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Burning The Lard

Burning The Lard

A mostly true story by Melinda Long; with only a few stretchers here and there.

Spartanburg, SC, Circa 1948

Walter Brown, (my father), was known by his friends as Walt, and Edward Brown, (my uncle) was known as Buddy. Walt and Buddy were brothers. Walt was the oldest by two years. He taught Buddy everything he knew. He showed him how to pitch horseshoes and skip stones across a creek; how to milk a cow and drive a tractor. One day, the two of them slipped out behind the barn with one of their daddy's cigars, and learned how to turn green and get sick in a hurry.

Walt was even responsible for Buddy's name. You see, two year old Walt couldn't pronounce his baby brother's given name, Edward. Instead, he proclaimed,

"He's my buddy." The name, Edward, was all but forgotten and he was called, from that day onward, "Buddy."

The two boys lived with their grandmother, Hattie Brown, but they called her Mommy Brown. Their mama, Sarah, had died of kidney disease, shortly after Buddy was born. Their daddy, Leland Brown, didn't know how to handle two small boys, and so everyone moved in with Mommy Brown.

Now, according to Walt, Mommy Brown stood about eight feet tall in her stocking feet, weighed, at least, 400 pounds, and was the meanest woman this side of the Mississippi. He may have stretched it just a bit. She couldn't have been as bad as all that. After all, she did take in two small boys who needed a home. She was the kind of woman who never forgot a birthday or anniversary or any special event. She never forgot a kindness done for her. That's just the way she was.

Living on a farm, the boys had many chores they had to do. Among them were, milking the cows, helping with the crops and cutting stove wood. They didn't mind all of those things, and the many other daily responsibilities that were just part of farm life. There was one chore, however, they both hated more than Saturday baths... rendering lard.

Every fall, when the weather turned cold, they would go with their daddy to slaughter two or three hogs. The meat was hung in the smoke house so that they could have pork chops, ham, bacon, sausage and other good foods throughout the year. (Walt likes to say that his grandpa ate fatback everyday of his life and it finally killed him.. ..when he was 98.)

Just about every part of the hog was used. What was left over, was the fat. They handed that over to Mommy Brown. She would drag out her big black wash pot, into the backyard, and build a very small fire underneath it. She would then cut the fat up into little chunks and begin to cook it down. This is where the boys came in. Mommy didn't have time to stand over that pot all day and stir, what with keeping up the house and all, so Walk and Buddy would be put to stirring the pot.

After many hours of this business, the result was this gooey white stuff called lard. Mommy Brown used it all year long for cooking just like we would use vegetable shortening today. On top of the lard there would be a layer of crunching stuff called crackling. If you've never had cracklin' in your corn bread, then you've never had corn bread.

Now, when the boys saw Mommy building a fire under her black wash pot, they thought about running for the hills but they knew Mommy would eventually catch up to them, so they didn't.

"Walter Jess...Buddeee" Mommy yelled across the backyard, both hands cupped around her mouth. When her grandsons finally stood before her, a hang dog look on both their faces, she put one hand on her hip and used the other to add emphasis to what she was about to say.

"Now, you boys keep this pot stirred and don't you add any wood to this fire. I'll add it if it needs it. I don't want this lard catchin' on fire. Is that understood?" It was. Mommy went back inside to tend to the morning dishes. Walt and Buddy stirred the pot,...and stirred...and stirred. They wandered off to play mumbly peg with their pocket knives. (Every boy, older than five, carried a pocket knife for whittlin' and eating watermelons and such.) Then they stirred some more. They played "kick the can" for a few minutes and then stirred. They chased a lizard across the yard, and then stirred. After some time, Walt made a very pertinent comment,

"This is gonna take all day and here we are stuck with it." Then he made a suggestion, one they would both regret. "Let's speed this up some." Buddy knew this probably was a bad idea but surely one piece of wood wouldn't hurt. It was just more temptation than he could handle. They added one stick of wood to the fire.... just one. They watched and stirred to see if things would improve. They did. That fat seemed to be cooking down just a little faster.

Finally, another idea was brought to light. It was later a point of great consternation as to who had made this second suggestion, but no matter who the guilty party was, they both agreed to the thought that if one stick of wood was a good thing, two or three would be even better. Two more sticks of wood were added to the fire. Walt and Buddy stirred until they were certain things were under control. Then they went off to climb a tree.

They smelled it before they saw it: greasy black smoke, boiling out of that wash pot. And they weren't the only ones to smell it. Mommy Brown slammed open the screen door, put both hands on her hips and hollered, "Walter Jess...Buddy! What have you done to my lard'?"

Now Mommy kept handy, just inside the screen door, an old brush broom, dried and cracking with age. It was made of pieces of cut brush, lashed together with twine. She used it to sweep the dirt part of the back yard. It also had other uses. When the boys saw Mommy grab for that brush broom, they took off. Walt headed for the woods, and Buddy for the creek.

They figured she couldn't catch them both. Walt got about 40 feet into the trees before he realized he wasn't being followed. He stopped in time to hear his brother yelling. He was amazed to discover that a person could cuss and pray at the same time. Walt kept a low profile for the remainder of the day. After that, the land incident was laid to rest.

Two weeks later, Mommy stopped Walt just as he was leaving the breakfast table and asked him to cut some fresh brush and make her a new brush broom.

"My old one is just worn down to a nub." she told him. Walt was happy to do anything he could to get back into Mommy's good graces, so he quickly began a search for the best patch of fresh brush he could find. He cut down enough for a broom and tamped the ends together to make them even. Finally, he lashed the bundle with twine and tied a good strong knot so it wouldn't fall apart.

Walt slapped the strong green brush broom against his hand, watching it bounce back. This one was going to last a good long time. He carried the broom back inside to Mommy and handed it to her with his most winning smile. "It's a good one Mommy. Good and Strong."

Mommy accepted the broom with a grin. "Thank you, Walt. I'm sure it'll do the job just fine. "His task complete, and Mommy on his side again, Walt turned to leave. This time he heard it before he felt it: the sound of that brand new brush broom swooshing through the air toward his backside. When the broom met its target, Walter Jess Brown remembered Mommy Brown never forgot a birthday or anniversary or special event. She never forgot a kindness done for her and she surely never forgot about that lard fire in the back yard.

I can tell you for certain that this story is true because Walter Jess himself told me...and my daddy would never tell me anything that wasn't true.

Editors Note: Melinda Long, is a very talented professional storyteller from Greenville, S.C.

© Copyright 1996

Legacy Magazine

All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction, in any manner, is prohibited.

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