QUILTING AND CORN-SHUCKING
WPA Writer Maude Dreisbach
written ca. 1936
During the 1930s, Great Depression era, many writers were employed to interview people and write stories about life in the United States. The program was named the U.S. Work Projects Administration, Federal Writers’ Project and it gave employment to historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and other white-collar workers. This is an unedited story from WPA writer Maude Dreisbach.
In some parts of Alabama, which embrace the isolated mountain and hill sections of Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Cleburne, DeKalb and Colbert counties, many of the social customs introduced by the early settlers are still observed. Among these are wood-chopping, log-rolling, sheep-shearing and corn-shucking, where members of a community share the labor of the individual.
Held in the fall
No one of these gatherings is as popular as the corn-shucking, this being held in the fall at the home of some farmer who has harvested a jumper corn crop and, proud of his achievement, invited his neighbors in to help strip it of its shucks.
This is usually held in November – “hog-killing time” – when the weather is cool and pleasant, a bale or two of cotton has been sold, food is plentiful, and planters are in a holiday mood. They come with their families from the hills and mountains for miles around.
Typical Corn-shucking day, 1939 (Library of Congress)
Friendly gossip and laughter
The women guests find a quilt already fastened in the frames, waiting to be quilted. But the older ones have brought their needle and thimble; other needles and thimbles are supplied by the hostess, and thread. After much discussion as to the pattern by which the quilting is to be done, this is decided and intricate designs are laid off with a piece of white chalk by some quilting expert in the crowd.
Friendly gossip and much laughter continue around the frame where the quilters are seated, each vying with the other as to who makes the finest, evenest stitches through the thick padded cotton.
Women preparing feast on corn-shucking day 1939 (Library of Congress)
A large feast at noon
All the while merry sounds may be heard from the kitchen where several guests are assisting their hostess in preparing a feast, which often consists of roast pig with baked apples, roast chicken with dressing, fried chicken, chicken pie, boiled ham, field peas, hominy, candied yams, cornbread, biscuits, pickles, preserves, jelly, pies, custards and cakes.
In the barn, the men are having equally as good a time. They may even pause in their work occasionally to take “a little taste” from the keg of corn liquor kept hidden under the hay, out of sight of the womenfolk, and the children that play back and for the from the barn to the house. They boast and complain about their farms, indulge in friendly arguments over politics and exchange jokes, their frequent laughter echoing through the building.
Fun began at night
When the day is done and the quilt has been admired and folded away in the homemade cedar chest, the “crib” filled to the loft with shucked corn, and all have eaten a cold supper from the bountiful remains of the noonday meal, the time has come to which they have looked forward for months. The crowd assembles in a front room that has been cleared or furniture. Familiar characters of the settlement known by such names as “Uncle Ezry” and “Granpap Billy” tune their fiddles and banjos – miraculously, for they know not one note from another.
Some girl is selected to “beat the straws”; the way she manipulates two straws on the banjo strings produces a time-beat that resembles the tapping of a drum. They play loud and long while young and old mingle in the dance, mostly the oldtime rollicking “square” dance. An old-timer appoints himself “caller,” his loud “S’lute y’r podna – lady on the right – lady on the left – swing y’r podna – all promenade!” rising above the music and the rhythm of the dancers feet.
When goodnights have been said and the guests are all seated in the vehicles lined in front of the house, they drive slowly away, singing “God be with you till we meet again,” their voices mingling with those of host and hostess who, from the front gate, wave their hands to their friends.
- J. D. Thomas, Griffin’s Bend, Talladega county, Alabama (Farmer)
- Walker Griffin, Griffin’s Bend, Talladega county, Alabama (Farmer)
- Dr. Claude Martin, Ashland, Clay county, Alabama (Country Doctor)
- Mrs. James Parks, Stemley, Talladega County, Alabama (Farmer’s wife)
- Pat Ayers, Pinetucky, Randolph county, Alabama (Farmer)
- Will Bell, Muscadine, Cleburne county, Alabama (Farmer)
- Oscar Rodgers, Chavies, DeKalb county, Alabama (Farmer)
- Miss Betty Ross, Rock Creek, Colbert County, Alabama (School teacher)
- Mrs. Maude Dreisbach, Writer’s Project, Birmingham: was present at a quilting and corn-shucking at the home of Mrs. James Parks, Stemley, fifteen miles from her home in the mountains of Talladega County.
Faith and Courage: 2nd edition -A Novel of Colonial America Inspired by real people and actual events, the family saga of colonial America continues with Ambrose Dixon’s family. Faith and Courage presents the religious persecution of Quakers in Pre-Revolutionary War days of America intertwined with a love story.