From the book about The Tennessee Mountains, Rabbit Tobacco and Mountain Farms
One of the Best
Submitted by Clata Fisher of Elizabethton, TN
“It is better to laugh than to cry,” was often said by Helena Scott Pealer, mother of nine children, who grew up in northeastern Tennessee. How often I think of her and I remember some of her “sayings” which I would like to share with you a little later in this story.
To begin with, Helena Mae was born to Bascom and Verda Scott in 1900. In later years, when asked what she did as a child, she would laughingly say, “work.” She was quick to say that she had fun also. She loved to dance “the Charleston” in her teenage years and when we were growing up, we kids would talk her into dancing for us. It was fun to see her and my oldest sister’s husband “waltz” on Christmas Eve before we opened gifts. She, her siblings, and cousins seemed to have fun when they got together.
One profound thing happened during Helena’s late teens. She met and dated Mitch Pealer. Shortly afterwards, he was called into World War I. He was sent to France and began dating a French woman, whom he soon found out, was looking for a ticket to American in the form of marriage. THANK GOODNESS, THEY DID NOT MARRY! No slam on the French but I love the momma God gave me because when Mitch returned to the United Sates, he and Helena married in 1922.
The Pealers began their marriage on eight acres in Watauga, Tennessee. In the following years, they were busy raising their large family, seven girls and two boys. Prior to this, my mother had finished school through the seventh grade but she became what I would say “a self-educated” woman and had a lot of common sense. Miss Helen, as she was known by many, would read our schoolbooks and anything she could get her hands on, including the Bible and newspapers. She really enjoyed detective stories but protected us from them! She encouraged us to read and get a good education. This “humble” yet sometimes “peppery” woman of Irish descent loved her family and tried to make each one of us feel special.
Momma had a good sense of balance and tried to instill that in us. She believed in hard work, which we had plenty of, but she had a way of making it fun. We worked in big gardens all summer, picked up apples and blackberries and canned these items to last our family through the winter. Along the way she would say, “Okay kids; let’s get the work done so we can play!” Often she would follow us outside with a basket of beans, etc. to “work on” while we played. I think she really wanted to be with us. Other times, seeing all of us were tired of gardening, pulling weeds and so forth, she would say, “Let’s make homemade ice cream tonight!”
In order to make this ice cream happen, she would have had to buy extra ice from the iceman ahead of time. Momma would take precious milk, eggs, vanilla, sugar and add fruit such as bananas or peaches. First, she would combine the ingredients and put that mixture in a container. Then that container would be put down in a larger bucket-type container, which we would have to keep filled with ice during the process. And then the cranking would begin. Us kids would take turns cranking until my mom or dad would say, “It’s ready!” Yum! I can still taste it!
I can still hear her say, “Who wants to help me get chicken ready for tonight’s supper?” I do not mean open a package of chicken from the store. I mean catch it, cut its head off, dip it in hot water, pluck the feathers, clean it, and cut it into different pieces. I do not mean to sound so graphic but that was the way it was. I would cringe when she would even mention killing it. I had talked with her before about how it made me sick to even look at it. The same thing occurred when they had to slaughter a pig or cow. Ewwww! God bless her for not making me help with those types of chores because it truly made me sick! I still get queasy today when I think about meat.
“Let’s get supper over with early tonight so we can listen to the Lone Ranger,” Momma would sometimes say. We would all gather in the living room of the home my daddy built, around the fireplace, which was near the radio. Between that fireplace and a potbelly stove in the “middle room” and the kitchen stove we kept warm. After listening to the radio, Momma would sometimes say, “I hope it is a nice day tomorrow, as the laundry is starting to pile up.” We had a wringer washing machine, which was much better than the scrub board she started out with. I enjoyed hanging the clothes out to dry and continue that tradition even today!
I haven’t meant to be remiss about our daddy but he had a full time job as a carpenter with Summers Taylor, which is still in business to this day. It was Momma who was always with us. Daddy was very supportive of her. In fact, he would often can with us on his day off work.
By today’s standards, we did not have a lot materially but I feel we had a good life. All nine of us had the same mom and dad and that instilled security in us. We all grew up in the same house until we were grown. How different from today’s mobile society. I believe we had a good childhood and I wouldn’t change it if I could.
After supper, sometimes we all loved to gather on the front porch to sing our hearts content. Often we received “requests” from some of our neighbors who could hear us singing. I’m surprised we weren’t invited to the “Grand Ole Opry!” Speaking of music, our momma played three musical instruments and never had a lesson. How sweet it was to see all 5 foot 110 pounds of her sitting at the piano, playing, and singing!
Racial prejudice was a no-no in the Pealer house and one of Momma’s favorite quotes was “None of us chose our color; God is in charge of that!” I admired many things about her but especially her humor and sense of fairness. Many people have told me over the years that I remind them of Momma, what a compliment! She was so proud of her children and was quick to say she had produced an engineer, two teachers, and all of us were responsible, caring adults.
Now a couple more of Momma’s “sayings.” “It’s the principle of it!” One example-if you owed someone ten cents, pay it back! Another, “It’s not what you own but who you are!” Boy did we ever know when her Irish kicked in. No one dared pick on our daddy or one of their kids. If so, she would say, “They don’t know their a** from a hole in the ground.” Our dear, sweet Momma would say that. She, who preached to us to not say bad words! Way to go Momma! Our mom and dad would often play cards with us but we were informed, “There is a winner and a loser. If you can’t be a good sport, don’t play!” Two of Momma’s favorite words were gumption and dilatory. For years, I thought she made these words up but refer to Webster’s Dictionary! When I reminisce about my Momma, it occurs to me she taught us much through work and play.
A memory of our mom that none of we siblings will forget was Momma at Myrtle Beach in a swimming suit. She who didn’t even wear long pants at that time much less a swimming suit. My oldest sister and her family talked her into that risqué moment. There are pictures of her standing in the ocean to prove it!
Have you ever heard of a grapevine? Back of our house was a wooded area with a creek. About the most adventuresome thing we ever did was sneak out there and swing across the creek with this grapevine and jump into the water below. I can tell you right now, there was no more jumping into the creek after Momma found out. She had Daddy cut the vine off clean as a whistle, she who preached to us about having fun. No more jumping-no more fun. Seriously, we could have been injured or worse.
Our daddy died in 1960 after a lingering illness attributed partly to injuries from WWI. She had maintained after his death, yet we noticed a definite void. Miss Helena passed away peacefully after a short illness in 1974. She received about 150 arrangements and many people attended her funeral. “Yes, Momma it is better to laugh than to cry” but does it count if my eyes fill up with tears when I am thinking of you and my childhood? Thanks for all the love, teaching us through work and play, and the many sacrifices you and daddy made for us. You weren’t one of the best, you were THE BEST! I love you. Clata.
This is dedicated to my momma, daddy, and my entire family!