The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Glass Dipper

By J. Carlton Smith © 1991

Issue: June, 1991

My Aunt Nellie was a well known character. It was her belief children should be seen, not heard. Needless to say, she was often disappointed. Probably this was due to the fact she and her husband, Harden did not have children. It wasn't that they weren't good, kind people, but set in their ways and didn't want to be disturbed by anything different.

The pattern for Aunt Nellie started when she was very young. As the oldest child in the family, responsibility came her way early. She had to help with the younger children and the housework. This made her very bossy and fussy. She dearly loved to clean and this didn't end with the housework. When the housework was done to her satisfaction, she would clean the yard and rake and clean around the stables and other farm buildings. When she got this done, she would dare anyone to make a mess.

Her youngest brother and some of his friends had bicycles. They were forever working on one of them. The tools were kept in a tool chest on the back porch. They would take tools out to work on the bicycles and leave them scattered about the porch and yard. This really made Aunt Nellie mad. She told them when they died she was going to bury them in the tool chest. It was lucky she had married and did not live at home when they got cars.

To add to Aunt Nellie's woes her grandfather would come and stay several weeks. After his wife's death he broke up housekeeping and stayed with his children. He was a wounded Confederate veteran who had been a prisoner of war. Due to his age and disability, he was not able to work. To pass time he would sit and whittle. This really infuriated Aunt Nellie. She didn't want the mess whittling made.

She was always following her grandfather around with a broom. I guess her grandfather got tired of all the sweeping. He told Aunt Nellie when it came her time to go he hoped that they would bury her with a broom. That regardless of which way she went, she would not be happy unless she could sweep and clean. Aunt Nellie had a sharp tongue so I'm sure she had some choice words for him.

The first house I can remember Aunt Nellie and Uncle Harden living in was a log house. I thought it was just beautiful. The walls were white washed and looked like a snowbank. The crisp stiffly starched curtains at the windows made it homey and seem so cool. What could have been nicer than a spring breeze coming through the windows scented with the fragrance of the many flowers growing in the yard? Everything in the house was squeaky clean and always in place. It didn't take children long to learn you did not touch or move anything.

Just as the house was so clean and orderly, so was the yard. The yard was a show-place with almost any flower or blooming shrub planted there. Aunt Nellie had a green thumb and could root and raise most any plant. She had a flower pit dug in a south bank to keep her plants in the winter. Tubs of cape jessamine, oleanders, ferns, begonias, geraniums and a lemon tree were kept here in the winter. My Aunt and Uncle were just as proud and protective of the yard as they were of the house.

Aunt Nellie was afraid children would break her flowers and shrubs. My Uncle always warned us against messing up the yard. He also said stay away from the well and not go near the farm animals. He kept bees and dared us to go close to the hives. He said they might cover us and sting us to death.

When you aren't allowed to do anything, time passes slowly. There was one thing that we all agreed on, Aunt Nellie was a wonderful cook. She really believed in feeding people and was justly proud of the table she set. She would urge you to eat until you felt you would burst. I still think of her rice pudding filled with raisins. It was the best I ever ate. Then you know if you stayed till the middle of the afternoon she would come to your rescue with biscuits filled with damson preserves. Yum, yum.

Uncle Harden was just as fussy and particular as Aunt Nellie. He had a place for everything and kept it in place. He let you know you were not to move anything. He kept bees and his sourwood honey was much in demand. He would give us some of the dark honey, but not much of the sourwood honey. He could sell all of that his bees made.

My Uncle Harden had a claim to fame. He was the watermelon king of our area. He had the reputation of growing the largest and best watermelons of anyone around. Woe to those who went into his melon patch uninvited. We did once and he tracked us a mile down the creek where we ate the melon. Was he ever mad and was our daddy mad when he told him about us stealing one of his melons. Ouch! Ouch! We learned a lesson in honesty the hard way.

The log house where Aunt Nellie and Uncle Harden lived had an upstairs where they slept. The stove pipe of the wood cook stove went through a cut out in the floor and up through the upstairs and out the roof. This was great in the winter when heat was needed upstairs. In summer you ate cold supper so as not to heat up the house. There was a cat hole cut in the outside door so the cat could come and go at night when the mice were running around. This was a feature in a lot of old houses.

Aunt Nellie was a second Annie Oakley! She was a sharp shooter with a gun. I have seen her grab her gun and run out to shoot at a hawk that was after her chickens. She could make feathers fly when the hawk was almost out of sight. This ability to shoot came in handy.

One night Uncle Harden was away and late coming home. It was after dark and Aunt Nellie had finished cooking supper and was waiting for Uncle Harden to come home. Someone tried to break in.

Aunt Nellie grabbed her gun. She shot out the cat hole and through the downstairs window. The person kept running around the house banging on doors and windows. She ran upstairs and shot out that window. Finally she had only one shell left and decided that she would keep that one and shoot the intruder if he got in the house and started upstairs. She then started to yell for help. Her neighbors who lived about half mile away had heard the shots and call for help. They came running calling, "We are coming, don't shoot. We are coming, don't shoot." No one ever tried to bother Aunt Nellie again.

In Aunt Nellie's house the water shelf was against the wall and high enough to keep children from messing in the water.

Aunt Nellie had a special dipper she used for company and on Sundays. Oh, but she was grand. Cinderella may have had glass slippers, but Aunt Nellie had a glass dipper. Yes, a glass dipper! No one else in the community was so fancy. This was the only glass dipper I ever saw. Most people had a tin dipper or maybe an enamel one.

It always made Mama nervous to take us children to visit Aunt Nellie. You know water tastes better out of a glass dipper. My Mama said that there would be a steady parade to the water bucket, just as if we had crossed the desert. My Aunt dared us to touch her glass dipper. If we wanted water we must ask for it. She warned if any of us broke her dipper she would give us a good dose of hickory tea (a switching).

After the wonderful dinner meal my Aunt had prepared, everyone felt sleepy and some would actually take a nap. After a while everyone would start stirring and acting like they were alive. Then Aunt Nellie would bring out a white enamel water bucket and begin making lemonade. She would use lemons from her lemon tree. They were the largest I ever saw. She would take several of these and make a large bucketful of lemonade. Someone would be told to wind a bucket of water from the north side of the well. There is an old folk legend that says that water from the north side of the well is colder because it is closer to the north pole.

Water would be added to the lemon and sugar mixture. It would be stirred until well mixed. Aunt Nellie would bring out a tray of glasses and her glass dipper. She was careful to see that each glass had some lemon slices in it. Never has lemonade looked and tasted so good. Surely it was the nectar of the Gods! After all these years I can still see it in my mind and almost fancy I can still taste it. All other lemonade has been a poor second in comparison.

The glass dipper that added elegance to Aunt Nellie's home was about a quarter inch thick and very heavy. This is probably what brought about its end. Someone broke it and I never knew who. My Mama was so thankful that none of her children were responsible.

I often think back with nostalgia and fondness of Aunt Nellie and her glass dipper. I now realize that it was a symbol of the finer things in life that all of us dream about and strive to achieve.

Aunt Nellie and Uncle Harden worked hard and saw much of their dream come true. They rest in peace and we have fond memories of them. They were good people and set a good example of hard work and thrift. Now it is probably my generation who seem as much a character as we thought Aunt Nellie was. There is an old saying, "What goes around comes around."