The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Place On Peters Creek and Beyond, Part 7 of 8

By William J. Sowder © 1992

Issue: June, 1992

"Through The Eyes Of A Young Boy and The Heart Of An Old Man"

Nannie was a fresh air fiend. She hated cabin fever, and one way she defeated it was spring cleaning. Along about the time all outdoors was about to burst into life, out came buckets, brooms, mops, and the clean smell of furniture polish and Johnson Wax. She would begin upstairs in the room she and Grandpa shared. Off came the bed clothes and mattresses which were taken out of doors for an all-day airing. Then the handsome brass bed was given a gleaming polish along with the other furniture. The other three bedrooms were given the same treatment.

Then the staircase. It looked and acted like it had been there a hundred years. It creaked like an old maid and in the winter complained bitterly about the cold weather; it grated, it grafted, it grumbled. It tried to climb itself, when the wind blew, it was joined by the window shutters banging against the sides, squeaking and chattering like they had gone crazy. The tin roof, which in the spring rains gave soothing recitals, now rumbled and moaned like it was on the verge of blowing away. On these nights Bobby and I spent most of the time in the center of the bed.

It was the parlor, the showcase of the house, that got the most attention. It was an attractive room, almost elegant. In keeping with the times it was as hard to get into as Fort Knox. Nannie kept watch on it night and day. To her it was a fine way to preserve the best to be passed on to those who followed. It was, then, a room open only to high company - the pastor, county officials, and prominent neighbors whose names go back far in the annals of county history: Bondurants, Sommardahls, Furrows. Reluctantly, Nannie made an exception for the young blades courting the girls.

In the room too, were a large wood-burning stove and a comfortable davenport along with several side chairs and a fine combination desk and bookcase. On the floor were several scatter rugs which showed off the beautiful wide pine floor. There was also a Howard upright piano. Mama was the only one who learned to play it well, and sometimes she and my father would give little impromptu concerts. He had a nice tenor voice that blended well with mama's low soprano. They would sing the popular tunes of the day, "Always," Remember," I Love You Truly," "Love's Old Sweet Song," Then the audience, who had been humming along, would join in with "Carry Me Back To Old Virginny," "I Been Working On The Railroad," and Sweet Adaline," with all kinds of modifications. Then came "Old McDonald Had A Farm," clucking, crowing, mooing, braying, neighing, on and on. We would end with hymns with Nannie leading the way, "Beulah Land," "Jesus Loves Me," "Onward Christian Soldiers," and ending on a slow meditative note; "Sweet Hour of Prayer," "Amazing Grace," "The Old Rugged Cross." And last, "Home Sweet Home."

In the exact center of the south wall of the parlor there was a portrait. It dominated the room. It was Pine's idealized portrait of General Robert E. Lee. It was encased in a beautiful gold leaf frame. It was also exactly right for this Virginia parlor and the people in it who idolized him and what he stood for, for Pine focuses on Lee's spiritual life - the high noble forehead, the open countenance, and above all the tired, tragic eyes that had witnessed hell on earth and yet able to see clearly where the solution for his people lay; Go home, he advised his crushed army at Appomattox. Go back to the land. It will save you. And it did.

Most of the furniture in the house was bought on time from Thurman and Boone. They were find folks to deal with. Every two or three weeks Mr. Thurman would come by to collect and Nannie would go to the old cracked china sugar bowl with only one handle and take from it three or four crumbled dollar bills and give them to him. Sometimes she wouldn't have even one. On these occasions she would head for the back door and instruct one of the children to tell Mr. Thurman she had just stepped out. He would smile and say that he would come back another, more convenient time.

The room Nannie stepped out of was the one I loved the best; the big, spacious country kitchen with its well stocked pantry. There was a large iron stove that furnished all kinds of places to cook mountains of food and then keep it warm. There was a sizable white enameled cabinet with room enough to furnish a small restaurant. There was also a pie chest with twin tin doors. In the center of the kitchen was a solid oak table with fluted legs and a set of matching chairs. The table could be extended to seat eight as easily as it could seat four. Here the children milled about, did their school homework - all lighted by large kerosene lamps attached to the walls. It was where they were greased with Vicks salve before going to bed, played checkers and dominos, played with dolls, almost never cried, and laughed often. A happy home.