THE CRACKER HOUSE

Note: This story is revised from a collection of family tales, Fragments of Yesterday. Previously: In the early 1890’s June’s paternal grandparents home-steaded in what is now Central Florida’s Hardee County. The community lies east of Tampa and what is now I-75.

After a period of living in a cabbage shanty, my paternal grandparents built a large Cracker house. It had an open porch on the back that connected with the detached kitchen. That back porch was the place of resting, visiting, pea-shelling, butter-churning, shoe removal and much more.

Down the middle of the house, with bedrooms and living room on the sides, was a wide hallway open to the breezes. It was called a “dog-trot” because dogs–and sometimes, other varmints–trotted through.

Many years later, I visited the old homestead. The house had been abandoned;

the porches and the dog-trot were falling down, but the separate old kitchen remained. As I entered, I noted that a few pencils of light entered through the cracks in the old wooden-shuttered windows. On the wall beside the door, hung a calendar from 1947, its pages brittle with age, torn and dusty.

In the half-dark sat the cold wood stove, its surface gritty and rusty to the touch. A few ragged splinters lay in the corner where the firewood had once been stacked. Pungent odors of pitch pine and rancid kerosene still lingered, trapped in the rough room.

To my left was the long old-fashioned plank table. Nearby stood the keeping-safe, with its rusted screen panels. On shelves inside, grandmother used to set large bowls of milk. After a time the cream would rise thick and rich.

That memory is vivid. Churning that cream into fresh butter was one of my

chores.

June Poucher (Aug. ‘14) says “I closed my eyes, and I could smell again the hot biscuits and butter with homemade syrup; could hear my granddaddy clear his throat for quiet before the blessing, followed by a tired sigh from my grandmother as she sank into her low chair, her chin only inches from the garish oilcloth that covered the table.”

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