The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

My Father

By Nancy B. Collins © 1987

Issue: July, 1987

We lived at Meadows of Dan, Virginia in 1908. My dad, Putnam Boyd, was a hunter. Not for the sportsmanship of it, but for the survival of his family. Many mountain people hunted and killed wild game for food for their tables. Most people had vegetables, milk and butter. Meat was hard to come by. My dad had traps everywhere that people would permit him to have them.

There was a large family of us children. Our job was to go to the traps every morning to see what we caught overnight. We children would take rabbits and some small animals out of the trap. Our dad had to look after the larger ones.

We caught rabbits, squirrels, opossums, even groundhogs. We did not always eat the game we caught.

By our mom being a good cook we managed to eat very well, we even ate possum. The way she cooked it we ate it very well. She would boil the possum until tender, then she would put it out flat in the bread pan and salt and pepper it good and brown. She would bake sweet potatoes and peel the outside off lay them on the platter with the Possum. It tasted good then, just don't know how it would be today.

One morning dad was sick with a cold. He asked my two oldest sisters and me to go to a bear trap he had sitting in the mouth of an old cave and see if it had anything in it. We were scared but went anyway. He told us not to go inside the cave just go near enough to see the trap.

We went where we could see the mouth of the cave. My oldest sister, Mattie said, "Let's get out of here, everything is all right." I wonder until this day if she could see the trap or not. Anyway, I was glad to get away from there. Bears had been seen near there. Some hunters killed one in that section. While there was a big snow on the ground we had been with dad up to the cave many times. He did not seem to be afraid of anything, but never went inside very far. Many people thought bears lived in the cave.

Dad trapped for mink and other animal just to get their hides. He saved all hides, they did not sell for much but every little bit helped in those days.

My mom and dad made baskets to sell. He skinned tan bark and sold it to the market. I doubt if many people know much about Tan Bark.

The best I can remember, they cut down big oak trees at a time of the year when the sap first came up in the tree. They had tools to put under the bark and prize it off. They would let it season awhile and haul it to Stuart and sell it for a little money.

This was hard work but when a few people got together to do a job, it did not seem to be so hard.

Dad fished a lot. We ate most all kinds of fish and enjoyed them. My mom could cook all kind of wild game and fish so they were pretty good to eat. By having good milk and butter helpful to make some foods better to eat.

We ate lots of shuck beans, better known as dried snaps. They were not very good, but we ate them anyway.

Dried apples was sort of our old standby. My mom could make good fried pies out of them. When I think back, they were very good, but now I don't like dried apples.

When spring came we went out in the fields and gathered wild salad and ate a lot of that.

We had a half brother that was much older than we were. He came to see us sometimes. He liked to hunt and fish. He lived and worked in North Carolina. He would stay about a week when he came. We liked for him to come he always brought us presents joked with us a lot. He did not like the kind of food we ate a lot of the time. One day he said he was going out and kill some quail and we would have real good for supper that evening.

All he killed was a big chicken hawk. He asked mom to cook it and she said we don't eat hawk and for him not to bring it in her kitchen. She told him that if he wanted to cook it he would have to cook it down at the wash place. This was a place where they had racks to heat water in big pots, we called them wash pots. There was a big creek there where we could get all the clean water we could use.

He got one of mom's iron cooking pots and we children was right with him to see what he was going to do. We took the pot and hawk and went down to the wash place. He heated the pot of water and scalded the hawk, cut off the feet and picked all the feathers off and it looked like a real nice chicken. When he opened it to get the insides out, he cut the craw open and a little snake wiggled out. It was still alive we ask him if he was still going to eat the hawk. He said yes that he had eaten rattlesnake some place and laughed real big. We did not know when to believe him or not.

He cut the hawk up a bit and put it in the iron cooking pot and hung it on the rack and built a fire under it. He let it cook about two hours and said lets eat it. None of us would touch it. It cooked down almost brown and looked real good. Mom gave him some bread and butter to eat with it. He ate a lot of it and said it was good.

Mom would not even let him bring what was left in her kitchen. He covered it up down at the creek as best he could but a dog got into it that night and ate it all up.

My half brother was a fine looking man and liked to do all kinds of unusual things and tell and laugh about it.

We had another half brother that came to hunt with dad. He had always been an obedient child and a nice person. He also lived in North Carolina. Dad had told him he could not drink liquor or chew tobacco until he became 21 years old.

The day he became 21, he came to our house drunk and was trying to chew tobacco but he was very sick. He rode his beautiful black horse all the way from Spray, N.C. The horse had eaten poison Ivy on the road side and was sick and died that night. My brother almost died too.

From that day on he never drank liquor or chewed tobacco any more as long as he lived.

My dad drank liquor and chewed tobacco. He always told his children, "Don't do as I do, do as I say do." Most children obeyed their parents back in those days. We felt as if we had to.

I guess it was not so bad. We all did very well and I am not sorry we were brought up strict.