The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Memories Of Winter

An Interview By Pam Hounshell © 1986

Issue: January, 1986

Living in the mountains of Kentucky along the south fork, commonly known as Springfork, of Quicksand Creek, a tributary of the Big Sandy River, Opal Lovely enjoyed the simplistic life of a farmer's daughter during the 1940's. Untouched by most forms of industry, the people of Springfork lived in many ways a lifestyle similar to that of the first settlers of the area.

Opal recalls winters in the mountains as "unyielding." The winter months were characterized by huge snow drifts, blizzards and snow storms that lasted for days on end. Winter arrived early, sometimes as soon as November, and lasted often until the beginning of April. Though cold, the winter months were a time of relative leisure as compared to the busy days of summer planting and fall harvesting.

Entertainment was a matter of creative initiative for children during the winter months. Opal recalls, "Store bought games were unheard of. We invented our own games out of things we found lying around the house." Some favorites include five-grain (a game played with grains of corn), fox and geese, club fist, slap hands and name corners. Opal says her personal favorite was a game taught to her by her mother entitled, "William Twimbletoe." She still recalls the old-time rhyme chanted throughout the game.

William Twimbletoe, he's a good waterman.
Catches his hens and puts them in the pen.
Some lay eggs.
Some not.
Three geese in a flock.
Some flew east
Some flew west.
Some flew over the cuckoo's nest.
Be on your way home.
Yonder comes men driving cattle.
Can't you hear their money rattle?
Wring your dishrag in the sand,
and go home with a blue-eyed man.

"Of course we loved to play outside. We went sledding down the hillsides or skating when the creek froze over. We played Jack-Be-Nimble by placing a lighted stick in a mound of snow and taking turns jumping over it. We made snowmen, had snowball fights - almost anything to keep us busy and out-of-doors."

Winter was by no means a season of all games and no work. There were plenty of chores to be done and everyone had their share of work. "By the time we turned eight or nine years old, we were old enough to help cut firewood. This was a job for everyone, boys and girls. We would cut the trees down, then slide them down to the bottom of the hill where they would be cut into logs for the fireplace." Coal was dug out of the creek beds in the fall before the ground froze over.

There were chores to be done indoors as well. One of the more enjoyable kinds of work was churning. "My mother would take the cream off the milk and set it by the fire to curdle. If it got too hot, we had to put it in a pan of cold water to cool it off. When it was ready, I would churn the butter. It usually took around an hour. When it was done, my mother would take out the butter and whip it until all the milk was gone. Salt was the only flavoring we added."

"We had wooden floors so we didn't mop or vacuum, but scrubbed the floors once a week. Brooms were homemade of broomcorn, a type of straw we grew in the summer." The only detergent available was homemade lye soap which was used for cleaning, laundry and bathing. During the meals, the women would carry water from the well in the garden and heat it over the fireplace while the men ate. When the men finished, the women would eat whatever was left before doing the dishes.

In preparation for winter, women stored food to tide them over until the next growing season. The only sweeteners used were molasses, made from home-grown cane and honey, taken from private beehives, stored in large wooden tubs. Berries, fruits and vegetables were canned. Beans, peas and peppers were hung to dry in attics and kitchens. Potatoes were buried in the ground in straw lined holes to protect them from the cold. We had a smokehouse behind our house where we would prepare meat. We hung up large pieces of meat, usually pork, with paw-paw tree bark. We used hickory chips for the fire to give the meat a smoky flavor. The fire had to be kept burning for days."

"For special occasions we had such treats as gingerbread, peanuts, and baked chicken. If we had a turkey, my father had to win it in a shooting match. We never baked our turkeys but boiled them instead." Holidays were celebrated though not to the extent they are today. Most were celebrated as religious celebrations rather than social get-togethers. Children no matter how small, learned the Biblical meaning of each holiday.

Thanksgiving was celebrated with a dinner usually consisting of a fried chicken and a variety of vegetables. The holiday was considered a day to give thanks to the Lord for the blessings he had bestowed. Neither children nor adults knew of the pilgrims and their trials.

Houses were not decorated with Christmas trees, lights or tinsel to celebrate Christmas. Presents were not exchanged nor was caroling popular. The only concession made to add a festive note to the holiday was the hanging of stockings which were eventually filled with cookies, gingerbread, peanuts and peppermint sticks and the gathering of mistletoe from the local wood.

"We did not celebrate New Year's Eve but January 6th, which we called Old Christmas. It was supposed to be the longest night and shortest day of the year. We would try to sit up all night long though we hardly ever made it."

There were no gifts of clothing on the holidays as is often the case today. Clothes were in short supply and were never bought new. They were either home made or ordered from a catalog used. Small children wore overalls, flannel shirts and boy's shoes. "We didn't have socks but wrapped our feet in rags called shoe rags. We didn't get shoes until we were seven years old - old enough to do outside work."

Men wore overalls and flannel shirts while working. For special occasions such as funerals or weddings they wore a suit, usually the only one they owned. Men's clothing always had a watch pocket to hold the gold watches popular at the time. Those who were too poor to buy a watch carried a tin of tobacco in the pocket.

Women past the age of twelve wore dresses made of printed calico and high-topped shoes to protect their feet from rain and snow. "Makeup was not very common. Some women, usually the young unmarried ones, wore bright red rouge and lipstick." Hair was worn in long braids pinned over each ear. Side combs and hair pins were very popular. Women did not carry purses but Buffalo chewing tobacco bags with a drawstring which they carried in the front of their dresses.

Opal recalls the winters of the past with a touch of longing for the old days. She says she enjoys today too much to really miss those days, yet she wishes she could go back for just one day to relive some of the wonderful memories. "Life was hard in the 1940's. Though we had little in the way of money, we had plenty of spirit and love and that's what really counts."