The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

John Hayes Hollow - Daddy’s Jobs

By Hazel P. Hedrick © 1985

Issue: January, 1985

I know now that my family was extremely poor when we children were small. But I didn't know that then. I don't remember ever being hungry, but I recall a few mornings when we had only cornbread, molasses and fat back gravy for breakfast. We kids sure put up a fuss when we went to the breakfast table and there was no biscuits and ham, sausage or cream gravy. I think back now at how bad it must have made our parents feel to have to serve us only cornbread and a little fat back gravy. But not once did I ever hear them complain. They taught us to be thankful for whatever we had.

No matter how slim the pickings, my dad never even considered going on welfare. He thought welfare was for those who were not able to work and had no income of any kind.

I remember one time some man from town came and said they had been all over the county trying to find someone who would go into all the homes of those who were getting welfare checks and fill out these long forms to see if they really deserved to be getting a welfare check. No one would have the job. Mama didn't want Daddy to take the job. She knew it could be a dangerous job, going into the homes and asking all kinds of personal questions. But Daddy needed the money to buy shoes for his children, so he took the job. I don't remember what the pay was or how long it took Daddy to get the job done. I do remember he and Mama would sit down after supper and figure out which homes and how many he would try to get the next day. And I remember how worried Mom would get each evening if Daddy didn't get home before dark. His only transportation was the mule. My daddy did that job so tactfully that he didn't make one family mad and he felt like he made some real friends along the way.

Daddy was always taking jobs that no one else would have. Some man from town owned an apple orchard up on the mountain two or three miles up the creek from us. He was the first one to start spraying apple trees in our part of the country. In those days, the chemicals had to be mixed, which was a job no one else wanted to do. But my dad took the job. I remember taking his lunch to him. Mom would cook him a nice hot meal, put it in two lard buckets and my brother and I would walk up the mountain, stay until after Daddy ate, then walk back down the mountain.

I shall never forget the smell nor the color of my daddy's skin. Sometimes it was yellow or green or black. When he came home at night, his skin was so black, all we could see was his teeth and eyes. We did not realize then what danger Daddy was in every hour of the day he was on that job.

Another job my dad used to do that no one else wanted was mowing the road banks in the summer. Everyone was afraid of snakes or bees. Daddy never got a snake bite, but he got many bee stings. If he was mowing close enough to home, my brother and I would take his lunch. If he was too far away for us to walk, he would have a cold sausage or ham biscuit and some fruit.

In those days, most mountain people got their drinking water from a spring and everybody had a tin cup or a gourd hanging in a tree branch near the spring. Everybody passing by knew they were welcome to a drink or a jug full of water. When Daddy was on the mowing jobs, he couldn't carry a jug of water along with him and use the mowing scythe. My brother and I would take him a jug of water at lunch time and sometimes he would get a drink when passing somebody's spring, but more often he would lay on his stomach on the banks of a stream and get a drink, with water snakes and lizards all around him.

I think the little creatures knew my daddy was their friend. That's why they never bothered him. When he got the bee stings, he had run his mowing blade over the nest before he saw it.

Yes, we were what today would be considered extremely poor, but we kids didn't know we were poor. We were always busy most of the time as I recall. We were happy, and I never remember being bored. Daddy had more friends than any one else in the county and he always said friends were worth much more than money. So, he considered himself a wealthy man. And I know, what he left his family was worth more than any amount of money.