The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Memories Of Nannie Larkey

By Ann Goode Cooper © 1992

Issue: February, 1992

Editor's Note... Ann Goode Cooper was born in Scott County, Virginia near Hiltons. She taught school for many years before having to take an early retirement due to ill health. She has written the Gardner Genealogy and writes for her local paper, "The Virginia Star."

The James C. and Loucinda Gardner Larkey homestead was situated on a small hill overlooking the banks of old Holston River. As one steps back in time there, they will be able to enjoy a more slow paced tradition of life as it once was in the hills of Southwestern Virginia. The house was an old time log house which was typical of its day. The parlor, which was used for entertaining guests, was equipped with a large fireplace which burned wood placed upon dog irons to keep the wood from rolling onto the floor. The adjoining room was a bedroom located at the end of the parlor. A stairway went up from the main house or parlor to a long room upstairs which was under the full length of the gable of the house and the roof was constructed of tin. The upstairs housed the remainder of the beds and was very cool in the winter time because there was no heat and very hot in the summer because of no air conditioners. It surely must have been uncomfortable summer or winter; but they never knew the difference as that was the way they thought life was supposed to be.

The kitchen was segregated from the main house which was common in those days. There was a breezeway, or a dog trot as it was commonly called, between the house and the kitchen. Some people now say the isolation of the kitchen from the main house was to eliminate repulsive odors from the kitchen from entering the parlor where quests might be. Such odors as cabbage, parsnips, fried onions and pickled beans could not be smelled in the parlor.

The dog trot was a comfortable place in the summer, but in the winter it was a dreaded stretch on a cold morning for the kitchen stove fire builder. The freezing cold wind as it blew off the Holston River made for an uncomfortable trip through the dog trot into the cold kitchen where the fires had not been kept all night long and the water would be frozen in the water bucket. The water had to be thawed and heated before one could wash their hands before preparing the morning meal. In the summertime the water from the red rimmed white enamel water bucket, which was sitting on the water shelf out of reach of the dog, was very cold. A dipper of the water from the bucket which had been carried from a spring up the three hundred foot steep hill was colder than any refrigerator could get it today, or seemingly so.

A paling fence surrounded the garden at the right of the house and sweet peas covered the garden gate. Each year a bountiful supply of garden vegetables were preserved for the cold winter ahead and with a large family to feed, everyone was kept busy through the summer so no one would go hungry through the dark, snowy days ahead.

It was to the above surroundings that James C. Larkey brought his bride Loucinda Gardner from the Many Sink area of Scott County, Virginia. It was there in the simplicity of humble surroundings that they reared a large family of twelve children off the land and what it had to supply. Life was hard in the mid 1850's and pleasures were few; but, everyone was willing to pull his or her share of the load. Their children were: Margaret E. Larkey, Louisa Larkey, Martha C. Larkey, Liza Ann Larkey, Druzilla Larkey, David Ewell Larkey, Ruben J. Larkey, Thomas A. Larkey, Nancy (Nannie) E. Larkey, Hiram P. Larkey, Chester A. Larkey, and Cora Belle Larkey. The names were taken from the old Larkey family Bible as they were written at birth. Chester A. and Cora Belle were the two children that never lived to adulthood.

All of the above children, except Nannie, married and reared children of their own. They were all residents of Scott County and all but two were buried in the county they were born in. Ann Larkey married Frank Hilton and moved to Texas. She was laid to rest in or near Hillsborough, Texas. Ruben Larkey married Cordia Darter and moved to California. He was laid to rest in or near Stockton, California. The remainder of the children were Scott Countians through and through and chose to begin and end their life in their native birthplace.

Nannie Ethel Larkey, born January 16, 1874, was never married. She lived with her Pap and Mother as long as they lived and chose to continue living at the old homeplace until a fall and broken hip forced her to leave her beloved Holston River home and live the remainder of her days staying among her brothers and sisters that were living here in Scott County.

Nannie, Big Nannie, or Aunt Nannie as she was known to all the river relatives and friends around her home, was a tall, slender built woman with big bones and an excellent memory of days gone by. She had a hard time as each chore was hers.

The day she looked most forward to was her weekly trip to the store. She would start across the hill with her basket of eggs hanging on one arm. As she picked up her egg basket, the Sunday towel instead of the everyday chopsack towel, was placed on the basket with care. Two corners of the towel were placed over the eggs which was to keep them fresh (that was the reason for going to the store weekly) and the towel helped to keep the setting sun off the eggs. Nothing was thought about the eggs setting in a basket under a tin roof at room temperature for a week; but, the sun shining on them for the one hour walk to the store was a definite no-no. The leftover towel that wasn't used for covering the eggs was draped over the side of the basket to keep it from picking her good print dress at the hips in real hot weather; but, most of the time she either wore or laid a sweater on top of the eggs because she knew it would be late when she returned home and the night air would be cool, requiring a sweater.

In her other hand she carried a coal oil can and a bag with her dress shoes in it. She would change into her good shoes on the other side of the hill as she went down the Ode Holler. She would stop at the big walnut tree and change shoes, leaving her old ones in the broom sage; therefore, eliminating part of her load and she would watch her steps carefully as she would walk through the Addington Gap. By doing this she would have clean shoes to visit with two or three families and still look good when she got to the store. She would usually leave her lantern at the late widow Sally Carter's house, who lived at the foot of the Ode Holler. From Sally Carter's house she could see her way back along the main dirt road and she only needed the lantern to light her way to her everyday shoes up in the Ode Holler and across the hill.

Sally Carter was glad she did this because she was sure of another visit to learn the news from her trip to Maces Springs. Sally lived alone and was very anxious for Nannie's store day visit to get all the river news when she left her lantern and to get all the Poor Valley news when she picked her lantern up. Sally would have her lamp light burning, waiting for Nannie, knowing she would be there "dreckly" with some more news.

TV and radio brings a lot more news from farther away than Maces Springs; but, one will always wonder if the news was enjoyed then more than it is now. It shall always remain an unanswered question except for the older generation who have had the pleasure of getting their news that way. Little news was big news then.

As she arrived home from her long journey to the store she would put the groceries and coal oil in their place and change from her Sunday dress into her everyday dress. The neighbors who were snug in their beds would always know when Nannie arrived from the store when they were awakened by her loud call to her cow, ("Sook, Cherry, Sook, Sook"). She always tried to keep a bag of chop on hand which she used to entice old Cherry. Nothing was any better than a handful of chop at milking time. Nannie always depended upon neighbors to bring the chop when they went to the mill to get a wagon load of cornmeal and flour.

The news of Nannie's store day would always continue for several days as she traveled from one neighbor's house to another where she would relay the three mile round trip collection of news around the neighborhood. She seemingly could gather more news in a three mile round trip to the store than many people could gather on a twenty-five thousand mile trip around the world because she would listen, observe and remember everything she heard or saw along the way.

The farthest away she ever traveled in her life was a sixty mile round trip to Bristol which she made every five or six years. The reason for this trip was to renew her reading glasses from Kress' Five and Ten Cent Store counter. She would pick through the glasses until she found a pair to suit her vision. Nannie was a friendly person and spoke to everyone on the streets of Bristol. Many never spoke back and she referred to the residents of Bristol as being selfish and unfriendly.

When Nannie returned home, the neighbor she chose to visit that night could plan on losing some sleep as they would be up late listening to her tell about her big trip to the city. Nannie would begin saying early in the night, "Gentle rivers, I have to go." And she would repeat it numerous times during the next hour or two until it was lantern lighting time and her take-off for home would be late at night. She was very slow on the take-off and a lot of Pap and Mother tales would be told between the first "Gentle rivers, I have to go," and the last one of take-off. Nannie lived in a small world and enjoyed every one of the few square miles of it.

Nannie had many apple trees on her farm and it seemed that each one had a different flavored apple, and they were all good. She would give anyone apples off the ground or the ones you could reach to pick or punch off with a pole, but she prohibited the throwing of rocks to get them. She said that rocks would damage the twigs of the tree and it seemed that the biggest, reddest, yellowest apples hung on the top limb. When the biggest apples were in the top of the tree it caused a lot of good kids along the Holston River to visit Nannie's apple orchard and go wrong.

In the fall of the year or summer during apple season, the kids would gather around the house to get her to escort them to her apple trees. Each kid would spot a prize apple which would be out of reaching distance with the pole and would, therefore, have to let the apple hang until her store day and rock the apple from the top of the tree just as she topped the hill and was out of sight of home.

The best flavored apple was an Arkansas Black tree behind the smokehouse, but the only thing wrong with it was the chickens used the limbs for their roost. The kids solved the problem of Dominecker droppings by using a leaf from a nearby Pawpaw tree to wipe the apple clean as a whistle and ready to eat.

Nannie was always good to the kids and always wanted to prepare them something to eat. She would fry pancakes and make sugar syrup and melt old Cherry's butter over them. It seems the taste never goes away, and nothing tasted colder than a dipper of water that was toted up the hill to the shelf where her dog, Towser, could not reach it.

Towser, her dog, was her only companion. She loved him dearly and did not want anyone to speak harshly about him. He was a black and white spotted mongrel dog trimmed with cockle burrs. Where one saw Nannie, they would see Towser.

Nannie was never a wife or a mother, therefore, never a grandmother, but to the kids of her day that went through the apple orchard with her and who went Pawpaw and hickory nut and possum hunting with Nannie and ole Towser they think of her in memory still, and those that saw her along the way on her store trip and maybe received a stick of candy from her basket on the way home; but all the older people she visited back then have passed on and the kids that rocked her apple tree and ate her fried corn fritters and pancakes will never forget her. The kids, who are among the elderly now, seem to mention her name more often because it takes them back in time to their youth.

Nannie remembered everything Pap and Mother said and she loved to tell of life in her younger days. One of her favorite times was fishing when the river would be muddy. She would go with her cane pole or a long slim cedar pole to catch yellow cats with a line, sinker and hook. She would use plenty of worms that she would dig from under the Arkansas Black chicken roost tree. When the kids saw the river coming down muddy, they would gather their cane poles and a can of worms and head for the "Nannie Larkey" fishing place to join her and Towser. She would tell about Pap's fishing tale which went like this:

A fish's head is nine inches long. Its tail is as long as its head plus one half the length of its body. Its body is the length of its head and tail both. How long is the fish? It seemed back then it didn't have an answer, but it does. Work on it!!!

(Editor's Note... If any of you have figured this riddle out, write us with the answer. We will print the first one sent in.)

Nannie Larkey has long since gone and a way of life has vanished from us. She never held a national, state or county office and the only worldly title she ever obtained was that of housekeeper in the old log house with the dog trot which once was. All that remains today is a limestone, hand chiseled rock chimney and fireplace and enough logs and galvanized roofing which were salvaged to build a hog pen near the chimney as remembrance for the works and worldly possessions of the James C. Larkey family, and standing in the Gardner cemetery where Pap and Mother were laid to rest is a small marble headstone bearing the name of Nannie E. Larkey, born January 16, 1874, died Feb. 8, 1955. The deep, cold grave bears no flowers and to the younger generation it is just another headstone amid the many others who are laid to rest in the Gardner Cemetery.

Editor's Note... This story, like others you'll read in The Mountain Laurel, serve to remind us all that once a long time ago some special people touched a lot of lives in a quite and gentle way. We'd like to think that Nannie Larky would be proud to know that she is not forgotten and from the loving memories of lives she touched, readers across America were reminded of her and not only enjoyed but savored the memories.