The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Uncle Ben and Aunt Nancy

By Nancy B. Collins © 1991

Issue: March, 1991

Some things I remember of when I lived near Woolwine, Virginia. My father had an aunt that lived a few miles from us. Her name was Nancy Belcher and her husband's name was Ben.

They were kind and good to us children when we would go there. She would always fix us something good to eat like hoecake bread with soft butter and peach preserves on it.

They were both getting old, but their minds were good. They would tell us stories of things that happened way back in their lives.

Aunt Nancy told us a story about Lovers Leap. She said some thieves stole some Indian gold in Texas and managed to travel on an old wagon drawn by oxen for months and finally got it up in the mountains near Lovers Leap. They buried it there some place and no one had ever found it until this day. She said the men were so worn out they both got sick and died. They were traced for many months and finally found their old wagon that had been turned over and rolled down a steep bank. The men left the wagon down beside the old road. They were seen by some farmers wandering around in the country looking for food and some place to stay a few days. They said their wagon had broken down and they lived a long ways away. Some old farmer let them sleep in the loft and gave them food. They both got sick with high fevers and one of them talked about gold while he was out of his head. The other one finally told the farmer that they buried their gold under some slate on the side of the Lovers Leap Mountain. No one ever did find the gold.

Some law men were looking for the men and finally traced them back in the mountain country around Lovers Leap and lost them. The law was pretty sorry back in those days, almost no law at all.

Aunt Nancy said many people searched long hours but the gold was never found.

Aunt Nancy and Uncle Ben had lived in the foothills of Lovers Leap just about all their lives. They had the finest peach orchard that was on the south side of the mountain where it was warmer than most places in the wintertime. The peaches never got killed if they came out early in the spring.

Aunt Nancy told me another story about Lovers Leap. There was a family of Indians who lived a few miles from them. They had a beautiful daughter. Everyone got along with her. She was kind and very shy. One of the mountain men had a son that began to slip around to see this girl. The Indians and white people did not get along very well. The Indians hated the white man and the white man hated the Indian. Anyway, they slipped around for a long time. One day while they were in the woods together, her father caught them with their arms around each other. Her father almost killed the young man and took her home and locked her up and forbid him to see her any more.

Finally after a long time, he went over to her place, broke in and got her out. They decided if they could not be together, they would go to the top of Lovers Leap and jump off and that is what they did.

The girl's father came snorting around and threatening to kill every one around if they did not help him find his daughter. Many months went by and they found their bodies at the foot of the leap.

Our family would go up to Uncle Ben's to make molasses. We had a lot of fun and a lot of hard work went with it. My father planted the cane at our house. In the fall of the year we stripped it off and cleaned the stalks up and hauled them up to Uncle Ben's, which was a good ways. He had a cane mill which was operated by an old horse that went around and around. A man would sit at the mill and feed the long stalks in the mill and the juice was pressed out and ran down in a big bucket. They had a big long vat they would put the juice in. When they got the vat about half full they would build a fire in a flue under the vat and cook the juice for hours. Some people wanted thick molasses; some wanted them thin. Someone had to stir for hours. They had a paddle with a handle where two people could stir. Most of the time two young people stirred. Many young people came. Some would dance; some would just take turns and stir the molasses. We always had a good time when we would make molasses.

Aunt Nancy was a good cook. We always stayed for supper. Some of us children would help her clean the kitchen after supper and she would come out and sit where they were cooking the molasses. They would have four or five lanterns handing in the trees so everyone could see. They had lanterns hanging in the barn so they could see to dance. We left Aunt Nancy's one night to go home. Of course we had to walk. I guess it was about four miles. We got about half way and got caught in the hardest thunder storm. The only way we could see the old wagon road was when it was lightning.

My dad and three of us oldest children were having a mighty hard time in that storm. We finally stopped and got up under some bushes on the side of the road. We were afraid to get under trees the lightning was so bad. We all just got close together and waited until the storm passed by some, but it rained on us all the way home. Mom finally got us all dried out and put us to bed. The weather was warm and we did not get sick.

The next morning, we all got up bright and early as usual. Every thing looked so clean; God really washed the whole country. We were sort of brought up to believe when things were beautiful; God had a hand in it. We saw many pretty sunsets and beautiful nights. Every star would look like living diamonds.

Uncle Ben and Aunt Nancy were some people I never shall forget.