The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Winter in John Hayes Hollow

By Hazel P. Hedrick © 1984

Issue: January, 1984

What were my favorite pastimes in winter as a child growing up? My most favorite pastime always was reading but we had nothing to read except the Bible and our school books. I would read all my school books through long before the end of school and if I was lucky enough to get my hands on a book of any kind, I would read it every chance I got.

I was my Mom’s baby sitter so I had little time to read or play. Winters were long and rough in John Hayes Hollow. We had to walk four miles to school if we went by the road so Dad would trim out a path through the woods and cow pastures.   He would mark trees with an ax and build steps over the barbed wire fences so we would not tear our clothes crawling through. He would also put foot logs through the streams. We never had boots or goulashes. I can still hear my little sister crying, begging me to warm her hands. It was so cold our feet would be numb and our hands too.

What we ate for snacks, our “junk food,” was just as nourishing as what we ate at mealtime. We grew popcorn, peanuts, grass nuts and dried fruit such as peaches, plums, apples and persimmons. We also dried sweet potatoes. We grew cane and made molasses every fall. Mom would make two, three or four gallons of molasses so thick they would not pour. She would pour them hot into stone crocks and we would twist them out on a fork. That was our winter candy. One crock she would mix in some herb seeds. Those were for a spring tonic along with “Epson salts.”

Mom made homemade snow cream and it was much better than store bought ice cream. The snow was clean and pure then and no pollution on it.

On cold snowy or rainy winter evenings, once our chores were done and supper was over, we would get our homework by one oil lamp. Then Mom might sit a huge pan of popcorn in front of us for a special treat or Dad would read us a Bible story. Or maybe he would get our one old song book down and we would all gather around him and sing for a while. Those times were so special then and their memories are still so special.

The indoor games we played on rainy or snowy days were checkers, dominos, fox and geese (which were sit around the table games). Sometimes we would play blind man’s bluff or musical chairs.

Just before Christmas every year we had to put all thoughts of play aside and crack walnuts to sell and buy our Christmas gifts. We were lucky if we got a dollar for our walnuts but a dollar in those days was worth more than five now. Sometimes Daddy would make ax and hoe handles all winter long. That was a slow job. He did it all with his pocket knife and some pieces of broken window panes. He didn’t have any sand paper or steel wool but when he got through, they were slick as glass.

We never did much sled riding in the snow because there was no safe place to do it. We lived in the hollow with mountains all around us but the mountains were covered with trees and rocks. Our fields were on top of those mountains and at the foot of those mountains was a four foot rock wall along the road side, then another two foot of rock wall at the edge of our yard to stop the rocks that washed down the mountain side in a rain storm. Just below the house was a rocky rippling stream. Sliding off any hill we would have gone into a rock wall or into the creek. That creek was lovely summer and winter except when we had a hard rain storm. Then the water would come rushing down the mountains and flood the creek. It would sometimes come almost to our back door but it never did come in.

We didn’t have much time for play winter or summer. Our parents believed in teaching their children everything they knew and started young. I knew how to make corn bread and cook beans and potatoes before I could reach the top of the stove. Daddy made me a stool to stand on by the stove and by the table to wash dishes. I knew how to churn milk and make butter before I was nine and I knew how to grow a vegetable garden and dry fruit before I was ten. Although Mom tried to teach me, I never learned how to knit or sew because I didn’t like it. Mom made all our clothes including our sheets, pillow cases and towels. I tried but my heart wasn’t in it.