The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Mountain Memories Of Grandma, Part 2 of 2

By Vada Vaughn Hylton © 1984

Issue: December, 1984

mountain memories of grandma 3Jerimiah Harmon, born 1856. He is wearing clothes made by Grandma before she got the sewing machine. He was 39 years old October 1, 1895 and died January 3, 1896. "Grandma really loved him and I have gone with her to clean his grave. She said, 'I know he is not there, but that mound means a lot to me.' She put flowers on his grave often in summer," Vada Hylton.(Editor's Note: This story is continued from last month. Grandma, Mary Elizabeth Slusher Harmon, was born August 3, 1856 in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Floyd County, Virginia.)

There was a long porch above Grandma's house that had three openings in the railing - one at each end and one in the middle. She kept pieces of carpet at each entrance. Large flat rocks were placed as stepping stones from each gate and to the springhouse. The spring was piped to the yard at the end of the kitchen. There was a large flat rock that must have been six or eight feet long and two feet wide there. It was so smooth and gray. To form the bowl in the springhouse, cement was poured in a flour barrel, then removed when it dried and used. Also a large copper kettle was used as a mold to form a bowl and removed and a pretty plate was set in the bottom. The overflow pipe went through, the spring house wall and into a long trough with several offsets for crocks from 1/2 to 5 and 8 gallons. She kept sauerkraut vinegar and salt pickles sitting in this trough so they would not freeze in winter and, it kept the odors out of her kitchen. The water ran out of this trough through a pipe that emptied in another trough that stuck out through the yard fence to water the cattle and horse on the outside, in the barn yard.

At the back or below the springhouse, Grandma had a large iron pot she used to make soap, boil clothes and heat all wash water. Grandma used her homemade soap to wash dishes, clothes and did not buy things like that at the store then.

I remember one wash day. After the clothes, sheets and towels were hung on the line to dry, she poured two buckets of hot water and a cake of soap in the last tub of rinse water. I wondered what she was going to wash next. She said, "Get all the wooden lids on the jars in the springhouse. There were plates or other lids on the jars also. We washed them with stiff scrub brushes and rinsed them under the spout and set them on a bench to dry in the sun. they were so white I think they were made of poplar. A shame trees are not allowed to grow as large as the blocks the lids to the 5 and 8 gallon crocks were cut from. Grandma had a second wood shed in the corner of the yard near her wash pot and water. She had a bench in this shed to wash on in the shade or out of the rain. She always had dry wood to make a fire to heat the water.

mountain memories of grandma 4Front Row: daughters Dora Vaughn and Ella Harris with Grandma Harmon. Back Row: sons Ellis, Martin and Posey Harmon.Every spring Grandma scrubbed the walls in the dining room and kitchen and scrubbed the floors with a split broom. I still remember how the split brooms were made from a small straight mahogany [people around here call birch mahogany] sapling in springtime. There was a small closet about 5.5 feet square in one corner of Grandma's kitchen. In it she kept a barrel of flour and a sack of meal. The dough tray, rolling pin and dough board were kept there also, so mice could not get in this room and mess. She hated mice and flies worse than anyone I knew. She made a thing to mind flies by sewing a pretty pink piece of silk paper on a piece of bamboo just long enough to reach across the table. She pleated the paper and cut it into strips and it made a little noise, but no one seemed to mind for there were no flies. She always tried to shoo them out before setting the table. This was before screen doors were made or bought around here.

Speaking of mice, I did not like one way she used to get rid of mice at the barn - a big black snake! She said that kept mice out of the chop room. Sure there was no sign of mice, but I had rather see a bucket of mice than that big snake. Its favorite place to lay was on a 2x4 across the wall in the back of the barn or on top of the grain drill stored in the driveway of the barn. It was too long for the lids, so it just let its tail hang off one end of the drill. I have seen Grandma hand that snake half of a biscuit. It reached out and took it easy as you please. I'm sure it was not the first time she fed it.

One day we were sweeping the long porch above the house when we heard a hen cackle at the barn. I thought, "Oh no. Snake." Grandma asked me to go get the egg. That snake was laying with its head near the nest and had an egg in its mouth. I smiled to myself and said, "Goodie, goodie, now you'll get your killing." I ran outside and screamed for Grandma to come kill this snake, but, as usual, she had another way to solve the problem. She said, "Oh we will keep all the barn doors shut and the hens will go back to the hen house to the nest and lay." Sure enough, it worked. Some time after that I overheard one of my older cousins say, "I got that snake." I was so pleased I did not tell on him and let her look and wonder and ask questions about what went with her "mouse trap."

The little closet in Grandma's kitchen was across from the fireplace and her pretty cook stove. She kept oil cloth on the kitchen wall behind the water shelf and where she hung the dish pans and skillets. She kept the dish towels and dish rags hanging on a wire behind the cook stove. Grandma said if she could see a woman's dish towels and rags, she could tell what kind of cook and housekeeper she was. Now when she visited me, I was sure my dish towels were white and clean. I sure fooled her, or did I? She sure had a good taster and could see dirt too. Grandma said, "No matter how nice a house is, it is no cleaner than the dirtiest corner or spot." I had trouble figuring that out then, but I was only listening. She said, "No need for people to worry and fret, but be like a flower and bloom where you are planted."

Grandma always had a lot of company and her guests were always welcome and well fed. That was a pleasure to her, for sure. Grandma really enjoyed company and they knew it. As soon as the "company" was gone, she washed the beds and made them up for the next to come. Her guests always had clean beds to sleep on. She never got all excited and upset for she was always ready. She was always clean and never had on a dirty dress or apron.

Grandma had a pretty black horse named Maude. I never heard of Maude raising her heels to kick at anyone, but she would bite every chance she could get. Grandma would tie Maude's head to a post and put the blanket and side saddle on her and climb on the "horse stool", which was a small porch with steps to climb up to the level with the horse. Then Grandma would climb on Maude and away she would go. This horse could "step it off" when she was allowed to go. I was afraid to ride for we too had to ride side saddle style, behind Grandma. It didn't make balancing too easy, and I have slid off before. When that happened, Maude just stopped and looked around at me. Maude was used for plowing as well as Grandma's transportation.

Grandma had two dolls kept since she was a little girl. One was a rag doll, Dinah; the other had a cloth or rag body with a china head and hands. Both were about 20 inches tall. Grandma told my twin sisters she wanted them to keep her dolls, for she knew they would take good care of them. Strange enough, both of my sisters kinda wanted the old rag doll. They were dressed like girls of Grandma's childhood. Both of my twin sisters have those dolls to this day. Grandma was grandma and great-grandma to eight sets of twins!

Once, when Grandma was visiting at Mother's for a few days, I went back home to be with them. Grandma told me she had a job she wanted me to do and told me she knew I could do it. Not knowing what it was, I said alright, I would try. She said, "I have some pretty black silk material and I want you to make me a dress." She told me how she wanted it made. She had no pattern, so I took one of her dresses that fit and cut a pattern from it. She wanted small sewn in tucks up and down each side of the waist and a piece set in the front with tucks going across to match the sides. This was sewn in from the pleated skirt to the collar. The cuffs were also tucked to match the front. When I was done, except for the handwork on the cuffs, collar and hem, she said, "It looks just like I wanted it to." I thought it did really look nice, even if I did make it. She looked at Mother and said, "Now Dora, I want you to see that I am buried in this dress." I was not expecting this, and it made me so nervous I could hardly hold the needle to finish. Sure enough when Grandma died, she was buried in the pretty black dress.

In October of 1937, Grandma went to stay with my mother and dad. My sisters, the twins, were still living at. home. By this time, Grandma was very sick and bedfast. The doctor said later she had cancer. Mother and the twins took good care of her. Mother heard her tell one of her sons, "One thing for sure, I have not heard any fussing or a curse word since I have been here." That was one thing not allowed at her home or at my mother's home either.

My Grandma's coffin had been made some time before she died. People made all the coffins back then. They made them out of oak, black walnut and cherry lumber. They looked like a pretty piece of furniture and very sturdy. Instead of vaults, wooden boxes were used with a wide ledge dug in the grave to hold strong boards to keep dirt off of the box.

Many times I had gone with my grandma to clean Grandpa's grave. She really loved him and took good care of the grave. She said, "I know he isn't there, but that mound means a lot to me." She put flowers there often in summer. On Tuesday, April 19, 1938, she went to join him, to rest side by side forever.