prospect upon the whole strikingly beautiful.”

A network of roads and rivers helped to make it a valuable importing and exporting center in the south, along with this natural harbor. Rice and indigo were the chief exports. Over a million pounds of indigo was departing annually. Lumber, corn, peas, potatoes, tobacco, deerskins, and oranges were also in great demand. An observer said that on one day he saw 350 ships in the harbor.

There are still eight cobble stone streets in Charleston. In the old wharf area on the Cooper River side of the peninsula, as the cobbles had all been used as ballast for the empty sailing ships coming to Charleston to pick up their goods. Difficult to walk on in any type of shoes, but the history of their journey across the Atlantic Ocean is a real. For three centuries, horses and carriages have picked their ways between the rocks. Below is Maiden Lane.

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Merchants sold imported products. James McCall advertised Bristol window glass, candlesticks gloves, and silk umbrellas. John and Simon Berwick sold shoes in their shoe shop, made from their own tanyard. Tinsmiths, wigmakers, weavers, bakers, barbers, and tobacconists plied their wares and services.

In protest of the Tea Act of 1773, which embodied the concept of “taxation without representation,” Charlestonians confiscated tea and stored it in the Custom House. Representatives from all over the colony came to the Exchange in 1774 to elect delegates to the Continental Congress, the group responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence; and South Carolina declared its independence from the crown on the steps of the Exchange.

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There were at least 36 women who owned their own businesses. Frances Swallow ran a fashion shop and tavern. Katherine Bower owned a millinery shop that offered caps, lace, satin, needles, and beads. A pastry shop, owned by Margaret Nelson, offered plum cakes, custards, puddings, tarts, and marmalades. There was a cleaning business that Mary Drysdell ran, offering a service of starching, washing, and cleaning.

Charles Town was a boom town. New buildings, large and small businesses were everywhere. Along Broad and Meeting streets were large, handsome, brick houses. High ceilings and large windows were a must to help survive the heat. Piazzas were added to keep the sun’s rays from entering the house. Having the coolest house was a contest.

Taverns and inns vied for business; their food and choice liquors were important. They were similar to community centers as locals and visitors met together. Both men and women were owners; the women were called hostesses. Elizabeth Carne advertised as “entertainment for man and horse.” The Charlestown Chamber of Commerce was organized at Mrs. Swallows Tavern on Broad Street.

There was a social season that brought in the planters and their families; it started in January and lasted until early spring. Private clubs and public places were crowded. Concerts, balls, and plays were attended. Dancing and music was popular.

The first musical society was called the St. Cecilia Society. Sometimes as many as 250 ladies attended with their families or escorts. Only men were members, and they were the most prosperous planters, politicians, lawyers, physicians, and merchants in the SC Lowcountry.

Amateurs and female professionals appeared occasionally at the St. Cecilia Society’s concerts, as instrumental or vocal soloists. Professional singers, usually affiliated with the local theater, presented songs from popular English and French stage works. Young lady amateurs, generally performing on the harpsichord, piano, or harp, occasionally played solo works or appeared in small ensembles or as concerto soloists. Just like in the concert halls in London, they listened to Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, and Handel

The Dock Street Theater was busy during the season; in 1774 season, 77 different plays were performed. The social elite were entertained.

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And this was the city that in 1776, four months before the Declaration of Independence was signed, South Carolina adopted a state constitution–drafted by a Provincial Congress–and elected John Rutledge as the state’s president and Henry Laurens as its vice president.

Walking or riding the streets of Charleston is a rich journey into the past. It is still a city of pirates, of churches, of cannons, a long sea wall, and harbors to welcome you with mossy fingers waving in the wind.

Charleston is my birth place. Whatever the year, it welcomes you and me.