The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Love and Service In The Appalachians

By Nancy E. Willis © 1987

Issue: November, 1987

Lessie TreadwayLessie TreadwayIn the late 1890's, a handsome young man from Lee County, Virginia went over to Jackson County, Kentucky to visit some relatives. While there he met a pretty young girl. They were married after courting a short time, as the mountain folks didn't seem to involve themselves with long drawn out courtships. From this union, two very special little girls were born, one being my mom. Mom's earliest recollections were of hard times but fun times and a loving family. Times were hard for everyone but there was not the greed and envy as we know it today. No one tried to keep up with the Joneses because the hill people were most all in the same boat; they lived, loved, worshipped and died in the same small communities they were born in.

Along about 1910 when Mom was about nine years old, there came a man through Eastern Kentucky talking of the milk and honey in the coal fields of Colorado, my grandfather being somewhat of an adventurer decided that's where his family should be, seeing as all the families train fares were paid for. Several families from the area went. So to their surprise when they entered the little town of Superior, Colorado, they found out they were brought there to replace striking miners. Well, the mountain folks were not Scabs then or now and that's what folks were called that crossed the picket lines. My grandfather and the other men would have given their life rather than cross that line. The men figured that the mine owners that paid their way out there would not harm their wives and children so the men left town in the darkness of night heading back to Eastern Kentucky to find work to earn enough to send for their families. As dangerous as this adventure could have been, it was a fun trip never to be forgotten by my mom and her five year old sister.

Soon after the families were reunited in Jackson County they moved on over to Bell County, Kentucky because the area there was rich in coal mines.

At the ripe old age of 13 my mom met a handsome young man who had come to work in the Kentucky Coal Mines. He was brought up around Doc Branch and Walnut, North Carolina. Mom and Dad fell in love and one Sunday afternoon they and some family and friends walked to Fork Ridge, Tennessee and were married after a typical mountain courtship, typical for that time was always an adult chaperone. They were happily married until my father's death 48 years later. Although my mom, according to Dad, was grown up in a lot of ways, he used to tell how he had to scold her sometimes for playing with the other kids in the coal mining camp and letting his supper burn. He must have taught her well because she became a hard working partner for life as well as the Mother of his twelve children. She lost her first son and last daughter in infancy; she raised the ten remaining to adulthood.

While my dad was deep in the coal mines digging coal, she busied herself with her many chores one of the biggest was washing clothes. She said washing was a pleasure when she lived near a creek. They always boiled their clothes so they were spotless, a dingy wash on the clothes line was disgraceful. Taking care of her garden was a big chore, but one she enjoyed. In the early years she would take a dresser drawer and put it under the shade and there's where her baby lay while she tended to her garden. Naturally as other babies came along the older ones watched the younger ones. Her young family survived the awful flu epidemic in 1918. Lots of her neighbors succumbed to it. One day they saw six buried in their little coal mining community at Fork Ridge, Tennessee.

The babies kept coming and there was a hospital by the time the Great Depression came along, which was a long struggle for her and Dad, as it was for everyone. Neighbors stuck together and they all survived. They helped keep up each others spirits and they had their share of talented musicians in most families, that was a great source of entertainment for most mountain families and ours was no exception, my father was very good with any of the string instruments. He played for many square dances and most of his children (myself not included) inherited some of his talents. One brother, whom they were especially proud of, was entertaining at different functions when he was 8 years old. He is still a good musician.

The depression was no more than over until World War II was raging. Two of my brothers went off to war in the South Pacific. These were very scary years, especially for Mom, but she was luckier than a lot of Moms, both of her sons came home.

By the time the big war was over, my dad had become disabled. So that meant more responsibilities for Mom, but if she minded, we never knew about it, I'm sure my dad didn't either. She cared for the cows, chickens, hogs, huge gardens, cooking, canning, and laundry. She sold eggs, milk butter, vegetables, and dressed chickens for local grocery stores. She had our brooms made from broom sage that we raised. She sent corn to the mill to have our meal ground for our corn bread which was a big important part of our diet. A big pot of pinto beans, a pan of corn bread and good cold milk from the spring was a feast and still is as far as I'm concerned.

Lots of nights it would be dark before Mom got around to milking the cow, and one of us would go with her to carry the light which she made by coating a strip of cloth with lard and lighting one end that was called a slut. I still wonder why they called it that. Since milk was such an important part of our diet it was a big disaster when the old cow found her some wild onions and ate them and tainted the milk. Another disaster was occasionally a turtle would turn the milk over in the spring where Mom put it to keep it cool. Mom would hurry and find some somewhere. I can never remember a meal on her table without milk.

Our clothes were homemade, mostly from pretty flour sacks and cow feed sacks. Oh yes, my mom was a good seamstress too, all she needed was a picture from the catalog, a little time and some pretty sacks and we had a pretty new frock.

I am her tenth child and I was a good size younger when she got electricity for the first time. Needless to say, this made life a lot easier for her. I had already married before she got running water or indoor plumbing. Our bathtub was round and galvanized. Our swimming pool was the nearest creek. Our food was cooked in iron pots on a coal cook stove. Our water was from a spring. Our milk straight from the cow (unpasteurized of course). Our meat and vegetables were home grown. Our central heat was a fire place. Our central air was the wide open windows and doors. We knew who our neighbors were. Our pleasures centered around our home, school and church. We respected and loved our relatives, especially our elders.

Don't think I'm complaining, I'm bragging. We survived and very happily. We had no idea we were poor until someone told us and they never convinced me.

God willing, Mom turned 86 this October. She still remembers the old times and talks of all the good times. She has never been a complainer and she is very grateful for the things life offered. She still lives in her beloved mountains in Bell County, Kentucky. Her descendants number over 120. She loves to tell them about the olden days and they love to listen. All 120 of us thank God that she is ours and want her to know it.

EDITORS NOTE: We received this article to late to go in the October issue. When we received the authorization, the following letter was enclosed.

Thank you for accepting my article. I am very sorry to say it will be necessary to add a footnote to the article. Moma died suddenly October 3, 1987 and was laid to rest October 7, 1987, on what would have been her 86th Birthday. She was buried by the man she loved, in the mountains she loved.

While the article can not now be a birthday tribute to her, I feel it will be a lasting memorial that her family and friends will cherish.

May God Bless,
Nancy E. Willis

All of us at The Mountain Laurel extend our sympathy to Nancy Willis and her family. We did not know Lessie Treadway, but everyone who reads this will feel her loss.

Susan M. Thigpen, Editor