The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Mountains Grew

By Hazel P. Hedrick © 1988

Issue: December, 1988

As I continued standing there by that lonely old chimney, completely surrounded by the mountains - the same mountains I had climbed twice every sunny day as a child from early Spring to late Fall - it seemed to me the mountains had grown much taller and steeper and the valley had shrunk.

My story started in 1919. Sixty years ago a house stood here where I was standing, and we thought it was a large house. Just a few steps down the yard was a rock wall and a few steps farther was the two room log cabin we lived in before Daddy built the new one.

The new house had a living room, dinning room, kitchen, three bedrooms (one downstairs and two upstairs) and two porches. There were no rugs on the floor, curtains to the windows, not even any insulation or ceiling, but it did have rooms and a window in each room. We thought it was grand.

In the front yard grew a huge black walnut tree, it was our shade in the summer and a great part of our livelihood in winter. If you had dropped in most any evening between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you would have found every one that could use a hammer (without smashing a finger) sitting around the hearth cracking walnuts. We never let a walnut go to waste. I didn't know at the time that some of those walnuts bought our Santa Claus.

Just beyond that big tree was the corncrib with a shed on each side. One shed was for plows and other farm tools, the other was the wagon shed, and back of the crib was a wooden nail keg fastened to the wall. It had some straw and a white doorknob for a nest egg in it. The hens liked to lay their eggs and hatch their chicks there.

Between there and the barn was the old buggy shed, back of it grew the Buckingham apple tree. Its fruit was yellow and so large one apple would almost make a pie. Just beyond there was the barn, it had three stalls and a loft for hay. It was not a very large loft, packed full of hay it would not have fed the cow and mule all winter.

Up the hill above the walnut tree was a small building with a root cellar under it. In that cellar we had to keep our canned and pickled food to keep it from freezing. In the Fall it was used to "case" the tobacco so Mama could grade it. Cured tobacco is dry and crumbly and can not be handled until it is put in a damp place to come in "case."

Just a few steps beyond that building was the hen house, where the chickens all went to roost at night. If we didn't close them up at night some wild animal would kill or carry them off. There were more nests on the backside of the hen house. We tried to have enough nests so the hens would not have to stand in line to lay their eggs each day.

Behind the hen house was a pretty little mountain stream bouncing over the rocks. Just beyond the stream was the little brooder house Daddy built for Mama to keep the baby chicks warm in winter, and just beyond that was the packhouse, where we stored the tobacco until it was ready to go to market. Beyond that was a little place we called "the flower pit." Daddy dug a hole in the road bank, put a roof over it, made some shelves that looked like stair steps and used a window for the door, so I could keep my geraniums and begonias all winter. They did keep and bloom beautifully until I forgot to close the door one night.

Beyond that was the hog pen, the tobacco barn and the pig lot. When I was a child here, running from building to building and place to place doing my chores, I thought this hollow was a huge place, but now it didn't seem possible all those buildings could have been in this little valley.

I wondered, do mountains grow taller and wilder? And do valleys shrink as time goes by? Will this little valley where a family lived, felt safe and secure and protected by these mountains, someday be no more? Would some day the feet of these mountains just come together, with nothing but the creek to separate them?

These mountains were talking to me this day as surely as if they were a living, breathing person. I could hear them laughing, singing and asking me questions, "remember when you fell to your knees coming down me and your Mama washed the dirt off your skinned knees with turpentine and it burned so bad you screamed for an hour? Remember when you picked dewberries in your straw hat, for Mama to bake a cobbler for supper, and you fell and spilled ever berry before you got to the house? Remember raking bags and bags of leaves off my sunny side, to put in the pigs and calf's pen?"

On and on, I could hear those mountains asking me, "Remember? Remember? Remember? Remember when you and John Henry would go with Daddy to the big mountain to peel tan-bark and you two would walk on the skinned logs barefoot, and go home with your feet dyed dark brown? Remember helping Daddy pile sprouts and getting a thorn in your foot, and how it hurt when Daddy picked it out with his pocket knife?"

There was no end to the memories those mountains and I could share; some pleasing and fun, others not so much fun. I had to say good-bye to those mountains which were once my security, but were now just a forest full of buried memories, waiting to be dug up and relived.