The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

My Diary of Memories - Part 1 of 7

By Nellie Jewell Wilson © 1989

Issue: February, 1989

I, Nellie Jewell Howard Wilson, was born on September 3, 1910 at Riner, Virginia, Montgomery County. I was born and raised on a fruit farm near Riner. My father was Mr. Charlie Jewel of near Riner and my mother was born near Carroll County in Floyd County, Virginia. Her maiden name was Annie Susan Hatcher.

Our family were two boys and five girls. We children had to walk to school and had a hard way trying to get an education when we were young. When our father bought a baby Overland car, we had a better way to go. I was the youngest girl in our family.

The winters were awful hard in those days and made it unusually hard for everyone that lived in the country, but they were the good old days. We enjoyed the long hikes and would go to the neighbors' houses and have candy pullings and bean stringings. I remember when my father would take us children out on walks to hunt little young chestnuts that grew up in the woods. When chestnuts dropped off in the fall, some stayed buried in the ground all winter and came up with young sprouts in the spring. We would pull the sprouts and gather the juicy chestnuts that were on the bottom of them. In the fall out father would take us late every evening and knock down chestnuts for us to eat. We would also have to try to beat the turkeys to the chestnut trees early in the morning before we went to school. The turkeys would fly down from their roost and go up the hollow just as hard as they could go and us children had to run to best them and get the chestnuts that had fallen during the night.

My sister Bessie and I would go out and gather the sheep in from the pasture late every evening when we came home from school. We would carry in any baby lambs that had been born during the day. We would get a brown sack and wrap around the little baby lamb and run with it, the old ewe stomping her foot and running after us. We would sit the little lamb down long enough to rest, then grab it up and run again until we reached the barn. My sister Bessie, brother Frank and I would run to the barn early in the morning in the late winter months and see if any new lambs had been born during the night and feed the horses, milk either two or three cows, feed the sheep and open the barn doors for them to come out, before we could go to school.

A lot of the best lessons we learned were not in school, but at home. When children grow up on a farm, they learn a lot of lessons to help them all through life. A lot of nice things happened also.

I remember one Christmas Eve when we had an unusually deep snow. My brother Ballard got the large sled he pulled by hand and set out to find a Christmas tree for us. Later in the evening, he returned with a nice one about 9 feet high that touched the ceiling in the parlor after he fixed it so we could bring it in the house. It was beautiful after my sister Ollie decorated it for us.

I remember we children were small and so excited. Ollie was late in the night getting it fixed and we hovered on the staircase waiting for her to open the door so we could get a little peep at the tree. But she wanted it as a secret for us. Early the next morning after breakfast was served, she opened the door and we all went in to see the tree. It was beautiful. All our little parcels were tied on the tree. Candles were on the tree, small ones and all lighted. Ollie darkened the room so the candles would show up pretty. Then we saw so many large packages at the foot of the tree. After we sang Christmas carols and made little speeches that we had learned at school, and recited poems, Mama and Papa got Ollie to blow out the candles and pass out the presents to all of us. Since then, I have believed that to be the most beautiful Christmas I had ever had. As I remember, this was the poem I recited:

The Christmas Star

What makes the Christmas Star so bright
Where does it get its silver light

All the kind deeds throughout the year
Now help to make its beams more clear

And all the pleasant words and smiles
Travel for miles and miles and miles

Until they reach that lovely star
Which in the east shines forth afar.

For kindness is the silver light
That makes the Christmas Star so bright.

Finally when the hard winter was over, we would always look forward to Easter. We would slip out and hide eggs and, once in a while, our smaller brother Frank would try to find the eggs that we girls hid and pull a prank on us. But we had lots of secret hiding places, like climbing up in the attic and hiding them in an old gallon bucket with a lid on it, or digging a hole underneath the buggy in the barn and burying a bucket, placing our eggs in it. Then we would carefully place a wide plank over it to keep the dirt out and then covered it over with dirt and straw so no one could find them. Also we would dig out a hole under the horses feed boxes in the barn and hide our eggs there. When Easter morning came, before breakfast we would go out and bring our eggs in. We would always have several dozen. Mama would fry some for breakfast. Then we would start boiling and coloring them to hide in the evening. We got a lot of enjoyment out of it. All large families are interesting. If we could just recall some of the days now that we used to have at home, it would be so nice.

The summers were also nice. We would slip out and swing on grapevine swings, hunt mushrooms in the woods, pick wild flowers, make play houses in the woods out of pretty green moss, take hikes through the fields and woods and also pick berries to can.

Papa had a large fruit farm and in the spring, we children would pick strawberries out of a large patch to sell in town by the crate. He would pay us two cents a basket to get us money to spend. We thought we were making good money at the time. Us girls bought pretty hair ribbons and little things we needed. During the strawberry season, we made more than any one would think, us being good pickers. We were also good climbers and picked sour cherries by the crate. Papa had whole rows of cherry trees.

One thing I loved in particular was when my brother Frank and I went horseback riding, when I was around 13 years old. One day we rode over Pilot Mountain [Montgomery County, Va.] to visit my brother Ballard and his wife Rosa. They lived up on a hill above Brush Creek, on a Mrs. Mary Dobbins place. We rode bare back with no saddle, both of us being good riders at the time. But Frank's legs were longer than mine and he could hold on better. We all went fishing and had lots of fun.

Then later, Frank was running barefooted after me through the house, playing. Aunt Rosa had put some light bread out to rise on the front porch steps and I didn't know it. So I started running out the front door and lo and behold, I set my foot in her light bread before I could even catch myself! I was so embarrassed I didn't know what to do. The sun shone so warm on the steps that she thought it would be a good place to set her bread to rise, not knowing that I would come running. I never did know what happened to the bread, but I did know that I hated that incident for a long time to come.

When we started home, Frank came galloping his horse up out of the creek and galloped by me. I was in front and my horse, old Bessie horse we called her, just leaped out from under me and threw me on a rock pile. Instead of running, she just stood and trembled. I was sure thankful she didn't run. I finally got my breath enough to get back up on her and made it home ok. Nevertheless, we had enjoyed our trip.