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Back in the day, Thanksgiving was hog-killing time

• Nov 30, 2018 at 6:30 PM

Did you know that for many folks across our region, at least years ago, Thanksgiving didn’t have anything to do with parade-watching, turkey-and-dressing dinners and pumpkin pie? What did they do instead? It was traditionally the day they killed, cleaned and preserved hogs.

I first heard of this news-to-me the day before Thanksgiving from a total stranger. Ann Reyes and I were both shopping at JCPenney in the Fort Henry Mall. When a second cashier was called to help speed up the line, she went to the register nearest Ann, but the cashier who had been working said to take me first because I’d been waiting longer.

I walked around and stood next to Ann. And I could feel her eyes on me. I thought it was because I got to go first. But then she touched my arm and said, “You work for the newspaper. I recognize you from your picture.”

She went on to say she enjoys my columns. I said I was on deadline to write this one due to the Thanksgiving holiday. She suggested I just write about family gatherings, which are what Thanksgiving is all about. That, I said, seemed like an easy out and asked what she would be doing for the holiday. Cooking for family, she said. I asked if she lived “here,” meaning Kingsport, or if she was visiting family.

It turns out sort of both. Ann grew up in Sullivan Gardens. She moved away as an adult, and her husband’s military career meant moves to multiple states. But last year they bought a home here in Colonial Heights. Her husband retired from the military but continued on as civilian employee at the Pentagon. They still have a home in Alexandria, Va. The goal is to permanently settle in Colonial Heights when he retires again.

We were about to part ways when Ann asked and answered: “You know what Thanksgiving meant to me when I was growing up in Sullivan Gardens? Killing hogs.”

Turkey dinner? No.

The day was spent working. But dinner was special.

“We couldn’t wait until dinner, because we knew we were going to have fried pork tenderloin, biscuits and gravy.”

I asked if her family had also canned tenderloin. Oh, yes. And it was wonderful.

My cousin Gary Wallen, who happens to live in Sullivan Gardens, recently gave my mother a pint of home-canned tenderloin. Mom was tickled to death and can’t wait to open it. She says it was a special wintertime treat when she was growing up on the farm in Lee County, Va. I told Ann about the jar of tenderloin and almost having to restrain Mom to keep her from opening it as soon as she got it.

“Oh,” Ann said wistfully. “I’d about kill for a can of tenderloin.”

I wish I’d had more time to quiz Ann about killing hogs on Thanksgiving. Was it just her family’s way, or was it a local thing?

I called my pig-farming expert, my cousin Phyllis Hunt Manis. Her father was “Dude” Hunt, and his parents, R.B. and Anna Mae, owned a pig farm in Sullivan Gardens. (Dude’s name was Nestor, but no one called him that. He had to have his telephone book listing changed to include “Dude” because he was losing sales — no one knew “Nestor.”)

“We raised hogs and sold whole-hog sausage and hams for 33 years,” Phyllis said.

“But did you slaughter hogs on Thanksgiving?”

“Absolutely.”

“Why on Thanksgiving?”

To be continued. Watch for Part II in next Sunday’s Kingsport Times News.

J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government. Email him at [email protected] 

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