The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Tales Of My Dad

By Myrtle Kendrick © 1988

Issue: October, 1988

I was born in Forsyth County in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, May 28, 1916. We moved to Martinsville [Virginia] when I was 9 years old.

My Dad ran a grocery store at Ogburn Station, N.C. and Dad rented a farm across from the store. I remember we had cows, chickens, hogs, and horses. If we raised any crops other than Mom's garden, I can not recall.

But I do know that my Dad was a trader also. He traded horses and mules. Mom would fall in love with her milk cow, feed it so good, and it would give milk galore. But, if someone saw the cow and wanted to buy it, sell it Dad would. He always made money off of it, or if it was swapping Dad would always get boot. Then poor Mom would start her feeding and kind words on another cow.

Once Dad and some more deputies raided a still; they brought the copper still and two five gallon square cans of booze for evidence when the trial came up and put them in the basement. One day I heard a gurgling sound. My oldest brother was pouring out Dad's evidence. I ran to tell Mom. By the time we got there, he was on the second can. I have often wondered why Dad had so much evidence when one had to pay a big fine just for making booze. I found out in later years that it was good booze and my Dad would taste the evidence daily. Dad would laugh when he told us his stories.

My Dad was born in Patrick County, Virginia. His mother, my grandmother, had fourteen children. She had three sets of twins. My Dad was a twin, but his twin sister died at birth. Only one set of twins survived, they lived to be in their 80's.

My grandfather left my grandmother and went to Amelia, Virginia. They say he wanted to move there and take grandmother and the children, but grandmother would not go. Go into a strange territory with ten boys and one girl she didn't. So, I can say my grandmother had a very hard life trying to feed her family. No one worked at a public job then. You lived on a farm and as I have heard Dad say, "Root little pig or die," but Dad also said, "Work little pigs or starve." I heard Dad say they would hoe corn from sun up to sun set.

Granny would put on her vegetables before she went to the field with the clan. The vegetables would be what they had: turnips, greens, cabbage, dried beans, or peas that they raised.

Granny would go back every so often to add wood to the stove, or water to her vegetables. Then at 11:30 she would go and put on a big pan of corn bread. When Granny rang the bell, all hoes hit the ground. They were starved. But they never got up from the table hungry, Dad said. But if they ate all the vegetables, they would have turnip greens or cabbage soup for supper along with a new huge pone of corn bread; and, if the cow wasn't dry, good cold buttermilk.

They never had dessert; only on Sunday or when someone was visiting.

Once, Dad said, someone special was coming. Granny baked a cake. It was a tube cake pan and she made a plain cake. Granny would run the children outside; afraid they would jump or run and cause her cake to fall. So Dad and two more brothers decided to plot and make Granny's cake fall. If it fell, she would let them eat it and she would try another one. Well, Dad was chosen the one to shake the old rickety farm house floor right in front of Granny's wood cook stove. One brother was to tell Granny to come to the front door, the other brother was to ask her something. So while he took his time asking Granny, Dad was in the kitchen jumping with all his might. Then when Granny and the brother got through talking, the other one would run around the house to post Dad that Granny was coming. Well, they had cake that night. Dad said he didn't see why they shouldn't. The old kitchen floor rocked. Granny baked another one. But Granny caught on and Dad found the kitchen door buttoned later on. I have my Grandmother's cake pan. If she were living today, she would be 136 years old; I have her cake pan and I treasure it, but I love to cook my pound cakes in it too.

Dad said Granny would ride a mule or a horse and help with the sick. If the patient was due to have a baby or the patient was real sick, Granny would spend a night or a day and night until she thought she could leave them.

Dad said when Granny left she said, "Now I may be gone a couple of days," and she would leave orders what they were to do. And it had better be done. Some were supposed to shell corn to be carried to the mill to be ground into meal. Dad said "let's shell an extra bucket full." Dad called his mother "Mur." Dad said, "I will take it to the store and swap it for candy, Mur will never know it." So they did and Dad said it looked like the grocery man gave them a peck of candy in exchange for a peck of shelled corn. Well, Dad said that it was a happy day of eating candy. One child happened to look across the fields and saw dust rising. Dad said, "that's Mur." They took the candy and all hands threw it away like pitching a stone. Mur never knew. But Dad said that for days they would look for candy. Dad said why they didn't hide it, he would never know.

Dad hid an egg every once in a while under leaves on the way to the store. Dad must have been the one to do the errands for Granny as the older ones were needed to cut wood, feed the hogs, cows, etc. He knew Granny would soon send her eggs to the store for a little loose coffee, sugar, salt, soda, or what ever she didn't raise. Granny had her things counted to the cent; so as Dad went past his egg hiding place, he would get his egg or two that he had swiped and hid. So he got to the store, and the store man got up Granny's things. The store man said, "Well, son, there are a few cents left," just as Dad had expected. Dad said, "Well, just add a few balls of candy will be OK." I guess the grocery man knew Granny, so he said, "How about just adding your 'Mur' a few balls of sewing thread?"

Dad said that once they picked out some walnut goodies to get some extras for Christmas dinner. As usual Dad took them to the store. He tied them on the horse's gear as they were in a white sack. Well, he wasn't noticing them and the string came loose. Down came the walnut goodies in the dust and dirt. Dad took them to the creek after gathering all of them up, and washed them. He had to take off his shirt to dry them and laid them on the white sack to dry them more. Then, when he thought they were dry, he took them to the store. Dad said he used to wonder if they might mildew. I wonder if Dad had to hide when he took his shirt off as he told us, "Mur" made their shirts to come half way to their legs. They never knew what underwear was until they left home.

I can bet my Dad was a "cat bird" and often wondered after I had my children how Granny survived with ten boys and one girl to raise and she was the boss.

If your fire went out, you went out and borrowed fire or hot coals. Dad said Granny sent him with a bucket of some kind to a neighbor's house to get fire and to hurry back as fast as he could go and come. Well, Dad said he got there and they all had the measles. He was afraid to go back, afraid that he would give all the family measles. So he waited three days and he saw he wasn't getting the measles, so he decided to take "Mur" the fire. But Dad said that if the measles hurt worse than his behind when Mur got through with him, he was glad he had decided to come home. He never did say if they took the measles, but Granny had a fire when he got back.

Granny spun her thread out of the cotton they raised and made the clothes. Dad said that every night after supper, Granny would bring two or three big armfuls of cotton down from upstairs and they had to seed it. Well, after several days and nights of this, it got so they hated it. But Granny would let them go to bed at eleven o'clock. So one day, they plotted to set the cotton closer to the open fireplace. Yep! Dad was planning to stir the fire and do it so hard a spark would ignite the cotton. It did, the cotton was gone in a second. So they said, well, too bad, guess they would go to bed. Dad said Mur said no, she went up and got even more. She took the poker, if the fire needed chunking, she would chunk it. They were after midnight getting to bed.

What I treasure most is all of these stories my Dad would take time to tell us. We would laugh and think they were bad things to do. But, they were children and that was what they did for fun and to pass time after a hard day's work. But yet, these brothers and sister lived close together and loved each other dearly; and they started the Ward's Reunion thirty some years ago. They never failed to come and hated to see the day end. Their wives loved each other also; they were the best of "Mur's" and such wonderful cooks. We still have our reunions, but my mother was the last one to go. She passed away two years ago at the age of 89. We are the old ones now, but I can say all of their children love each other as Dad and his brothers and sister did. How I love those good old days, visiting my cousins, spending a week or two with each other.

We made play houses in the woods made out of moss, made hats and skirts out of huge leaves and pinned them with thorns. Hopscotch, Jack in the bough, hide and go seek, kicking the can. Those were they good old days. That's why I treasure my Mountain Laurel. I read where others remember also.

I can bet my dad was the ring leader of them all. Yet, after Granny raised her family and they all had left, my Granny came to my Mom's and Dad's house and lived with them for twelve years.

I remember seeing my grandmother always dressed in Serge on black and tan pongee. With a big cameo at her bosom and a lace collar she crocheted on her neck. She taught me how to crochet. My grandmother would sit all dressed up daily, I guess she thought she deserved a break and I can truthfully say she did.