The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Little House on the Mountain - Part 4 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 © 1992

Issue: June, 1992

The following is an excerpt from the book, "Little House On The Mountain." It is a reminiscence of her childhood growing up in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia.

The faint light from the kerosene lamp shined through the tiny window and was somehow like a magnet that drew us to warmth and security; like a beacon sending out its rays through the darkness.

When we happened to be in the valley for any reason, we could always look up and see the light from the window telling us that someone was there waiting.

It was important to keep the lamp chimney or "globe" clean, and free from the black film that gathered on it. If the wick got charred it had to be trimmed so the flame would be even and not one-sided as it often became.

In the spring when days began to lengthen, the lamp was used less but in the fall and winter months, night came early and daylight came later so it was necessary to keep kerosene or "lamp-oil" as we called it, on hand, ready to pour from the spout of the oil can into the lamp or possum lantern.

Before day I would set the lamp on the floor so I could see to sweep under the beds with the homemade broom. Many trips, morning and night, the lamp was carried from front room to kitchen, from kitchen to front room, as it was needed.

The old possum lantern served many purposes. Of course it was carried on many hunting trips, or to the smokehouse for meat, or to visit our mountain neighbors, or to see what was causing the commotion among the chickens.

Sometimes if one of us went into the valley on an errand and decided to stay overnight, a little after dark we saw the light from the possum lantern swinging angrily and a walking cane keeping pace with our dad's brisk steps. He would pound on the door, call our name and yell, "You in there? Come out o' there and git home." Well, he'd fuss all the way up the mountain and we knew better than to sass him. He ran me in once that way calling me "young lady" and I knew he was mad. But I loved him and saw later the worry I had caused him.

"We've got to pick them beans tomorrow. You know better than to lay out that way," he'd say. And we learned better.

Once one of my two young brothers got it in mind to get him a goat to work. To haul wood with. So one rainy day he brought this rough looking billy-goat to the mountain thinking we'd all have some fun.

So here they came up the road, the old goat's ears flopping and both were soaking wet. He had walked a railroad about two miles and two more miles on the highway; then up the rocky mountain road about a mile and they were a sight to see.

My dad saw them through his little "specs" and it wasn't a warm welcome they got. Already in a bad humor he yelled, "Boy, you git that vulgar thang out o' here right now. Take him back where you got him!"

Disappointed and without a word my brother turned and started back down the road in the rain, pulling, jerking and coaxing the old billy-goat along by the rope he had him tied with. That settled the wood-hauling and all plans for the mountain goat.

Anyway, according to my brother not long after the goat was returned to his owner, he got hung in a fence by the rope and there he died. Poor fellow!

Papa always fattened some hogs to kill, about mid-November. One year he had five. Big ones too. The pen and a large lot fenced in, were in a nice shady plum thicket. The pretty white wild plum blossoms when in full bloom were beautiful and on warm spring days the breezes would carry their fragrance right to our door.

Carrying buckets of slop, arms full of corn and grain sacks full of weeds was a three-times-a-day job and I helped pull lots of the weeds too. When the weather was dry and hot we carried water to make a mud-hole for the hogs or pigs to wallow in.

On cold frosty mornings then, it was good to smell the fresh sausage frying or good streaked bacon. Sometimes we'd slice a big pork shoulder and fry a heaping platter full then make a good redeye gravy to sop a biscuit in.

Shucks! We didn't even know about calories and all that stuff. We just worked and played off all that energy and went back to the table for more.

Papa didn't care for us cutting the pork shoulder but the pretty hams hung in the smokehouse until he was ready to trade them for lard or fatback. It lasted longer that way, he said.

When we made biscuits, we didn't stir up the dough in a little bowl. Back then, we sifted flour from the big round sifter into the dishpan and made a "nest" in the flour for salt, soda, baking powder, (good old Clabber Girl baking powder), lard and buttermilk. Then we set to work with our hand, stirring and mixing and kneading the dough. Then we'd pinch off the dough into big "cat-head" biscuits and place them close together in the big breadpan. When browned and placed on the table, they disappeared in a hurry.

I helped my step-mother with the cooking when I was home but a big part of the time I stayed with my sisters, helping them with their families. When I was away, though, my thoughts were usually with the "little house on the mountain." A vivid picture of my cabin home haunted me anywhere I happened to be.

I had a sister living across the mountain in Kentucky. I spent many months with her and her husband. They had no children. They helped me to buy clothes and shoes and the necessary things a girl needs or wants.

One year I raised a pretty garden for them and once I sold a gallon of very pretty green beans for twenty cents. I raised corn, beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and much more. My garden was the talk of people passing by. I had learned to raise a garden from my dad.

My sister and I both liked music so we bought us a guitar apiece and began singing the old songs of the hills which at times made me very homesick and I would picture my dad going through all the hardships of mountain life and when we sang, "That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine," my heart ached when we sang the words of the chorus, "If I could recall all the heartaches, dear old daddy I've caused you to bear..."

We began to be invited out to parties or just singing in someone's home and we finally joined a group that played music on stage for the theatre there in that little Kentucky town. The music and singing could be heard all over town from the public address system and folks gathered on the streets to listen to our program, then they would buy their ten cent ticket and attend the movie.

We were encouraged once, my sister and I, to appear on an amateur program at WLW in Cincinnati and we made the trip just to sing two songs. One was, "My Old Pal of Yesterday." I forget what the other was. While there we talked with some of the station's great performers, among them Merle Travis. He was a young man at that time.