The Beautiful Northwest Florida Part Three

By Sandra Coffman (wren) on May 23, 2010

Come meet some of my kin folk and see a little about how life is lived out here in the true country.

As we wait for our breakfast to be cooked, I will fill y'all in.  I promise the breakfast will be worth the wait.

Now as I said, I know this area because of my relatives that live around here.  My Grandmother Coffman was born in this area. At the time of my first visit, I had Great Uncle Cletis, Great Aunt Lizzy and a huge number of first, second, third cousins and even more kissing cousins living in the area.  One visitor to the area I met on one trip said that he was afraid to shake a bush as a relative would probable pop out.  You have heard the Foxworthy joke about a red necks family tree having only one branch.  Well, it was not quite that bad but two of my cousins’ brothers married two sisters.  That was not unusual. Gets kind of confusing around there.

Well, truly, my country cousins cannot be called red necks as they are more like Hillbillies.  This area is the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains so that is understandable.  They talked the talk, Pie-an-o, toe-may-toe, mess of peas, he ain’t going to do it no how, etc.  I would come back from later trips talking very southern and yelling as both my dear Grandmother and Great Aunt where stone deaf.  Took me a few days to turn the volume down and a few "what's" to citify my language.

When I first visited my Great Aunt and Great Uncle they had an outhouse.  Before you use the outhouse please check for snakes, they like it in there.  Also, check the magazines and newspapers to find the non shiny pages as you do not want to use them to wipe yourself with-they do not do the job.  The old phone book pages are the best.  If you wanted to wash, you would start on the back porch faucet and do what my Grandmother said - "you would wash as low as possible and as high as possible and then go inside and wash possible" or if you were a kid you would wash outside in an old wash tub.  My poor sister got filmed by our dear old dad when she was finishing up and was drying off and the towel she was hiding behind slipped and her possible showed.  She has never lived that one down and she was only about 7 at that time. Especially when Dear old dad showed the movie to her boyfriends.

I remember the long dirt road that led to my Great Aunt’s home.  It was dusty in dry weather but a horrible mud pit when it was wet.  I also remember the long steep hill that led up to the old farm house.  The driveway was clay, you know that slippery, sticky clay like you find up in Georgia and when it was wet you would end up in the ditch as I did on one trip.  A cousin brought his tractor to pull it out they asked that I get the extra weight out of the truck and that flustered me so I dropped my keys into the truck and then closed the door. They had to take the back seat out to get the keys.  This was all because my Dear Great Aunt wanted to make sure that once we got down the hill we could get back up.  We went to church in a cousin’s car.

That first trip we went into the field and harvested peanuts.  For those who do not know, the peanut develops underground on the roots of the plant and it is a hard plant to pull up and also a very dirty job.  All that afternoon the peanuts boiled in a huge black cauldron with a wood fire under it.  At one point, one of the cows helped herself to the boiling pot, but they tasted good any way.  We helped make homemade ice cream using fresh cream, rich milk and eggs from their cows and chickens. Lots of work but, oh man, was it good.

Breakfast is ready.  Here on our table we have fried eggs, bacon, ham, fresh packed biscuits, the best you have ever eaten, home make cane syrup and homemade butter.  Also tomatoes, a bowl of fresh field peas, potatoes, corn, okra, coffee for the adults and milk for the younguns. And I think there is even a pie or two waiting in the old food safe.  Just a normal farm country breakfast. Pull up a chair and dig in. 

Boy am I stuffed.  Yep, that is a normal breakfast around these parts. Healthy? Probably not, you have noticed the hefty size of most of my relatives.  It might take weeks to get your cholesterol levels back down.  That white stuff my Great Aunt was cooking with?  You really want to know?  Well it was lard.  Thankfully they will soon start using Crisco.   Oh, thanks for not laughing out loud when my aunt said she was not a bit hungry as she digs in to that plate full of biscuits covered with butter and swimming in syrup.

Let's go out to the front porch.  Would you want to sit in the swing or one of the rocking chairs?  Is this not a great view?  We are on top of one of the tallest hills around here.  You could almost see forever.  The air is clean and pure, no smog.  Tonight we will enjoy the stars.  You will not believe how many you can see - breath taking.  The Milky Way, in all its glory, spreads across the sky.

Let me tell you about this house.  What?  Oh, you are wondering what my Great Uncle is doing stalking around with that ax?  Well, he is semi-retired from farming and does not need to get up before the crack of dawn.  But that old rooster has taken to crowing outside his window.  So if he can catch it we will have fried chicken tonight.  Otherwise, we will have fried fish, grits with lots of home churned butter and hush puppies with lots of onions.  Do you know why those little chunks of fried bread are called Hush Puppies?  Well, back in the days that the men folk hunted for meat they kept a pack of hunting hounds that lived under the houses.  When the women folk cooked, the old hounds would start howling.  To quiet them so the men folk could nap, they would drop small balls of cornbread into the hot oil and then toss them to the hounds-saying "hush puppies".

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This house is very, very old.  Built up this way on the stone pillars and with the huge sycamore tree to shade it in the afternoon, it will stay surprisingly cool. That tin roof also reflects the heat but can be very noisy when it rains. Sweeping the floors is easy as there are cracks between the floor boards.  Later on they will put down carpet on top of linoleum which will cut down on the bug problem a bit.  I see you looking at the windows.  No, there are no screens, just what we call rabbit wire.   Does not keep the bugs out but does keep the other critters out.  In the living room you will see an old piano Great Aunt will play hymns on for us later----singing will not be too good but it is the feeling they put into it that counts.  I keep telling myself that.  Now where did I put that cotton?  To our left are 2 bedrooms, those are real feather mattresses.  You sink into them fairly restful until a feather works its way through the covering and pokes you.  They are a pain to make up in the morning.  In the back we find the large dining room with a small storage room to the right and a small kitchen to the left.  You notice there is no ice box or freezer.  Food is canned or kept alive on the hoof, so to speak, until needed.  Cooked food or fresh stuff is kept in a food chest.  I am always surprised that no one came down with food poisoning.  But, with such large families, not much food is left after a meal.

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Let me tell you about some of my relatives.  I will not name all of them as it would take a week of Sundays so I’ll just name a few.  You have already met my Great Aunt Lizzy and her husband Great Uncle Cletis. Living here in this house is also Great Uncle's son by his first wife, Clyde.  Now Clyde is character and he can play a mean guitar.  Funny story about that guitar, he once went to the fair and gets his name done in gold wire and mounted it on his guitar.  He was a popular guest at all the dances and get togethers around about here. And of course while there, he would sip some of the beverage.  A popular one is called White Lightening or moon shine.  Have you ever drank any moon shine? Well then, let me tell you what Moon shine is like.  The stuff will, melt the paint off your walls,  run your car better than gas, dissolve the enamel on your teeth and take your breath away, scramble your brain cells and all this even before you swallow your first mouth full.  One night he played at a get together and walked home.  The next morning he checked his guitar and hurried to step-mother and Cried "Mother I've lost my name!!!!"  You will hear this story and many more later when cousins Jiggs and Yon get here and start the story telling, you will laugh until your sides hurt.

Jiggs, Yon, Lizzy and my own Grandmother's name Van are shortened forms of their names, which is common here in the country.  Many of my cousins have nicknames but none of that "Bubby" stuff.  Now that young boy over there with the wild red hair is called Rooster.  That other boy is called "Hammerhead", they tell me he is so hardheaded that a hammer would not make a dent in his head.  And the other one is called "Man", never found out why.

Would you like some watermelon?  My kin grow some of the best ones - none of those tasteless things you buy in the store.  We can have either red or the very sweet yellow ones.  That reminds me of a story.  My parents came over here once for a wedding and loaded the old station wagon with watermelons.  They returned at night and the whole way the headlights of the vehicle shone on the sky. Mom said she prayed that no police saw them.

Well let's go. Tomorrow we will look at a couple of places around this area.

Wait what is that?  It's the traveling store!!!!  It won't survive much longer but for now it is the way people around here get most things they need like pins, needles, thread, salt, sugar, spices, odds and ends and things that the customers ordered.  There are some BB's and Rooster told me if we get him some he will teach us how to shoot.  Here are some nails and screws.  Wonder what is in those boxes?


Oh look, lace, Grandmother said she will make us some sun bonnets and aprons if we can find lace and cloth.  Let’s look through his stash of cloth.  No money? He will take a trade and Aunt Lizzy has some fresh eggs and a cured ham we can use.  Oh look at this!!!!!

Related articles:
Appalachians, country breakfast, country store, feather mattresses, homemade ice cream, Hush Puppies, moon shine, northwest Florida, old times, traveling store, White Lightening

About Sandra Coffman
I am a Third generation Florida Native, Born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida.

My interests are in Birding, gardening, photography, reading, crocheting, traveling - though I can't do as much of that now - and surviving my Belgian Tervuren Andre the demon child.

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I can relate! weeds May 31, 2010 4:25 PM 13

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