Past and Present
Lifelong Oregon County native
sees little reason to change
Mauldin has lived within a few miles of where she was born in Oregon
County her entire life. For the 89-year-old life is busy with chores
including gathering wood to start a fire to render pork fat into
has never lived more than a mile from where she was born in Oregon County.
In fact she's only left the state one time and that was to visit relatives
in Kansas last year. She was glad to get home.
Hers is a story
of family, neighbors and loving a place so much you never want to leave.
as her friends call her, is 89 years old and still lives on her own
in the house her late husband, Therman, built for her in 1946 just a
mile from the Eleven Point River. She cooks and cleans and gardens though
she has family and neighbors nearby that look after her (the neighbors
insist that Verble looks after them
more than they do her).
life has changed little in nearly a century. She still cooks pretty
much the same things and the same way her mother taught her when she
"It's how I
growed up. I've never known nothin' else."
And just as
she's done since she was old enough to help her mother, Verble still
renders lard by heating pork fat over an outdoor fire in an old kettle
used by her mother for just that purpose.
The fat is slowly
melted over a couple of hours until it's reduced to a liquid along with
the "cracklins" or pieces that won't render. The cracklins dry to a
consistency of pork rinds and are a favorite treat of many people who
grew up in the country when lard was the only cooking oil available.
"When I was
a kid you didn't use nothin' else. You couldn't have found oil to save
still lives on her own and cooks and gardens much as she's done.
Of course Verble
could have used store bought cooking oils any time after the Second
World War. But cooking with lard, and making and washing with lye soap
(which Verble did until recently when lye was no longer available) was
just the way she did things. She sees no reason to change.
like pie crusts and biscuits just taste better cooked using lard, she
Even when she
doesn't need to render she's still outdoors working a garden patch in
the spring and summer or collecting black walnuts in the fall and hulling
them herself. "I enjoy getting outside. I get tired of the house."
Though she does
have a satellite TV dish given to her by her son-in-law Wayne Johnson
and her daughter Bonnie she says she doesn't have much time to watch.
She's in the middle of making two quilts now. She does enjoy watching
a gospel music show but, "I wouldn't give you dime for the rest of it,"
she says laughing.
Verble has been
on her own since 1995 when her husband died after developing Parkinson's
disease. He raised cattle and hogs and worked for 30 years driving a
road grader for Oregon County. Before they had refrigeration the family
butchered hogs in the winter and smoked the meat to preserve it. That's
when they rendered fat from the freshly killed hogs. It was an annual
"That was important
to Therman. He wanted us to have meat every day."
They were pretty
much self sufficient, she says. Then Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative
came through their area and began setting poles in 1944.
"It was exciting.
It sure was," Verble recalls. "I remember the crews coming through the
yard with the line and hooking things up. We had electric lights in
the house. Before that we used coal-oil lamps. We didn't have refrigerators
or deep freezers before that. Now we could freeze our meat instead of
is still a member of the co-op and her son-in-law, Wayne, is a director
of the cooperative in West Plains. Verble doesn't look back on those
early days as hard times, but just the way things were. She likes the
best of modern appliances like washers and dryers, but still likes her
old fashioned way of doing some things.
Of course only
an outsider would question an 89-year-old lady about cooking with rendered
had a neighbor from California who stopped by one day to watch her render.
"He asked me, 'What do you do with that?' I said, 'You eat it.' He said,
'That'll kill you.' I just said, 'I'm going to die anyway and it might
just as well be from one thing as another.'"
as it was in Verble's youth, the rendering kettle is also a place
to socialize with family and neighbors.
For most of
Verble's neighbors rendering brings back pleasant memories of childhood
and watching their mothers make lard and waiting patiently for the cracklins.
It also recalls memories of cracklin biscuits, a popular country treat
made by mixing cracklins with the biscuit dough.
Verble renders as much for her neighbors as she does for herself. She
shares nearly all that she has from the homemade quilts she makes to
old fashioned bars of soap.
For her it's
reason enough to have a few folks come by to watch the kettle and visit
with one another. Inevitably stories turn to butchering hogs, deer hunting
and family. For Verble
it's a way to stay close to friends and family and recall the days when
life was a little harder, but perhaps a little sweeter.