The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Down Memory Lane - Maw's Library

By Martha Cockrell Robinson © 1990

Issue: August, 1990

The Bible and the almanac, plus the daily newspaper (The Birmingham Post) - these were the sum total of Maw's reading materials. I refer to them as "reading" materials, but actually Maw did more spelling aloud and "sounding out" (as she put it) of any words that were unfamiliar to her than she did actual reading. After spelling and sounding out a word, if she still couldn't decide what the word was, she'd call for help. Usually I was the only one near and she'd call, "Snookum Bill, come over here and tell me what this word is." I'd go and look at the word and tell her what it was, proud that I knew it and could help her, but being very careful not to act "uppity" about it because of having more schooling already at the age of 10 or 11 than Maw did in her fifties (although I didn't know Maw's age - she was just Maw and was "old" - as all Grandmas were).

I have vivid memories of Maw sitting in the kitchen by the fireplace at the old homeplace after supper, pouring over the almanac. It was a dull green color and in the upper left corner was a hole with a short string looped through it and tied. This was so it could be hung on a nail in the wall at the side of the mantle piece above the fireplace. Maw studied the almanac faithfully and never planted her vegetables or flowers without first consulting her almanac to be sure she planted at the right time. It sure paid off! Maw had a vegetable garden that supplied the table all summer long with many kinds of delicious things to eat. And women came from miles around for cuttings from her rose bushes and other flowers so they could grow some of their own. Her flower garden flourished just like her vegetable garden. No doubt this was the result of Maw's careful study of her almanac plus the fact that things seemingly just couldn't help growing under Maw's "green thumb".

As though it were only yesterday, I can see Maw sitting on the big front porch on a summer afternoon after the morning chores were done and before time for supper and the evening chores. She always kicked off her shoes and sat barefoot (much to the consternation of my prim and proper Mama). Maw would sit and rest and wait for the paper boy. Finally, she'd see him coming around the bend on his bicycle and a few seconds later her paper would land with a plop on the porch. Maw really enjoyed her Birmingham Post.

Last but not least - the most important book in Maw's library - her Bible. I especially remember times when I would visit Maw after all of us had grown up and moved away to make lives of our own. I was now a "working girl" of 18. Sometimes on a Saturday or Sunday I would get on the bus and go downtown, transfer to the rickety old South Bessemer streetcar at Piritz Department Store in downtown Birmingham, then ride for an hour to the Travellick Station. After getting off the streetcar there was a long walk of a mile and a half or two miles. As I approached the old homeplace, but was still some distance away, I could see Maw sitting on the front porch with her Bible on her lap studying intently. Before I got all the way to the house, she'd spy me coming. She would wave and call out a glad welcome. Once I asked her if she got lonely there by herself. She said, "No, me and the Lord have a good time together. I'm not alone." At this stage of her life Maw no longer had a cow on the lot, but still had her chickens to help occupy her time. She also enjoyed her radio, and still made her garden with the aid of her almanac. She still enjoyed her Birmingham Post, and her Bible became even dearer to her. Maw's Library - not a large one - but a very significant one.