The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Growing Up On A Farm - Part 1 of 5

By Juanita Lilly Evans © 1990

Issue: August, 1990

Editor's Note... This is the first installment of a five part series, "Growing Up On A Farm." Each installment was written by a different Lilly sibling as follows:

Part 1, written by Juanita Lilly Evans
Part 2, written by Regina Lilly Rider
Part 3, written by Zed C. Lilly, Jr.
Part 4, written by Inez Lilly Depriest
Part 5, written by Dixie Lilly Jackson

The first home I remember was a stilt-house at The Campbell Place. This was the scene of the only spanking I ever got from Daddy. He was splitting stove wood and I was carrying it in. I felt I had carried enough and when he disagreed, I threw a stick of wood at him. I didn't hit him but I learned this was not a proper thing to do.

One day my sister Jean and I saw a man carrying a black bag coming to our house. We were sent to the yard to play and when the man left, we learned he had given Mom a baby boy. That baby cried for YEARS it seemed... they said he had colic. Jean and I agreed we wanted no more noisy brothers!

Before long, we moved to Granddaddy Anderson's house. He worked "in the woods" and was away quite a lot. His house seemed huge - it had an upstairs. There was a smokehouse where Mom would let us go when she went to get meat. The hams and shoulders hung from the ceiling and we loved the smell. I think pork was the only domestic meat we had. Daddy, Granddaddy and Uncle Roscoe used to go hunting and bring home squirrels and rabbits.

In summer, Mom would give us kids threaded needles and we would string beans which were then put in the sun to dry, or if the weather was wet, they were hung on the wall behind the cook stove. When they became dry enough, we pulled them from the strings and put them in bags for winter. What we ate as green beans when they were fresh became "leather britches" when eaten in winter.

We also spent lots of time drying apples. Sometimes we strung them too, but if the weather was nice, an old screen door was placed across the back of two chairs in the yard and the sliced apples spread on that to dry. On one occasion, Daddy must have been sick because he was in the house and he wasn't wearing his artificial leg. Mom had him stationed in a chair at the window to throw corn cobs at the chickens when they tried to eat the drying apples. Our only rooster was very persistent and Daddy's infamous temper flared. He threw his walking cane out the window and that night, we ate the rooster for supper.

It took lots of apples to feed the growing family, so one year Mom borrowed an apple peeler. It was quite a gadget. Not only did it speed up the process but it was FUN. The apple was stuck on a spindle and there was a sort of knife contraption on a spring. When the apple and knife were in proper position and the handle turned correctly, it was very efficient. When Mom wasn't present, whoever was cranking turned as fast as she or he could, half peeling the apple and sending what did come off flying everywhere - all over the kitchen, on cranker and spectators alike. We used to make apple butter in a huge kettle in the yard with a fire under it. I saw one of those kettles in an antique shop not long ago - the price was $550!

We used to go to The Crow Place with Granddaddy to get apples and grapes. Sometimes we were allowed to ride the horses but most of the time; we traveled on a sled pulled by them. We would stop by chestnut trees and Granddaddy would stomp on the nuts to break away the stickery hull and we would go home with all pockets bulging. At other times, he would break off small limbs loaded with sarvisses. I suspect Gran welcomed a few minutes of not having to answer questions while the askers busily stuffed their faces.

We moved from Granddaddy's when I was in third grade and my uncle got married and came to live there. We were now only a mile from school but we sure missed Gran and when my uncle and aunt went to her home on a weekend, Jean, Z.C. and I would go and stay with him. He told fabulous stories of when he was a young man. He was born in 1874 near Broad Ford, Virginia, and the only grandparent we ever knew. He terrified us with stories like riding a horse on dark, rainy nights and being followed by panthers and bears, but we begged for more. We called them "ghost stories." He sang to us too, but I don't know if he had heard those songs or made them up as he went along.

One I remember was:

Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man
Who washed his face in a frying pan.
He combed his hair with a wagon wheel,
And died with a toothache in his heel.

He used to bring us candy, usually a noxious concoction called horehound, but at least it was sweet!

My first year at school was memorable. I had to walk three miles, but went about a mile and walked the rest of the way with neighbor kids. When winter came that first year, I had a grand coat. Mom made it from some grown-up coat and it had a fur collar! Even so, my fingers and toes got so cold, I would be crying when I got home. Then I'd have to put my already freezing feet and hands in cold water. Sometimes when it was very cold, Granddaddy would meet me at school, put me on the horse in front of him and I'd ride home.

Since we were never hungry, had a house and clothing to keep us warm, and the love and attention of family, we kids were happily unaware that we were poor.