The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Summer In The John Hayes Hollow

By Hazel P. Hedrick © 1984

Issue: July, 1984

....I remember climbing to the top of the mountains that surrounded the John Hayes Hollow on a warm spring morning to plant corn and peas.

We would get out of bed at dawn, do all the chores early and start climbing the mountain around sun up. Daddy would lay off rows with the mule drawn plow all day long. One of the kids would drop corn, another would drop peas and Mom would cover it with a hoe. Daddy could not cover it with the plow. There was too many rocks. My uncle once said our fields were two rocks to every one dirt, which seemed to be true. And you knew you had done a day's work when you beat those rocks with a hoe all day, trying to find enough dirt to cover a few grains of corn and peas.

It would take the better part of a week for us to get our mountain fields planted. All the fields were named. One was the "cherry tree" piece. Then there was the "spanish needle" patch, the "peach tree" field, the "blackberry" patch, the "Martha new ground", the "tedder bottom", "the old Vern orchard", and so on. We knew every field by name, so when Dad said, "We'll plant the cherry tree piece first." We knew exactly which mountain to climb. If Dad was going to work in a field by himself, Mom always knew where to look for him if something went wrong.

When the corn started to come through the ground, the crows moved in by the droves. We could hear them hollering at day break and most of the time Dad could tell which field they were in. Some times they would pull up and eat half the corn. Dad would take his old shot gun and fire it off at them a few times. If he was lucky enough to kill a few, he could hang them on a pole in the field and scare the crows off for a while. Once the corn got up a couple or three inches tall, the crows didn't bother it so much.

When the ground was too wet to plant, we would take sticks and a pocketful of seed corn and replant by poking a hole and dropping in two grains of corn every where the crows pulled it up. Sometimes we would have to replant two or three times.

There was a huge sweet cherry tree on the edge of one corn field. It would be overloaded with cherries every year. There was enough for us and the birds and some times people from town would come for cherries. Dad would never charge for the cherries. Sometimes he would even help them pick. He said, "God gave them to us. Why should we not share them with others?" That was my dad - he would have given the shirt off his back had someone been in need of a shirt.

The city people didn't realize what they were doing when they would break huge branches of cherries off to carry home and show their friends. The tree finally died. All around the edge of that cherry tree field were black raspberries. We would eat until our hands and mouth was black and our stomachs wouldn't hold one more berry.

Mom would take the baby and leave the field around eleven o'clock to go to the house and move the cows and water them and cook our lunch. In about an hour we would hear Mom yell, "Dinner's ready!" We would stand our hoes up and head down the mountain. We were never allowed to lay a hoe down in the field. We had to stand them up so if it rained, the handles would not be dirty and so we could find them fast when we came back.

Sometimes when dewberries were ripe, we would take off our straw hats, line them well with green poplar leaves and pick them full of berries. Then Mom would make a big dewberry cobbler pie for supper. Now that was good eating. She would put those berries in a huge baking pan, add a little water and sprinkle with sugar. Then she'd cover the top with buttermilk biscuit dough and sprinkle the top with butter and more sugar. Serve this hot with fresh cream and there is no desert today that can come close to comparing with it. Mom's sweet potato cobbler pie topped all others.

One of our corn fields on top of the mountain had three or four peach trees. They were little white freestone peaches and so good. There are no peaches anywhere today that looks or tastes like them. We kids would climb the mountain, pick the peaches and carry them to the house for Mom to can. She would can most of them whole, pealing on and they were really delicious come winter snowflakes. Around the edge of one field was wild blackberries as big as my thumb. Mom would wrap us up good, give us buckets and send us off with the dog to pick blackberries. The dog was to go on ahead and scare out any snakes that might be eating berries or sunning on a rock. We'd fill our buckets and our stomachs.

In those days, fruit grew wild and plentiful and it was all organic. Sometimes one of the big stores down town would bring a canner and a load of tin cans and come out there in the mountains and find someone to can blackberries for them. My dad took on that job one summer. We needed the money. We kids and neighbor kids picked the berries for 1/2 cent per can. For 1 1/2 or 2 cents per can, Mom and Dad had to look over all those berries to make sure there was no trash or bugs in them, wash the berries, fill all the cans, fill the cans with boiling water, seal the cans, then boil them in boiling water for a long while. It was hard and tedious work for little pay.

Mama saved her own seed every year and she always had enough to share with a neighbor who for one reason or another might be short of seed come planting time.

We always have a family reunion each summer and invite all the Parkers and their friends and neighbors to the Brushy Mountain Community House in Wilkes County, North Carolina. It isn't far from the John Hayes Hollow and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some of the family just drive up for the day, others go camping for the weekend. The fresh clean air refreshes our lungs and blows the cow-webs out of our brains. It is a beautiful, wonderful place to visit and just as wonderful a place to live.