The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

My Diary of Memories - Part 7 of 7

By Nellie Jewell Wilson © 1990

Issue: April, 1990

We children had to walk miles to school. The first years I went up until I finished the fourth grade, to Union Valley School, I never did forget.

We had to go through a Mr. Jiles C. place and they had an old tom turkey that didn't like red. My sister Bessie had a red coat that she got for Christmas and every time we went through this lot going to school, the old gobbler would run her all the way across with his wings strutting and him gobbling.

In the fall we would get in our favorite chinquapin patch and gather all we could get. What we didn't eat ourselves, we would swap at school for pencils and little trinkets and things.

When we would be tired coming home from school, we had a favorite oak tree that joined Mr. C.'s line with an old home place at what we called the lower meadow. Here we would hurry to rest in the shade of the old oak tree. We called it the half way mark between home and school. Four miles is a long way to walk.

Once my mama was hunting turkeys with my brother Ballard and saw a big bald eagle carry a little new baby lamb off from its mother in a rail fence corner out on the ridge above the lower meadow. She also saw an old red fox carrying one of Mr. Jiles' ducks slung across its back up the long ridge to the old Spangler place. There were lots of things to see back in those days when anyone had to get out and roam the fields and woods like we did.

Mama's big flock of turkeys would stray off from home and sometimes be gone for days. We would have to get out and locate them. We were always glad in the fall time when we could get them all rounded up and sold, for it saved many a long walk. Lots of times some would be missing. Lots of times they would roost in old locust trees or any where night would overtake them thus making it easy for hoot owls or wild cats or any other animal to get them. They would roam the fields gathering grasshoppers, bugs and occasionally get in a corn field and get food. No sooner than we would find them and get them home, they would take off again the next day and we didn't have fences suitable to turn them as they could fly. But, many of our coats and school clothes would come from the money Mama got from the turkey crop and there were generally four of us children in school at the same time.

When I was a young girl I went out back on a porch of an old log cabin up on the Pilot Mountain [Montgomery County, Virginia] one night and heard an old he panther, as I believe it was a he. It was squalling coming out the top of the mountain. It was hollering "who-we" real loud. It just trailed its voice off and kept hollering and the hair on the back of my neck felt like it just stood up. It was a dark rainy night and it cried until it went out of hearing over what we used to call the old mountain field and I never did hear it any more, but at different times we saw and heard panthers in the mountain.

Once some children went down to draw water from a well in buckets and it was late in the evening. They sat their buckets down on a plank at the well and heard a noise and it was a large yellow panther drinking out of a small pond behind the well. It was lapping water and it looked at them and a Howard girl named Annie said it had whiskers on each side of its mouth and real keen eyes and small ears and swaged in the back like it was an old one and had a long tail that turned up on the end on the ground. Annie was so scared and she thought she was running and she was just standing and hopping up and down on the ground. She said it just turned around and took a few more laps of water. Then it swaged its back down and went on up a path by the spring under some low bushes. Then the children hurried home and had to go back after the water later when a neighbor man came by and went with them.

Once a panther came up on the mountain and tried to get in a shed where they had put fresh hog meat in the day before that they had butchered. It clawed the building and made big scratches on the door and scratched all around where they had hung the hogs the day before on a pole. This one hollered like a woman screaming.