The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Little House on the Mountain - Part 1 of 4

The illustration is a drawing of the cabin the author lived in as a bride in 1940.The illustration is a drawing of the cabin the author lived in as a bride in 1940.By Naomi Dickenson Wells © 1991

Issue: July, 1991

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from the book, “Little House on the Mountain,” by Naomi Dickenson Wells.

From my kitchen window, on a cold winter day, I can see the outline of purplish mountains against the bleakness of overcast skies and my heart throbs, my tears spill over as I reminisce of my girlhood days on this one special mountaintop.

We were a large family and renting a place to live had become a burden for my dad so he leased a mountain farm. There was more land to tend but only a one-room cabin to live in. That was the only building on the 103 acre tract. It had two doors and a small window, a huge fireplace, plain log walls and rough wide boards for a floor. Snow would blow through the cracks of the log walls and you could "track a cat" on our pallet against the wall. When it rained we kept pans and buckets on the floor or the furniture to catch the streams of water coming through the old board roof.

After sleeping, cooking and eating in this one room for a long long time, my dad built a kitchen from chestnut poles and whatever other material he could get together. Times were hard and there simply was nothing on the place to build with and no money to buy anything. You talk about something being made from scratch, the additions to that little cabin were made from scratch.

We were so happy to move into our new kitchen with the squeaking door and the one little half-window to give light. On the bare rough floor we set the old cast iron stove, in the corner, and by the little window we set the big home-made table and behind it a bench the same length. Over the table was spread a heavy oilcloth and one pattern on the tablecloth I remember so well was farm animals like goats, cows, horses, and pigs. Funny how these things come to remembrance so vividly.

There was a pie safe in the kitchen, painted green, to keep the dishes in, and a long box against one wall, with a partition, held the flour and meal. We called this the "meal box." There was a shelf too, which held the water buckets with a dipper, and a wash pan which everyone used before going to the table to eat.

Oh, just to go back to this little humble cabin and help my stepmother prepare, in this sparsely furnished kitchen, one more hot breakfast of fresh, cured or canned meat, piping hot biscuits or "pone bread," a big bowl of brown gravy and steaming cups of strong coffee from the spout of the gray enamel coffee-pot. Mm Mm good!

Meal time was a quiet time around my dad's table. We were not allowed to make a fuss or even giggle and if we passed our plate for a helping of food, we knew to say "thanks" for whatever it was. But if our dad wasn't there at mealtime we were not so quiet.

It wasn't long until we built a little back porch which served as a shelter for firewood when the snow fell or in summer it provided a shade where we could peel apples and string beans. Also a good place to just sit if there was ever any leisure time.

We had no front porch, not then. Just a plain log wall with another squeaky door opening into the "front room," we called it. This room we now used to sleep in and sit around in since we had a new kitchen. Back in each corner of each side of the little window there was a bed. We knew nothing of a pretty bedroom suite but had iron bedsteads with folding springs and a mattress made of corn shucks by tearing them into shreds, then stuffing them into a "bed tick" made from feed sacks. Four on one side, four on the other with a slit down the middle of the top side.

My dad nailed up a little half-bed in the corner by the big fireplace for me. It had a shuck mattress too. When bedtime came, we made pallets on the floor for those who had no bed and you can imagine how warm and peaceful we slept on wintry nights.

Looking back over the many years I love to travel, in memory, the rocky mountain road from bottom to top and feel the rocks under my shoes soles as I climb higher and higher until at long last there is the set of drawbars across the road which I cross easily, being young, and around one more curve there it is, the cabin! Home! Perhaps I had been to the store, or to church, or to visit a few days with my married sisters. But I was home now!

Standing in the doorway would be someone looking down the road, shading their eyes from the evening sun, waiting - just waiting. It was so good to see someone coming up the road.

The cabin was situated on beautiful Powell Mountain overlooking beautiful Powell Valley. At night it was a sight to behold all the pretty lights in the valley and we would watch at night as automobiles traveled across Black Mountain back and forth, miles and miles away. Many times I watched planes that seemed to almost touch the top of distant mountains, so far away there was only a slight droning of the motor. Beautiful sights!

We had some farm animals and a few chickens and guineas. It was fun to listen to the guineas as they made their familiar sound, "Pot-rack! Pot-rack!" then spread their wings and fly out over the treetops down on the ledge. It was fun to find their nest too with the speckled eggs in it, among the weeds.

Once I was below the cabin, down where the trees stood on the cliffs and these cliffs were so dangerous looking. I heard a hen clucking and searching closer I found she had set in the top of a big stump, hatching seventeen baby chicks. I helped them get started toward the cabin, and safety. We had game chickens which were a wilder sort and they would steal their nest out making it hard to find them.

We also had an old white mule named John. He was a faithful old fellow and the only transportation we had. He pulled many, many heavy loads down the mountain when our dad went peddling. There would be this big sled piled high with garden vegetables, fruit and other things. Anything that would sell. Old John was hitched to it and down the mountain. Slowly and carefully he went, bumping and bouncing along.

At the foot of the mountain the potatoes, beans, greens, apples and what-have-you were loaded into a truck and hauled into town for sale. Then back up the mountain would go Old John pulling his load but much slower. There would be bags of flour, sugar, coffee, and other household needs. Some chewing tobacco, some smokin' for the boys and a box of snuff for the Missus. Then there was coal-oil, a new lamp chimney with "Home Sweet Home" painted on it, a new jump-jacket for one and a pair of overalls and blue chambray shirt for another. A brown "poke" had some nails, a few staples to mend a gap in the fence, a cross-cut file or handsaw file. Sometimes Old John got new shoes and if our shoes were wearing thin, there was a strip of leather and some tacks to half-sole or mend them.

An old iron last stood in a corner or behind the door which my dad would set near the light as he didn't see too well. He would put on his five-and-ten-cent-store glasses, drag up a straight back chair, clear his throat and set to work.

Sometimes a sharp tack would come through leather and into our heel or toe. I limped home from school many times because of the pain from a "sprig."

We had an old dresser or "bureau" my dad called it, setting in a corner and the mirror reached almost to the ceiling and that wasn't very high. Two small drawers and two long ones and would you believe it was also painted green'? A light green and we thought it was pretty. Close by this bureau there hung a razor strap. Papa would get out his straight razor with the ivory handle and whickety-whack, whickety-whack up and down the strap till the edge was just right. He was ready for the shaving-mug, shaving brush and a good clean shave. This happened pretty often as he was careful about his appearance.

Our little cabin wasn't the finest but to me it was a dream house. Yes, I dream of it and its surroundings daily and long for the feeling of protection and security I had under my father's roof.

The ticking of the old mantle clock as the pendulum swung back and forth has long since died away but it seems the echo is still around - tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock. How sweet the sound.

We had no rugs on the floor, not even linoleum and the dirt and dust which accumulated was swept into the fireplace, what didn't go through the cracks in the floor. My dad made most all our brooms from broom-corn we raised. I helped him tie many brooms and have a pretty one yet he made for my sister. He "bottomed" our chairs too with hickory bark.

The changing of the seasons brought on different kinds of activities around the place. In the springtime there was much work to be done. New grounds to be cleared with a mattock, rocks to be piled, fences to be made or mended, plowing and more plowing to be done. Every hour of every day there was work waiting.