From the book about North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains and Foothills
Life Through the Eyes of a Child
Submitted by Gail Mckinney of Bakersville, North Carolina
This is a story of life through the eyes of a child in a mountain county in North Carolina that borders on the state of Tennessee. By today’s standards, I suppose we could have been called poor. However, we never considered ourselves poor. We had food, heat for the house, and sufficient clothing to keep warm. We had food that was mainly homegrown, heat from a big ol’ wood heater in the living room, and clothing, either handmade, or if we really lucky, ordered from a mail order catalog. We were also filled with more than enough love to go around, so we didn’t feel a great need for anything else.
There was a certain routine to mornings. When the Old Big Ben clock rang, Daddy would get out of bed, start the fires, and put a teakettle of water on to heat. When the water was warm, Mama would go to the kitchen to start breakfast. I would drag my little red rocking chair close to Daddy’s straight back chair where he sat and told me stories. Some were funny and some were scary. But when I consider the horror movies of today, Daddy's stories weren’t scary at all. How I wish those stories had been written down! I can only remember very little of them.
Winters could be long and hard. There was no inside plumbing at our house. I remember a winter when the snow was so deep that Dad had to shovel a path to the outhouse. When I walked that path, the snow on each side was so high I could barely see over the sides.
I had an older brother that had the art of teasing a little sister down to a science. Mama kept a bushel of potatoes on the upstairs landing in winter to prevent them from freezing. My brother was teasing me one day and I ran up the stairs and started throwing potatoes down at him. I stuck my head through the banisters and couldn’t pull it back out. I began to yell, and so Mama came running and managed to get my head out. I got a pop on the backside for throwing potatoes, and my brother got a big laugh out of the whole thing. However, he was sure particular about that wind up record player he had earned enough money to buy. Oh, he was so proud to have such a thing; I was not allowed to touch it. I watched and waited patiently for him to leave the house. When he did, I pulled a chair up to that record player and climbed upon it. And of course, my brother picked that moment to walk back in. That’s the fastest I ever moved, trying to get out of that chair, but he caught me anyway. That’s the last time I tried that.
Our water supply came from the coldest spring you can imagine. It also supplied water for all our needs, such as cooking, bathing, and laundry. The spring was also used for cooling milk and butter. Milk from the morning milking was taken to the spring and brought back up for supper. It seemed so cold; it would hurt your teeth.
Mama did the churning and making butter. I still have Mama’s churn. The part of the churn we called the dasher is worn to one third of the original size, all because of that continual up and down motion in the process of making butter. But oh how good that butter was! Daddy would not have none of that newfangled margarine. Once my older sister tried to con him into eating margarine that had been formed into squares in Mama’s butter press. He was not to be fooled. He knew immediately and was having none of it.
This was about the time of the middle of World War II. Because everything went for the war effort, electricity was unavailable until the war ended. Oil lamps were used for light at night. Mama kept the wicks trimmed and the globes washed clean. But even before electricity was available, there was still good times, such as making ice cream in an old wooden churn. Daddy would bring home a bag of ice in a cloth bag. I remember the mixing of ingredients that went into the churn—the ice and salt packed around the combiner and the turning, turning, turning of the handle. The handle would become harder and harder to turn until it was impossible to turn it any further. Then the ice cream needed to sit for five or ten minutes before the container was opened. I thought that was the longest period of time in my life.
A watermelon was another wonderful part of summer. Daddy would bring home the biggest watermelon he could find. After several hours in the cold spring water, it would almost hurt your teeth to eat it. It was that cold.
Neighborhood kids and a grape vine swing. With that combination, not much could be more fun or more dangerous. At the top of the mountain above our house was the grandest grape vine swing in all creation. At the highest point before the swing returned to the starting point, we must have been approximately 20 feet off the ground. School started in the fall, leaving us little time to think about going to the swing. But after a hard day in the classroom, one beautiful fall day a group of kids headed up the mountain. Imagine our disappointment after a hard climb to find the grape vine swing cut off at the top of the tree! Who would do such a thing? Years later, Daddy confessed. He was afraid someone could be badly hurt on his property. He didn’t fess up sooner because he didn’t want a bunch of kids mad because he cut it down.
Church was an important part of our lives. We didn’t consider it any hardship to walk to church every time there were services, come rain, or come shine. We walked to church as a family, but when services were over, a group of kids would walk back together. We would laugh and sing and have a great time.
The family would begin to prepare for church on Saturday afternoon. Since at that time there was no indoor plumbing, our baths were taken in a number three washtub. Then we would polish our shoes to a fine luster. It didn’t take long to choose which dress to wear, since I only had two to choose from.
Sunday lunch was always special. Mama would start preparation on Saturday. She always had plenty of chickens in the lot and could kill and dress a chicken with no trouble. Also, there were always plenty of homegrown vegetables, fresh in summer and canned in winter. There was a table full of food to feed the family and any guests, either expected or unexpected. No one left Mama’s table hungry.