View Full Version : "The Way It Was" -- An Appalachian's Experience -- My Great Uncle's Memoirs

Monday, January 24th, 2005, 07:54 PM
I'm working on transcribing the memoirs of my grandfather's brother. They were originally set down using a typewriter back in 1980. I'd like to post them here in sections as I complete them.

A few notes:

I've censored almost all of the names in order to protect the privacy of my family (and my own).
I've left the spelling and punctuation exactly as he had them. Overall, they're not too bad for a man with only a few years of formal schooling.
The original text runs straight through with no breaks, but I'm breaking it up into sections as I transcribe it.
I may intersperse comments throughout the text for the sake of clarity.
Feel free to add questions or comments to this thread.

Well, here begins section 1, which I shall call "Keep Your Tools Sharp:"


What I am about to write is at the urging of my daughter S*****. She has said it is unfair of me to not leave a record of my remembrances for my children and grandchildren. As I put down these thoughts, I am hopeful my inattention to composition, and lack of punctuation, will be overlooked. Also, I am sure there will be those who will not agree with some of my spelling, but I will point out that it is my spelling, so I'll do it my way.

I was born December ****, 1919, and have now passed my 60th birthday. I consider myself most fortunate to have lived at a time when I could have experienced, in my early days and years, a way of life which my children can never really know. It was, in many ways, a hard life, even by today's standards a primitive life, yet it was a good life. I was brought into this world in my grandmother's home, on her birthday, and as I child I was never happy when I was away from my birthplace. Though I have not mentioned this to E********, I proposed to her, and she accepted, in the same room in which I came into the world.

My grandparents' home was a two-story frame dwelling, built by my grandfather, and situated on a small, rocky, seventeen-acre tract of land. Approximately half of the property was in woodland, and the balance in orchards, pasture and crop land. Among the outbuildings was a small house into which my mother and father moved when I was about two years of age, and my early memories begin at that point.

I do not know why I cannot remember my children's telephone numbers, and sometimes have trouble with birthdates, yet I can remember the tongue-lashing my mother gave my uncle for pinning a bouquet of strawberries to my clean rompers, and thereby staining them, when this happened fifty eight years ago. I also remember, very vividly, Mother melting lead in a shovel held over the fire, in the fireplace, and then pouring the molten lead on the hearth, for my amusement. The lead would spatter into various shapes, and she picked up one piece, before it cooled, and it stuck to her fingers. She ran outside to where Dad was working on his "flivver" (http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=19961209) and he scolded her for being so foolish. This, too, occurred about fifty-eight years ago.

My grandfather influenced my life more than any other individual. Grandpa, whose name was ****** M***** ******, was known, by most people, as "Uncle M**." Grandma was "Aunt H**." Her name was H***** ***. Grandpa was small man, about five feet, six inches tall and he weighed in the neighborhood of one hundred forty pounds. I don't know why, but I was his favorite grandchild, and I was allowed to tag along after him wherever he went. I also had the privilege of using Grandpa's tools. He locked the door to the smokehouse, where the tools were kept, when other grandchildren came to visit. He had very few tools and he impressed upon me their value, and the need to care for them, and the importance of keeping them in their proper place when not in use. In my well equipped shop today, one will find my tools clean, sharp, and in their proper place.

I don't know how my grandparents managed, but they made a living and raised a large family on their small rocky farm. Of course, by the time I came along, all the children were gone except Aunt D****, and she taught school and I'm sure she contributed financially.

Grandma was about five feet one or two inches tall, and weighed perhaps one hundred ten pounds. She worked at something from "day light to dark" and I sometimes thought she spent her nights thinking up things for me to do. I didn't understand that her life, from early childhood, had been such a struggle for existence that when life could have been easier she just couldn't slow down.

To be continued...

Monday, January 24th, 2005, 08:34 PM
Here follows section 2, "A Lot of Beans:"


Grandma and Grandpa kept one cow, and they had an arrangement with a neighbor to furnish them with milk and butter when the cow was "dry," prior to giving birth to a calf each year. When the neighbor's cow was dry, the favor was returned. After the calf was weaned it was kept in the "calf lot" for a time, and then sold. The money for the calf paid the taxes each year. In the spring, a pig was bought. This one pig was fed until November, then it supplied us with pork for the winter months. Sausage was ground, fried, and placed in jars, grease poured over the sausages and lids sealed the jars. The meat kept, until needed, in this manner. Tenderloin and ribs were also prepared the same way. Lard, of course, was made from the fat, hams and side meat were cured, and hung in the smokehouse. We had an ample supply of lard, side meat for seasoning, and ham, from one year to the next.

Grandpa kept twenty five or thirty chickens throughout the year, plus frying chickens which were raised during the spring and summer months. The chickens supplied us with eggs, most of which were exchanged, at a nearby country store, for things we couldn't raise, such as salt, sugar, soda, baking powder, etc. We also had fried chicken, or an occasional fat hen, cooked with dumplings, for Sunday dinner, or when company came. We raised a large garden, a corn crop, hay crop and usually a field of oats. Beginning in late February and early March, salad peas and potatoes were planted, then as the weather warmed the ground, lettuce was sowed and beans, cabbage, corn, and all other vegetables were planted. Seed had been saved from the previous year, and tomato and cabbage plants were raised in old tubs, and kept covered, until danger of frost was past, then they were set out the garden.

The only thing we bought was sweet potato plants, and some fertilizer, principally for the corn crop. The garden was mostly enriched with chicken and cow manure, and it produced bountifully. I didn't look forward to gardening time, particularly "bean time." In those days we didn't have insecticides as we know them. In fact, the principal enemy of the Mexican bean beetle was a little boy with two flat rocks. I also did not like to string and break beans for canning, I did not like to string beans on strings to be dried by hanging them in the sun (shuck beans) and I did not like to eat beans, unless they were made into pickled beans, or shelled and made into soup beans. However, I was not consulted in the matter, and if I had been, my personal likes and dislikes would have not changed anything. We would have still raised a lot of beans, bugged a lot of beans, canned a lot of beans, dried a lot of beans, shelled a lot of beans, pickled a lot of beans, and we would have eaten a lot of beans. Odd thing is, I now like beans in any shape, form, or fashion. Perhaps, along with my deteriorating memory, my taste buds have dulled, or maybe time has dimmed the thoughts associated with "squished" bean bug larvae on flat rocks.

Nothing was wasted. All we didn't eat, as the vegetables ripened, we saved for future use in some manner. In addition to the many ways beans were kept, peas were canned, beets and cucumbers pickled, cabbage made into kraut or chow chow, and cabbage heads were "holed up" in the ground. Both "Irish" potatoes and sweet potatoes were kept in a closet, in the house, and the Irish potatoes were hold up in the ground. Corn was canned and tomatoes were canned, and corn and tomatoes were canned together. And if Grandma used up all her cans, she emptied what I thought was perfectly good vegetables, left from the previous year, just for the fun of seeing me break beans, or peel apples so she could fill the cans again. We also canned cherries, and peaches, and pears, and made apple butter, and jelly, and jam, and preserves. The sad thing about it, from my point of view, was that whatever was done involved me in some manner, and always at a time when I had many more important things in mind to do.

The cow, of course, had to have hay, and oats, the chickens and the pig had to have corn, and we had to have corn for our meal. So Grandpa and I did get away from the picking and stringing and cooking, and peeling, and canning, and stirring, long enough to take care of those matters. This I enjoyed. Whatever I did with him was fun. I never managed to do anything just the way Grandma wanted it done, but whatever I did with Grandpa seemed to suit him just fine. He would show how to do something, and then leave me alone. If I didn't get it right, he didn't say anything about it.

We farmed the hard way. Corn was hoed three times before it was "laid by." Then in the fall we "cut up" the corn. Using a "corn knife" we cut it off near the ground, stacked it in "shocks" and tied the "shocks" together with corn stalks, or sometimes we made large shocks and tied them together with a wild grape vine. At a later date, we "tore" the shocks down and gathered the corn. We sorted the ears of corn into four piles. The very best ears were kept for seed corn. The next best went into the "bread corn" pile. These were converted into meal for our own use. (We ground the corn into meal, daily, on a small hand mill which was kept in the smokehouse. So we had fresh meal, with all the bran left in it, every day.) The third pile consisted of corn to be fed to the chickens and the pig, while the cow got the fourth pile, which was "nubbins" or ears which hadn't developed. We then fed the "fodder" or dried blades of the corn to the cow. Now we didn't know fodder had no food value, and the cow didn't know it had no food value, so I guess this proves that what you don't know doesn't hurt you.

Our hay crop was mostly Timothy hay. We cut it with a scythe, let the sun cure it on one side, then turned it over, with a pitchfork, to dry on the other side. We then piled it into small shocks, placed the shocks on a double rope, and carried them, on our backs, to a place near the barn. After the "hay loft" was filled, we placed a long pole in the ground and stacked the remaining hay around it.

Oats were "cradled" and bundled and tied. A cradle is a scythe with a number of wooden fingers, which caught the oats as they were cut. The oats were then removed from the fingers and thrown down in a pile. They were later gathered into bundles, tied with oat stems, and carried to the barn.
To be continued...

Monday, January 24th, 2005, 11:34 PM
Thanks to everyone who has quietly expressed appreciation for this thread. Someone noted that something about the Appalachian people makes it feel like they could be a part of "Old Europe." I guess this isn't so far from reality. After all, Appalachia is one of the few places in America where many of the traditions our ancestors brought over from Europe have been kept alive even into the present century. I imagine that, not so very long ago, much of America functioned similarly to the mode of life described in these memoirs.

Sadly, cosmpolitanism has infected us, and these old ways are being lost. Those who cherish them are derided as "hicks" or "rednecks" or "white trash." Even rugged Appalachia is not immune to this dreadful encroachment of what they so orwellianly call "progress."

Anyway, here follows section 3, "Our Only Income:"


Our only income, aside from selling the calf, was from selling fruit and berries. We had several cherry trees, a few peach trees, five pear trees and about thirty apple trees. There were also grape vines, for our own use only. The grapes were made into grape juice and jelly. My grandparents were well known and the variety and quality of their fruit was known. Accordingly, people came from a considerable distance to buy the fruit. This money paid for the flour for our biscuits, and pies and cakes, and also for chop for the cow, and clothes or necessities we couldn't "raise" on the farm. We also picked and preserved blackberries and sold blackberries. We had early apples, which were a variety called "Liveland Raspberries," a delicious eating apple, Transparents, which made good apple sauce, and Early Horse, which were good for nothing, as far as I could see. By the time these apples were gone, the Benhams and the Horseapples were ripening. Then later the Ingrams, Commerce, Striped Bens, Black Ben Davis, Black Chicagoes, Rusty Coats, Grimes Goldens and Virginia Beauties all had to be harvested. Those we did not sell as they fell, we picked off and stored in wooden barrels, in the cellar. We sold some of these throughout the winter. An early lesson I learned from my Grandfather, in the apple orchard, has been of great value to me, but caused a problem on my first job, at a service station. When Grandpa sold a bushel of apples, he filled his half bushel measure twice, heaping apples on it until they began to fall off. He would then gather up several more apples to put in the "sack" for "good measure." The purchaser paid for a bushel but usually got an extra peck thrown in. My first job was at a service station, and on my first day a customer requested five gallons of gasoline. I pumped the five gallons into the tank, then added two tenths, for "good measure," and collected for the five gallons. As the happy customer drove away, I went inside to ring up the sale. The station owner had been observing the transaction, and he asked why I had not collected for all the gasoline that I had put in the tank. I explained to him that the customer had only requested five gallons, and that I thought we ought to give "good measure," so I had added the rest. It was then explained to me that you did not give "good measure" in gasoline. You only gave what you collected for. Well, at any rate, I have tried to give "good measure" in other things, all my life and I believe it to be worthwhile.

Our fuel with which to cook the year around, and with which to heat the house during the winter season was inexpensive and not hard to find. It was hard to cut down, and carry in, and cut into usable portions. Wood was the fuel and we obtained it and prepared it with a cross cut saw, an axe and wedges. We had two fireplaces and Grandma's cookstove to feed. She wanted nothing but oak, or hickory, or an occasional dead apple tree (anything hard to split) for her cook stove. Hard wood, of course, gave even more heat for cooking purposes. One fireplace was in the living room, and was used only when we had company. The other one kept Grandpa and me busy, "gettin' in wood." We actually stayed warmer during the day, "pulling" a cross cut and "swinging" an axe than the fireplace kept us at night, as it consumed our day's work. Gettin' wood was an ongoing process, all year long. In summer, between farming chores, we cut wood for the cook stove, and for the fires necessary to make apple butter, or an outdoor fireplace. We also had to have wood to boil the white clothes, after they were washed each week, and in any spare time we cut wood to be used in winter when the weather was "too bad to be outside," thought I don't remember it ever being "too bad to be outside."

My grandparents' home was comfortably furnished, but we did not know the convenience of indoor plumbing, electricity or refrigeration. Our toilet or "privy" was a "one holer" complete with Sears, Roebuck catalog. For light we had kerosene lamps for indoor use, and a lantern for outdoor light at night, when needed. Refrigeration, which cooled the milk and butter, was in the form of a spring house. This was a small log building, in the stream, and milk, butter, etc. was placed in "crock" vessels and set in the water, on the flat rocks. A clean cloth was placed over the top of the crocks, then an old dish would be placed on the cloth, with a clean rock on the dish, to hold it down firmly on the crock. The springhouse was about four hundred feet from the house, so it was far from being convenient. At a later date, we built a new springhouse, adjacent to the house. It was built of sawed planks and had a concrete water box, into which the crocks could be set. We piped the water from the old springhouse to the new one. About five hundred feet, in another direction, we had another spring, which as called the "far spring." The water from this spring was sweeter and colder, so we carried water in two and one half gallon aluminum pails, from this spring to the house. This water was used for drinking purposes and for cooking purposes. A dipper was kept in one bucket and we all drank from the same dipper. In summer, during a dry spell, the flow of water at the far spring was reduced to about the size of a wheat straw. Since I was the engineer in charge of all the water projects, I sent a lot of time at the spring, waiting for the buckets to fill. I amused myself during the filling by "chinning" on a limb of a convenient pear tree, and sometimes by catching ants and making them fight, or shooting at birds, or butterflies, or anything else that moved, with my sling shot. At a later date a concrete reservoir was built and we piped the water from the "far spring" into the house. As long as Grandpa lived, however, he would not allow electricity into the house.

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 25th, 2005, 05:09 AM
Here follows section 4, "Outhouses and Bee Hives:"


Grandpa had very strong opinions on many subjects, and he did not hesitate to express himself. If there was a difference of opinion, Grandpa stated his case, in a very loud voice, then walked away before the other side could be heard. You don't lose many arguments that way. I do remember two losses, on the same subject, though. I must have been nine or ten years old when the representative from the Health Department came to explain new rules regarding outdoor "privies." He explained to Grandpa that a "privy" must have a seat with a cover, which should remain closed when not in use, and that a vent (which Grandpa called a smoke stack) should carry the fumes from the pit through the roof. At this point Grandpa interrupted the man, and I would give a great deal to have, on tape, his loudly expressed convictions concerning a government which would stoop so low as to try to tell a man how he must build a thing as private as his own "privy." Now Grandpa did not mince words, but I cannot bring myself to write down the actual conversation. I just don't want my granddaughters to know I am aware of that kind of language. At any rate, the health official stated it was the law and hurriedly left, leaving behind the plans for the required outbuilding. I am sure he had visions of having to return with the sheriff to force compliance. Despite his expressions of disgust at the new rule, Grandpa was a law-abiding citizen, and though he didn't agree with it, if it was the law he would obey it. So, the man was hardly out of sight before Grandpa got his pick and shovel and started digging. This brought on another argument, because the place he selected to dig was near the front gate. This produced loud expressions of dismay from Grandma and Aunt D****. They thought the "privy" should not be placed where the "comings and goings" would be exposed to the view of all visitors or passersby, but should be behind the house, in a private place. Grandpa just kept a-digging. He very carefully completed the building, exactly as the plans detailed. For the next two or three weeks, at every opportunity, Grandma and Aunt D**** made unfavorable remarks concerning the location of the "privy." Grandpa never answered them, but one morning he started digging, back behind the house, "in a private place." He then moved the building, over the new hole, covered up the old hole, and the subject was not mentioned again.

I sometimes found it nigh impossible to follow the instructions both Grandpa and Grandma gave me. I was sort of like the fellow who is asked if he still beats his wife. Whichever answer he gives incriminates him. For example, there was the incident concerning "saving" a swarm of bees. We kept twelve or fifteen bee hives. We called them "bee gums." These "gums" were usually made from a hollow black gum tree. We would cut the tree in sections, trim the inside with a long chisel, and, about midway, drill holes and insert cross sticks for the bees to have a support to start building a comb on. When a hive became over populated, each year, a queen bee would take a large number of other bees and leave for a new location. We watched closely, during the spring months, for a swarm to occur. They would usually settle on a nearby limb, prior to leaving for a previously located hollow tree, somewhere in the mountain above us. When a swarm started, Grandma would grab a cowbell and start ringing it, or she would beat on the bottom of a dishpan with a spoon. This was supposed to cause the bees to "settle." When the swarm had "settled" a bee gum was prepared by rubbing the inside with peach tree leaves. It was then placed on a wooden floor near the bees. If they "settled" near the ground we would shake them into a clean sheet, then deposit them in front of the gum, all the while pecking on the top of the gum to entice the bees to enter.

On this particular day the swarm settled near the top of a large apple tree. While Grandma was rubbing peach leaves in the gum, Grandpa was explaining to me how we would get the bees down. His plan was for me to take a saw and a rope, climb the tree, tie the rope to the limb, then cut the limb off and lower the swarm to the ground. Grandma was not in on the plan, and I was halfway up the tree before she knew what was happening. I will never forget the frustration I felt when she shouted, "You get down out of there this minute," and Grandpa said, "Go on, son, do as I told you." I'd climb a little and Grandma would stop me, then Grandpa would urge me on. I finally got the bees down but I had to disobey Grandma, who was concerned for my safety, in order to obey Grandpa, who had every confidence I would get the job done.

We saved the swarms through June of each year. After that date they were allowed to go. The old saying was, "A swarm in May is worth a stack of hay, a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon, but a swarm in July is not worth a blue tailed fly." The thinking was that after June a swarm would not have time to produce enough honey to feed themselves through the coming winter. I remember one year, late in June, when Grandpa told me we had just "hived" the last swarm of the year. I then proudly announced I had gone through the entire bee season without a sting. So saying, I sat down on the steps and a bee, which had crawled into the seat of my pants, soon disputed my claim to a stingless season.

To be continued...

Wednesday, January 26th, 2005, 01:06 AM
Here follows section 5, "When Radio Entered Our Lives:


The use of the living room, at home, changed considerably in the early nineteen thirties. The change came about when radio entered our lives. Prior to that time the room was used only on special occasions. It was a very comfortable part of the house. The floor was covered by a heavy carpet with a design which included a circle in the center, which I used as a ring, in one of my marble games. A mahogany leather-covered couch, which opened to make a bed, and two matching chairs, along with a Victrola, a well-stocked library, a sort of bureau and various pictures of family members, completed the furnishings for the room. One of the mahogany chairs, now reupholstered, may be seen in our guest house. To this room's contents Aunt D**** added a battery-powered radio. I remember Grandpa and Grandma were mildly opposed to having such a contraption on the premises, but Aunt D**** told them she was just going to try it out through the Christmas season, so they agreed to this arrangement.

It was necessary to make an antenna which consisted of setting two long poles in the ground, 100 feet apart, and stringing a single strand of wire between the two poles, with a ground wire and a lead in to the radio. I helped Grandpa put the thing up. After Grandpa heard one fifteen minute program of Amos and Andy, and Lum and Abner, there was never any doubt but what the radio would remain with us. The Sunday preaching sold Grandma. Now our lives began to revolve around the radio. Since ours was the first in the neighborhood, Saturday night brought in the neighbors, to listen to the country and western music programs. Sundays there were religious programs which had to be heard, and our activities through the week were arranged so we would listen to the fifteen minute devotional from the Cadle Tabernacle, at about 7:00 o'clock each morning, and we just couldn't miss the news with Lowell Thomas, at 7:00 p.m. After that, Lum and Abner brightened our lives considerably each night.

I didn't look forward to the early morning sessions with Mr. Cadle, but I was expected to listen and be quiet the entire fifteen minutes. Mr. Cadle was a smart man, and a good speaker, and though I listened reluctantly, some of the things he said made an impression on me, so I guess I profited from the experience. One program in particular has remained vividly imprinted on my mind. The evils of divorce was the subject of the morning's lesson. At that tender age I had no interest in girls, had vowed to myself I would never get married, so I don't know why I bothered to remember anything that was said. At any rate, to boil the message down to a few words, it was Mr. Cadle's contention that young men and women married too quickly, before they were really properly acquainted. He suggested that when a young man reached the point where his girl friend looked so good he felt like he could "just eat her up," he should visit her some night and forget his gloves, on purpose. Early next morning he should go the lady's home to retrieve his gloves, and if, when she came to the door with a mud pack on her face, her hair in curlers, and wrapped in an oversize robe, she still looked good to him, he should marry her. He thought most marriages were doomed when after the wedding night, in broad day light, the groom got to see what the girl really looked like without all the paint, powder and other beauty aids.

I feel sure he spoke with tongue in cheek, but he got the message across. I have often thought living on the adjoining farms didn't hurt E********'s and my chance for a happy marriage. She knew what I looked like with my shirt tail out, dirty and sweaty from hoeing corn all day, and I was aware of her appearance when she was returning from the barn after milking cows. Four years of of "going together" and we were well acquainted, so there were few surprises.
To be continued...

Wednesday, January 26th, 2005, 11:33 PM
Here follows section 6, "Our Daily Bread:"


To get back to my early life (a long time before E******** entered the picture) our typical day began at about 4:00 a.m. with Grandpa "rolling out of bed" to build a fire in the cookstove. In the winter time he "punched up" the fire in the fireplace, and added fresh fuel. Grandma then arose and I soon followed suit. When cooking is done on a wood-burning stove, it takes a considerable length of time for the oven to get hot. While the oven was "warming up" Grandma "put the coffee on" and mixed up the dough for biscuits. Our breakfasts were invariable hot biscuits with freshly churned butter, coffee for Grandpa and milk for me, with "sweetin'". For sweetin' there was always honey on the table, in a cut glass covered dish. In season we would have hot fried apples or hot blackberry or raspberry jam. At other times there would be apple butter, or apple or blackberry jelly, sometimes grape jelly, or peach preserves. We did not eat eggs for breakfast. If we ate eggs, we ate them for dinner. Grandma and Aunt D**** did not sit down and eat with Grandpa and me, but "hovered" around making sure as soon as one biscuit was consumed, that another would be available. Before I move on to the next activity, I don't want to leave out one other popular bit of "sweetin'." Each fall some one in the neighborhood would raise a "patch" of cane and make a "batch" of molasses. We always bought a gallon or two. there is nothing much better, with biscuits and butter, than hot molasses foam. Grandma would place molasses in an aluminum pot, heat them until they just began to "roll" then quickly stir in a small "pinch" of soda. The resulting light foam was a taste to be remembered. Molasses were also used by Grandma in making a"sweet bread" (a kind of cookie) and stack cakes.

After breakfast Grandpa quickly put his hat on (he only removed t when he ate and when he went to bed) and filled his pipe with his homemade mixture, and lit it. He only smoked one pipe of tobacco each day. The balance of the day he chewed tobacco. After the pipe was going good he and Grandma went to get milk. When Aunt D**** was not at home, I had to clear the table and wash the breakfast dishes. When the milking was completed, Grandma and Grandpa returned to the house to listen to the Cadle program. Grandma then went to the spring house to strain the fresh warm milk into crocks, to be placed in the water to cool. When the cream had raised to the top, she would scoop most of it off and pour it into the churn. About "every other" day this cream would be churned into butter. While Grandma was taking care of the milk, Grandpa and I would be doing whatever work the season "called for." If we were working in the fields, about eleven o'clock Grandma would call us to come to dinner. We would come in, wash up, and sit down to cool off before eating. During this time I tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible. If Grandma happened notice me she might suggest that I should go get a bucket of water, or pick up a few apples, or pull some grass for the chickens, "while I rested."

This noontime meal was the largest of the day, and we called it dinner. We might have ham or tenderloin, o spareribs, with potatoes and pickled beans, or "shuck" beans, or canned beans or fresh green beans, depending on the time of year. Turnips, and kraut, and "greens" were also regular parts of our diet, as was chicken, corn, tomatoes, and always cornbread. No one has ever been able to make cornbread like Grandma, except E********, and it took her a while to learn. Grandma had the best meal to work with, because we ground it fresh each morning and left all the bran in it. Enough was baked for dinner and supper at the same time. We always had some kind of cake or pie. Grandma kept molasses stack cakes and small thin apple pies at all times. She also made apple cobblers, blackberry cobblers, and rhubarb-strawberry pies, and fried apple pies. After dinner we always rested a while before going back to work.

About four o'clock we came in from the fields, Grandma and Grandpa went to milk. (When I was small I went with them, to hold the cow's tail so she wouldn't hit Grandma with it.) Grandma then "took care" of the fresh milk, and brough cold milk to the house for our supper. This was the light meal of the day. We always ate a bowl of milk with cornbread crumbled in it, and sometimes a piece of cake or pie.

To be continued...

A couple of notes on this section:

I find his description of the way my great-grandmother "hovered" during the meal and made sure the menfolk had eaten before sitting to eat herself rather interesting. My own grandmother (only related to these folks through marriage) still does the same at all family gatherings. She buzzes to and fro, shoveling food onto everyone's plate, and only sits to her own meal after everyone else as had their fill.

Also notice that the traditional practice was to make the noon meal the largest meal of the day, as is still often done in Europe. I'm not sure why this is usually no longer the practice in America, except to say that these days, almost every meal is Supersized©. I guess that explains the rampant obesity -- that, and now that we've all been moved off the land, poor people can no longer afford to eat healthy food. It's a shame, to be sure.

Lastly, I think this may be the last entry about food. Pretty soon we'll get down to the feudin' and all that good stuff. :hillbilly :spit

Friday, January 28th, 2005, 03:01 AM
Here follows section 7, "An Honest Craftsman:"


From Grandpa's to P** S****'s store in West ****** there was a distance of three and one half miles. A mile and a half up the mountain, then two miles down the other side. Another mile and a half would take us to East ******. When we needed to go to either place we walked, and thought nothing of it. Most of the few things we could not grow, or make, we bought from P** S****. He in turn would occasionally ask Grandpa to bring him a bushel of apples, or potatoes. Grandpa would "shoulder" a bushel of potatoes and begin the trip to P**'s. I'd tag along after him. Sometimes someone who knew Grandpa would offer us a ride. He would always say, well I'll leave it up to the boy. Since a ride in a car got the trip over too fast, I always said I'd rather walk. Grandpa never seemed to mind the load on his shoulder. If we met an acquaintance, Grandpa might stop and talk for half an hour without laying the load down. He said it was more work to pick up a load than it was to carry it, once it was in place.

Another lesson I learned from Grandpa was on a trip to P** S*****'s store. Anytime we started to West ******* or East *******, Grandpa would take his watch down from where it hung, over the mantle, and he'd pick up his change which he kept on the mantle beside the clock. (This was the same clock we now have on the mantle in our guest house.) Now Grandpa always knew exactly how much change he had. On this particular day we had delivered a bushel of potatoes to P** S****, purchased a few needed items and returned home. Grandpa hung his watch up, counted his change, laid it on the mantle and announced, "They gave me a dime too much." It was four o'clock, so Grandpa went with Grandma to milk, then ate supper and went to bed. Next morning, soon as milking was done, he headed for West ******. I followed along. When we got to the store he walked in, said, "P**, you gave me a dime too much change yesterday, " slapped the dime down on the counter, turned around and headed home. When I later learned in school about Abe Lincoln being involved in a similar incident, it didn't impress me too much, because I had already been taught, by my Grandpa's example, that honesty was the only policy.

I have discussed the work that had to be done, mentioned the unpleasant jobs, and may have left the impression there was little time for rest or pleasure. Nothing could be farther from reality. Fact of the matter is, I enjoyed most of the work. The bustle of getting ready to plant the garden, or "put up" hay or make apple butter, was really exciting to me. Even before I was old enough to actually help, grandpa made me feel I was useful. When I was very small I wanted to help in the cornfield. Grandpa showed me where the ground squirrels had been digging up the seed at the end of the rows. He told me it would be a real help if someone would catch the ground squirrels. He then made some triggers for a dead fall and showed me how to trap the culprits. When he went to get wood, I was given a small pole to drag home, and whatever he was doing, or wherever we were going, he talked continually of the things about us, and of the things of the past.

On rainy days Grandpa either read or went to the smokehouse to work at something. He taught me how to make knives, with very primitive tools, and how to temper metal, and how to tell when a knife blade was hard enough to "hold an edge," yet not too hard to "take an edge." I still remember very well the color of the heated metal when it was just right to remove from the fire and plunge into the liquid. Grandpa called it a "cherry red." To gauge the temper of the cooled metal he scraped a sharp corner of a a file across the blade. If it was too hard it would "skreak." If it was too soft the file would dig in. I still remember the proper feel, when the temper was just right.

Grandpa made all sorts of things. He made "bull tongue" plows, and sleds, drag harrows (pronounced "harrs"), and axe handles; he "bottomed" chairs with hickory bark, and made brooms from broom corn, for inside the house, and brooms of hickory for sweeping the walk and outside use. He also made fiddles. While Grandpa was making something, I would also be making something. I made several knives, however I only recently attained enough confidence to start to make a fiddle. With the difficulties I have encountered in working on such an instrument, with all my modern tools, I just don't know how Grandpa managed, with the few tools at his disposal. But make them he did, and he sold one now and then. The price was $3.75. He told me it was all profit, except the price of the strings. He said he already had the wood, and the time he worked he had nothing else that could be done, so the time wasn't worth anything.

To be continued...

A note:

My own grandfather still has one of these fiddles made by his grandfather, and it is a fine piece of work. :violin

Tuesday, February 1st, 2005, 05:06 AM
Here follows section 8, "The Humiliated Hunter:"


Grandpa also taught me how to make whistles and pop guns from Elder bushes. I learned to make small canoes from the same material, and spent many happy hours giving ants and bugs a canoe ride in the small creek below the spring. Probably my favorite pastime was making "slingshots" and hunting birds and small animals. I made these sling shots by cutting a small fork or "prong" from a bush, attaching two rubber bands cut from automobile tire tubes to the fork, and attaching a "pad," made from the leather tongue of an old shoe, to the other ends of the rubber bands. This made a lethal weapon. I recently, while working in the barn, found an old, small slingshot fork, which I had cut and trimmed up when I was about eight to ten years of age. I had cut a notch on it for each of my conquests, and I remember what each one is for. These I truly regret. However, as a member of our bird club recently pointed out to me, Audubon also killed birds and studied them. My motive was not as high, but the end result has not been all bad. I became interested in knowing the names of birds, and learning their calls, and in watching their flight and their habits. This has been a life long interest with me, and has resulted in my building feeding stations and purchasing large quantities of seed for the birds in the month just past, February.

There are two notches which represent deceased ground squirrels, and seven notches accounting for rabbits, which were victims of my slingshot. The ground squirrels were destructive, from the farm boy's point of view, and the rabbits were food and were not wasted. There is one more large notch on my old slingshot. It is large because it represents the "biggest" game I had ever bagged at that time. It was also the "kill" I had the most reason to regret, and it is a long story with a sad ending, but I'll tell it anyway. The farm adjoining ours on the west side belonged to my Grandma's older brother, I**** C******. I knew him as "Uncle A." Uncle A had a small long haired dog, which he called Bushy. Bushy was responsible for many of my triumphs. It was he who went into brush piles and chased out the rabbits which fell to my trusty slingshot. However, he must bear much of the blame for the tragedy which befell me on the black day I carved the large notch in my slingshot.

On this particular day I was helping Grandpa in the wood lot when I heard Bushy begin barking at the far edge of our place. From the tone of his bark and the fact that he stayed in the same place, I knew he had run something into a hole, or under a brush pile. When Grandpa and I finished our work, he went into the house and I went to investigate Bushy's find. When I got within sight of him I found him to be barking under a large stump. As I approached I loaded my slingshot and I noticed a peculiar odor, which I recognized immediately. My arrival on the scene gave Bushy the courage to press the matter, and as he went under the stump to "tangle" with the "game," the "game," in the form of a large skunk, walked out the far side of the stump. I quickly dispatched him with a shot to the head.

Now if at this stage of the game I had beat a hasty retreat, all would have been well. Bushy would have shaken the dead "pole cat" a few times, and he would have gone home where they would have thrown rocks and sticks at him, in an effort to keep him away from the house, and I would have been left with nothing but happy memories. It has been written that "Pride goeth before a fall" and I had just had to show it to Grandpa, so I picked it up by the tail, with my right hand and headed for home. I don't know whether Aunt D**** and Grandma saw me coming, or smelled me coming, but by the time I was within a hundred yards of the house I was stopped by loud yells, and told to "get rid of that thing this very minute."

Well this was a great disappointment to me, but was nothing compared to my next instructions. My humiliation was complete when I was commanded to take off my clothes and bury them, before coming to the house. In the space of minutes I changed from the proud victor returning with the spoils to the dejected villain, who smelled like he was spoiled. As was the case with most boys my age, I had no great love for soap and water. Within the next two hours I used up more homemade lye soap than Grandma had used in the precious six months washing our dirty work clothes. I felt sure I washed off the first layer of hide. It made no difference, though, because the second layer smelled as loud as the first. In fact it seemed the more I washed the worse I smelled.

To be continued...

Friday, February 4th, 2005, 02:09 AM
Sorry for the delay.

Here follows section 9, "Caught in the Act:"

(Note: In the Appalachian tongue, "to lick" someone means to beat them up.) :)


Before I leave the discussion of the joys and sorrows of associated with owning a slingshot, I guess I should mention a couple of other events. I had a cousin by the name of C******* who was a year older than I, but I could still lick him "with one hand tied behind me." C******* came to visit for a month or so each summer. I looked forward to these visits, though I'm not sure Grandpa was as happy about it as I was. In any event, during one of these visits Aunt D**** caught us shooting at birds with our slingshots, and she confiscated them. She then told me that if I made another slingshot she would send me home to mother in N*****. Now in my mind this was on par with a criminal being sentenced to Alcatraz. Nothing cold be worse than having to leave Grandpa's. However, like the criminal, the threat did not deter me, because I did not think she could catch me. Now C******** suddenly realized, at long last, he had the "upper hand on me." When I didn't do as he suggested, he threatened to tell Aunt D**** about the slingshot, and I'd capitulate.

During this unhappy time, C******* called me a liar, in Grandpa's presence. Now in these last few years we have had politicians call each other liars, and we have had a president lie, then dismiss the lie by saying when caught in the lie that his statement was "inoperative." But when I was a boy, the only thing worse than being called a liar was to have some doubt cast on your ancestry. So when C******* called me a liar, Grandpa expected action. I started for C*******, and then I remembered the slingshot, and I sat down. I looked at Grandpa and saw the disappointment on his face as he asked, "Are you goin' to take that?" I could only hang my head.

This really hurt me, and it was all in vain, because the next day my "crime" was exposed. On this day Clarence and I had been catching June bugs, tying a thread to to a leg and holding the thread while the bug flew in circles above us. As we played with our June bugs, we noticed a wren going in and out of the smokehouse. Our investigation revealed she had a nest just on the inside of the top of the door. I suddenly had a bright idea. I suggested that we catch the wren, tie a string to her leg and let her fly around like the June bugs were flying.

Now we knew Aunt D**** would not approve our actions, so we had to be careful. We decided I would hurry through dinner, then while everyone else was still busy, I'd catch the bird. I hastily gulped down a few bites, excused myself and headed for the smokehouse. I carefully opened the door, in order not to frighten the wren off her nest, then while watching the house to see if all was clear, I reached up and grabbed the wren by the leg. Still watching the house I started pulling the wren off the nest. I carefully pulled and pulled, and it suddenly dawned on me that that bird had an awful long leg. I quickly glanced upward and saw that I had a snake by the tail.

I must have let out a blood-curdling yell because within seconds the entire household was trying to crowd into the smokehouse. As I realized I was pulling a snake from the nest, I flung it across the room. I had then instinctively pulled my slingshot from where it was hidden, inside my shirt, and was in the act of dispatching the snake when Aunt D**** burst through the door. I was caught with the "goods on me," and I was headed for home. C******* left in a couple of weeks and I was allowed to return. I could then tell Grandpa why I allowed C******* to go unpunished for calling me a liar. I still felt bad about it though, because it would have been so easy for me to lick him.
To be continued...

Wednesday, February 9th, 2005, 01:13 AM
Here follows section 10, "The Turning Seasons:"


Much as I enjoyed being with Grandpa, some of my very happy times were when I was alone. I could spend hours wandering around the orchard, or through the woodland. I could sit on a mossy log and forget everything, being aware only of my immediate surroundings. My undivided attention could focus on an ant climbing a blade of grass, or I could concentrate on nothing and just sort of sit and soak up all the sights, and sounds, and smells around me. I loved everything about nature and each season brought its special joys. In winter I would spend hours following the trail of a fox or a weasel in the snow. Reading in the sign a story of the life of the animal, for one night, as it traveled in its quest for food. I also trapped in winter when I grew older and I tracked rabbits. Springtime was special. Apple blossom time, with the early morning chorus of bird song, and then the drowsy hum of bees, "working" the apple bloom. I learned the names of wild flowers and knew where to find the first violets and trillium and anemone and jack-in-the-pulpit. I also knew where to expect the first sweet wild strawberries to ripen. Summer was a busy season on the farm, but there were times when I would collect ten or fifteen apples and spend some pleasant hours, in a secluded shady spot, reading a book and eating apples. I read everything available. Aunt D**** had the complete works of James Whitcomb Riley, all of Mark Twain's works, most of James Oliver Curwood's books, many of Jack London's writings, and more. Beginning when I was young, I read them all, and some of them I read many times. I now have most of those same books, and I still reread them.

Fall was an exciting season to me. Though some think of this as the "dying time of year," when leaves fall and flowers die, I felt differently. This was the best time of year to roam through the woodlands. Ground squirrels were chirping and scurrying about, gathering nuts in preparation for the coming winter. Birds were migrating and blue jays were busy in the beech groves. There just seemed to be vigorous life all about me. There those who, obseving me, would have thought me to be a lonely child. They would have been wrong. I was never lonely. I was a private person, and I am still a private person.

Sunday at Grandpa's was not my favorite day. There were no church or Sunday School services closer than four miles, so we did not attend. I was grateful for this. I got more religion than I had room for, out of those early morning devotionals from Cadle Tabernacle. But Sundays were days when we knew we'd have company. No work was allowed, except the necessary chores, such as milking and feeding the pig and chickens. I wondered why it was sinful for me to work on a pocket knife or shoot my air rifle, when I had nothing else to do anyway, and Grandma and Aunt D***** would be "puttin' in" a hard day cooking and taking care of company.

I didn't like for all the women company to hug me. They always had so much powder on it stifled me, and there was just no joy in being squeezed by anybody, particularly by someone I was not real well acquainted with. The men company would ruffle my hair up, then ignore me. After dinner, in the summertime our cool front porch would be filled with people, all talking about something I knew nothing about, and had no interest in. Nobody talked to me. I was always glad to see Monday come, even though it was wash day. I'd at least get to be with Grandpa, part of he day, and he'd be sure to tell me a tale or two about when he was a young man, "growin' up."

To be continued...

Wednesday, February 9th, 2005, 02:11 AM
Here follows section 11, "Honest Disagreements:"


Grandpa's grandfather and Grandma's grandfather were two of the early settlers in the valley, along with other relatives. In the early days most of the land from where the "turn off" to *******'s Neck is located back to where we now live, belonged to some of our "folks." Grandpa's father enlisted in the army before Grandpa's birth. He was captured in the Battle of Cumberland Gap and was being held at Jonesville when he died. So Grandpa never saw his father, and he had to start "makin' his own way" when he was very young. According to some of the tales he told me, and from others I talked with, who knew him when he was young, he was a "tough nut." By this I mean he liked his "dram" and he loved a fight.

Though he was a rather small man he was exceptionally strong and "quick as a cat." I have been told he took on all who wanted to try him, large or small, and never lost a scrap. I remember well, when Joe Lewis lost to Max Schmeling, a movie was made of the fight and was later shown at the B******* Theater in N******. Now Grandpa had never seen a motion picture, but he did want to see that fight. So we went to N***** and entered the theater and sat down, close to the front.

When Grandpa spoke, even the hard of hearing understood him. So the fight hadn't progressed very far when he asked, in a loud voice, "What are they settin' down for?" I explained to him that they fought three minutes, then rested one minute. He said, "That's no way to fight." At the beginning of the next round, the fighters began bobbing and weaving, exchanging light blows, both looking for an opening and doing very little damage. This was too much for Grandpa. He got to his feet, announced -- so all could hear him -- "They can't neither one fight. I can whup 'em both at the same time." And he left the theater and headed for home. In Grandpa's day of "rough and tumble" fighting, you fought until one party was either unable or unwilling to continue, then you rested after the fight was over. He really believed he could have whipped Joe Lewis, "in a fair fight."

Before my birth, a fellow by the name of Jim M***** bought the land which we now own and which bordered Grandpa's land on the north side, and also the land to the south, which S******s now own. M***** and Grandpa had some kind of dispute so M***** would not allow Grandpa to cross his land and Grandpa would not allow M***** to cross his land. This was a great inconvenience to Grandpa, because State Route ___ which lead to N***** or *** ***** *** was only about two hundred yards from Grandpa's house, by crossing M***** land. However, since he was not allowed to cross this land, he had to go through his own orchard, pasture field, climb a steep hill and walk through Mary Jane ******'s woods, in order to get to the road. This was about a half mile walk over rough terrain.

When going to *** ***** ***, or to mill, one had -- upon reaching the road -- another half mile walk back down the road just to reach the starting point, across M***** land from the house. M*****, on the other hand, had about a hundred acres of mountain timber which he could not get out without crossing Grandpa's land. An uncle by marriage told me how the matter was finally resolved.

On this particular day, Grandpa had to take a bushel of corn to the mill to be ground. He left home with the corn on his shoulder, made the long trek through the pasture, up the hill, through the woods and down the road, about three miles, to the mill. On the way back he was joined by his son-in-law, Uncle "***" R********. When they reached where B**** B******'s house now stands, Uncle "***" said Grandpa told him, "I'm worn out, and I'm goin' to cut across M*****'s land and save that long climb up the mountain."

They had just climbed over the fence when M***** stepped out from behind a large tree. He said, "G*****, I saw you pass on the way to mill, and I figured you'd try this, and now I've got you."

Grandpa set his meal down, pulled his gun and said, "M*****, I'm going to kill you. You're trying to keep me from crossing your land with bread for my babies."

Uncle "***" said he quickly stepped between the two men and said, "Let's try to work something out." M***** was only too glad to agree. He knew, as did Uncle "***" that Grandpa did not make idle threats. He meant what he said.

The three of them sat down and came to an agreement. A "dug road" would begin at the upper boundary of Grandpa's place, cross his land, giving M***** a way out with his timber, and the road would cross M***** land, giving access to the road for Grandpa. They went to the **** Courthouse and this agreement was made a part of their deeds, and is still shown on our deed and Aunt D****'s. The original agreement also stipulated that a gate would be placed at the road.

This caused some problems later, when Uncle E***** H*** bought the M***** land. Uncle E***** married Grandma's sister E****, and they lived in N*****. Uncle E***** had two white mules which he harnessed to a wagon and rode from N***** everyday to farm the land which we now own. He built what is now our barn, when I was about eight years of age.

Now the gate at the road was a great inconvenience to Uncle E*****. He would stop his mules at the gate, climb down from the wagon, open the gate, drive the wagon through, stop, get down and close the gate, climb back on the wagon and proceed up the road. He asked Grandpa to agree to leave the gate open, and Grandpa refused. Under existing law, as long as the road was closed it was a private road, and could only be used with permission. If, however, the gate was left open, for a certain length of time, it became a public road and anyone could use it.

Grandpa did not want to give up control of the road. Uncle E***** was a giant of a man, tall and "raw-boned." I remember the day he came to the house. He had to stoop to enter, and he said, "M**, let me see your deed." Grandpa said, "Alright, E*****," and he went upstairs and brought the deed down. Uncle E***** carefully read it, said, "Alright, M**," and left. There had been no harsh words between them, just an honest disagreement. We always felt Uncle E***** was a little vindictive though, because not long after that time he fenced the land, which bordered Grandpa's front yard, and turned twenty-five or thirty hogs in the lot.

Grandpa couldn't have cared less. The odor from the hog lot bothered him not at all. Aunt D**** and Grandma did not feel very kindly, though, toward Uncle E*****. Many years later, when two houses were built on the land above Grandpa's and cars were going in and out regularly, Grandpa agreed to leave the road open, as it remains today.

To be continued...