The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Flybush and Other Stories

By Hazel P. Hedrick © 1983

Issue: June, 1983

Sixty years ago very few mountain people had screen doors or windows and in hot weather, all kinds of wild critters would occasionally find their way into the house. The ”flybush” was made of a dozen or so pages of the Sears catalog on each side of a handle or stick about a yard long. This was used to keep the flies off the food while we ate our meals, from June to October.

Someone had to wave this “flybush” back and forth over the table every meal. Since I was the oldest of six and my Dad had to hold a toddler on his knee and Mom had to feed the baby, it most often fell my lot to wave the flybush. I hated that job. Another job I hated was keeping the cats out of the milk buckets while Mom fed the cows.

I remember when I was four or five, my dad had to work for other people to get money to buy the food and feed we could not grow on our little farm. (We wore other people’s hand-me-down clothes.) Sometimes, it would be late at night and Mom would get worried before Daddy got home. On those nights, a big hoot owl would fly right in the house, sit on top the open door for a few seconds, make a funny little sound, then fly away. Mom said it came to tell her Daddy was all right and on his way home. I think she really believed that. I believed it at the time, but I was scared of that owl and until this day, just hearing them makes me nervous.

I don’t remember this (next story) happening. I was only two or three but I’ll never forget the story, my mom told it to us so many times.

Sixty or seventy years ago, mountain mothers had to do a man’s work and woman’s work was not like it is today. My mom carried water from a spring to wash clothes for six children by hand, she also carried the children and went to the fields and worked side by side with Daddy, leaving me to watch the little ones nearby in the shade of a tree. We had no pasture fence so we had to stake our cows on a chain to graze. They had to be moved and taken to a stream for water around mid-day. Mom would always leave the field with the children around eleven to cook the mid-day meal, move and water the cows.

One day when I was two or three and my oldest brother, just crawling (in those days there were no baby cribs or playpens and there were no screens on our windows or doors) my mom put my little brother’s dress tail under the table leg so he had to stay put and took me with her to move and water the cows. This day when we got back in the yard, Mom noticed something was not as she left it. Taking a closer look, she discovered there was a big snake sliding slowly across my baby brother’s legs. He was looking at the snake with both hands raised as if getting ready to grab the snake and from where Mom was standing, she could not be sure it looked like a very poisonous copperhead. Mom knew if that baby moved or made a sound, it was snake bit and dead. She knew she had to remain still also and was helpless. She was afraid if the baby saw or heard me, he would let out a scream. Mom said the hardest thing she ever had to do in her life was stand there with her hand over my mouth until that snake crawled on off the baby’s legs and out the door. She said it couldn’t of been more than a minute but it seemed like an hour.

Some might say, how could a mother leave a baby alone in a house with no screens, well, that was better than taking him with her to water and move the cows. There were no safe places for children in those days, but my parents brought up six of us. Not one ever saw a doctor or a bottle of medicine until we were grown. There were no snake bites nor broken bones, nor a disease that mom and grandma couldn’t treat with herbs and other natural remedies. We were a healthy, happy bunch back then and all six are still reasonably healthy and happy but both parents are dead.

Another do you remember is “leather britches” cooking in a black iron pot, hanging over an open fire, on a cold winter evening. I can smell them yet. Mama dried “leather britches” (green beans strung on a string) and cooked them with a piece of homegrown and cured bacon. Sweet potato pie, a cobbler with lots of fresh country cream was my favorite food of all time. Mom kept making it for me, each time I went home to visit, as long as she lived.