Friday, February 15, 2008

John Hendricks Smokehouse, Knox County, Ky: Nan Hendricks Hardin

Willard Hardin, artist (my uncle)

A smoke house is where ham and bacon are smoked to preserve them for latter use. We had no refrigeration so needed to smoke the pork butchered in November and December in a slow smoky fire for six weeks. Before that the meat had been packed in coarse salt for six weeks. The smoke came from a fire of hickory amid some rocks and ashes in the middle of the smokehouse floor. After the process was completed meat would keep well into summer with a distinct flavor of hickory. Our smoke house also housed fruit jars waiting to be filled and other household stuff not needed in the house. Underneath the smoke house was the cellar built into side of the hill. There my mother made kraut in a 50 gallon crock. There we stored potatos, onions, pumpkins and most of all apples.

Nan Hardin, from her unpublished memoir, growing up in Knox County, Kentucky

Note: The names on the side of the smokehouse are those of a farmer's teenage sons, cleaning their brushes while painting the farmhouse.
Black and White: chapter from her memoir

By Nan Hendricks Hardin

  One summer on a Saturday afternoon in the years of World
War II two old cars filled with black passengers stopped in front of our
house. They wanted directions to our church, Davis Chapel, a mile up the
road across from the schoolhouse.

  We children retreated into the house in amazement. We saw
few black people even on the streets of Barbourville and never so many in
one place. And here they were in front of our house asking directions to our

  Dad stood by the road in conversation with the driver of one
of the cars. My mother came from inside the house out to the road.

  “Good Lord!” Mom said. “You are going to the church to
sing at this time of day? There won’t be anyone there till dark. Besides,
you can’t sing on empty stomachs. Come on in and I’ll fix supper. Then it
will be time to go.”

  Twelve black people, a baby among them, poured out from the
old cars.

  Making supper was not a simple matter. After she lit the
wood fire in the kitchen stove Mom gathered vegetables in the garden. Dad
went to the smokehouse for meat, cured hog shoulder for frying. By this time
of the summer we had no ham left. Mom fried potatoes, sautéed cabbage, fried
the meat and baked corn bread in the now hot oven.

  The tiny black baby fell asleep as the visitors sat on the
front porch talking quietly to each other. We children listened but were too
shy to speak. Both Dad and Mom busied themselves with preparing the meal.

  After she put the food on the table Mom said, “Bring that
baby here on my bed while you eat. It won’t roll off this feather bed if we
lay it in the middle.”

  We watched as Mom put the sleeping baby on her bed.

  Mom told us, “Look at this baby’s hands. Its palms are almost
the same color of yours.”

  Sure enough the baby’s palms were a lighter color than the
rest of its body. Our skins were golden brown from the summer sun of play
and work.

  Dinner ready, the black people sat down around our dining room
table. The last one to sit was the preacher. He paused at the end behind the
chair where my Dad usually sat. After a prayer he turned to Dad, who stood
in the doorway. He asked Dad to sit down in the chair and eat first with the
other blacks. He would eat after that. This black preacher asked Dad to sit
at his own table in his own chair!

  As I watched from the kitchen doorway I saw on Dad’s face an
expression of something more than the courtesy of allowing a guest to eat
first at a crowded table. Was it discomfort or embarrassment? Was it a look
of guilt? Did my Father recall the lynching in town when he was a boy? Did
he think of the fact that his Granddaddy Davis had a slave that was sent to
the swamp to hide the wagon when Union or Confederate soldiers came through
Davis Bend? Did Dad recognize these blacks as descendants of the slaves
Great-Granddaddy Davis brought through Cumberland Gap on his way to Davis
Bend from Virginia?

  Was Dad remembering the only black family who lived in Davis
Bend in his childhood? The father who worked in the Dean Mines across the
Hooker Hollow on Brush Creek returned home on a weekend night. He fell prey
to robbers who murdered him on top of Hooker Mountain, the only murder that
ever occurred in Davis Bend. Did Dad think of the corner of the Davis farm
where black people lie buried well away from the white people’s graveyard?

  Perhaps Dad’s discomfort related to the story of his
Granddaddy Davis, who awakened to find a former slave in the room with him,
supposedly trying to rob him. Whereupon Granddaddy Davis retrieved a pistol
from under his pillow and told the man to leave Davis Bend and not come
back, else be shot on sight. Perhaps Dad remembered that his own mother
buried the skeleton found in Westerfields’s old house attic in the garden
rather than in the Hendricks Graveyard. Grandmother Hendricks feared that
the bones were of a black person and she did not want it buried in the
family graveyard on the ridge by the house. She had a funeral service for
the skeleton and planted a pear tree on the grave. Always Dad told that
story as we ate the sweet little summer pears from that tree.

  This black preacher asked my Dad to sit at Dad’s own table in
Dad’s own chair. Courtesy required that Dad sit with these black visitors.
He usually ate with guests as Mom served the food and we children waited.

  I knew the way we did it and Dad’s expression was not lost to
my mind.

  Dad nodded after a moment and said he would just wait. He
gestured to the chair and the black preacher sat down.

  This was the one moment in my childhood when my Daddy seemed
to me a lesser man than another man on this earth. This was the one time I
felt Dad in the wrong.

  The black people praised my mother’s cooking effusively. We
stood in doorways as they ate. In the middle of the meal the preacher
pointed to a plate and asked for a piece of that cake. My mother came from
the kitchen to say that she did not bake a cake. The preacher continued to
point at the plate and we realized he meant the corn bread, so smooth and
beautiful with its brown crust and golden yellow insides that the preacher
mistook it for cake.

  My mother told that story for years for she thought the black
preacher had paid a high compliment to her corn bread.

  After they ate the black people drove on up the road to the
church house to practice their singing.

  As the sun went down the residents of Davis Bend walked from
the Ledger Branch, the Hooker Hollow and the Miller Bend as well as from the
houses along the road to hear the black people sing.

  The black singers practiced as we neared the church. The
strains of “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home” drifted
across the swamp and the fields. Their voices seemed to us many more than
the two cars held.

  Inside the church the singers had moved two wooden benches
across in front of the pulpit. Here they sat swaying back and forth as they
sang. When they finished a song they shouted, “Amen!”

  We sat in front of them. No one sat to the left or right of
the guests in the choir place or the deacons’ corner. We were all directly
in front of them - expectant. The minister talked but he did not preach
acting more as a master of ceremonies.

  We knew that black people sang their songs with enthusiasm.
That those songs were our songs too we began to understand that
night. “Steal away to Jesus. My Lord he calls me, He calls me by the
lightning. I ain’t got long to stay here.” God also called our preacher,
Billie Butch Lickliter,“by the lightning.” We all knew the story by heart.
Lightning struck Billie Butch’s mule dead as he rode across the Lickliter
Mountain in a thunderstorm. God let Billie Butch walk away from his dead
mule to preach salvation to the unsaved.

  “Deep river, my home is over Jordan. That promised land where
all is peace.” The Jordan River is the same size as the Cumberland River
where the saved receive baptism after each revival. “Wade in the water,
children. Wade in the water. God’s going to trouble the water. Just follow
me down to Jordan’s stream. God’s going to trouble the water. I looked over
Jordan and what did I see, coming for to carry me home: a band of angels
coming after me.” This sad deep river of life metaphor we knew. The life
after death we anticipated also. Our preachers preached salvation in heaven

  As the dusk deepened a deacon got up to light the kerosene
lamps around the church. In the mellow, pale lamp light the black faces
gleamed with sweat and fervor. Some intensity we did not feel or understand
now gripped these black faces as they shouted and sang. The amens became
moaning as they began to sing about Moses. “When Israel was in Egypt’s land:
let my people go, pressed so hard they could not stand, Go down Moses, Way
down in Egypt’s land. Tell old Pharaoh. Let my people go!”

  The white people of Davis Bend witnessed a great sadness in
these black voices and faces. We could not know or guess its depth. We too
saw in death the release of the body to heaven. But this was something
beyond our understanding.

  They repeated the refrain about Moses again. “When Israel was
in Egypt’s land: let my people go, pressed so hard they could not stand. Go
down Moses, Way down in Egypt’s land. Tell old Pharaoh, Let my people go.”

  They sang “Oh freedom! Oh freedom! Oh Freedom over me. And
before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and
be free.” Were they still sad about having been slaves? “My Lord, what a
morning when the stars begin to fall.” the voices went on.
  Where did these black people come from with this pain we could
not share? Why did they come here to sing to us? The memory of how this
event happened remains obscure.

  Actually they lived scarcely three miles by the Cumberland
River away from our house. We need only untie our boat, carefully negotiate
it over the shoals and beside the Hendricks Bluff. Then we would float past
Uncle Bill Johnson’s house, Custer Johnson’s place and the river bottomland
of the Hamptons and the Turners. Before the river turns as it passes
Barbourville we get on the mud bank, cross Miss Nola Minton’s horse farm and
we arrive in the Fairground area where black people live. Here they had the
segregated Rosenwald School and their churches. Many of the black men worked
for Miss Nola on the horse farm, in her sawmill or the lumberyard. Dad met
them when he went to the stable for horse manure to spread on our farmland
or took logs to the sawmill.

  The black women were maids in town. My mother came across them
there as she peddled our farm products about Barbourville. Often Mom talked
to these maids more than to the white women who employed them. The maids put
the eggs, the butter and the garden produce that Mom delivered to back doors
in their employers’ refrigerators.

  However, Nancy Rabbit was one black woman who did not work as a
maid. Nancy Rabbit roamed the streets of Barbourville. We often saw her as
she walked about from place to place as if that were the only thing she had
to do in life.

  Once going into town in the wagon we saw a car almost hit a
toddler of Nancy’s. The driver stopped to yell at Nancy, who sauntered on
unconcerned. Along the sidewalk the toddler and a slightly older child
followed Nancy in single file like two little ducks following a mother duck
to a pond.

  “Stop the wagon,” said my mother. “I want to talk to her.”

  Mom stood in front of Nancy, hands on her hips, blocking
Nancy’s way.

  “Nancy, give me these children. I’ll take good care of them
and raise them. You may get them killed. I’ll send them to school and keep
them clean and fed.” My mother gestured toward the children.

  Nancy, who always wore some sort of a hat like a fez or a
pillbox, cocked her hatted-head at my mother and replied. “I ain’t goin’
give my babies to no white woman.”

  She resumed her stroll about Barbourville.

  “What do you think you can do with two black children?” my Dad
said when Mom got back in the wagon.

  “The same as you do with two white children,” my mother

  “I don’t see how; where could they go to school?” he asked.

  “Well, they could go to Davis Bend, then to Rosenwald for
high school,” she thought.

  Dad shook his head and winked at me.

  Nancy Rabbit continued her stroll with the two children
following her like little ducklings in a row.


  1. Oh ! j'aime beaucoup... que d'histoires, rélles, rêvées, imaginaires autour de cette petite maison. Un refuge ?

  2. Lily,

    Ha! Un "refuge" pour les porcs morts!
    C'est pour faire les jambons--
    Je ne sais pas le mot pour "smokehouse?"

    C'est à la ferme de la famille de la femme de mon oncle.
    Mon oncle, ma sœur et ma nièce - c'est tous les peintres.

    Si mon français vous fait rire, rappelez-vous! Le rire est bon pour le cœur!

  3. C'est vrai !!
    alors en français on pourrait le traduire peut-être par "saloir" ou pièce pour "fumer le jambon" !!
    Je le trouve superbe ce tableau ! je croyais voir un ancien panier de basket, je m'imaginais déjà des enfants s'y "réfugiant", à l'abri des adultes... Olalala, mon anglais est vraiment très trop moyen. En revanche votre français est excellent !!Merci Jacob :))

  4. I have many ancestors who lived at Davis Bend and basically some were among the first in Tenn and Ky. I wonder about Davis Bend and if the descendants of Thomas Davis and Thursa Fultz are still living there. I descend from their son Daniel who died in the Civil War of Typhoid. My gr grandmother moved on to Butler Co. Ohio after the death of her husband and she was a Johnson m. to a Davis. I really enjoyed the story of your family there and wish I knew more. Our ancestors moved on and so many of them had the stories but after so many generations the stories were lost as they moved farther and farther apart, different states for jobs, new lives, and now we could pass a relative in the street and would not even know it. I would really like to hear more about Davis Bend as that is a connection to my ancestors for sure. Thank you

  5. I will pass this on to Nan. Thank you for your comment.

  6. Thank you for your interest. I am not familiar with that branch of the Davis family. I will try to pass this on to a niece, Monica Hess, who researches our family. My memoir will be published eventually if only on line. I hope your interest will continue. Could someone translate the comments previously posted about my writing. Nan Hendricks Hardin