Granny part 2.
We start with Granny’s World Class Peach Brandy: Another skill my grandmother had acquired growing up on the farm in the “depression days”, was the making of fruit flavored brandies and wines, made from fruits and berries growed on the farm, in fact during the prohibition days, sometime in the “roaring twenties” granny’s dad, my greatgranddad, was confronted by some legal authority regarding the rumor of the possible manufacture of illegal spirits out on the farm,,,,when confronted, greatgrampa Fite commented,,, “POPPYCOCK,,,,we are making vinegars”,,,,he never sold any of the pre-vinegars, the drinkable kind, but he traded considerable amounts, for other goods, so it was rumored.
So fast forward to the late 1960’s at the ranch. Everybody around us, in south central Eddy County, NM, had a bumper peach crop, and so after everybody had put up all the peaches they could or needed, granny put out the word to all the neighbors and friends, she’d take all their remnant peaches, even those overripe ones,,,,in the meantime she had rounded up every gallon jug in captivity (plastic milk jugs had become popular)(I have NO idea where she got all those jugs, but she was resourceful),,, and she was making good use of the “peachy” surplus, this would have or should have, provided enough peach brandy for half of New Mesico. Everybody around us called granny to come get, or they’d deliver, excess peaches to trade for, to be made, “processed peach goods”. Be aware, I was then and am now, still of the impression peaches are one of my favorite fruits,,,,so much so than a pear. So granny began the age old learned process of peach brandy making. We checked the fermentation process one day after lunch and it was almost there, oh yes, she had double cheese cloth coverings on over 50 one gallon jugs, secured with rubber bands or tied with cotton twine,,,, all those jugs were under the kitchen sink and bathroom sink counters, in the basement, in closets, where you hang clothes, coats, etc.,,,,, anywhere it was cool and dark,, well, everybody was out working when granny went to the house to fix lunch.
I came in and got a drink of water and commented on the great smell coming from the brandy makings when a POOOMPH sound went off,,, she and I looked at each other and grabbed the doors under the kitchen sink just as another jug went POOOMPH,,, and stuff was boiling and crawling out of all the jugs, we started grabbing jugs and taking them out on the porch ,,,,,she said “Honey go empty the closets,!!!” For some reason, those closet jugs hadn’t matured enuff to barf yet but I got 6 or 7 closet jugs emptied without eruptions,,,one of the neighbors drove up, saw what was going on and headed to his place for tubs, barrels,,,one brand new water trough that hadn’t been used yet,,, we poured all the mash into the tubs, barrels, 5 gallon buckets and the brand new galvanized drink tub,,, all that sediment in the jugs had risen to the top of the gallon jugs and sealed the cheese cloth and the fermentation accelerated,,, and well, at that point, all that stuff had to go somewhere,,,the jugs could hold just so much,,,when it was all over, we screened all the mash out of the liquid and salvaged about a dozen gallons of brandy,,,, it was really good but that was the last of the brandy making,,, me and granny and two small framed foreign exchange students scrubbed the inside of the kitchen cabinets for several days,,, we like to never got the smell out of the kitchen,,,it wasn’t bad for the first couple of days,,, but then the smell changed from nearly acceptable, to “other”,,,a month later I hadn’t decided which was the worst of the two,,,,disintegrated putrid peach smell or full strength Clorox and Lysol,,,sure glad we were there at the right time, or we mighta had to burn the house down,,, rocks and all,,, but hey, the peach brandy was great and the vinegars were pretty good too. I never understood the science of when it quit being brandy or wine and when it turned to vinegar. I missed that day in chemistry class, but the difference was obvious.
After the peach brandy wreck, I had been irrigating hay, got the field good and wet, shut the tank in to fill up overnight. Now you have to understand, we had irrigation pumps that made LOTS of water but not enuff to pump water straight into the ditches to irrigate with, those ditches took lots more water than those big pumps could put out. But we had dirt (earthen) irrigation tanks, so we’d pump water into the tanks, and when the tank got full, we’d irrigate by turn the tank water down the irrigation ditch(s), thus flooding the fields with about 4 inches of standing water over the hay, then flood the next border, etc etc etc. When the tank got low, you’d shut ‘er in and keep the pump running til the tank filled up, then start watering again. Long and well coordinated process. This is a full time job cause the alfalfa got irrigated, cut, dried and baled every 28 days or so during season from May to October, until the alfalfa went dormant for the year,,,, and we had several patches of hay fields scattered around that Black River place.
Now earlier in the year, about the start of August, “dog days” or so, it’d get hot,,,,no breeze unless a thunderstorm’d brewed up with shade, maybe a rain, but most refreshing a cool breeze,, ,,, when this happened, no matter how much it rained, you just kept irrigating,,, it normally didn’t rain enuff to cover those hay patches with 4 inches of standing water. But that was also great growing weather for a toxic weed that we were infested with, being goldenrod, an alkaloid enriched plant that would make a bred cow listless, not doing well, maybe abort, she could then go thru tremors and muchos stages of discomfort,,,, during this time she’d get bad and couldn’t get to water,,, to avoid this as much as possible, in our spare time, we’d ride and keep an eye on concentrations of goldenrod and move cows accordingly, but it was gonna grow just like the rule book said to. Now, dad’s partner had a son who was a high school football playing fool and dad’s partner had a brainstorn. Before two a day workouts started in late August for the varsity team, why not get them all to the ranch, arm them all with hoes, yes, chopping hoes, cotton hoes,,same basic gardening tool, and armed with protective gloves, these boys could all bunk in the “bunkhouse”, which was the rebuilt and repurposed “tourist court” referenced earlier, to accommodate a lot of folks,,,a cook could be hired to cook these lads breakfast, a nice lunch and a fitting supper for a couple or three weeks, til time to start “two-a-day” workouts on the football grounds and eliminate the dreaded goldenrod weed from pastures forever, well that was the plan,,,and it would also “heat condition” the athletes and have them better prepared for the up-coming football season. So I got word from dad, when I got time, to go to town, go to the lumber yard (an all purpose store back then that sold everything from rifle and pistol ammo to paper shuck dynamite, by the stick or by the pound, or any part of a pound, or by the case, match lit fuses or electric blasting caps, to bright finish 16 penny nails and boards etc.) I miss those old stores. I was to pick up 50 hoes, a dozen Neilsen sharpening files,,,,AND 100 pair of good leather gloves. All for what, 35, 40, 45 football players ????,,,weed chopping hands ???? I don’t recall them buying me gloves, but my feelings weren’t hurt for not buying me my very own chopping hoe. I loaded up, headed back to the ranch just in time to see the yellow school bus pull up. This project had the approval of the coaches and the full administration of the school board,,, I watched ‘em unload the crew and their personal plunder,,, lots of jostling around, like boy football players do, but they got lined out by their crew leader, not me, and I unloaded the tools, smiled said hi to a few, smiled at all, they didn’t know what was coming, I had things to tend to so I drove off,,, now, I knew all these guys, as we went to the same school together, but I didn’t play ball,,, I was bred and raised to be a cow puncher with frequent bouts with 90 Lb alfalfa bales, flanking calves, fixing uterine prolapses, digging postholes, roping stuff etc,,, all way beyond the skill level of those guys,,,
Well they checked into the hoehand’s barracks, eat supper, cracked out early, before sunup, easy to tell they weren’t accustomed to that, they all eat breakfast, clammered into the bus and out to the goldenrod infestations they go,,,they’re following me,, there were two alfalfa fields that were divided by a gypsum hill, that was maybe two acres around, and I was irrigating those hay patches, I already had water running, but they unloaded off the bus, everybody grabbed a hoe and gloves and I gave a goldenrod identifying seminar. Easy to do as that hill didn’t raise much of anything except goldenrod and a few rattling snakes. So they got after it, I brought ‘em 3 large Igloo water coolers, and a case box full of disposable Dixie drink cups and empty burlap sacks as trash collectors. They started hacking goldenrod and I went about irrigation hay. In a few minutes they jumped a fat 5 foot long rattling snake and the whooping and hollering commenced. Some of those guys had never seen a rattler, and they were hollering at me could they kill it, I hollered back YES and all 120 of his littermates when yall found them,,,,well everybody got spooked, I always knew there was a den close by but never knew where it was,,, that day they eliminated 12 or 14 rattlers. I was killing one a day, but these guys were flushing ‘em like a birddog on quail. Them guys didn’t realize what they were into, and some weren’t really enjoying their newfound culture,,, BUT they were committed to stay, except for personal emergencies, so,,,, it was tough it out or walk out to the highway to hitch a ride, and most of ‘em still didn’t really know where they were,,, hoe sharpening was a nightly chore, and several of ‘em shed blood til they figured how to use those new files,,, One thing that they did do was give those hoes a lot of abuse, so when they broke a handle or the hoe head was loose, I’d bring them a brand new one,,,and fix those I could,,,,, now hoe handles don’t hardly ever break BUT these guys figured if they broke enuff hoes, eventually there wouldn’t be anymore hoes,,, didn’t work that way,,,couple of weeks later they all climbed aboard to bus, back to the west Texas high school famous two-a-day workouts and most all of ‘em admitted later, it went lots easier on them having been in long 100 degree days, chopping weeds, shading up after a good lunch and chop til about 6 PM. They left but I had a large collection of mangled, bruised chopping hoes to fix, when I got time. I had leaned ‘em up against the side of the barn and I’d fix one or two a day, after I got thru with irrigating or whatever I was doing. And we were gonna have a lifetime of spare hoes on hand. One evening after shutting the irrigation water in, I drove to the house and Granny was thrashing the ground hard after something, and when I got close enough to see what she was doing,,, she’d come around the side of the barn where the hoes were, she need to chop something,,, and spotted this rattling snake stretched out sunning himself against that rock barn,,,and she opened season on that snake. She couldn’t get a good shot at him as she was hitting the rock wall of the barn on her downstroke,, and she’d already knocked three hoe heads loose from the handles, she was using the hoes I had not fixed yet. The snake found a hole, a rat hole or mouse hole going under the barn and when I got there, there wudn’t but 3 or 4 inches of snake tail and rattles rapidly going in that hoe. I sure did NOT wanna cut his tail off, but as he went out of sight, I ask Granny if she’d wounded him and she almost used a hoe handle on me,,, She was really shook up, not scared but dang sure mad and aggravated,, she said, no, she didn’t think the snake was ever in much danger,, so I’m thinking,,,good deal she didn’t cripple him, the snake might die under the barn floor and the smell of a dead snake under the barn might get rich,,, and me flushing the snake out with gasoline was a terrible idea cause the foreign exchange students residing on the opposite end of the barn might ignite the remaining gasoline fumes when they fired up the propane cook stove to make a tortilla, and I sure didn’t want to blow up the barn. She and I were trying to figure out how to get him out of there and killed off, when a neighbor drove up, looked at the pile of scattered broke hoes and asked what were we doing? Told him and that we sure wanted that snake out of there when he said, hey, bring me a Number 3 or 4 Victor steel trap with offset jaws. I knew this guy was a little off, but I brought to his attention a snake doesn’t have legs,,,,he laughed and said, a snake will always come out of the same hole he went into,, we had decided he lived under there and prob’ly had a nice comfy nest, and he sure kept the rodent population down, which didn’t make me feel any better,,, but I brought him a trap with a 12 foot trap chain and trap drag, we never used staked down traps. He broke the trap open, set the trigger, bent the springs back and set the trap about 4 or 5 inches from the hole. He explained you know how a rattler travels with his head off the ground, well he’ll come out of the hole, get his head up and as he is crawling, at that point the snake cain’t turn left or right, there ain’t enuff of him out of the hole to maneuver, so when his body got far enuff along, and had enuff weight on the trap pan, that’d throw the trigger and he’d be caught. No, we didn’t believe him but left the trap set like it was, and he left. I gather up all the hounds and chained em up for the night. I sure didn’t want to take a dog out of a trap, even though they were all conditioned to smell a trap and stay away. They learned that in their early days of ranch hound training procedures.
Grandad came in and wanted to know what that trap was doing there and why were all the dogs chained up, and didn’t I think that was too much trap for a “barn varmint?”, So granny and I told him the story and he was speechless as to how both us were prob’ly beyond hope,, we eventually went to bed,,, just got to sleep good when every hound on the place, 5 or 6 of them were really barking and bellering a spooked bark, and I could hear the trap chain rattling over a mad captured snake, I pulled on britches and boots and a loaded shotgun and granny, in her night gown and rubber irrigating boots, grabbed a flashlight, we run to the barn, she shined the light and I fired, missed, fired again, missed, fired again and I’d well, I missed the trapped snake with all three shots,,, guess I was rattled,,, pun intended,,,,the racket was terrible and mucho scary,,, every hair on me was standing straight up but rather than go back to the house for more ammo, I grabbed a rebuilt hoe and dispatched that snake, it took a lot of licks but I finally got him killed. We left him there so grandad could see it in the morning. It was quite a sight, grandad was shaking his head as he left to go check on a hay patch. I left that snake in the trap, granny drug him over to an anthill, trap and all, where the ants eat that snake except the bones, in a couple of days,,, granny gathered up those snake back bones, strung ‘em on a string and made a damn necklace. I don’t know what happened to it, but when she passed away, she still had it somewhere, I never saw it again.
More “Granny” To be continued,,,,,,,one more time,,,,