When a mountain man says something is “not worth shucks” he means it is poor or worthless. And when it comes to choosing a terse exclamation to express his disgust, regret or impatience he more than likely will settle for “Aw, shucks!” All of which is an outrage and downright unfair.
For corn shucks, be they green or dried, are far from worthless. Folks have been depended on them for a multitude of uses ever since man shucked the first ear of corn.
Many a pioneer mountain woman used shucks to stuff a bed tick or braid a collar for the mule. And a mat woven of corn shucks is as good as doormat for muddy boots as it was at the old cabin door.
Even folks who exclaim n one breath that something’s not worth shucks will admit in the next that they are mighty useful. Strangely enough, they can’t explain how or why the word came to denote something poor or worthless.
Artisans have taken mountain traditions in shuckery to supplement their income. It’s become quite a profitable mountain craft.
Corn shuck dolls, probably first thought by an isolated mountain mother, are a popular item at any craft fair. Mountain crafts workers have also turned out napkin rings, bracelets, hat bands, flowers, and small fruits and vegetables, all in color, from corn shucks. In addition, corn shucks are pressed out and made into lampshades, trays, work baskets, shopping bags, and pocketbooks.
The corn shuck hat goes back to pioneer days and to the pinching times of the Civil War.
When the Yankees blockade cut off the supply of bonnets and the materials to fashion bonnets, Southern women turned to corn shucks and straw.
“Our women,” said Zeb Vance, North Carolina’s wartime governor, “took the bright straw of wheat, oats and rye and the husk of corn ears, rich in the beauteous coloring of silver and old gold, and with deft fingers wove for themselves all manner of hear-gear, as charming as any which ever came from the shops of France or Italy, the natural earthly home of artistic beauty. As to the effects produced,” he said in a lecture in Boston, “I beg to assure the inexperienced in my audience that in gazing upon Southern girls thus arrayed from top to toe in homemade striped cottons, set off by corn shuck bonnets, the work of their own hands, I have felt all the usual symptoms of a violent attack – the increased action of the heart, shortness of breath and that general felling of ‘all-overishness’, as strong and irresistible as could have been superinduced by any other possible female get-up.”
Incidentally, during the Civil War, the original Blue Backs of the Confederacy – so called in opposition to the Green Backs of the Union – became known as Shucks, a name sufficiently significantly of their worthless repute as a circulating medium.
In pioneer days, husks were sometimes twisted into ropes and used as bed cords, and both horse and mule collars were made from them. Most old-timers contend, however, that while a dollar’s worth of shuck collar was good enough for an ordinary plow mule a sturdier collar was desirable for heavier work. And while bridles and horse collars are no longer turned out of shucks, shuckery as a craft has branched out far and wide since pioneer days.
All of which is a contradiction to them saying that something is not worth shucks.