The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

You Can Go Home Again to John Hayes Hollow

By Hazel P. Hedrick © 1984

Issue: October, 1984

From 64 back to 6 years old is a long and tiring trip for just one day, and it is very rare that a family of six brothers and sisters between 55 and 65 years of age are able to get together for a reunion and a trip back to their school days. But, that is just what my brothers, sisters and I did (with the exception of my oldest brother who was in Europe).

We gathered to attend the reunion of the one room school we had attended. The school's name was Piney Grove and it was where all my brothers and sisters and I got our formal education. Nearby, was the Bethany Baptist Church where we went to Sunday School and Preaching. Both the school and church building are long gone but the grave yard is still there and a picnic shelter has been built where the church once stood. That picnic shelter is where our reunion was held.

About 2:00 in the afternoon, my sisters and brothers and I decided to try and find the old school house place. We knew the general direction because of the path we used to go through the woods. About an hour later we found the stone pillars on which the school house sat. The only other thing we found was a big oak tree that used to be "first base." It was wonderful romping through those woods with the same kids I had walked to school with so many years ago. I was the oldest and expected to look after the others.

We found the "slick rocks", which crossed our path. I wasn't supposed to let any of the kids walk across those rocks when they had ice on them (which was most of the winter) for fear we would fall and break a leg or arm and this was almost four miles from home.

I came away without a rock or token of the old school. I don't need anything to remember that old place by. I have a picture in my mind that will never go away as long as I live and have my health. That memory may fade or get pushed aside now and then, but I'll always have that mental picture of the Piney Grove School and the playground where I spent so many happy years.

From 64 to 6 years old is a long way to travel in just one day, especially running backwards. When the school reunion was over and everyone had loaded up their picnic baskets, coolers and memories and headed for home, my husband, two sisters, two brothers and I decided we were not ready to go home yet. We drove about a mile down the mountain to where my Grandad Parker used to live.

The old log house he reared his family in is still there. It has been remodeled inside and out. Daddy's youngest brother's wife and son still lives there.

The stream that tumbled over the rocks between the house where I was reared and the spring where we got our drinking water runs into a larger stream right in front of my Grandad’s old home. The only way to get into the John Hayes Hollow now is by following that stream or hacking your own trail across the Vern Mountain. We decided to follow the stream, the exact path we used to travel when we would go to the store for coffee, soda and salt, or to granddad’s house for watermelon or apple cider.

Grandad’s old barn is still standing and as we came closer to it, my brother stopped and said, "Be quiet and listen. What do you hear? Does anyone hear the same thing I do? I hear Grandad's little cough and when Grandad heard us he would say, 'Come on in here, Chaps. I'll give you some cider.'" We would have a drink of fresh made apple cider from an old tin cup.

We walked on up the hillside back of the old barn to an old road bed. It was no more than a gully filled with rocks and roots and over grown with trees and berries. We made our way through the berry vines, wading through mud and stepping over the rocks, remembering. Remembering carrying an old fat hen to the store to exchange for coffee or oil for our lamps. Or, corn and rye to the mill to be ground for bread and pig food. Or, to work in the tobacco fields. In those days, we wormed and suckered tobacco by hand. My sister remembered us giving our baby brother the long tobacco worms to play with and one day, he decided to eat one. Mom found out and really got on our case!

There was only one house between Grandad's and ours. Our uncle lived in it with his wife and one daughter. It was just a one room log cabin sitting up on rock pillars with a lean-to on the back side for a kitchen. I remember there was a nail keg hen's nest on each side of the rock chimney and the chickens roosted in the trees around the house in summer and under the house in winter. We tried to find the spot where that house stood but the only sign we could find that anything was ever there were some raspberry vines.

We walked on around a bend in the road and there was a huge white rock covered with moss and a stump of a huge pine tree. It marked the spot where Daddy would always blow his whistle when he was coming home from anywhere. We would all run to meet him to see if he had brought us a soda cracker or a candy kiss. Most of the time he didn't, but once in a while, we would get a treat. My brothers, sisters and I rested here and remembered, then walked on.

Everything looked so familiar now, even the rocks in the creek. I pulled off my shoes and waded in the creek just like when I was a little girl, walking this road with bare feet. My sister started pulling small flowers, to take home to plant in her flower garden, the rest of us started eating blackberries, picking daisies and drinking water from a little stream that came out of the mountain above the road.

First we came to the old tobacco barn. The roof and lean-to were fallen in, but the old log barn and the furnace was still standing just like it was 50 years ago. A little further up, beyond the gully and below what used to be a road, was the pack house our daddy built with his own two hands. He cut the logs, notched them and put them up all by himself. We didn't get too close for fear of snakes, but it sure brought back memories. How many times we helped our parents grade and pack and unpack tobacco, getting it ready for market! Just below that pack house was the pig pen our older brother got under the first time we ever heard an airplane go over.

A little further up the road we spotted the huge hemlock tree that stood in our backyard. The huge walnut tree that shaded our front yard and furnished us with nuts to crack and sell to buy Christmas goodies was gone. Someone had the nerve to cut that big tree down. Nothing is left of it now except a rotten stump.

We left the roadbed here and made our way through the hemlocks, blackberries and brambles and honeysuckles to find the old house our daddy had built for us.

Through the trees we could see the old log house where we lived before Daddy built us a six room house with a porch on each side. It had a living room, dining room and kitchen downstairs then two little bedrooms upstairs - just room enough for one bed in each. Three girls slept in one bed and three boys in the other room. We didn't need closets because we only had two outfits. We wore one set of clothes while the other was being washed. We didn't need cabinets because we only had the dishes we used three times a day. There was no ceiling in the house, just the floor upstairs, which was rough boards. There were some rough walls around Mom and Daddy's bedroom, no doors except a front and back one. But, there were some real windows with real glass in them that could be opened or closed. We were so proud of the house our Daddy built and the board roof Grandpa helped make the boards for.

The only remainder of that house now is a pile of rotting boards and rusting nails. But the old rock chimney is still standing. We stood in what used to be the front yard and looked at the heap of rotting boards and remembered how we used to play hide and seek after our chores were all done in the evening. We looked at the mountains all around us and wondered how we had enough energy to hoe corn after climbing to the fields on top of them.

Finally, we walked on up the old road bed along the creek. We were getting tired now and the mountain climbing was making us breathe hard. We kept going and kidded each other about who would fall out first.

We crossed the old road and went down a hill through a cow pasture, crawling through an electric fence. We were almost back to civilization now. My sister's husband met us in an old pickup truck. We all piled in gladly. He turned and started back up the mountain.

From 64 to 6 years old was a long hard trip for one day, but that was a day I wouldn't trade for a million dollars and a day I will cherish for the rest of my life.