I hope this note finds you well.
When I was a small child, my family often spent the holidays at the McAlexander home on the north edge of the Black Swamp in the Cache River Bottomland. The old McAlexander home is full of magical memories for me.
The house was built on the edge of a sandy bluff, and beyond that the land dropped off into the Cache River floodplain. Since the house was built above the flood area, they had a root cellar that doubled as a storage area for onions and potatoes. In times of bad weather, it also acted as a storm shelter.
The living room was full of overstuffed furniture and a fireplace dominated the central wall. Just to the right of the fireplace was Uncle Gene’s prize possession: a large floor model wooden radio. I can remember sitting on the floor in front of the radio on Christmas Eve listening to Christmas carols in foreign languages.
To the left of the parlor was the kitchen. With a few exceptions like fuel, salt, tobacco and bluing for the wash, this family raised almost everything they needed. When I was a child, they still used a wood stove for cooking and heating. I can clearly remember Aunt Margy churning milk and butter. For anything that needed refrigerating, they had an ice box.
Because the house was built on a sandy bluff, when you walked out of the backdoor of the kitchen onto the small back porch you were eight to ten feet above the ground. Off the end of the porch, a narrow, elevated walkway led to the smoke house, which you entered on the second floor.
On the first-floor level the fires for curing the meat were set and allowed to smolder. The second-floor level was a series of walkways where pieces of salted and smoke-cured meat hung from large hooks. The smell of that smoke house lingers with me today.
Back in the house the other door off the kitchen led into the dining room with its large oval table. The large windows on the back wall of the dining room overlooked the smoke house and the river bottoms. There were two large soft-shell pecan trees that had been trimmed to preserve the view from the dining area.
As for the foods that graced the table, the McAlexanders made all their own breads, biscuits, and pastries. They had homegrown vegetables all year round. The vegetables were always fresh in season, and during the off-season the pantry was full of canned produce.
There were no better smoked meats than what came out of their smoke house. As for desserts, both Aunt Margy and Aunt Ruth had a delicate touch with everything they cooked.
I hope that many of you have memories from your childhood like those I have of the McAlexander house. If you do, share them with your grandchildren.
Have a good journey,
Dr. Sam Taggart is a retired doctor/writer/marathon runner who practiced in Benton for 45 years. He recently released For Every Family, A Family Doctor: a history of the modern Family Medicine Movement in Arkansas. His other books include Country Doctors of Arkansas, The Public’s Health, With a Heavy Heart and We All Hear Voices.