Hog or Die Poor
Cracker Memories of Carl Allen
Carl himself said it best, "When all
this goes," looking beyond his Museum of Florida Crackerdom to
a bygone Florida, "it ain't coming back". He had a great love for
Florida as well as Auburndale, his home town. It was his greatest wish
that in some small way he could preserve some of it's history and heritage.
Many years ago, Carl started writing
his "Florida Cracker" columns in The Ledger, Polk County's largest newspaper.
It's fairly safe to say that nothing like it appeared in any newspaper
anywhere else. Carl's amazing memory and his special way of putting those
memories down on
paper, gained him a loyal following. His columns were reprinted far and
Before his death, in 1996, Carl
assembled this collection of his columns, a "Best of the Best." It was
a long overdue, fascinating look into Florida's past through the eyes
of someone who was there. Carl Allen knew how to tell a story and if you're
not already convinced, read on.
From Carl Allen's book "Root
Hog or Die Poor"
Old days of 'root hog or die poor'
hog or die poor" was a common expression used by those old crackers
who I came up with, for there was a time when everyone had a job
to do, no matter if it was the kids, for it took everyone in the
family doing whatever had to be done in order to keep food on the
I know this is hard for the
younger people to understand, but just stop and think about it.
If they did away with the refrigerators and freezers and all electronic
devices and stopped all government give-away checks, including Social
Security, then you could understand how hard it was just to exist.
And how important it was to be able to can up all the vegetables
you could grow.
I guess people looked more toward
God for help then for there sure wasn't anything else to turn to.
One thing for sure, we knew
what was good to eat that just grew wild and was there for the taking.
So we depended a lot on swamp cabbage and wild berries for food.
And at that time, guavas grew wild about everywhere you looked and
there wasn't anything wrong with a good old guava cobbler pie. Every
household made guava jelly during the guava season. Heck, I was
about grown before I got to taste any other kind of jelly.
During the early spring we'd
go out and gather poke berry bushes when they were real small and
tender. Mom would boil and pour off the water several times before
we could eat them, as it was claimed they would poison you if you
didn't do this. They tasted something like spinach, but had a distinct
taste of it's own.
I remember that everyone ate
a lot of "sawmill chicken," as salt pork was called back then. We
also used to eat a lot of salt mullet, two or three times a week
for breakfast. We didn't know back then that too much salt was bad
for our health. Smoking or salting meat was about the only way we
had to preserve it.
We also used to make our own
lard, which was the only kind of grease we had. Heck, we didn't
know anything about calories or cholesterol. Anyway, if we had known
that animal fat was bad for us and we could have bought anything
from the store that was better, we wouldn't have had any money to
It looked like the good Lord
would provide for all those old crackers. Sure, a lot of us went
hungry once in a while, but the good neighbors who were fortunate
enough to have a little something would share with those less fortunate,
and life kept going on. Everybody in those days seemed to be poor,
we didn't know any different, it was just a way of life for us.
I remember that Cecil Kelly,
Ben Cotton and myself did our part in keeping fish on the table
and sometimes we'd go fishing for soft shell turtle and we'd bait
our lines with cut bait to catch them. Mom would take the turtle
and make dumplings with it, and to me, it was much better than chicken
One thing I can vouch for is
the fact that we wore our clothes completely out, for there was
no place to buy second-hand clothes, so we just wore them and washed
them, and Mom would keep them patched up. People just don't patch
anymore, guess they don't have to.
Now, me being the youngest,
I got all the hand-me-downs and they were pretty well patched by
the time they got down to me.
But all us boys wore patched
clothes and no one ever paid any attention to it.
Heck, when I did get a new pair
of overalls, I felt ashamed to wear them because they didn't have
any patches on them. And, everyone would be saying, "There goes
Carl with a new pair of overalls." All this, and I can't say we
weren't happy, for we did appreciate what little we got.
Looking back now, I think about
the times I've seen some cracker woman stand in a store and tears
running down her cheeks cause she didn't have enough money to buy
what they needed, or some little extra something she wanted to get
for her child's birthday.
I've seen men with their
clothes wet with sweat from clearing land with a grubbing hoe from
sunup to sundown. I've watched them grow old before their time.
I've seen these men and women working together in a field with the
sun beating down on them. Like I said, in those by-gone days, it
was "root hog or die poor."