Published on March 17, 2020

The story of Grandpa Ruffo, Wee Folk, whiskey and mincemeat

By Janice Edwards / The Bulletin

Everyone knows you can’t have St. Patty’s without Leprechauns – the Wee Folk.

The practice of knocking on wood when something good happens comes from the Irish tradition of putting food and Irish Whiskey for the Wee Folks on your doorstep. Then you knock on wood to let them know dinner was served. To do so, brings you good luck. Roy’s Grandpa Ruffo recounted his experience with the Wee Folk on his farm.

It was summertime in the early 1950s, and I (Roy) was spending a few weeks at Grandpa Ruffo’s farm. Grandpa, and I had just finished up checking on some calves. He picked up a jug of iced tea and two glasses, “Break time,” he said as he sat down on a hay bale in the shade of the barn.

“Son, did I ever tell you about the Wee Folk?” he asked.

“No, Sir,” I replied.

“Back when I was just a little older than you are now, for several years, I got a paying job working as a teamster driving a mule team and freight wagon across this part of Texas. It was hard work, but I enjoyed it. I saved most of my pay so I could buy a farm someday.”

“Then I met your grandma-to-be, Ruby, started to court her, and before long, we decided it was time to get married and settle down.

“Ruby and I were both of Protestant Irish descent and were both hard-shell Baptists – no alcohol. I started buying farmland with my teamster wages, and soon I had over a thousand acres. I built a house, a barn, and started clearing land. Ruby and I were married and started farming. Our Irish elders had told tales about the Wee Folk all our lives. They told us how the Wee Folk helped people in the old country, and we decided we needed all the help we could get.”

“Over on the west side of the west pasture was an ancient oak tree in the bank of a small creek. Like a lot of old oaks, it had a triangular shaped hollow in its base that went up the side for about six feet. I noticed around the old oak, other trees grew straighter than normal, their foliage was fuller, and the plants in the area were greener - they almost looked like they had been groomed to appear more pleasing to the eye.”

“I took Ruby to the tree, and we both decided if there were Wee Folk around, that they would be here.

“Now son, there are two things that you need to know about Wee Folk. Number one, they like their alcohol, especially good Irish Whiskey. Number two, they really love mincemeat pie.

“The first Saturday of every month, I went into town for supplies and to visit kinfolk. I bought a bottle of good Irish Whiskey, even during prohibition. That evening, Ruby would bake a mincemeat pie.
‘Sunday, after church, I went to the Wee Folk Oak Tree. To the left of the hollow, I gently placed the open bottle of Irish Whiskey at an angle, being careful not to spill a single drop. I put a straw in the bottle. Then I placed the mincemeat pie on the right side of the opening.

”The Wee Folk Oak had a lower limb about as big around as a washtub, which angled down to the ground before reaching again for the sky. It had a flat spot about three feet across that was covered by soft moss. There was also a limb growing out of the back side to lean against and made a perfect chair for sitting and thinking.

“I sat there for about an hour and talked to the Wee Folks. I told them which areas of the farm needed rain, where crop-eating insects were a problem, how the cattle were doing, and anything else I could think about concerning the farm. I told them about my growing family and how things were going.

“The next month, I came back with a full bottle and a fresh pie, and picked up the empty bottle and pie pan.

“My time spent with the Wee Folk was effective because Ruby and I had one of the most successful farms in Anderson County.

“Starting about 1929, the dust bowl drought set in, and things slowly started going downhill. By 1931, my offerings were no longer being consumed, and I stopped going to the Wee Folk Oak. I don’t know what happened, but I hope the Wee Folk moved to a new home.

“Then in 1935, a storm felled the old oak,” Grandpa Ruffo sadly said as he finished his story.

“Grandpa, did you ever see one of the Wee Folk? How do you know they exist?” I (Roy) asked.

“Son, knowing that Wee Folk exist is like knowing that love exists. You don’t have to see love to know it’s there,” Grandpa replied.

“Well … it’s about time to get back to work,” Grandpa Ruffo said with that mischievous Irish twinkle in his eye – but then, Grandpa Ruffo always had a twinkle in his eye.”

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)