The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Grandma Nettie's Domain

By David Winston Nelson © 1986

Issue: September, 1986

There comes a time in everyone's life when reflecting on the past seems to bring about a feeling of controlled and peaceful serenity. This is what I have been experiencing for the past several months; and even though my dear Grandmother is still alive, active and always in good spirits, I just feel compelled to write a true short story about my summer time visits to "Grandma Nettie's Domain."

Although I'm 38 years of age, single and have been living away from home for the past 21 years, it seems like yesterday I used to climb up on Mr. Hobart Martin's privately-owned bus in my hometown of Martinsville, Virginia and ride for about 26 miles up route #58 west, to Stuart, Virginia for a visit with Grandma and all the kinfolk. This was a big treat for me since my immediate family didn't own a car at the time. Grandma Nettie Williams Martin lived in a quaint community known as Dobyns which was about five miles from downtown (not uptown) Stuart. Dobyns Primitive Baptist Church was within rock throwing distance from her house. Oh! how I couldn't wait to get to her house and give her a big bear hug and tell her how much I loved her. She was so special to me then and still is at her mature, adult age of 86.

Grandma's house was always immaculate and she always made sure it stayed that way. Beds had to be made every morning, breakfast was prepared while the rooster was still crowing and dishes had to be washed right after we finished eating.

A person hasn't enjoyed the true essence of living until he has awakened to a good 'ole country style breakfast prepared on a wood stove as Grandma used to have. The combined smell of freshly brewed coffee, biscuits, gravy, eggs and sausage would just make you want to invite the morning sun with a song in your heart.

She never wasted time unnecessarily and disliked seeing anyone just "plunder" around as she used to put it. She made her own lye soap for washing clothes and canned enough food each summer for an Army.

Grandma Nettie used a Maytag wringer-washer which used to have a gasoline motor underneath it when she was living back in the coal mine camps during the twenties. She took pride in her old Maytag and I can see her now getting her oil can and making sure all the gears were well lubricated. She always said she liked to hear the old Maytag "sing." The wash water and two tubs of rinse water would be taken around to the front cement porch for a good washing down because of the dust from the close by dirt roads. Several days afterwards while we would be setting on the front porch in the evening enjoying a fresh glass of iced tea and eating cookies, you could detect the faint smell of Little Boy Blue Bluing which had seeped into the cracks of the cement.

On a cool summer evening when the dew began to fall you could smell the sweet fragrance of the beautiful pink mountain laurels which grew abundantly alongside the sparkling fresh water river. The creek in front of her house possessed such clear and fresh water which trickled down from the mountain like a long and winding road. There were many times I would go and sit beside the creek bank and find solitude and happiness in observing Mother Nature's free gifts for all humanity to enjoy. Grandma taught me at an early age how to appreciate ALL things in life. Because of her, simplicity was paramount at that time in my life and still is.

Grandma operated in a somewhat frugal fashion in whatever she attempted and taught her entire family how to be this way. She was a West Virginia Coal Miner's widow at 30 years of age and had the responsibility of raising seven children on a meager pension. Water biscuits, water gravy and fried apples were still a standard meal when I used to visit her and to this very day, I still prepare such a meal on occasion and reminisce about all the great memories of Grandma Nettie's warmth, love and compassion for the gift of life.

One characteristic of great significance I must not eliminate is the fact that Grandma was a religious woman, yet geared away from ever becoming fanatical. Her home church, Mayo Mountain Baptist Church which is located atop one of the peaks of the Blue Ridge and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful spots in the United States of America, was originally discussed and planned in her house in 1947. The church is still active and my only prayer is that Grandma Nettie can be afforded the opportunity to attend anytime she wishes. How wonderful and grand it would be for me and Grandma and all the kin to attend her home church just one more time and sing the beautiful and great hymn "Precious Memories." That was and still is one of her favorites. As I'm sitting here and reflecting about all this a tear is beginning to glisten, but I shouldn't be sad or too homesick because after all, God blessed me with such a pioneer of a Grandma and her memory will be etched in my mind for a never-ending time.

My Dear Grandma Nettie is still as she says, "kicking" and "feeling pert" as ever. She's an inspiration to all who know and visit her and as I understand it her "domain" is just as well kept now as it was many years ago.