The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

These Things I Remember

By Tootsie Cassell Pilson © 1983

Issue: November, 1983

Some 50 years ago I was born into a family of 8 children at Meadows of Dan, Virginia. When I was two weeks old, we moved to Vesta, Virginia. Here I have lived the longer part of my life. I have no desire to be anywhere else.

Here’s why….

One of the fondest memories of my childhood was the good food in abundance at meal time, molasses so thick you had to spoon them out of the jar; strawberry shortcake made with pones of wheat bread split into and spread with wild strawberries and cream; also apple butter cake made in the same way. How can I ever forget fresh buckwheat cakes, straight from an iron griddle or the first mess of greens in the springtime… a mixture of poke, dandelion and plantain? I can still taste the white fatback gravy with a can of pink salmon soaked in it as if it were yesterday.

I remember when Pop bought pinto beans by the 100 lbs.; and the mouth watering flavor when cooked with a slab of homegrown fatback with a streak of lean in it.

My memories of food would not be complete without mentioning the huge pot of homemade soup Merle (Shelor) Wood made on a pot bellied stove at the old Meadows of Dan School building. Each child brought what ingredients that could be spared from home. These she took, dumped them into a pot and you’ve never tasted the likes. This was served in a tin cup you brought from home with a cold biscuit.

As I sit here reminiscing, I can visualize Aunt Nora Howell standing over a wood cookstove, tending a pot of chicken and dumplings. What a grand aroma filled the air as her brood and ours played outside.

School Days

We took in stride the fact that we had to walk 5 miles to school because we could not afford to pay to ride the school bus.

On the first day of school each child was given a cake of Lifebuoy soap and a small tube of toothpaste; also a chart for gold stars when our hands were clean. I well remember when we were examined for itch at school and Fanny Anderson (now retired) bragged on my clean feed sack slip.

Fresh Air and Good Smells

The word pollution had not been coined when I was a child. Fresh air filled the countryside and good smells from country living linger even to this day.

I shall never forget Mom washing up the straw ticks each fall and filling them with new straw for another season.

The feel of a new straw tick underneath, with a feather tick on top was a pleasant sensation one doesn’t easily forget.

Add to this the sweet smell of Arbutus in the spring; the pretty shapes and the distinct smell of lye soap being removed from an iron pot; plus the tinkling of a cow bell far off; plus the refreshing smell of a buckwheat field in bloom; plus the good smell of freshly plowed ground. Put them all together and you had good clean country living. It seemed that even a cow we owned was in harmony with our way of life. She was so gentle; she would let us ride on her back.


We learned firsthand how to create our own entertainment. Our imaginations went wild when we built play houses in the woods. Laurel twigs were used to section off rooms, beds were made from moss, rocks for furniture, a homemade rag doll for a baby, and a girl and boy to play Mom and Pop made many a day complete.

I was just a small child but I remember when a caravan of gypsies passed thru and every one of us were scared to death of them.

We were in for a treat when a tent show set down where the First National Bank now stands.

Many Saturday nights were filled with an ingathering of neighbors at our home. Folks came from miles around to listen to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio and pass the time in gossip and a hardy helping of togetherness.

Sometimes Tyler Quesenberry (now deceased), who had come to work on the radio would stay for supper. I was always eager to see and examine the unfamiliar tools he carried in his little black bag.

We also made a game of listening where a hen’s cackle came from and tried to find her nest. Many times we were successful. What a thrill to find a nest of white leghorn eggs.

No ferris wheel today could possibly give the thrill of riding inside a water wheel. I have spent many a day doing this and have received many a tanning in the process. We considered ourselves fortunate to have owned our own water wheel, where our neighbors brought their turns to be ground. This wheel also furnished us with our own electric lights.

In the winter time when ice formed on the wheel, we could hear awful noises like Bang, Klank, Klomp and when this happened the lights went dim.

My Uncle Early Knowles (now deceased) was well known in the neighborhood for rounding up every kid within hollering distance and going on a possum hunt. I can still see the snarl of a possum in a bark sack. He also furnished many a kid with a fish hook and pole come fishing season. He seemed to have a special place in his heart for little children and the great outdoors. (We miss him so.)

It’s a good feeling to have lived in this time… I’m not a stranger to the little house outback or the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

I have carried many a chicken to the store to trade for staples and can well remember when loose crackers were sold from a barrel.

Having been raised in a family of eight, we learned to share and enjoy, but if one remembrance could top them all, it would be the summer I spent with Mr. and Mrs. Fred Clifton at Vesta, Virginia. The attention they showered on me will never be forgotten. At their home I had a bedroom to myself and a store bought doll. Most mornings found me up building fires and dancing for Freddie while he ate his breakfast. He declares to this day I was the best hay stack tromper around.


To sum it all up, I guess the man who came thru our community and stopped for Pop to work on his car said it best. He sent a letter of thanks and addressed it to:

Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Cassell
And all the little Cassell’s
God’s Country
Vesta, VA