Lancasters still doing things the old way
Nestled at the base of a small hollow, the home of Ledford and Shirley Lancaster is surrounded by an assortment of garden plots.
Their main garden is between the front lawn and the road, but there are blackberry briars on the hill behind the house and green bean vines climbing river canes beside outbuildings.
Patches of sweet corn and large hills of watermelon promise good things to eat in upcoming weeks.
The Lancaster’s son, Charles, says his parents don’t let the heat keep them in the house. “Mom is out there at all hours of the day,” he says.
Shirley was born at Marble Yard, and grew up in the Tipton Ridge area.
“I married Ledford in 1969 and we’ve been farming together at Wagersville ever since.
Ledford grew up on adjoining land just up the road.
“I always did like to work,” Shirley says. “When I first moved up here, we raised tobacco. I used to ride the tobacco setter by myself.”
Tobacco setters typically take at least two people feeding plants through the setter at the same time.
When harvest time rolled around, the Lancasters usually did most of the harvesting by themselves too.
“I was so short, I’d let Ledford drop the sticks.
“I’d cut 800-900 sticks of tobacco a day, and we housed it by ourselves most of the time.”
Until the tobacco buyout, the Lancasters raised a small tobacco crop every year.
That doesn’t mean they’re now idle.
“I’ve done more in the garden this year than I ever have,” the 75 year-old Shirley says. “We raise most of what we eat.”
The Lancasters have been saving and planting their own seed for decades. They not only save tomato and green been seeds, but things like turnip seeds and cucumber seeds.
“You can save anything,” she says. “We usually plant our old potatoes.”
They save sweet corn seed from year to year, and they raise eight-row corn to grind for cornmeal.
To dry corn for seed, Shirley says, “Leave a few ears on the stalk until they dry up. Snap ‘em off that snout and hang it up. When it’s good and dry, shell it and put it in the refrigerator.
“I’ve got seeds I’ve saved for 14 years or more, and if I was to plant them, I’ll bet every one of them would come up.”
The Lancasters don’t have air-conditioning, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find them sitting under a shade tree when it’s hot, not if there’s work to be done.
“I guess I’m kin to the Indians,” Shirley says. “I like to sweat. It makes me feel good.”
Her skin is so smooth, she could easily pass for someone 20 years younger.
“I don’t take no medicine, and I don’t go to the doctor,” Shirley says. “I could be wrong, but I think that some of that ol’ vegetable oil is the reason people have cholesterol and sugar problems.”
Shirley still renders her own lard, and the Lancasters enjoy fresh pork every winter.
They also have a taste for wild meat, but Ledford’s bad knee has hampered his ability to hunt in recent years.
“I’ve eat coon, squirrel, rabbit.” Shirley says. “I’ve eat beavers, and I’ve made sausage out of that. I used to make groundhog sausage for his daddy. He didn’t want anything in it but salt.”
Although some might wrinkle their nose at eating wild meat, Shirley says,
“There’s nothin’ no cleaner than a beaver. They live in the water and they don’t eat nothin’ much.
“It’s all in what people get used to.”
Not only does Shirley stay busy in the garden, she keeps the place trimmed with a weedeater.
“Sometimes I’ll weedeat for three hours at a time and not stop for anything but to fill it up,” she says.
Although the Lancasters don’t have air-conditioning, they stay cool by drinking plenty of water. In the springtime when the branch near their house runs cold and clear, they pipe water into their cistern.
“If we’re savin’ with it, it’ll last a long time,” Shirley says. They have city water but mainly use it to do laundry and flush the toilets.
Each week, Shirley takes a couple of gallons of her water to a 99-year old friend who lives down the road.
“She likes my water,” she says.
“The health department would probably condemn it, but it ain’t hurt us yet,” she laughs.