Linden Tree Leaves

Genealogy and Ancestry Explorations

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Nona’s Stories: Jack, Aunt Em, and Uncle Jim

One summer afternoon, a Mr. Hood—a childhood friend of Dad’s—they had gone to school together when they were boys—came back to Trenton on a visit to  old friends. He had been living back East somewhere.

He rented a horse and buggy from the Livery stable in town, and drove out to our farm to surprise Dad. But, I’m afraid it was he that got surprised!

Ralph, Harry and I were sitting on the front porch steps when the man drove up in front of our house, got out of the buggy, hitched his horse to the hitching post, came through the front yard gate –when he came through the gate, Jack placed himself in front of us kids, bared his teeth slightly, and raised the hackles on his back.

All our friends and neighbors knew and heeded this silent warning—they knew they better! For, to Jack, nobody could come too close to us kids, and especially not touch us—and to him nobody meant Nobody.

Mr. Hood was a big, jolly man, and walked up to us with a loud “Hello! There!” and reached out to pat me on the head—like lightning Jack leaped and caught his wrist, and held on.

Mother heard the man and came to see who it was. It took a lot of persuasion on her part, and Ralph’s, to convince Jack Mr. Hood was alright. And, even then, Jack kept a suspicious eye on him all the time he was there.

Jack had been trained to go for the throat of any man that tried to harm us kids, and Dad was always worried that Jack might kill some man that really wasn’t entending any harm to us. He had warned all our friends and neighbors to back off fast when Jack bared his teeth and raised his hackles—they might not get a further warning. Jack took his protection role seriously, and, when he warned anyone, he meant it.

Jack almost never barked. Sometimes there was a low, rumbling chest growl, but he never barked at anyone. The only times I ever remember him barking was when some of the mules would wander into the yard. There was a wide gate from the drive in the yard, opening into the horselot, so Dad and the men could drive the hay wagons to the big barn to unload hay into the hayloft. Sometimes they didn’t close the big gate and a mule would come into the yard. Jack would bark and drive it back into the horselot. If it came back into the yard, he didn’t bark—it got nipped and put back where it belonged. It usually stayed there.

There was little protection from the law in those days, simply because there were almost no telephones in the country homes. Dad had to pay for running the telephone lines from the two miles from Trenton to our house, so our telephone was the only one around there. When people needed the Sheriff when a crime took place, they had to go into town after him—by the time the Sheriff got there—the criminal was long gone.

At harvest time the farmers had to hire help in harvesting their crops, one man alone couldn’t do all the work. They helped each other as much as possible, but all the crops had to be harvested at the same time. They had to hire help—these men were “drifters,” both black and white—they just drifted from one place to another. No one knew who they were or where they were from. There had been some serious crimes in the county—robberies and even a few murders. Dad was concerned about the safety of Mother and us kids. So he wont to Dallas and bought Jack. He was a registered, pure bred bulldog. And he had him trained there to protect us. He was well trained and a good protector. He especially hated strange men, and wouldn’t even allow the neighbors to come into our yard unless Dad ordered him to let them in.

Jack Mackey and Lawrence Johnson were the only ones of our hired hands he trusted—except old Uncle Jim—Aunt Em’s husband. He was an aged little black man. Aunt Em had white hair, too, but somehow, to me, she never seemed old. She was a big, fat woman, but very active. No one dared call her a servant—she was Grandma Burns’ “helper.” And considered herself one of the family. She often said she was born into the family.

Her mother and father were slaves of Grandma Burns’ family back in Tenn. The Connelly family came to Texas by wagon train in 1851, and Aunt Em and Uncle Jim came with them.

Grandma Burns and Aunt Em told me stories about the wagon train trip, and Indian attacks, even after they got to Texas.

For some reason the kitchens used to be built separately from the main house. Aunt Em told me how the Indians—which she called “heathen” shot arrows at her as she ran from the house to the kitchen, and she was kept there most of the day. She was the only one that had any food, as the others were in the house, and had nothing to eat.

However, they never had any real serious Indian attacks—that is, no one was killed, though the Indians did steal some of their livestock and once burned their barn. But there was the ever threat of a possible Indian attack. All the men wore side arms, and the women had guns in the house and were taught how to use them.

Aunt Em told me once she was busy in the kitchen cooking when she looked up and saw an Indian man looking in the window. She said “she let out such a bloodcurdling scream” it must have scared him half to death, the last she saw of him he was going over the hill running like a lion was after him. Grandma Buns said probably the Indian just smelled the food cooking and was hungry. Aunt Em said she was the first black woman, probably, he ever saw, and the “heathen” must have thought she was some kind of evil spirit after him. Anyway, as far as she knew, that Indian never came back there. She said bet he had to change his pants when he got back where he came from!

Watching Aunt Em cook was my first interest in cooking. I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 years old, for I had to stand in a chair to watch her make “tea cakes” as she and Grandma Burns called them. They were really cookies, and I guess the reason they called them “tea cakes” was because they always had them with their afternoon cup of tea. It was always hot teas—no one had ice in those days.

I wasn’t allowed to have tea—”it wasn’t good for me” so I had a glass of milk with the “tea cakes.”

When I got married, Grandma Burns sent me some family recipes—the recipe for these ‘tea cakes’ was among them. I still have it and a copy is enclosed.

I’m sure Aunt Em could not read or write. She said she cooked “by guess and by gosh.” But, boy, how she could cook! I’ll never forget how good it was. She said her mama taught her how to cook when she was a child, and she had done a “mighty lot” of cooking since.



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Nona’s Stories: Farming Life and Gingerbread


Me – age 4 years

I remember this dress—it was red with little white stars on it. At home when I wore it, our old turkey gobbler chased me, and when at Grandma Burns house, her old gander chased me.

Our bee apiary was in the peach orchard next to the yard on the East, the hives were under the peach trees to protect them from the hot sun.

Next to the peach orchard was an acre or so of sweet clover, planted there so the bees could make clover honey—much liked by many people. When it was in bloom it looked like a purple sea—and the sweet odor could be smelled quite a distance.

Often I couldn’t resist picking boquets of the sweet blossoms—and just as often I got stung by the bees—it was a joke in the family when they saw me in the clover patch, they got out the bee-sting medicine.

Just beyond the clover patch, the Bottoms lands started. The road in front of our house cut through these Bottoms—the old road was a “cordory “ road—logs laid side by side on the almost marshy Bottoms land—the trees grew so thickly and tall with many vines—including pink wild roses, that it was dark (and scary) in these lowlands. But us kids did venture in there sometimes—but not for very far—mostly to gather the marsh daisies and purple and yellow violets. Only small animals lived there—raccoons, ’possums, rabbits, and wild cats—these were domestic cats that had returned to the wild state.

There were many birds, especially little screech owls, and it made the dark, gloomy Bottoms seem even more eerie with them calling to each other.

In the Fall the cotton, corn and cane fields were cleaned by raking the dead stalks into long ricks in the adjoining fields. These were burned—always at night. There was no danger of the fires spreading as the surrounding field was raked clean, and the ricks were burned only on still, windless nights.

I was curious as to why they were burned at night—Ralph, Harry and I were allowed to go along to watch—Dutch was three years younger than me, so was too small to tag along.

Dad said the night burning custom was for the benefit of the screech owls, they knew this long standing custom of night burning by the farmers—and came in flocks from the Bottoms to catch the field mice and rats, swooping low to catch them. This was a great benefit to the farmers as the rats and mice destroyed much grain. The burning was also to destroy insects, especially the cotton-bole weevil.

A neighbor had a “cane press” and we took a lot of our cane there for “pressing” – extracting the sweet juice—which was made into cane syrup—and the Sorgum cane was made into the thick, dark sorgum molasses.

In Winter, when it was very cold, the sorgum would be so thick we could eat it almost like taffey—first buttering our fingers so it wouldn’t stick to them. And it made wonderful gingerbread— eaten hot with real butter and homemade applebutter. My mother used the recipe that Grandma Burns’ mother had brought with her when she came by wagon train to Texas from Tennessee in 1851, it had been handed down from generation to generation, and it was given to me, too. I’m enclosing a copy of it. It’s by far the easiest and best I’ve ever used.

Dad took our corn to the mill to be ground into corn meal, and wheat to be made into flour. There were big wooden barrels for each in the smokehouse. At hog-killing time—the first real hard freeze of Winter—the fat was “rendered” and 25 lb cans of lard stored in the smokehouse, along with sausage, slabs of bacon, and hams which were “cured” by smoking with hickory wood chips.

The corn fields were always the furthest from the Bottoms lands—otherwise the raccoons would destroy the corn—they dearly loved the green corn when it was in the roasting-ear stage, and a single raccoon could destroy a dozen ears of corn in a single night. We always planted plenty of pop-corn so that we would have corn to pop over the coals in the fireplace on cold Winter nights. We often made pop-corn balls, too. We didn’t have any pecan trees, but had several Black Walnut trees, and in the Fall us kids gathered the Black Walnuts for use in the Winter.


Southern Gingerbread

(from Tennessee 1851)

1 cup sorgum (nor syrup)

1 cup sugar

1 cup boiling water

1/4 cup melted shortening (original recipe called for lard)

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice or cloves

Combine ingredients in order given. Beat thoroughly. Pour into greased, floured iron skillet and bake in moderate oven until top cracks and a straw inserted comes out clean.

Serve hot with butter or cold with whipped cream and applebutter.

Us kids made our own bubblegum—Mae and Gae Marshall taught us how—using a small amount of beeswax, from sunflower stalks and the rubber from snake vine—so called because of the spotted and mottled leaves. It wasn’t poisonous. It produced black berries, under the black peel was a layer of rubber-like material—this made bubble gum that was better than any that can be bought today—and we could blow huge bubbles with it.

I’ll include the recipe for Black Walnut Chocolate Cake in my next story.


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Nona’s Recipe: Tea Cakes

[This recipe was hidden among the collection of Nona’s stories. Nona was a great cook and I learned a lot about scratch cooking from her.]

Tea Cakes

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup sweet milk
1/2 teaspoon Lemon or Vanilla flavoring

Cream butter and sugar, add egg and beat well.
Add dry ingredients, add milk and flavoring. Mix well.
Roll out on a floured board , cut with floured biscuit cutter.
Bake on buttered cookie sheet until lightly brown.

Tea cakes may be sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon before baking, or may be iced or frosted after baking and cooling.

(So written by Grandma Burns.)

This recipe was brought by wagon train from Tenn to Texas in 1851, by the Connelly family. Given to me by Grandma Burns in 1925.