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 3 of 5

By Zed C. Lilly, Jr. © 1991

Issue: March, 1991

Editor's Note... This is the third 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

Virginia Neal Anderson & Zed Carr Lilly, Roanoke, Virginia, circa 1925.Virginia Neal Anderson & Zed Carr Lilly, Roanoke, Virginia, circa 1925.Under a big maple tree by the front yard gate when I was about three, I was building a large earthen wall with my most sophisticated equipment - a Log Cabin Syrup container and a Prince Albert Tobacco can. Granddaddy Anderson objected, saying my wall would cause the steps to wash out. Knocking my equipment aside with his walking stick, he stepped right in the middle of my construction and I called him a very naughty name. Mom was flabbergasted that her lovable son ever HEARD such a word and I still associate it with an extremely warm bottom.

For Easter one year, Mom made white dresses with red buttons for Jean and Juanita. She made me a pair of short britches. Dang, I hated short britches! The girls pranced about proudly at Sunday School while I tried to stay behind anything available.

Two of my closest calls involved tobacco. Granddaddy gave me a chew, which made me feel very important. I chewed a little while and then swallowed the whole thing. I thought I'd die. I insisted Daddy let me smoke one of his old pipes and when I got mixed up on puffing and blowing I nearly choked to death. I gave up this career while I was able to.

We moved to another house in 1937. A swamp with a small wooden bridge was between the house and barn. An old woodshed appeared to be in a race with the bridge to see which would collapse first. One very cold day, Dad and I were working behind the woodshed and he kept warning me I would fall in the swamp if I didn't quit goofing around. I proceeded to prove him correct and he fished me out and sent me to the house, dripping mud and water. When I turned back to see if he was coming, he was too busy laughing.

Virginia Neal Anderson, Roanoke, Virginia, 1923.Virginia Neal Anderson, Roanoke, Virginia, 1923.From the time I saw my first airplane, I was totally fascinated. Many rows of corn would have been hoed much quicker had I not spent so much time leaning on the hoe, looking and dreaming every time a plane went over.

One summer our spring went dry and we had a well drilled. I got a few knots on my head from the crank on the rope spindle but there was more concern about letting the bucket hit the water too hard. Knots would go down and skin would grow back but well buckets had to be bought.

Mr. Hodge promoted Kathryn Miller and me from first to third grade. My friend Lloyd couldn't spell worth a flip. One day his two assigned words were "rope" and "cat." After Lloyd's many stumbling attempts, Mr. Hodge disgustedly said, "R-O-P-E spells cat and C-A-T spells rope!" Lloyd obliged by repeating it exactly.

During World War II when everything was rationed, we planted a bunch of sugar cane. I didn't know how much work was between those little seeds and the final dressing for hot biscuits. I dug, chopped, and wore blisters all summer. We cut and boiled and skimmed green foam till I thought I'd drop. I then began my journey to getting so stinking sick of molasses I couldn't stand the sight. I thought I'd never eat REAL cake again - it was always molasses cake with apple sauce between the layers, gingerbread or molasses cookies.

It was difficult to get coal hauled during the war so we heated with wood. Our house was insulated about like the barn and when the wind blew, the rug would rise about six inches. We cut up scads of trees with a cross-cut saw so dull it wouldn't cut snow.

Daddy got a job away from home and bought a tractor. Since he was gone, it was my job to plow. Our farm had lots of rocks so the plow would hit one and jerk the tractor back about a foot. After I took a bite out of the steering wheel a few times, I slowed down.

A board was off the bottom of the chicken house so the baby chicks could go outside. Inez and Dixie were always crawling through the hole and Mom kept warning they would get stuck. One day Mom went in to feed the chicks and shut the door quickly so they wouldn't get out. A black snake had been relaxing above the door and his tail had dropped down when she opened it. Unaware, she closed the door on his tail and when she looked up and saw him doing his thing, she dived out that little hole slick as a whistle.

When we learned electricity would soon be available, Dad and I wired the house. I was now an electrician.

We started the cellar Mom always wanted. I just knew it would be easy. After much digging and sweating, then came laying cinder blocks. My wall would start leaning and when I tried to straighten it up, six more problems developed. Next came building the room over the cellar. I carefully marked the boards but that hand-saw would not cut on my line. I still can't saw on a line so maybe the saw wasn't the problem. By the time the cellar was finished, I had marked another career possibility off my list.

When I graduated from high school, jobs were very scarce and after only a short time, I joined the Air Force where I stayed for twenty years. Since leaving the farm, I've seen lots of a world I'd only read about in a geography book. Sometimes as I fly across the country I wonder if down there somewhere, another skinny old farm boy leans on a hoe handle looking up. I've filled in many squares of life's puzzle and when I fill in the last one, there'll be a line through each, back to the first - a Log Cabin Syrup can and a Prince Albert box in a farm yard in West Virginia.