". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Today, someone asked, with, presumably, some sarcasm intended, "What is the purpose of November?" Generally the respondents agreed: there was little reason to have November, and no use for it.

But, in me, having come up in the rural cultures of the northern midwest, the question provoked a cascade of memories -- all very good memories.  I am not recollecting through a haze of nostalgia either. Much of my memory of growing up there is not only not good, but actively painful, physically and emotionally. But November and December were a vacation from the meanness that was entwined with my upbringing.

So, what is November for?

November's your last chance to ready and settle for the winter. November's for putting on the storm windows, insulating the water and sewer lines, and the basement foundation around the house. It's for turning the silage one last time before the deep freezes set in; for cleaning, greasing up and putting away the trucks and farming machinery in the garages and quansets --  and for fitting the tractors with the front snow loaders to clear away the blizzards' leavings.

November's for butchering the hogs and smoking the hams. November's for 

Skinned, dressed deer, hanging, prior to butchering and sausage-making. Garages are typically cold, an excellent place for this stage of making a deer edible.
shooting turkeys, ducks, geese, pheasants and grouse, and getting the deer rifles primed for for deer season -- opens November 8, closes November 24, more or less, depending on the year (hope you've got your license to hunt all those critters, with wings or four legs). Then comes the frenzy of sausage making -- pork and venison ground together  

Sausage making is a typically communal event, with friends and extended family all doing something -- including drinking, of course.  It's one of the few food prep activities there in which men are typically hands-on participants.
the pork lard to provide the moistness that distributes the flavor of the seasonings throughout soft sausage, and allows for easier cooking (hard, dry sausages demand a different kind of treatment, particularly in terms of the amount of fat and, in some sausages, the amount of blood used, i.e. blood sausage).

Excellent ground for pheasant hunting.

Typical Thanksgiving table decorations
November's for Our Moms deciding who in the family hosts Thanksgiving this 

Fruit cake seasoning in cheesecloth soaked with alcohol of choice, within tightly closed tin containers down in the cool, dark basement.
year, and getting ready for that, while making sure the fruit cakes laid down in bourbon and / or whiskey and / or brandy back at the end of September are absorbing the alcohol properly and not drying out. It's the time to order the 

A typical Christmas card -- sparkles! -- sent and received by friends, family and community.
Christmas cards (the Christmas catalogs had arrived already, weeks ago) and make the list of who we're sending to this year. It's for starting all the baking and cooking for the rest of the year. Our Moms also sit with the teachers in church and school, planning the annual Christmas programs (all open to the public) which the kids performed. Choir practice in church and school, for the recitals at home and on the regional television station. It's for the neighborhood moms carpooling the kids for ice-skating in the town picking which weekends each will do it.

For both Moms and Dads it is time to draw up the gift lists, not for family, but for all those such as pastors, teachers (music, religious, secular school), secret friend in Homemakers' Club, Ladies Club, PTA, Ladies Aid, etc. Also to schedule these societies' visits to shut in in the local Rehab homes and their own Christmas parties. November is when they decide what the family budget will be for under the tree presents left by Santa Clause and  the special inter-and intra-family gifts.

In November we can catch our first sighting of the winter of a Great Snowy
In November Our Dads are deciding how many and what sort of conifers the churches and schools would purchase, testing the lights, buying new ones.  The trees all have to go up by the first day of advent, which is the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest November 30, and ends on 

Christmas Eve . Our Dads have to order the nuts and candy that go into the Christmas sacks every child receive at our churches and schools. Our Dads go

There's a theme that runs through these weeks. Mostly for the men.  Nor does anyone drink wine -- though, by now, a lot of women do, and do.  It was eggnog for them back in those days, for New Year's Eve!
hunting a lot and hang out with their buddies and, when the sun goes down, which it does earlier every day, finish the day in one or another bar, before going home to supper. Our retired Grandads who live in town are getting licenses for 

The ice fishing sheds weren't this sophisticated when I was growing up -- and were home made, not prefab.
their ice houses on the lake and the river -- upstream from where we kids go ice

This will go in the nip thermos, while a separate thermos has coffee.
skating -- checking their tackle, the kerosene heaters, coolers, nip thermos and other gear for a winter of ice fishing with their cronies. Sometimes they'll invite their sons, sons-i-law and grandsons.

November, in the rural community where I come from, along with December the grown-ups are in a good mood. These weeks are the Adults' Time for intense socializing. This is when they begin the winter of getting dressed up, going to

Yes, the Pavilion lived on for an astonishing time after my parents' day; it finally burned down sometimes in the early 80's, if I've got that right.  The insurance payout must have been good ....
the steak house before a night of dancing at the Pavilion, when they visit neighbors at night and play cards. For them it's recuperation from the backbreaking physical; work from before sunup to past sunset (and the sun rises very early and sets very late up there in summer) of keeping a farm that supports a family.

I loved those two months, that concluded every year with a two-week vacation for us kids too. But without November, December could never roll as splendidly as it did -- and no matter what else had happened in the previous ten months. it always did, every year I was growing up.

1 comment:

Foxessa said...

I've remembered something else November was for -- we girls' new Christmas dresses. Traditionally, all the females from toddlers on up, get new, special, dressy dresses for the Christmas program at church and school. Our Moms too. The same as at Easter. Unlike the Easter dresses though, the Christmas ones traditionally were silk taffeta or velvet or a combination of both. Our Mothers were in charge of that too. These had to be settled and put away in November, because, in December, they were sewing / making costumes for the school program plays, the nativity scenes for the church program and so on -- for which they also provided food.

And every occasion included providing, contributing food! The amount of food Our Mothers prepared every year is astounding -- and I'm not speaking for at home, but all the community and family reunion sort of picnics, all the celebrations and observances throughout the year. There were special foods and preparations for them all -- most of them involving sugar -- our little part of the world must have consumed the equivalent of an entire Caribbean sugar plantation's output annually -- at least! Not to mention the amount of purchased candies and other sweet stuffs like ice cream.

Even more memories now:

I learned men gossip very young: as a very little child playing around in the maternal grandparents' basement, while overhearing granddad's confabbing with his cronies, taking their snoose (snuff), smoking a cigarette or two and drinking a few beers, passing the time of those endless winter afternoons of February when retired men who all their previous lives worked from before sun up to after sun down got sick of crossword puzzles, fishing and napping. A lot of the gossip concerned girls from their young manhood days too -- and where are they now, how did they end up, and so on and so forth.

It beat them discussing politics, which always turned into battle royals. One day my grandmother was called to come and get my granddad, who had gotten a bloody nose an black eye -- at almost age 80 -- during a discussion with one of his cousins about the upcoming election. This was a huge problem as granddad had refused to allow grandmom to learn to drive -- she had to call my mom off on the farm, who had to collect me from school first, and come into Town, get grandmom and then find granddad at the ambulance garage -- another place he and his cronies hung out to pass the time on those endless, deary winter afternoons. There, with no women about, they also played a little poker and drank heavier stuff than beer, and got a lot louder, than in basements at home. Or on the ice, fishing.

Love, C.