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Alyce Faye Bragg: Of dog days and Appalachian expressions

Dog days began July 3, with the resulting steamy and sweltering weather. Old timers believed that rain on dog days was a bad omen, with this little verse:

“Dog days bright and clear, indicate a happy year;

But when accompanied by rain, for better times our hopes are vain.”

I’ve heard my husband say many times that if it rains on the first day of dog days, it will rain for 40 days. How true that is, I can’t say.

The dog star, Sirius, rises at this time, and is so bright that it can often be seen during the day (under the right conditions). The Greek meaning of the word “Sirius” is “scorching.” It does indicate that the worst summer heat is upon us. I can remember my mother commenting during times when something was heated that it was “hotter than the Fourth of July!”

That reminds me of some of the Appalachian expressions of my growing-up days. I received a delightful list of the words my parents used (and some we still use!) from Annabelle Vance of Mathias (Hardy County). It brought back so many memories that I could almost hear Daddy speaking again.

When we were washing dishes, he would say, “Now you girls wrench them dishes in hot water!” and, “I’m really juberous about going to that place!” I remember Grandpa O’Dell speaking about some neighbors who were very hospitable, “Them folks were so clever to keep me all night!”

We still speak many of the same expressions, using “holler” instead of hollow, and “feller” in place of fellow. I think our Appalachian speech is quite colorful and graphic, and I hope it never dies away. She sent an article on our speech, and I fall into that category quite well. I may say, “I’m a-dyin’ to go there!”

We still pick a “mess” of green beans and raise a “passel” of cucumbers, but mostly we put them in a bag and not a “poke.” I remember my late daughter-in-law Sarah telling me that someone she saw was “ho’jous,” and it took me a minute to realize that she meant hideous. She grew up in the next county, but we never used that word. Maybe our dialect varies from county to county.

It makes me wonder if our grandchildren will even recognize our old words. I remember one of my grandchildren asking me what I meant when I made the comment, “He was about three sheets in the wind.” Of course, it merely meant he was drinking alcohol. I reckon that sometimes it may seem that we are speaking a “furrin” language!

It’s too late for me to change now. The Scottish and Irish speech that our forefathers used when they migrated here from their native countries is still used in these little pockets in our hills. The folks who settled in one place and didn’t move around much sort of cultivated their own dialect. I can still hear Daddy say, “I’ve worked so hard today that I’m plumb petered out!” He did look kind of “peaked!”

•••

Dog days the cause or not, it is really hot and humid today. As I have thought many times, I wonder how we made it through so much summertime heat when I was growing up. We had a screen door and screens in our windows, but air conditioning was something we never heard about. I guess we just got used to it, but I can remember sleeping on the porch many times.

The people who had it the worst were the housewives. It seemed that Mom did the canning during the hottest days of the year. As the garden began to produce the vegetables, she was busy all day and sometimes part of the night. We all got into picking and stringing the green beans, but she had to do the rest. She did have a big pressure canner, which she used for quarts, but sometimes she filled half-gallon jars with green beans.

That was when she put the zinc washtub to good use. She had a “black” tub that she used to heat wash water — meaning the tub had blackened from the fire. She would kindle a fire, and fill the tub with water. The jars of beans were placed in the tub before the water was heated, and cooked for four long hours. Of course, more water had to be added as they cooked, and it had to be boiling water or else cold water would burst the jars.

I feel almost guilty now when I use my pressure canner to can green beans, and the air conditioner cools the kitchen as I work. We had to carry water from the old pump, and now all I have to do is turn the tap. Water pours out already hot, whereas Mom had to heat water on the old gas range. She had it harder when she was a girl, though. They made hominy and cornmeal from the field corn that they grew, and had to make their own lye. (Lye was used in making the hominy. They made a lye-water solution in a big washtub and scrubbed the hulls off with their knuckles — along with some of their knuckles also.)

She once told me that they saved their hardwood ashes out of the fireplace and stored them in a barrel in the garden. When they accumulated enough ashes, they put a spout in the bottom of the barrel. The cover was taken off, and rainwater was allowed to drip through. They also used lye water to scrub their wooden floors.

I’m so thankful for our modern appliances, and our job is a snap compared to Grandma’s! It wasn’t just the canning that our mothers did, but much of the farm work also. I found a poem that describes the way our grandmothers worked.

Grandmother on a Winter’s Day

Grandmother on a winter’s day, milked the cows and fed them hay,

Slopped the hogs and bridled the mule, and got the children off to school;

Did the washing, mopped the floors, washed the windows and did some chores.

Cooked a dish of home-dried fruit; pressed her husband’s Sunday suit.

Swept the parlor, made the beds, baked a dozen loaves of bread.

Split some firewood and lugged it in, enough to fill the kitchen bin.

Cleaned the lamps and put in oil, stewed some apples she thought would spoil.

Churned the butter, baked a cake, and exclaimed, “For goodness sake,”

The calves have got out of the pen, and went out and chased them in again.

Gathered the eggs and closed the stable, went back to the house and set the table.

Cooked a supper that was delicious, and afterward washed all the dishes.

Fed the cat, and sprinkled the clothes; mended a basketful of hose.

Then opened the organ and began to play, “When You Come to the End of a Perfect Day!”

Now why do we think we have it hard?

Contact Alyce Faye Bragg at alycefaye@citlink.net or write to 2556 Ovapa Road, Ovapa, WV 25164.

FUNERALS FOR THURSDAY, JULY 18, 2019

Anderson, Robert - 1 p.m. Snodgrass Funeral Home, South Charleston.

Atkins Jr., Archie - 11 a.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Burdette, Davy - 8 p.m., Allen Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Edwards, Dianna - 2 p.m., Montgomery Memorial Park, London.

Loving, Nancy - 1 p.m., Groves Creek Community Church, Harrison.

Meadows, James - 2 p.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.

Miller, Ruth - 11 a.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Smith, Carl - 11 a.m., Cunningham-Parker-Johnson Funeral Home, Charleston.

Thornton, Sammie - 1 p.m., Gatens - Harding Funeral Home, Poca.

Vance, Zenda - 11 a.m., Montgomery Memorial Park, London.

Whitson, Grady - 7 p.m., Deal Funeral Home, Point Pleasant.

Williams, Mary - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.