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Fabulous Forebears

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Pioneer Village

BACK IN TIME — A couple makes music in Pioneer Village at the Indiana State Fair.

Having been born baby boomers essentially means we were raised on electricity, automatic laundry, and kitchen devices, television (with but three networks), automobiles, jet air travel, and blended cloth apparel. Though our generation has waded through some traumatic episodes, by and large compared to our forebears just 100 years ago and beyond, we've had it pretty good.

I mean really; let's compare then with now. Here's the prompt. My dear spouse and I enjoyed a recent visit to the Indiana State Fair on Indy's east side. Through luck of the draw (and traffic flow), we were directed to park our family flivver 75 feet from a gate which led straight to the heart of Pioneer Village.

After a metal detection search at the gate, which required returning my pocket knife to the car, we headed directly for the land of yesteryear and drifting wood smoke. Which lends itself to the first comparison.

The odor of smoldering tree segments drives some folks crazy. Back in the day, people didn't have many alternatives unless they burned coal or corn cobs. Cooking and heating required forethought, not simply for meal preparation and heating, but for the cutting, splitting, stacking, and gathering of fuel for use a year or two hence. It was work! No flick of a switch or turn of the valve.

The food choices were pretty basic. The village had a very nice, small garden brimming with fresh produce one would find in an early settler garden. Corn, pole beans, tomatoes, beets, and cabbages were quite nice.

However, the food item I personally have enjoyed, as well as the pioneers, was one which was being prepared as an exhibit for the fairgoers. A special treat for early Hoosiers was a swine born treat called “cracklins.” Some straw-hatted fellows were carving on a large square of hog fat, making small squares from the slab. When the proper pile of squares was accumulated, they slid from the cutting board into a large kettle heated over open flame.


BACK IN TIME — A blacksmith works the anvil.

The pot's contents were stirred until the fat segments were all crispy and bronze-colored. The aroma of deep-frying hog fat mingled with neighboring wood smoke is a gift from heaven. When samples were offered up, I was not bashful. Being reared next door to a meat locker where cracklins were prepared regularly, I was transported back to my much younger days.

Shuffling up the pike, we came upon the blacksmith shop, whose craftsmen held me in awe. The “Smithy's” ability to take raw metals and heat and fashion them into viable farm and household implements without electricity is a true, gifted talent. If I made an attempt, without a doubt my body would be dotted with burns from the hot metals and forge with all other appendages smashed and bruised by blows from hammer and tong.

With today's gargantuan looms, our Georgia cousins keep us well-supplied with carpets to soften and quiet our homes, offices, schools, churches, and auditoriums. Within hours, large expanses can be transformed.

Back in old Danny Boone and Harriet Tubman's day, if you wished adornment upon your wood floors, you had to fashion it yourself. Stationed inside one of the village's exhibit structures was a trio of ladies engaged in hooking rugs.

As with their male counterparts, they utilized no electricity. Concentration was the name of the game as they focused on the frame in their lap. Honestly, I think they were talking more than hooking. They were having a good time. When referring to them as a bunch of hookers, they hooted. I doubt if our Puritan ancestors would have appreciated the humor. To the stocks, blasphemer!

Rhythmic tunes from stringed instruments drifted through the village as we walked. A cute couple was pickin' out tunes from banjo and fiddle, singing lyrics from early American compositions. How relaxing this must have been for those settlers long ago on warm summer or cold winter evenings with neighbors or loved ones gathered 'round.

No doubt, modern conveniences have made life a lot easier; I concede that. But in days gone past we gathered to help one another nearly on a daily basis. Community concerns and meaningful conversations were held while working together toward a common goal. I noticed that even today while strolling the Pioneer Village. You know what? Our ancestors were pretty smart cookies.

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