The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

My Grandmother's Grandmother

By Nancy B. Collins © 1986

Issue: November, 1986

When I was very young, I would visit my grandma Clifton that lived at Vesta, Virginia. She was a sweet and kind person. She never seemed to have much strength, but she puttered around and cooked some good old-fashioned food. She had an old iron pot that hung in the chimney. Sometimes she would boil beans and sometimes it would be a piece of meat of some kind. She could make the best chicken dumplings right in that old iron pot.

Grandma and Grandpa lived in an old log house that had a cook room and a bedroom downstairs and a bedroom upstairs. A few yards out, they had another house they called the big house. There were some rooms and a parlor. There were also some rooms up stairs. The big house stayed closed up unless they had company. When Mom and us children visited there, we were company and had to sleep in the big house. I was always afraid there would be spiders or mice in the house because of it being closed up all the time, but the beds always had old fashion white spreads on them with pretty pillow shams that covered the pillows. There was what they called a center table and on it was an old stereoscope viewer with lots of pictures to look at. The pictures were on cards, two pictures on the card. When you put it in the rack and looked through the lens, there was only one picture. Most of the pictures were pictures of beautiful places. Some pictures were of New York and places that maybe none of the country people would ever see any other way.

The floors were scrubbed white with lye soap and sand. There was some rag rugs scattered around. There were enlarged pictures hanging on the walls. They had an old wash stand with a big bowl and pitcher on it with some rough linen towels hanging on a rack. A comb and brush that looked as if it was made of bone were laying on the wash stand.

They had an old organ that you had to peddle to play. We loved that.

Down below the spout was an old spring house built from logs, with water running through it where stone jars and a churn were set. Things kept very well for a few days in the spring house. At least it was better than leaving them in the house. They kept the spring house locked.

There was a smoke house where they smoked the hams with hickory smoke. They kept their meat salted down in an old wooden box. The hams would hang up in the smoke house year in and year out. They tied some flower sacks around them until they got ready to use them.

There was an old buckeye tree that stood over part of the kitchen and made a good shade for the yard. In the fall of the year, people would come to get them. Older people said they would cure rheumatism if you carried one in your pocket. There were plenty of chestnuts and chinquapins all over the country. This was before the blight came through and killed all the chestnut trees.

Grandpa had an old ox that did all the plowing. Over a long time, he could get a lot of plowing done. This was slow, but the land was rough and hilly. They raised corn, vegetables, chickens, pigs, cows and some sheep. Most all mountain people raised enough to live on some way.

They had one hen that crowed. Everyone said, "get rid of her. She will bring bad luck". But, they loved her and made a pet of her. When she would fly up on the fence and crow, all the roosters would run her off of the hillside. She seemed to know that people were trying to figure her out.

Grandma would tell us some interesting things about her grandmother, Sally. She was a midwife. Times were mighty hard in her days. There was a war [Civil War] going on and most of the men were away. Her husband was dead. Someone killed him at an election. They hit him in the head with a rock. They did some primitive things in those days.

Sally seemed to hate all men somewhat after that. She had to go out sometimes at night riding on an old horse and sometimes in an old homemade box sled, with an old oil lantern hung on the front to give light. Six miles was a long way when you had to travel as they did. Grandma would go with Sally on trips when she was young. Sally stood up in the front of the box sled and held the reins while my grandmother sat in the back on an old wagon seat.

One night while they were going a few miles down the old road in the sled, Grandma said Sally was very nervous. Grandma asked her what was wrong. Sally said when the clouds passed from over the moon, she saw a big panther walking on the rail fence on the side of the road and she wondered if he would jump on them or the horse. Sally had her gun with her, but was afraid to shoot as she could not see well enough to hit it. They just kept going. Finally, the fence ran out some other way and they got there safe.

Sally would stay with the family about a week or longer when a baby was born. Sally looked after the baby and she helped with other things. Sally did not get but very little money, but the family gave her such as they had   eggs, cured meat, dried apples.

One day when Sally got home, there was a message to go to another place. It said they were expecting the baby to come any time. They packed their satchel, went on to the house, but when they got there, the father was not at home, just the mother and two small children, and she was expecting just any time. Sally asked the mother where her husband was and was told that she guessed he was visiting the neighbors. There were two women that lived about a mile down the ridge that were very kind to men going that way. Sally just about knew he would be there. She said she needed to take a little walk. She went on down there and sure enough, he was there. She could see him in the window sitting at the table, eating and laughing. She picked up a good sized stick and just opened the door and went on in and started to beating on him. When she got him out, she got him told in no nice way that his wife and children needed him. Sally told him if she ever heard of him going there again, she would tell his wife where she found him and they both would kill him.

Grandma said Sally told her about her son being a deserter. He just would not fight. The officers came looking for him many times, but they never found him. Sally had him hid in an old hollow tree most of the time. Her son was a Quaker and did not believe in war or fighting. The officers came by one day looking for deserters and they had found one. He was the son of an old blind man that lived across the way. They had him tied on a horse. They stopped at Sally's house to see if they could find her son, but they did not. Sally really bawled them out about taking a blind man's only son. That son had to do everything for his father. She told them that his father could starve to death or fall in the fire. She said, "You should be ashamed and turn him loose to go back to his blind father." They sassed her and said, "We got a job to do and we aiming to do it." They drove off, but in about a half of an hour, they saw the boy coming toward the house. The officers had let him get away to go back home to look after his blind father.