The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

John Hayes Hollow - Spanish Needles

By Hazel P. Hedrick © 1986

Issue: January, 1986

Did you ever pick peas in a spanish needle patch? If you haven't picked peas in a spanish needle patch wearing cotton stockings, flour sack bloomers and a feed sack petty-frock, then you haven't lived.

When I was growing up, girls didn't wear boys clothes, and there were no long (or short) pants made for girls. We never went to work or play in the sun without a hat on our head and a long sleeve dress shirt. Men did not go without a shirt no matter how hot the weather. Both men and women took much better care of their skin than they do today, even though many of us had to use homemade lye soap to bath with in those days.

Wading into briar patches to pick blackberries and picking peas in the fall are two jobs I can recall that would have been much easier if we could have worn overalls or blue jeans, but not even old married women would dare put on a pair of their husband's overalls no matter what the job they were doing, even if it was cleaning out stables, or riding the mule to the field.

As if it weren't bad enough to wear a tow-sack apron tied around your waist with a draw string and hanging down below your knees, you were picking dry peas with both hands, pushing them into that tow-sack apron, stabbing your tummy with every handful. Briars were grabbing at your sleeves and hat. The dust mixed with the crisp fall air and chapped your lips and dried your skin. As if that wasn't torture enough, there were those little black, scratchy, spanish needles just waiting to hitch a ride on your clothes by the thousands.

And hitch a ride they did. They would catch onto your shoe laces, stockings, bloomers, your petty-frock, dress, tow-sack apron and even the band on your straw hat. By the end of the day you would have so many of those little black needles on your clothes you looked somewhat like a porcupine, and would feel like most of your body was on fire from the pea stabbings and the scratchy little legs of the spanish needles. It was an unforgettable experience.

Picking blackberries was almost as bad. Even though there were no spanish needles, there were blackberry briars to cope with and the little red chiggers. Those little insects seemed to know when the blackberries were ripe and were just sitting on every leaf waiting to catch a ride.

Chiggers wanted more than just a ride. They wanted to feed off your body. They would find the most tender spot and bury themselves in your skin. They were so tiny, you could barely see them with the naked eye, but it was no trouble finding where they were. Large whelps would swell up and itch so bad you would want to scratch all your skin off, and sometimes did. Another unforgettable experience. Those were the two jobs I hated most when growing up on the farm in the John Hayes Hollow. There were others like pulling fodder, stripping cane and cleaning out the chicken house that were not any fun either.

One of the jobs I enjoyed most was picking worms off tobacco, because my two younger sisters were afraid of the big worms. I would go ahead of them, catch the worms off my row and put them on my sister's row, just to hear them squeal and beg. My sisters were also afraid of those little black and brown wooly worms you see crawling everywhere in the fall. We called them "weather worms." If they are black all over, that means a very rough winter. Brown means it will be a mild winter. I had lots of fun with them.

In my childhood, we did work hard, but we had lots of fun too. We didn't know what it was to be bored. In fact, that word was not in our vocabulary. We didn't have time to get in trouble. We might have sometimes thought about running away from home, but we never did.