The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Mountain Memories Of Grandma, Part 1 of 2

By Vada Vaughn Hylton © 1984

Issue: November, 1984

mountain memories of grandma 1Grandma Harmon seated at her loom with her spinning wheel sitting near by. To her left are two of her children Lola and Posey Harmon.Mary Elizabeth Slusher Harmon was the daughter of Captain Henry Slusher (who was in the infantry, fought in the Civil War and was taken prisoner in Delaware) and Nancy Harter Slusher. They had 3 daughters and one son. Mary Elizabeth was born August 3, 1856 and married Jeremiah (Jerry) Harmon on December 25, 1879. They had 3 sons and 2 daughters. The youngest, my mother, was not quite five years old when her father died. He had diphtheria, quinsy [an early term for tonsillitis, according to Webster's Dictionary], and took blood poison. Dr. Jake Harmon, his cousin and friend, was his doctor. Now this was before antitoxin was sold to doctors in Floyd County [Virginia]. Grandma was sick in bed in another room. She said she knew, "He was not going to get well" when she overheard Doctor Jake say, "Jerry, I am so sorry, so sorry." Before Jake told her, he went outside and cried like a baby. Doctor Jake told her, "Mary, you can do the work and manage things if anyone can." Grandpa talked to her too. He said, "Mary, you can manage. I know you will." This helped to make her more determined to do just that, and she did. Grandma was 10 months older than Grandpa and he always trusted her judgment on business matters. Grandpa died on January 3, 1886.

Grandma and all the children had to work real hard to keep the family together. One of Grandpa's brothers was real good to help advise about the farm. He was Dennis (Den) Harmon. Mother said he was more like a father to her and the only one she could remember.

mountain memories of grandma 2Grandma Harmon's house in 1912. Vada Vaughn Hylton is baby held by her mother. Grandma Mary Elizabeth Slusher Harmon (1856-1938) stands at right. On porch is great-grandmother, Nancy Harter Slusher (1833-1922).Grandma and the children had a good orchard with many different kinds of fruit. She had a dry kiln. They dried apples to eat and sell at the store to buy things they could not grow on the farm. They dried peaches, plums and cherries also. They had to dry vegetables and everything to eat during the winter. That was before glass canning jars were plentiful around here to buy. They had cows, hogs and chickens and had to raise all the feed for the animals as well as the family. They planted corn and all kinds of grain for this.

Grandma churned the cream and sold butter at the store and to anyone who wanted to buy it. People soon learned how good the butter was. She was always careful not to let the cream get too sour and sure all the buttermilk was washed out. She used the milk to make cheese also. She put something in the sweet milk to turn it. Sounded like she said "rennet", whatever that was. [Rennet is a chemical from a cow's stomach that is used in making cheese.] She put it on the stove and let the milk get warm, not too hot, took the cheese out and put it in a cheese press. When it was dry or aged, she sold it at the store too. She did this in my time, but she had been doing the same job all the past years. No wonder it was so good, for she knew how to make it right. She was the best cook I have ever known. If it was made by my grandma, it was good. I wish I had asked her more how she made things and had her to make me a cook book, but that might have been a job. She did not have a cook book or never measured things with a measuring cup. She made the best sugar cookies I have ever eaten. I'm sure all her older grandchildren will remember how good they were. All the neighborhood children soon learned this too, and all they had to do was clean their shoes before coming in her porch and house. She never failed to tell all of us to clean our shoes.

Grandma planted flax and had a hackle to break the flax. She had a big spinning wheel and made nice linen thread to weave on her loom. She wove nice material to use for table cloths and everything she needed. She wove pretty bed spreads, some with designs. She also wove carpet by the yards and yards. All people then kept their old clothes and cut them up in strips about 3/4 or one inch wide. They sewed the ends of the strips together to make long strips. If the material was faded it was dyed pretty colors and then wound into a ball. She made carpet out of this. She made carpet to cover the living room and bedroom floors downstairs. I remember her having pretty wall paper in those two rooms too. Upstairs, over these rooms, was a large bedroom. The best I can remember, there were 6 to 8 beds in it. When the carpet was about a year or two old, she moved it upstairs to the bedrooms, after she had made new for down stairs.

She had another bedroom over the kitchen and dining room with another set of stairs to go up from a little hall in the dining room. The boys and men slept in this room where there were four or more beds. Grandma had feather ticks for all her beds. She wove yarn blankets and coverlids and made many, many pretty quilts from new scraps. Most were pieces given to her, for people knew she would use them.

Grandma was always busy knitting cotton lace for pillowcases. Some lace was five or six inches wide. I have some bought at her sale and some she knitted for mother. She also knitted lace for table cloths and such.

Grandma bought a new sewing machine, the first one shipped to Willis to Mr. Henry or Pete Willis's Store. She was a self taught seamstress. Most of her sewing work at first was for kin people. Soon she was making clothes for many others. She made suits for men and boys and dresses for their wives and daughters. At first she had to weave the material on her loom. I'm sure she was paid for her work, but very little.

Most homes had a spinning wheel and loom, but not everyone knew how to use them. Grandma would go to people's homes and try to teach them how to spin and weave. She worked real hard and was never idle.

When Sunday came, Grandma was up early and went to church. She was a primitive Baptist, but no one could call her a hard shell. She went to other churches and took her children and later her grandchildren. She said to me, "Always be a good girl so people can't say there goes a bad girl." She just talked, never lectured. She said "Never write anything in a letter or on paper that you would be ashamed to have read in church or a court room full of people." When I went to high school, our fourth year English and History teacher, Miss Pattie Mae Smith told her class the very same thing. I just said to myself my grandma told me that years ago and she never even went to high school. While working together, she just talked and I listened.

Grandma kept her loom in the dining room when the weather was cool and moved it out to the big wood house during warm weather where it was cool and light to work. How I wish I had that loom now, but it was burned in a home after it was bought at her sale. Her pretty cook stove was destroyed in the same fire.

Continued Next Month