The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

My Life At Woolwine, Virginia

By Nancy B. Collins © 1986

Issue: April, 1986

Many years ago I lived at a place near Woolwine, Virginia, at my grandfather's home. This was a beautiful old place. The house was an old log house. Not the finest, but it was home for a while.

Many things happened while we lived there that I shall always remember. I believe it was the year 1909 that Halley's comet was visible for about a month. There was a large family of us and we would all get up early, before daylight, and go out to see the Great Star with a long blaze behind it. This did not mean much to me then, but since I grew up, I realize that it was a wonderful thing to see.

One evening just about dark, we were all sitting out in the yard. We heard a noise out on the ridge near the house that sounded like someone was badly hurt. Mom and Dad went out through the corn field and found a young man that had fallen from the old wagon road that went around the ridge above the house. He was so drunk he did not know he had fallen so far.

My daddy stayed with him while Mama came back to the house and got a pan of water and some rags. They cleaned him up and brought him to the house and made a pallet for him on the floor, as we did not have a spare bed.

We children were all afraid of a drunk man and I did not sleep any all night. The next morning my dad put him on an old horse and sent him home. He was from a nice family. They did not say much about it. His mother had looked after my mother when her baby was born. Mom named the baby after his mother and there was a sort of bond of friendship between the families.

In a few days, the young man came back and brought the horse and thanked Mom and Dad for looking after him while he was out. At that time, I did not understand how sick a drunk person really could be, but later I found out, as some of my people were drinking people.

I had an uncle that was almost impossible to get along with when he was sober, but when he got to drinking, not even the old devil could stand him. He was mad at just about everyone, but some turned him around a bit. He got loaded on some poison bootleg liquor and almost died. He sent for my dad to come and see him, as he wanted to make up with him. In a few days, my dad went over to see him and before Dad got to the house, my uncle met him out at the drawbars and kissed my dad through the fence and said he need not come in, he was all right. I don't remember how long he stayed all right.

Grandmother was getting old, but her mind was good. She would tell us some wonderful stories. She told us about a place called Snell Hollow. She said that everyone thought it was haunted. She said on old slave that had been freed once lived in that hollow. His name was Snell. Grandma said when he was freed, his master gave him a bit of land and helped him build a cabin to live in and also gave him a cow and some other things to start out living on his own. He had 10 children and would need all the help he could get.

Seemed things went all right for a while. Then the man's wife died and he could not go on without her help. So he killed all 10 of his children, then killed himself. Grandma said it was told that the old man Snell cut the children's heads off with an ax. She said no one ever went over the ridge to Snell's Hollow as they believed it was haunted. She also said that most of the time there was a soft south wind that blew and if you would be real quiet, you could hear sounds of children laughing and playing and sometimes you could hear a woman singing old spiritual songs and sounds like someone cutting wood with an ax. Nightingales could be heard there at night and Whippoorwills could be heard. Grandma said it was a peaceful place. No one had ever been hurt going around there as she knew of. She said someone reported they had seen lights where the old house had been.

One morning my dad said he would like to go over there and asked if anyone would like to go with him. At first we all said no, we were afraid of ghosts. He finally talked us into going, at least some of us. I went and two of my sisters older than me went. It took us about half a day to get there, as we had to go up a long trail that was very rough, that no one hardly traveled. When we got to the top of the ridge, we stopped and ate a picnic lunch that Mom had made for us. She had fried a little chicken and made some dried fried apple pies and some ginger bread and sent a jug of cider. After we ate, we went on down about two miles into the Snell Hollow.

It took a while to find anything to bear out the story that Grandma had told us, but finally we found two old chimneys and there were some straggly old rose bushes and an old lilac bush near the old chimneys. Then we walked out through the thickly grown up bushes and weeds and saw an old grave yard with some rocks stuck up in the ground for head stones. We could not tell how many there might have been, as some of them had fallen down. We were kinda sad as we realized the story might have been true, not just a ghost story.

We did not listen to the wind to see if it was making strange sounds, as it was getting late and we wanted to get away from there before dark. We did go on out near the woods and found some old apple trees that had just about fallen down. The trees had a few apples on them and they were the biggest apples I had ever seen. They were real green all over. My dad said they called them Pippins. He said they had some a long time ago, but they had run out, whatever that meant.

We went on back home, but did not get there until after dark. We really had something to talk about. Grandma said she had always wanted to go over there. We asked her why she did not go sometime and she said, "I am even afraid of a cricket" and that was no place for her.

My dad stayed on at Grandma's house until he mended all the people's eye glasses in that part of the country. Then we would move in another part of the country and do the same thing over. He sold and fit people's glasses almost like today. All the training he had was from a mail order house in Chicago. He had good equipment and could do a good job. He did not make much money. A good pair of glasses with gold frames sold for around $2.98. Most of the time people would buy glasses made out of pewter for about a dollar. All they wanted was to see better.

Sometimes people would get something in their eyes and they would come to him for him to get it out. He kept some horse hair sterilized and cut in small lengths. With this, he made a loop and put some eye drops on it and run it around under the eye lid and most of the time he could get it out.

These are things I remember about living at Grandma's house near Woolwine, Virginia.