The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Woodhouse

By Nancy Cornette Kessler © 1990

Issue: January, 1990

This story was inspired by a dream I had recently; which took me back 65 plus years ago.

In my dream I, older brother Richard, and an older sister Jessie (both now deceased) as children were busily working to enlarge and reinforce the walk way in the wood house loft, which led to our play house in the far end.

This dream lingered in my mind so vividly the next day that it set me to thinking and reminiscing about what an important part it played in our lives during our youth and growing up years.

This old weather beaten wooden building served so many useful purposes it is hard to visualize life on the farm without it.

Its original purpose, and possibly the most important, was to house the year round supply of wood for the many fires in the different rooms in the winter and for the cook stove in the kitchen in the summer months also. But its usefulness did not stop there. It was built with wide openings front and back for the team of horses to get through with the wagon loads of wood, stacked to the entire height of the rafters on one side, but on the other side and in an alcove type place, all of this with a dirt floor, was reserved for the huge black iron kettle for the family laundry each week. Along walls were built trestles with planks to hold the tubs of water for rinsing and scrubbing with the wooden-metal wash board.

By the side of this work area was an enclosed room with plank flooring with an outside door which was the smoke house where the meat was stored; hams, shoulders and sides of bacon hanging from the ceiling. Under this was a stout heavy wooden table used for cutting, slicing and curing the meat. Against the other side of the room were large wooden boxes with lids to hold sacks of flour, corn meal and salt.

The door to this important room was kept locked. The step to its entrance was a huge flat rock. On sunny days we could be found cracking walnuts with a hammer on this stone door step.

Inside the woodhouse, propped against the smoke-house wall, stood the grind stone which kept tools sharp. Many times I turned that grind stone wheel by its handle to sharpen axes, scythes (papa called them sickles) and any other tool that needed sharpening, until my arm ached. These hand tools were what papa and his helpers used to cut wheat, hay, tall weeds and many other tasks.

The ax and a long two handled saw were used to cut and chop the wood supply. How proud papa was when he was able to purchase a "mowing machine" drawn by horses which has long been outmoded, but to him eliminated many previous jobs done by hand. It also cut down to a great degree turning that grind stone wheel.

On rainy days the wood house provided shelter for papa and his work hands when they came running inside when a sudden rain storm interrupted their work in the fields. They sat around telling jokes and stories until the rain stopped and they could go back to work or head for home.

To us children, however, the most important part of this old building was the loft overhead. The far end had a plank floor and a window in its wall. The entrance to it was the narrow walk way I saw in my dream. This walkway was reinforced with boards to provide sure footing to our play house. From the outside was a ladder to a large opening which the adults used to reach supplies stored there in the winter months, but disdained by us children. When the wood pile was low, we "shinnied" up the side of the wall and on to the walkway. When the wood was stacked high, it made the walk way easily assessable, but we enjoyed the other way the most. This was the perfect play house in rainy weather or anytime in the warmer months.

Well I remember one early Spring my brother Richard came down with scarlet fever and had to be isolated from the household. His bed was moved into the parlor and precautions had to be used as to his dishes etc.

We were all kept home from school since we had been exposed.

My older sister Lenora decided to set up a school room in our loft play house. With wooden boxes and crates she contrived a desk for herself, the teacher, and seats and desks for us, the students. To us this was serious business and she was a strict teacher. She assigned us lessons and we knew we had to do our homework.

This actually worked out very well until my brother recovered, and the house was fumigated and we could all return to school. The school sessions ended and the wood house loft became a play house again.

What fun we had in those long ago times and that old gray weathered building is still standing today, but the years have taken their toll as it also has to the little white house in which all nine children were born and grew up in.