Burning the Fat

When Patricia Woolsey wishes for change… (Two Pan, 1871)

They stink. And soot off. But what are you going to do? Besides, through the whole process, I learned why Violet Spinrad won’t picket the whore house or saloon.

We Woolseys are probably the most prosperous folks in the valley, but with oil being 18 miles over the mountain and more expensive than a miner’s widget, we rarely light a lamp.  When my last wax candle was down to a nub, I asked Violet Spinrad if she’d help make tallow candles. I have a 12-hole mold which forms a nicer candle than what she does (puts dirt in a jar and hollows out the center.)

Violet Spinrad renders the amount of fat in a pizza if it had been invented yet.

Even though it was a gray freezing day, she arrived bundled against the cold with her three youngest children. I made Mr. Woolsey build an outside fire to keep the rendering stink out of the house. It took about an hour to dice and cook the fat into oil. During that time I found out…

Moving to Oregon, was all Violet’s idea. It was the only way they’d own a piece of land because Bricker’s a …she didn’t use the word, laggard, but that’s what she meant.  And then Bricker—

She got quiet when the kids gathered around as we strained out cooked gristle. I told the children to give the crispins to the birds, but her little ones ate it like it was candy.

I thought I could get the rest of the story while we simmered the oil again to get more stink out, but she suddenly became busy herding everyone into wick-making duties.

One child held an end of a fabric strip and another twisted the free end until it kinked up on itself.  I have to say, Violet is the best there ever was at threading a homemade wick in the candle tube. I rarely get the knot centered and oil leaks out the bottom. Or my wicks are slightly crooked, and the candle won’t come out of the mold. Violet’s the best at needle work in the valley, but hardly has a pot to toss out the window, much less anything to sew with.

A 12-pack for those dark winter blues.

I shooed all the kids away before we poured into the mold. It’s a delicate process, besides…without little ears around, I wangled the rest of Violet’s story.

It seems…she knows Bricker’s a drunk. She went to thank Silky Sue for bringing her cookstove over the mountain and found Bricker face down in front of Opal’s palace. The whores had covered him with a blanket. Can you imagine?  A decent woman going to see a saloon hussy?  What I didn’t know is that Bricker hasn’t been home in a month.

She suddenly stopped talking. Thanked me and bundled up her children and her share of the candles. She wouldn’t let Mr. Woolsey give her a ride. Nor would she take the nice calf liver I offered.

I watched her walk down the trail until shadows overtook her.

It’s times like this I regret the person I am and wish I would change. Back in Nebraska, we had lamps shining in every room. Now, I feel shamed for wishing for a well-lit room that doesn’t smell like burnt cow.


About Barb

I escaped from a hardscrabble farm in Oklahoma. I'm not sure why people think I have an accent. I miss the sunshine, but not the fried foods.
This entry was posted in Humor, Pioneer Friday in Two Pan and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Burning the Fat

  1. The Hook says:

    Thank you for the “time travel post”! Very cool journey into a bygone era, with a modern flair, of course!


  2. Lisa Nowak says:

    That rotten Bricker. Violet should’ve left him back east.


  3. JustI says:

    Poor ol’ Violet, having to make do while Bricker’s taken up with the hoors at Opal’s Palace! That’s an amazing hunk ‘o fat that Violet is renderin’ up. She must a kilt her a Buffalo!
    I’m loving the Tattler!


  4. I’ve never seen a candle tube mold before. Wow. I did once make a candle in a sand pit hollowed out by a 2-liter bottle bottom. I’m impressed with your knowledge of the early settler days.


  5. Rose L says:

    Have you been reincarnated? Cuz you tell a story as if you really lived it!


  6. souldipper says:

    See, that Silky Sue understood pride perfectly…the pride of poverty. She knew not to offer Violet anything, but to just plain plunk things down without her having a chance to say Jack Robinson.

    Wouldn’t doubt that Silky Sue knew all about that brand of pride before she took up hooerin’.

    When Violet’s not looking, I’d just place that calf liver inside a tin and hand it to one of the kids to carry home.

    (Love this soap opera of the blog world…and we get to participate! Well done, Barb.)


  7. digipicsphotography says:

    Great story. Don’t we all know someone like that. We may moan about our lives then reality hits when we see someone in a much worse situation. May we all be thankful for what we have.


  8. Helen Wand says:

    A great read! Fun and informative and poor Violet. I hope you keep us posted on her troubles. Perhaps the good folks should “pass the hat” but I doubt she’d take it if they did.


  9. Wonderful illustration of a life I am so so glad we no longer have to live.
    Violet is a survivor. With or without (preferably without) Bricker. And not only a survivor but a proud one (not taking charity from anybody). Thanking Silky Sue was the act of a lady, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she had thanked Opal’s employees either. However there is NO SUCH THING as a nice calf liver.


    • Barb says:

      Thanks. E.C. We went through a lot of calf liver when I was little. We used it as catfish bait. Although….I had an uncle who loved it…fried with onions. I’m amazed that many of the tough or fatty beef cuts we considered poorly back then are expensive now: (liver, flank, brisket).


      • Spectra says:

        I blame all of those fancy cooking shows. They use a scrapy cut of beef in a new and interesting way, suddenly it’s all gourmet and what not. I for one used to eat liver, with bacon and onions, and better yet, pistachio-encrusted liver is pretty good, and full of iron.

        It really makes you think…these women even had to make their own candles! And their washing soaps, with lye, sew their own clothing, (for lack of a nearby WalMart – poor things) and take baths in a soup kettle. Which is a good argument for staying thin. Right now, I could barely fit my left foot into a soup kettle full of warm, lye-burning-sudsy water to clean it. Guess I’d just go around town filthy and smelling like burnt cow. ((shrug))


        • Barb says:

          The problem with liver is that it’s chock-fulll of cholesterol. The wrong kind…according to my doctor. But pistachio encrusted anything sounds good to me.

          I made lye soap once. That was enough. The soap wasn’t bad, just different, but it was a “kettle-full” of work.


  10. JSD says:

    Violet sounds like a strong, proud woman who will somehow survive being married to that drunk. Thanks for the story…and the history lesson. 🙂


  11. moma escriva says:

    Sigh! I felt so sorry for Violet. But one good thing. If Bricker’s been gone for a month, she may have a chance of not getting pregnant for a while!


    • Barb says:

      Oh, Moma. I hadn’t thought of that, but I bet Violet had. It seems blessings come with curses. (And 1870 birthcontrol would be a good post.-Thanks.


  12. dan says:

    I really feel guilty now, having been out of work almost a year with my legs.


  13. Two Pan is the Lake Woebegon of the west. Love getting to know these personalities at bit more. Oh Violet, I knew things were hard for you, but didn’t realize your troubles with Bricker.


  14. Roxie Matthews says:

    Love your deft way with personalities. What will poor Violet do?


    • Barb says:

      Well…now…that’s the questions isn’t it? Makes you wonder how a woman alone, with 6 kids will survive on the edge of no where. There weren’t a lot of options for women, but you can bet Violet’s the kind of woman who’ll expore them. Hang on for the ride.


  15. Wonderful. Almost like being there.


  16. “Violet is the best there ever was at threading a homemade wick in the candle tube.” I can imagine that takes knowing how. Mine would be crooked or lay up against the side. Great story.


    • Barb says:

      I’m glad you got it. This seemed strange to me. I would have thought a crooked wick would make the candle burn longer, kind of like you can get more seeds in a crooked garden row. Research shows that the wick had to be taut and straight. I would’ve been living in the dark.


  17. magsx2 says:

    A great read, and I loved the way you ended it, that was brilliant. 😀


  18. Again a story that draws me in immediately..wow!


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