The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Miz Sarah - 1863-1949

By Ivalien Hylton Belcher © 1986

Issue: March, 1986

Sarah Cockram French on her horse "Old Mae." Her daughter Alice is standing at right of house.Sarah Cockram French on her horse "Old Mae." Her daughter Alice is standing at right of house.Many times I stand on the mountain top and gaze into the valley below at a winding trail leading to the remains of a tiny log cabin. This cabin was the home of a real pioneer lady in the Blue Ridge, Sarah Cockram French. She came here from West Virginia and was commonly called "Miz Sarah" by everyone. She was a person with a lot of spirit. There's hardly a person in the Meadows of Dan area over the age of fifty who doesn't remember going to Miz Sarah's.

Miz Sarah and her daughter Alice lived in a beautiful valley about one and a half miles down the mountainside. Lordy! Was that winding path steep! I often wonder how those two ladies came out of there almost every day. In earlier days, they had a horse named "Old Mae" to ride. But after faithful Mae died, they had to go by foot.

I remember when I was a young girl that Miz Sarah and Alice stopped by my Grannie Dollie's house on their way to the store. It seems they went to the store just about every day. Both wore long dresses down to the tops of their shoes. Miz Sarah's skirts always made a rustling sound as she walked.

The mailman would put their mail in Grannie Dollie's box. When there was mail for Miz Sarah my dad or uncle would go over to the "Big Rock" at the top of the mountain and wave the letters. Then Miz Sarah knew to come and get the mail. That lady thought nothing of coming out of that mountain twice in one day if it was necessary.

Miz Sarah and Alice cracked walnuts, taking them to Vesta, and buying some material for Alice a dress. Miz Sarah sewed clothes by hand for herself and Alice.

Alice couldn't talk, but could do a lot of things. Miz Sarah could show Alice a poke salad leaf, and Alice could go pick the poke greens for a meal. The one thing that stands out in my mind is Alice's bark baskets. She would peel the bark off of trees and weave baskets. They were real sturdy and useful. Alice would roam the mountainside picking wild strawberries in her bark baskets. My dad said that Alice used to play hide and seek with them and hide so good that they couldn't find her and would get worried and get his mother, Grannie Dollie, to come help look for her.

Miz Sarah's home was a tiny log cabin with a separate kitchen The cracks were daubed with mud. It was always so dark inside, I could hardly see anything. They did all the cooking over the fireplace. The roof was wooden shingles. Now-a-days, that doesn't sound like much, but Miz Sarah was content with what she had. They kept a few chickens, sometimes a pig and always a milk cow.

What I always loved most was in the summer, about June, going cherry picking down at Miz Sarah's. My heart would quicken when Dad said, "Time to go pick cherries at Miz Sarah's." I'd grab my little Karo Syrup bucket and head down that winding path with Dad. Oh! It was so much fun going down. You had to hold to bushes and vines to keep from rolling down the mountainside.

Yes, it was fun going down, but coming up was a different story. By the time we got back up to the top, my legs would be so tired I could hardly go. But, it wasn't so bad after we got home with our cherries and Mom Gracie made a big cherry cobbler. There were some huge cherry trees down at Miz Sarah's - sweet red and black hearts. Dad would climb up into the trees to pick and I'd stand on the ground eating what I could reach. My hands and mouth would be all black from the black cherries. (Mom Gracie would nearly have a fit when I got home all stained up.)

Miz Sarah always came out to the tree to see that I didn't get too many free cherries. Back then you could get a gallon of cherries for a dime, but my dad always gave Miz Sarah a little something extra. She measured the cherries precisely and no one fooled Miz Sarah. That lady was sharp as a tack.

Miz Sarah never had a calendar in her cabin, yet she knew when it was preaching day at Conner's View Church and journeyed on up the mountain to attend services. I think everyday when she was out, Miz Sarah always asked someone what day it was.

Then one day, Miz Sarah didn't come out of the mountain. Neighbors knew something was wrong and went to check. Miz Sarah had suffered a stroke. The fire was out and Alice (probably in shock) was just sitting there. They brought Miz Sarah out from her beloved mountain and to the hospital, but it was too late for Miz Sarah. Never again would she come visiting on top of the mountain. After Miz Sarah's death, Alice had to go live in a home.

Now, Miz Sarah and Alice both are resting in the little cemetery behind Mountain View Methodist Church.

Miz Sarah was not one for complaining and carrying on. She took everything in stride and went on about her life and had a great love for the mountains.

Sometimes I stand on the mountain top and for a fleeting moment, I may see a sturdy figure moving about the cabin yard or a wisp of smoke coming from the chimney. Miz Sarah was a true pioneer of our Blue Ridge. I'm still amazed at how strong she was and the great courage shown.

In my family, there are two of Miz Sarah's personal possessions and we treasure them. Once she gave me a little porcelain doll about two inches tall. I gave it to my cousin Shirleen 40 years ago. Now, she has given it back to me. My mom has Miz Sarah's little half-gallon brown and white stone jar.

Yes, we have these treasures and a lot of memories of a real mountain lady.

Editor's Note: Little is known about Miz Sarah. She came from West Virginia and had a daughter, Cindy Branch, who was married and remained in West Virginia. Sarah also had a son who was killed in West Virginia when he was hit by a train. I am printing this post script in case there are relatives in West Virginia who may be looking for this "lost limb" on their family tree.