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 2 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: November, 1991

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

My dad, in whose memory this book was written, was a hard working, honest man. He was one of the finest carpenters in this area and left many good works to prove it. Although he never owned a nice comfortable home, I think the little cabin with its advantages and problems was the answer to his needs at the time. He was paying fifty dollars a year for rent in the valley and just couldn't afford it. He worked for fifty cents an hour and less, sometimes free labor if a friend had nothing to pay. Once my brother and I helped our dad pay this fifty dollars by working for fifty cents a day each, for the landlord. We were so proud of ourselves - so young and willing to help.

As we all looked toward this big mountain and the little house perched on top, barely visible, we helped Papa make plans, talking about all the opportunities there, to get our rent free, grow our own food, work and have fun together, so we all set out, on foot, on this new adventure which lasted several happy years.

As time passed a few outbuildings took shape, an outhouse, a smokehouse, a crib to store hundreds of bushels of corn in the next few years. This crib held two hundred bushels of corn and every fall long pretty ears of white corn were running out the door almost. This corn fed the livestock, made our bread, our hominy, and on winter evenings we'd "parch" some corn in a big iron skillet with grease and salt and what noise we made sitting around eating parched corn!

In all seasons people from the valley came to Papa for help. One needed a house and he built a nice four-room house for them for fifty dollars. He took some chickens, some meat and other things for part of the pay. Another would need a barn or a shed or maybe a rafter pattern cut. Many came to him to get a saw filed so they could do their own work. He was an expert blade sharpener.

His work, from the roughest of jobs to fine finish work like door and window casings, kitchen cabinets, or matched flooring, got his utmost care and attention until the job was completed. Many wearisome miles he traveled on foot carrying saw, hammer, square, planes, etc. on his back, in a sack. In the sunshine or rain, sleet and snow he went, as an accommodation or as a necessity to earn our "bread and meat" as he called it.

Besides being a carpenter, a farmer, stone mason and just a good all-round family man, our dad possessed other skills and qualities as well. When a baby or young child died in the community, sometimes in the family, my dad would make the little coffin, line and cover it with pretty material, saving the family all the cost he could. He told me how many he made and whose child they were for.

Something else Papa could do too was pick a banjo. How we loved to listen to him play, or accompany him on the guitar. Many are the nights I lay on the little half-bed and listened to him play the banjo after all the rest of the family too had gone to bed.

He had a little squeaky platform rocker he sat in before the fire on fall or winter nights and played so many of the old banjo tunes or sometimes sat in a straight chair leaned against the wall. When he was in a good mood and everything going well around the place he'd take his banjo from a nail on the wall, take a big chew of Schnapps tobacco and in a "claw-hammer" style he'd play the fast tunes like "Cripple Creek," "Soldier's Joy," "Old Joe Clark," "Shout Little Lulie," then he'd spit his ambeer into the ashes and play a slower tune like "Spanish Fandango" or "Knoxville Girl."

When the fire had burned low and everything had become quiet except for the tick-tock of the tall mantle clock and maybe one or two heavy sleepers snoring away, Papa would sit in the silence a few moments then begin to gently strum his banjo as the lovely music from old hymns filled the little room.

"Jesus Lover Of My Soul," "The Unclouded Day," "Sweet Bye And Bye," and "Where We'll Never Grow Old," were some of my favorites. I would hear him then, clear his throat, and settle back to play the last tune for the night. Yes, the heart-warming melody of the old song, "Home, Sweet Home," would fill the room, barely visible in the dim lamplight.

How was I to know these sounds would echo down through the years and I could hear them on sleepless nights when I was a great-grandmother and the fingers that strummed the banjo strings had been lying on the hillside, motionless for decades?

Ah! Just to go back to my youthful days and listen through tears to the familiar old song: "Home, home, sweet, sweet Home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home."