The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Busy Mother

By Nancy B. Collins © 1989

Issue: January, 1989

Mrs. Collins' mother, Nancy Hariett Clifton Boyd.Mrs. Collins' mother, Nancy Hariett Clifton Boyd.Back in the year of 1909, we lived in the mountains near Meadows of Dan, Virginia.

It was tough going sometimes. Everything was done the hard way with not much to do it with, but mountain folk did not sit down and hold their children on their laps and watch them starve to death. They went out and did everything they could do to scratch a living out for them.

My mom's life was a hard one but she did not complain much at any time. She would get up early in the morning and build fires in the cook stove and fireplaces. My dad would stay in bed until about all the work was done and then Mom would call him to get up and eat his breakfast.

She had to parch green coffee and grind it for coffee. Then she would get out the old dough tray and throw in two sifters of flour, put in a little baking powder and some salt and soda, a hand full of hog lard and she would make some of the best hoe cake bread anyone would want to eat. She would fry out some streaked or fat back meat and make some milk gravy and pour out a fresh pitcher full of molasses and we would all have a sapping good time. This did not change much from day to day.

Andrew and Jane Clifton, born in Vesta, Virginia and lived there all of their lives.Andrew and Jane Clifton, born in Vesta, Virginia and lived there all of their lives.My dad would go out selling eye glasses and looking after people's eyes. This brought in a little money for us to live on.

Some seasons of the year were harder for us than others. Wintertime in the mountains was pretty rough. It was a problem to stay warm in an old house with cracks letting in cold. My dad helped to get wood in for the winter which was a big job. Food ran short many times but we always had something like corn mush or dried beans. We always had milk and butter which was almost the staff of life.

Mountain people would say if they could live through March, they would live the rest of the year. This did not make much sense then or now. We got along better when spring of the year came. There were so many things Mom could do with us children to help. We would all go out on the creek banks and gather wild salad [greens]. We loved the way Mom cooked them. She would boil them tender and take them out of the water, cut them up fine and put them in hot meat grease and salt and season them.

When we picked wild strawberries, Mom would make good pies out of them. We always had an early garden with radishes, onions, lettuce and things that come in early.

This was the time of year Mom washed and cleaned all the bed ticks. We had some feather beds. Mom would put all the feathers in one end and tie them off and wash the other end the best she could. When it got dry, she would wash the other end. It was all hard work the way she had to do it.

Sometimes Mom would take us children down to the creek and let us fish. She would bend a straight pin and tie a string on the head of it and put it on a pole. We would use worms or some bread for bait. Sometimes we would catch little minnows. That was enough to make us happy.

When things began to sprout and come up in the woods, we would go in the woods and find sprouted chestnuts. When they first came up through the leaves with just a few green leaves on them, they were so sweet and good.

The first eight years of my mom's married life she had a new baby or was going to have one. This was hard on her with the big load she had to carry for the family. Every one went crying to Mom for all their needs. I don't know how she ever did it all with out much help.

The washing and ironing had to be done the old hard way. She took the clothes down to the creek where we had to dip water out of the creek and heat water in a big iron pot, scrub the clothes on a board and boil them in the big black wash pot, rinse them and when she hung them on the line, they looked like white clouds floating in the air. When she ironed, she would have to heat the old flat irons on the cook stove or down in front of the coals in the fireplace. We just had two irons, so when one was heating, she would iron one or two pieces, then get the other one - on and on, maybe all day.

In the spring of the year, all the fruit trees were blooming. This was so beautiful. Most everyone had a lot of fruit trees. The honey bees came out and were all over everything.

My oldest sister was glad when she was old enough to clean lamps and trim the wicks. She took great pride in cleaning the lamps, just to see how they shined when she got through with them. Us kids were not old enough to help Mom much.

The summers were long and hot with no refrigerators, just spring houses and running water to cool off a bit. A lot had to be done canning, preserving, drying fruit. There was just no end to what Mom had to do to prepare for winter months; things sort of fell in place for all seasons of the year. It was hard work and planning a lot to have a living in those days.

When fall of the year came, we had a lot to do. We piled up apples and sold them to the still house for four cents a bushel. The man would come and get them in a big spoon board wagon. He just shoveled them up all kind - bug eaten, rotten, and hauled them away.

Many people had stills back hid in the mountains. There was some bootlegging going on also. There was a woman that would call herself going to see the sick. She would have a basket with some salad or a cloth on top of it and her bottles inside. She would say she had to take poor Mr. So-and-so a little cake or pie as he was sick. She had been slipping my dad some, but Mom knew what she did. One day Mom was heard to say she wished she could get her hands on that long stringy head of that woman, she would strangle her, taking money for liquor that families needed for their children. The next time that woman came by, she sat her basket down in the yard to rest and was talking to Mom and Dad. Ella, my sister, had heard the story about the basket. She slipped around and went down in her basket and held up a battle and blurted out what she had heard Mom say about her. The woman just said, "I wonder how that got in there?" She also said, "I'll never put my foot around here again!" Ella got a whipping from my dad and caused a big fuss.

The woman's husband worked at the distillery. When he would come home on Saturday nights, he would bring enough booze for his wife and mother to sell all the week. The woman never came to our house peddling her liquor again. She managed to hide it out in stumps of hollow trees and have it understood where they could find it.

One day this bootlegging woman came to our house and was crying and wanted my dad to go down to her house and help her bury an old mother sow that had died and left 9 little pigs to be hand fed. My dad, not caring whether he worked or not, told her his back was bad and he could not help her. She really got mad at him and did not sell him any more booze. I remember what my mom said, "The Lord takes care of everything." She was heard to say this as she went on about her work. When she felt she had won, she would hum a little song and say nothing. But, we seemed to understand she had won a small battle in her life.

Anyone that lived back then knows it was not easy to battle the storms of life as my mom had to. My dad was not a bad man. He just wanted to be king and ruled like my mom and us children were his subjects. He was a good bit older than Mom and thought he was doing the right thing. Mom was partly to blame for she always made us children respect him and always save the best for him.