The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Green Grasses Of Childhood

By Joan R. Holcomb © 1989

Issue: February, 1989

On a warm, spring day late in the morning when the sun has burned off the dew and the hay is dry enough, I climb on the tractor to mow hay for the magnificent Belgian draft horses grazing in the pastures.

As I begin work, I glance behind the tractor and mowing machine and watch the grass fall in swaths that lay like long blankets in the field. Tiny yellow butterflies dart about, drinking the fresh juices from the tender, succulent hay.

Already I anticipate finding my favorite spot in the meadow where a rare combination of grasses and precious weeds grow, because their mixture of fragrances always take me back to my grandparents' little farm in the 1950's.

I remember their white house perched on top of a little hill in the middle of the farm. A huge walnut tree centered the front lawn, and flower beds were all around. Theirs was not the fashionable, city lawn covered in one, even grass, groomed to perfection; nonetheless, it was perfectly beautiful to me after its Saturday afternoon clipping.

The same smell of grass mixtures I considered neither pleasant nor unpleasant at the time, now rejuvenate other childhood memories. As I make another turn around the field, the sweetness of the spicy grasses wafts me pleasantly into a stream of consciousness that brings me more wonderful memories.

Grandma Joyner loved the out of doors, planting flowers, cultivating the vegetable garden with a pair of sorrel mules, her cotton dress and bibbed apron bounding side to side as she walked the furrows behind the steady mules. Then a pot of succotash from the bounty of the early garden was all that impressed me. Now that vivid image of Grandma, like a scene from an early home movie, is far more precious.

Bright with purples and pinks, her fuchsias hung in baskets around the well house, and the old drinking gourd rested near the windlass and galvanized water bucket. It was always a treat to drink the crisp, cool water from the special dipper, and I recall peering into the hand dug well in amazement at its darkness.

Grandpa loved flower gardening. He collected hollyhocks and enjoyed a huge plot rowed in reds, pinks, and whites. My cousin and I fashioned dolls from the blossoms we turned inside out and twisted into little girls with heads and long flowing skirts. His hollyhock garden was near the smoke house where the hams hung in white sugar sacks along the rafters. The garden extended around to an adjoining woodshed where firewood was chopped and stored year 'round for the cook stove nestled in the southwest corner of the kitchen. The wood box heaped with fire wood and tender, heart pine kindling, and the dish clothes made from flour sacks; stretched out to dry, hung on swivel sticks near the wash stand.

Beside the hollyhock garden grew my still favorite fruits, figs and damsons. The damson tree bore abundantly, and Grandma, with Granny Hepler's help, made preserves. We washed blue Mason jars in big tin tubs near the black wash pots used for washing the long lines of overalls and billowing white sheets. The row of fig bushes, encircling the huge back yard, covered the ground in late spring with their luscious fruits.

I perfected the art of visually determining when a fig suited my taste, firm, but sweet with a deep, rich pinkness inside. Neighbors came from everywhere; it seemed, with baskets on their arms ready to be filled with the plump figs.

At the woodshed stood a huge section from a tree trunk that Grandma used for her wood chopping block, then shoulder high to me. It was here that Grandma slaughtered chickens caught from the nearby chicken lot; fresh roasted chicken and gravy with biscuits bigger than Grandma's fist was a common treat for a noon meal. For dessert Granny mixed brown sugar and peanut butter she spread on the biscuits, kept warm in a heavy cloth snuggled in a huge, brown-glazed pottery bowl.

Grandma taught me the joys of the outdoors. Grandpa, a gentle man who loved white flowers, was a sawyer who often spent week days in the mountains logging. But on other days we worked and played together, side by side. Grandpa's favorite flowers were white lilacs, white roses, and gardenias. Even now I smell the fragrance of gardenias drifting in the stillness of the air as he held me and rocked me in his oak rocker on lazy afternoons.

Never quite forgetting the chore at hand, I listen again to the chatter of the mowing machine and to the constant hum of the tractor. Knowing the beautiful Belgian horses will have abundant winter hay makes the work pleasant in the warmth of spring, and I look forward to retreating into fond childhood memories again and again as I clip the fresh, green grasses of my childhood.