The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

John Hays Hollow - Mountain Memories

By Hazel P. Hedrick © 1984

Issue: May, 1984

Being the oldest of six children, I had to change, feed, bathe and rock babies for as far back as I can remember. I never got to play like the other kids and when I did get a few minutes or hours, I got as far away from the house as I possibly could. I loved to build a play house of my very own. I would sweep a patch of ground real clean and lay off the rooms with small stones laid around every room. Then, with moss I would make the beds and with stone, I would make my stove.

Snuff box lids were my pots and pans and dishes. I baked many mud pies and cakes. But I didn't want any babies to cry or mess up my beds. I swore to myself over and over I would never have any kids when I grew up and got married. But, I had three of my own and a bunch more who call me their mom.

I was "Mama's little helper" always. Every time I hear a baby cry until this day, I can hear my mama's voice calling, "Hazel, come get this youngin." When I was a little girl I really hated those words, but as I grew older, I came to understand how Mama needed my help. I'm glad I always did my best, even though I was resentful.

Besides time, another reason I didn't make things like paper dolls was that Mama only had one pair of scissors and they were kept for cutting cloth. Mom made all our clothes, even Daddy's shirts. She could take a picture out of a catalog and make a dress from that. How she ever found the time to sew, I'll never know, but she did. she also made our winter covers for all the beds and she used old worn out clothes and scraps people would give her. I never ever remember seeing my mama just sitting, doing nothing, except maybe a few minutes on Sunday afternoon.

The first day of May was so special to us children. It was almost as special as Easter or Christmas because we could pull off our shoes and go barefoot the first day of May. It didn't matter what kind of weather it was, the first day of May. We had to pull off our shoes and get our bare feet on the ground. We didn't have much grass in our yard. We had sand. There was a fine apple tree so close to the house that apples would roll on the porch when they fell from the tree. Right in the middle of the front yard was a huge walnut tree. Just below it was a Buckingham apple tree, with huge yellow apples. Just above the walnut tree was a May cherry tree. It was so tall the birds got most of the cherries. A little north east of that were two huge goose plum trees. That was our front yard. As you can see, there was no room for grass.

The back yard was mostly rock and a huge wood pile, with a chopping block and a saw rack. My brother and I would saw up the logs and Daddy would split the wood that was used for cooking and for heating. At the edge of the wood pile was the path to the spring and another path branched off farther on down the creek to the out house.

A beautiful rippling stream ran between our house and the spring. It was not good for wading because of too many slick rocks and broken glass, but it made such a relaxing sound. I lay in my bed at night listening to the water and the frogs and whippoorwills.

Mama always planted a row of dahlias along the path to the spring. They were so beautiful. All different colors and sizes. And no one in the whole country had a more beautiful vegetable garden then my mama. We had a wooden paling fence around the garden to keep the chickens and rabbits out. I wish I had some of those huge tomatoes, cabbages, onions and beans she used to grow. All were grown organically, no poisons of any kind were ever used on her garden. She canned and dried and pickled enough to last us all winter and shared with any neighbor who might be in need.

Nothing was ever wasted. Not a scrap or a rag or anything. We picked up every apple or plum that was too scrappy for canning or drying and fed them to the hogs. We also pulled weeds from the garden and fed them to the hogs. We saved every scrap of fat meat and drippings and Mama made our soap with that. We had no need for garbage pick up. We had a little broken glass and tin cans, but that was buried in the hollow.

We only had one clock in the house and if we let it run down and stop, we had to wait sometimes days for someone to come by with a watch. I have gone to a neighbors and had them mark down the time on a scrap of paper, then run home as fast as I could. Daddy marked a place with an ax on the front porch where the sun was at 12:00 noon. We set our clock by that, but it could be off as much as an hour, depending on what time of the year it was. But, it was better than not having any time at all.

Dad also taught us to tell when it was noon by our shadow. He said, when you are just walking normally, if you are stepping on the head of your shadow, it is very close to noon. If I was outside right now, I would just about be stepping on my head which means it's time for my man to come for lunch.