The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

John Hayes Hollow - Brushy Mountain Memories

By Hazel P. Hedrick © 1984

Issue: September, 1984

It'll soon be fall in the John Hayes Hollow. Since I was born in the John Hayes Hollow, I never realized or even thought about how beautiful that place was - just a little valley at the foot of towering [Brushy] mountains on all sides with a rippling stream running along one side. There was only one way out of the hollow (if you didn't want to climb a mountain) and that was to follow the stream.

There was a narrow wagon road following the stream. The first house down the road 1/2 mile from ours was another log cabin. My daddy's oldest brother, his wife and daughter lived there. Another half mile farther on was Grandpa's, my daddy's father, and his youngest brother. There was the main road which went over the mountain and to town, which was ten or fifteen miles away.

I had heard my elders speak of town and wondered what is town? I knew it was a place where Daddy went to get us new shoes for school in the fall if he had the money. If he didn't have money, he just patched up last winter's shoes and we made do.

There was a long gray stone on the bank behind the chicken house. When my chores were all done in the evening, if I had a few minutes before darkness fell over the hollow, I would go sit on that big rock with my arms hugging my legs and my chin on my knees, and dream about what lay on the other side of those mountains. I knew what was on top of most of the surrounding mountains, but what was far off on the other side, I had no idea.

On top of one mountain was our fields. From there we could see the top of another where lived our "big shot" friends who had electric lights and a radio. They would let us come sit and listen to the "Grand Ole Opry" Saturday nights. Boy, what a treat that was. Daddy had to walk with us and carry a lantern so we could find our way through the woods. There was only a path, no road at all. And of course, we had to be careful for snakes. Not even poisonous snakes could mar our delight when Daddy said, "Let's go." The Grand Old Opry was unreal. We sat there still and quiet. No matter how much static there was on the radio, we loved it.

Our home was a two room cabin with a rock chimney between the rooms and a fireplace in both rooms. It was more like two log cabins put together with a chimney. They were called the kitchen and the big house. We had three beds and a baby bed in the big house. That didn't leave room for much else, except 6 or 8 cane bottom straight chairs and one rocking chair. The only other piece of furniture was a small table with a drawer where all important papers were kept. We kids were not allowed to open that drawer. But, on top of that table lay a Bible, beside the Bible sat one oil lamp. We kids could look at that Bible any time we wanted if our hands were clean and if we didn't fuss. We spent many rainy day hours looking at that Bible and asking our parents questions.

In the kitchen (which was the smaller of the two log cabins) was a big black cupboard with doors. It stood from floor to ceiling and held our herbs and medicines in the top part. We kids were not to open these doors, but I did one day when Mama was in the field with Daddy and I was looking after the other kids. I found a bottle of vanilla flavoring and got the lid off of it. It smelled so good I wanted to drink it, but I knew my brother would tell on me. I had to get him to drink some first. I can't remember how I conned him into it, but he took a whole teaspoon full at one gulp. It nearly strangled him to death. I was scared so bad I forgot to put the lid back on the bottle and put it back where I found it. By the time Mama and Daddy came in from the field, my brother was feeling better, but he smelled like vanilla and that led Mom to the cupboard. Guess who got the switch used on her legs? No way I could get out of that one.

Behind the front door to the kitchen was a chest we called the "meal chest." It held the flour, corn meal, eggs, dried fruit and Santa Claus, come winter. We could play on that chest, but not in it. Once I let my baby brother jump off of it while I held on to his hands. He was not yet three years old. It hurt his back or his legs somehow. He didn't cry, but he didn't walk for several days. I was so scared he might not ever walk again, but he did.

In the corner behind the back door and beside the big fireplace was a little four eye, wood cook stove, with the oven under the fire box. In the middle of the floor was a long table with a homemade bench behind it. That was the happy place. When the family gathered round that table, Daddy didn't allow any fussing or fighting. We had to be nice and eat all that was on our plate. We were never allowed to waste any food.

Most mountain people know what those old log cabins looked like on the inside, just about the same as the outside and they were cold in the wintertime. Sometimes we had to wear our coats while sitting by the fire.

A big shot neighbor from the top of the mountain once gave us a load of old newspapers and magazines. Mama got a brainstorm that fall. She decided we would wall paper our kitchen with these old magazines. She made a paste of flour and water cooked just right and we went to work. First we had to wipe off all the dust and ashes, then we started pasting up papers. Believe it or not, it not only kept out a lot of cold, it made the room look cleaner and brighter. We were delighted with our wallpaper job.

The next time the lady gave us some newspapers and magazines, we could look at and read them, but we had to keep them neat and clean because each fall we would re-paper if we had enough paper. It was a fun job, one we all looked forward to. Then we could read and re-read the walls all winter long.