The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Mama's Snuff

By Laverne Sutton © 1984

Issue: September, 1984

(The following story was told to me by an 82 year old lady who grew up in the [Blue Ridge] mountains around Galax, Virginia, now living in Greensboro, North Carolina.)

"My daddy had two families. There were seven of us younguns all together. The first ones were all grown and left home when Daddy married my ma. There were three of us. I was the oldest, then there was my sister, and baby brother.

I don't know how my ma got everything done that she had to do. All our meals was cooked on a wood stove, or the fireplace. Ma had a big iron pot she hung on a hook in the fireplace and an iron pot with a handle like a frying pan she made bread in. It stood on three little legs and had a lid. She'd rake hot coals out on the hearth, set the pot on the coals, then rake hot coals over the lid. That was the best bread. Ma made her own yeast from potatoes and lye from ashes.

She done all the sewing. I wore many a pair of flour sack bloomers. She braided rugs too.

Us younguns picked berries and apples during the summer. These were dried and stored in the cellar for winter. Lord! I sliced many a apple for drying.

She made cheese and butter and put it in the cellar for when the cow went dry. All the vegetables in the garden she canned. What couldn't be canned, she stored in the cellar. There was sassafras root tea and tea she made from a leaf, I forgot the name.

Every fall Daddy killed a hog. What wasn't smoked, Ma canned, made sausage, hoghead cheese, cracklin's, lard...Nothing was thrown away.

Nothing was bought from the store except flour, a little white sugar and Ma's snuff. Ma had to have her snuff. She kept the little box setting on the window sill in the kitchen. I can't remember seeing Ma without her snuff. She'd send me to the store with a basket of eggs, I hated that. It was three miles round trip. The man in the store always gave me a piece of hard candy to eat on my way home. That was the good thing about it.

Ma made her own soap, lye soap. That soap would clean anything. It was too far to the creek to carry water to the house for washing clothes, so Ma carried the dirty clothes to the creek. That lye soap got them clean better than anything I ever saw. The white things white, and kept them white. Not like the white things today, dingy looking after you wash them a few times.

I remember I was about ten or so, Ma gathered up the dirty clothes and went to the creek. My sister and brother was with her. I was supposed to be too, but I'd gone back to the house for something, can't remember what. I saw Ma's little box of snuff setting on the window sill and decided I'd see what it was Ma thought was so good about it. I got that little can, took the lid off, pulled out my bottom lip like I'd seen Ma do, and poured the snuff in. I went out the kitchen door running, sneezing, fell over an old tub outside the kitchen door. Lord! I thought I was going to choke to death. I never tried that again Not to this very day, I haven't. I never did figure out what Ma thought was so good about that stuff."