The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Did You Ever See A Memory?

By Hazel P. Hedrick © 1989

Issue: February, 1989

The following is an excerpt from the book "The Talking Hills", by Hazel P. Hedrick. It is the story of one family who has lived in a hard, but sheltered environment in the Brushy Mountains of western North Carolina and what the family faces when it is forced out of that peaceful hollow into the outside world.

Until this day I thought memories were just thoughts and feelings of things and times past, stored away in the unused corners of the mind, and for the most part left to fade away with time and age. I believed memories were all invisible, until this day. But the sights and sounds I see and hear today are as vivid and real as when I was experiencing them more than sixty years ago.

All I have to do is close my eyes and listen. I can see my Mama, with dark auburn hair combed back and braided into a bun on the back of her head, wearing a faded cotton dress with an apron tied around her waist. I hear her drop the meal chest lid, as she picks up the pan of bran and the rattle of tin as she grabs the bucket on her way to the barn to milk the cow. I hear her voice as clearly as if she was here, saying, "Hazel see to the supper until I get back." Which meant, keep wood in the stove and don't let the food burn.

I can also see my little sisters and brothers chasing toads and catching fireflies around Daddy, where he lay resting on the grass. I can hear the pigs squealing for their supper, and I can see Johnny with the slop bucket on his way to feed them. There is a slingshot and a water pistol in the back pocket of his overalls, and a straw hat on his head. I can hear the chickens in the hen house as they fly and flutter, finding their places on the roost. I can hear Daddy calling to the children to get in the stove wood for morning, and get their hands washed and ready to eat supper.

Now supper is over and the dishes are washed, dried and put away. Mama is sitting near the coal oil lamp with her mending, all the kids gather around Daddy for a story or a song or two before they go to bed.

My eyes still closed I can see Daddy taking the cross cut saw down from its rack on the back porch, with a wedge in his pocket and his axe in hand, and the saw on his shoulder headed up the hill. I hear him calling, "Haddie, Johnny come along now it's time to cut some firewood before bad weather sets in."

It must be Saturday, for there's Mama in the barnyard, she just caught a young rooster, chopped off its head and threw it into a bucket of steaming water. She grabs it and starts plucking off the feathers. I can hear the little kids yelling, "Mama, Mama, is the preacher coming to eat with us?" We seldom had chicken for dinner unless someone was coming to eat with us.

Today I have seen and heard memories come alive, and it has been a wonderful and heart warming experience. Although it makes me a little sad to see this old hollow all grown up in bushes and trees and the buildings all falling down, I'm glad I came back. It's a great place to visit but I wouldn't want to stay.

It was not all fun and games in that hollow, far from it. There are some not so pleasant memories and they are just as vivid. I can see my Daddy with the old cradle and scythe lying on the ground with blood spurting from his hand. I can hear him call out to Mama, and there she goes running. As she runs to Daddy she yells to me to get some clean water and rags.

Daddy's hand was cut to the bone. Mama stopped the blood, then placed the flesh back very carefully, while we kids stood by watching with frightened eyes.

I remember when my oldest brother Johnny stepped on a large rusty nail and it went all the way thru his foot. I can hear him yelling and see Mama running to see what had happened. I remember watching Mama pull his foot off the nail which was in a large board.

There were no shots for such things in those days, but Mama never hesitated to doctor any injury or illness, and she never lost a case. She not only was doctor and nurse for her own family, she was called on many times by neighbors and friends.

There are memories of many hours of hard work, aching backs and blistered hands in the summer and very cold hands and feet in the winter. We had no gloves or boots and our coats were none too warm. It was a hard life compared to most of the farm families today. But the good times far outweighed the bad with me. It was easy to forget the illness and the hard work and to remember the love and fun times we had here as children.