The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Grandma and Grandpa Clark

By Kay C. Bradford © 1984

Issue: August, 1984

Thomas F. Clark was born August 4, 1860 in the isolated mountains of Western North Carolina, in what is now Avery County, near a rambling waterway called Harper's Creek. The beautiful mountains and rolling hills sheltered the hardy souls who settled in the valleys and misty shadowed hollows.

Thomas married Susan Braswell around the year 1880. He built a cabin for his bride near his homeplace in the vicinity of Harper's Creek. The cabin has long since rotted away, leaving nothing to mark the spot except an old apple tree that at one time graced their front yard. The spring is still there, and its water is cold and refreshing as it emerges from the earth at the foot of a huge spruce. The overflow bubbles its way into a crystal stream which is only about eighteen inches in width. From there it winds down the valley to become part of the larger waters of Harper's Creek.

When grandma and grandpa began housekeeping, their luxuries were few. They lived off of what their hands could wrestle from the soil and from what grandpa hunted in the forest. They found enjoyment in simple things. In later life grandma would tell of a night in her long ago past; A group of men from the settlement gathered at dusk at the top of a nearby ridge. When darkness had fallen, they lighted pine torches that they carried. Slowly, the line of men marched down the ridge, through the valleys and hollows, then back to the top of the mountain. Grandma would tell of the beauty of the moving lights. The "parade" was staged for the sole purpose of entertaining those who watched from the settlement. Their mission was a success, because Grandma, who lived to be 84 years old, never forgot the sight of all those lights moving through the hills.

Mountain people had simple desires and did not demand much in the way of necessities. But it wasn't TOO much to ask for a soft, comfortable bed. For quite a while they were content with their mattress made of straw. But the time came that they were determined to own what was at that time the ultimate in mattresses - a feather bed.

One day Grandpa Clark set out for Collettsville. Today, Collettsville (located in Caldwell County) is a lovely little community near the banks of John's River. In Grandpa's day, it was probably no larger than most mountain communities, except it boasted a general store.

For him to travel from Harper's Creek to Collettsville, was a journey that would take two days. One day to get there and spend the night and another to make the return trip. By modern methods the way is long. Though the road is in good condition it is a narrow, unpaved, curving, twisting country road that winds through the small communities of Mortimer and Edgemont. One section of the road is called, "Stair-Case Mountain", and is as steep as the name implies.

Grandpa traveled on foot, following a mountain trail through tangles of mountain laurel and other mountain greenery. I do not know how many miles his trek entailed as the "crow flies." Most probably it was shorter than following the roadway as it is today. Upon arriving in Collettsville, he hired a lady, Mrs. Eber Gragg, to construct a feather bed. In your mind's eye picture a giant pillow, large enough to fill the frame of a double bed and you will have a good idea what a feather mattress looks like. Mrs. Gragg started from scratch; making the tick from heavy material. After it was sewn in the desired shape, she filled it with duck or geese feathers, perhaps a mixture of the two. The mattress was assembled and after passing the night there, Grandpa hoisted the bedding upon his back and turned his feet in the direction of Harper's Creek. If making the trip down was difficult, you can imagine how hard the return journey must have been. The landscape was to his disadvantage on the return home, being uphill a good deal of the way. Grandpa probably did not give it a second thought. In those days whatever needed doing, you did it!

It would seem an easy task shouldering a "bundle" of feathers. In reality, as the miles trailed behind him, I am convinced that his precious burden weighted heavily upon his back.

This story has no catchy ending. Grandpa arrived at his cabin safely, and in my imagination I can see the proud and happy look on his face as he presented grandma with, what to them, must have been a treasure. I can fancy how she must have run her fingers over their downy, new bed and smiled.