The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Early Memories

By Dora P. Maine © 1989

Issue: January, 1989

I was born November 11, 1911 on a farm in Madison County in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. There were eleven members in our family, besides one who died in infancy. I can't remember too much about that place since we moved to another county when I was four. I remember a baseball diamond near our house. Saturday afternoon women and kids crowded the porch to watch the ball game being played by men of the neighborhood. I also remember my sister Erma and I racing each other around the baseball diamond on other days.

We had the usual number of horses, cows, pigs and chickens, also cats and dogs. The creature that I will never forget was a huge turkey gobbler who let small people know that the yard was his domain. He chased us, scared the daylights out of us. He had a lot of red something hanging from his chin when he was angry. We knew to dash inside in a hurry.

We used many pieces of homemade furniture. One item was a cradle for the current baby. We all spent most of our first year in that cradle. My father built it. He was a wonderful farmer, certainly not a carpenter. That cradle rocked, but not smoothly. There was a jar with each movement. I'm surprised that none of us blamed that click in the cradle for our shortcomings that we have had to face in later years.

Whoever was handy was expected to do the rocking. A person could do it by foot while reading or dreaming or silently wishing he was elsewhere.

Another piece of furniture was a turning table built by my grandfather who was a finished carpenter. It was big and round with a smaller upper tier that turned smoothly to carry bowls of food. My grandfather built caskets, chairs or whatever was needed, besides making his living building houses.

In 1915 we moved to Buncombe County near Asheville, North Carolina. No doubt my parents hoped to find a better school system. So far, the older ones were being sent to boarding schools because there was no high school near. The move was a big thrill for us. Now we had almost one hundred acres to explore. Our land reached the top of a mountain. There was a rock pile on that mountain that seemed to have been there forever. It covered at least half an acre of land. We were told that it covered an ancient Indian graveyard. My father told us that he called out, "Indian, Indian, what are you doing?" He said the Indian said, "Nothing." It was a riddle to us. My father didn't lie, so we were puzzled.

We explored and found things that fascinated us. A hole in an old oak tree contained a nest of baby birds. Each day we checked on the tiny creatures. We didn't touch, we just looked. One day we peeked and saw no birds. Instead we looked into the face of an ugly snake. He seemed to be grinning at us.

There were more experiences with snakes. Once, when we were somewhat older, we were sent down to the barn to bring cane seed for the chickens. We each had a burlap sack with a draw string at the top. We filled our bags and started home when my brother found and killed a large, ugly snake. You can depend on brothers, that is, you can depend on them to aggravate younger sisters. He chased me with that snake and I ran and hid in the bushes. He used the draw string on my sack to tie the dead snake to my parcel of seeds. Then he went on. I wouldn't touch that dead snake, but I had to find a solution. I took two sharp rocks and managed to cut a circle around the snake without touching it. I left the snake and went home.

I remember another story about a black snake. The old mountain practice was to grab the snake firmly by the tail, sling it hard like a whip. The head was supposed to dislodge and make it harmless. When my father tried it, he failed. The tail slipped out of his hand and the snake landed on my young brother's neck. That gave each of us a nightmare.

Many young teenagers have a paper route. My brothers had a rabbit route. They built traps from wood in the shape of a large shoe box. They were open at one end with a trap door that dropped after the rabbit had entered to eat the bait. They had several of these traps scattered here and there over the farm. They loved the thrill of checking on these traps on cold frosty mornings. They cleaned and sold the rabbits at the country store. Some ended up on our table. Fried rabbit is almost like fried chicken. Rabbit stew with vegetables makes a tasty dish.

We always have to expect thorns with the roses. One brother found a skunk in his trap. He recognized the odor before he touched anything. He left the door open and donated the trap to the skunk and his family.

Christmas was always a big thrill at our house. We cut down our tree and made our decorations. We used popcorn and bright twisted decorations. We had few bought gifts so we made small gifts. We hung our stockings, of course, and found candy, nuts and one orange. That's the only time of the year we saw an orange. Also we each received one inexpensive toy.

It was a time of family gathering. The older brothers and sisters came from boarding school or jobs to spend Christmas at home. The kitchen was filled with the aroma of holiday cooking. They tried to chase us out of the way by giving us cracked hickory nuts to add to cakes and candies.