The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Uncle John's Christmas Dance

By William P. Swartz, Jr. © 1986

Issue: December, 1986

In earlier days our ancestors, lived under hardships and primitive conditions. They knew nothing different and expected nothing better. At the same time they did liven up their lives by seeing humor in situations and bringing out fun and laughter as often as possible. To accomplish these events they were frequently ingenious.

The Christmas season in many families was often not a great celebration because the people simply did not have the funds and means to do otherwise. On the other hand sometimes people bestirred themselves to bring about some degree of festivity by having some types of get togethers. To bring this about required that two or three people provide sponsorship.

This generally came about by one person suggesting a suitable place. Permission to use a school house was easy to obtain for a Spelling Bee, a debate or a political meeting or "A Speaking" as it was frequently referred to. But to hold a square dance or a "Hoe-down" as it was sometimes termed was a problem. To use a school house for this type of activity was beyond consideration. Consequently a house with a large room was about the only possibility. I had seven uncles in my mother's family, two of whom were great jokesters, one was most mischievous, one was very reserved and serious and three generally managed to stay out of trouble. My uncle John was a great one to tell jokes on people and liven up situations.

Part of the following story such as the involvement of my two uncles is fact. However, I am sure part of it has also been embellished with some fiction brought about by the telling and recounting over the years.

One Christmas when my Uncle John was around eighteen years old he suggested to two of his friends that they ought to try to get up a square dance for the night after Christmas. The friends said that it was a good idea but that they did not know of any place where they could have it. Finally, one of them said, "The Wilkins family near Fancy Gap has a big room where they do their cooking, eating, sleeping and store their supplies. The house has not been built long and they have not built any partitions yet. But they are crowded now and there is no way to hold a dance in there." My Uncle John said, "What kind of folks are they?" The one who knew the family said, "The old man likes a drink of whiskey now and then and the old lady is worried about getting the oldest girl a fellow. She is about seventeen, and a little on the heavy side." John said, "Let's go see them." The three agreed to go the following night and did.

John carried along a bottle of whiskey in one pocket and a bottle of brandy in the other. When they arrived at the house the one who knew the family introduced the others and everyone began to get acquainted. After a while my uncle said, "I have a friend I want to give a Christmas present too, but I am not much of a drinking man and I don't know whether to give him whiskey or brandy. Would you or Mrs. Wilkins know which would be best? I happen to have a little of both with me." Mr. Wilkins spoke up right away, "I can tell you in a minute. Let me get a cup." Mrs. Wilkins said, "Bring me one too. Let me see what they tastes like." Needless to say all became warm friends in a very little while and John began to tell them that a Christmas dance and get together ought to be held and the Wilkins house was the right size and very place to have it.

On the way home one of his friends complimented my uncle on his ingenuity and cleverness. He went on to say, "I had no idea that you would ever get the Wilkines to agree to have a dance in their house, but who are you going to get to sweeten up to that girl, Daisy?" My uncle John said that he would have to think about that and work it out somehow.

My Uncle Everett was the oldest of my uncles. He was a graduate of William and Mary College, a highly regarded teacher and at the time he was the Principal of Woodlawn Academy. He was a very reserved and dignified person. Everyone referred to him as "the Professor." But his brothers and family members had always nick named him "Bud."

A few days later when John and his two friends met, one of them said, "There is a good deal of interest around the neighborhood in your dance John. How are things coming along?" "Real good," my uncle replied. "I have a fiddler, a mandolin player and a figure caller lined up and I may pick my banjo some myself." "Well that sounds real good." his friend replied, "but who is going to set up to Daisy?" My uncle admitted that he had no one as yet but he would work it out. He friend then said, "You better do that or old lady Wilkins won't let you carry a foot stool out of that house much less all of the furnishings to make room for a dance."

Finally the day came for the dance to be held that night. In the afternoon John said, "Bud, there is going to be a dance tonight up at a Wilkins house not too far from Fancy Gap. It is going to be a good time. Come on and go along." Everett declined the invitation and said that he never had any inclination toward dancing. Another time or two during the afternoon John spoke to him about going with him that night. Finally he said, "Bud, I need you to help me and some of the others to carry the things out of the house and back in again. You don't have to do any dancing, but you will enjoy the music and seeing the others dancing. Anyway, you have been doing nothing since school closed down for Christmas but reading books. Come on and go along." John always had a way of getting people to see things his way and unbelievably he got Everett to go with him. They soon met up with John's two friends and before either of them could say a word John said, "Every thing is going fine and don't ask me any questions."

They reached the Wilkins house and there was a fair number of people already waiting in the yard. John said, "Folks, this is Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins who have been good enough to let us use their house tonight. Let's get busy and move things out to the barn and wagon shed so we can get started." Immediately Mrs. Wilkins said, "Just a minute. Let me have a word with you before you begin." "Who did you bring for Daisy?" "That tall fellow?" "Don't you like him?," he asked. "Oh my, he is a grand looking fellow." "Do you think he will set up to Daisy?" John said, "I will see that they get together and we both know that the rest is up to Daisy." In the meantime his two friends had been looking some what worried and my Uncle Everett was some what puzzled. It was all put to rights when John said, "Mrs. Wilkins wants you to be careful and not break anything and be sure everyone stays around until everything is carried back in the house after the dance is over and before anyone goes home." With that they all got busy. Some more people arrived and lent a hand and the house was soon cleaned out except for a flour barrel which they set in a corner of the room and a bench for musicians to sit on. Things began to get started.

John spotted another short bench beside the house which was used to set a wash tub on for washing clothes. Most houses had one for the purpose along with a tub and a "Brass King" scrub board as standard equipment. The "wash bench" was about wide enough for two and half persons to sit on. John brought it in the house, slid the flour barrel out of the room corner a little ways and set the bench in such a way that it was somewhat behind the flour barrel. I doubt that the bench weighted twenty pounds but as John went out to get it he took Daisy with him, "to help carry it in." This afforded John an opportunity to tell Daisy to stay close by as soon as he got my uncle to sit on the bench she was to say to my uncle, "If you don't mind I will sit down too." As he carried the bench across the room he passed my Uncle Everett and said to him, "All right Bud, I got you a good place to sit, come with me," which he did. The dance got started and Daisy soon was sitting on the bench beside "the Professor."

After a little while John went over to where the two were sitting on the bench and said, "I need a little rest, let me sit down for a minute." Before the other two knew what was going on he began sitting down between the corner wall and my Uncle Everett, who said "Wait a minute, there is not room." But John had squeezed him against Daisy by then and, she in turn, was about to fall off her end of the bench. This caused Daisy to grab the back of my Uncle Everett's coat and he in turn grabbed her also. By that time John had said, "Excuse me" and was up and away and across the room to Mrs. Wilkins to whom he said, "Well, I got him setting up to Daisy. Did you see them with their arms around each other?"

The sequel to this story which happened in the early 1890's is that in that particular year John was in school in Woodlawn Academy under my Uncle Everett, endeavoring to obtain a certificate to teach school the following year. School got underway after the Christmas vacation. Occasionally John would say to my Uncle Everett, "Bud, when are you going to squeeze Daisy behind the flour barrel again?" This would embarrass my Uncle Everett terribly. He would become very stern and tell John that such questions were out of order and no joking matter. He ended by saying, "and let me tell you, sir, if you do not deport yourself acceptably you will receive no teaching certificate signed by me." This admonition did not have too much effect on John. My Uncle Everett did not get married for twenty five or thirty years afterward. But for some time afterward when any of the family would get together John would suggest to one of his brothers or sisters loud enough for everyone to hear, "Ask Bud if he had been squeezing Daisy behind the flour barrel again."