The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Moving Day

By Grace Cash © 1987

Issue: July, 1987

Editor's Note... The following is one of a series of articles written by Grace Cash. She lives in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Watch for more of her stories in future issues.

Tenant farmers in the 1920's – and even long thereafter, on into the Great Depression years of the 1930's – frequently moved from farm to farm. The year I remember most vividly was in 1924. That fall when we moved, we hadn't lived at the rented red–land farm a full year. We moved from the Macedonia [Georgia] community to a farm four miles to the north.

Papa and my brothers loaded our two–mule wagon, and an uncle came with his wagon. It required careful handling to pack into the two wagons our bedsteads, mattresses and feather beds, tables, chairs, a dresser and a homemade cabinet – at Christmas the hiding place for cakes and pies – and a variety of kitchen utensils. Little hands and big hands worked rapidly to find a corner for toys, vases, a special cherry–printed platter, dishes, tableware – various things treasured by family members.

Mama made sure the cats, brooms and scouring mops were on the wagons, although she held on to an old superstition that it was bad luck to move brooms and cats. When it was time to pull out of the yard, for the drivers to order "Gid–dup" in that unmistakable voice the mules knew to obey, my brothers remembered Bulger, their long raw–boned, sullen–eyed dog. They put him in a vented cardboard box at the back of my uncle's wagon. Then they took turns walking behind the wagon, goading the milk cow tied with a rope to the tailboard, to other barns, and a new pasture land.

Now came the exciting part – loading the "womenfolks" on the front wagon. My three sisters and I sat on the second riding board, and Mama sat on the front riding board, holding to her blanket wrapped two month old daughter. Beside her sat Papa, leather driving whip in his hand, which would be used to goad the mules when they stopped for a bite of weeds on the roadside.

It was a chilly November day, and we had on the clothes we would wear throughout the long winter, in which my second brother would have pneumonia and I, an injured foot that took months to heal. Mama and her new neighbor–woman used sulphur poultices and any other home remedy they could think of, the doctor was called in to attend the brother who had pneumonia, but nobody thought a sore heel needed medical attention.

On our four mile journey, Papa occasionally flicked the mules' rumps. The team would snort, turning their heads back toward Papa, but they took a new start, pulling muscles straining in the morning sunshine. The mules belonged to our landlord who was transferring us from one of his several farms to another. Later we would rise from halves–farmers to thirds–farmers, which meant Papa would own his own mules, and in the fall harvest, he would pay the landlord one–third instead of one–half of the season's produce.

Excitement was in the air! There was the smell of chrysanthemums in the yards we passed. Mama had a "green thumb." At the house we left, she had set out the chrysanthemum bulbs she moved from farm to farm. Bronze, white and pink blossoms hugged the ground, heavy redolent mounds hiding the red clay walkways to the house, which stood now like a ghost, lost without laughter and shouting and occasional sibling conflict.

There wasn't much talking on the route. I had never traveled beyond the church, and there was a mile of Canaan land not yet sighted, a trail to watch with wonder, opening up a new world. Goldenrod bloomed richly gold, symbolizing what tenant farmers hope for with each move they make from farm to farm. Autumnal smells and sounds permeated the quiet air as we turned from the red dirt country road onto the main road, soon to be paved. We passed the churches, two stores and the white two story schoolhouse at Chestnut Mountain. It was morning recess and school children, wearing bright red sweaters and woolen stocking caps, stared at our wagons and at the cow kept in the road behind the second wagon in the caravan. The students didn't know we would soon join them, and ultimately finish the ten grades offered at the big three–story schoolhouse, and go on to other schools.

We hadn't seen the house – none except Papa. It looked more inviting than other tenant houses we had lived in. The house on the hill – a much lesser house than the one we left – wasn't painted. It had only four rooms and two porches, but it was surrounded with a white sandy yard! We had gotten away from tracking in slabs of red clay, whether on the feet of adults, children or visitors, dogs or cats. Regardless of how often Mama scoured with the corn husk mop, she couldn't keep the floors clean. Now when she made new corn husk mops and fresh brooms from straw we would gather in outlying broom sedge fields, she wouldn't be a slave to red mud, and soon the two fireplaces would be plastered snow white with white mud from the verdant bottomland.

Unloading the wagons at the twin chimney "new house" was a time of exhilaration and hope. We scouted out the rooms, choosing "the girls' room" and "the boys' room." The kitchen adjoined the fire–room, which would be our parents' bedroom also, and the room where the youngest child – a son – would be born three years later. The clean, airy house and the white yard filled us with confidence that this was the haven we sought, that all was going to be better than ever.

We lived on the hill four years, and it was a time of learning. During those four years, industry moved to the nearest town, and farm men got jobs building textile mills. Later on, some moved their families from the farm to live and work in the mill village. Ahead of us loomed the Stock Market crash of 1929, the 1930's Depression Years, and the Second World War, beginning in the 1940's. All these widespread events would bring shock after shock to the people of the United States, but ironically, it would also bring prosperity.