The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The 1930'S: Set-Aside Days in the Country

By Grace Cash © 1990

Issue: September, 1990

Editor's Note... The following is one of a series of articles written by Grace Cash. She lives in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Watch for more of her stories in future issues.

The trial which I remember wasn't called DOMESTIC COURT DAY, but it was settled out on the grass and domestic court day seems to be the right name. In laying by time we got together with neighbor-girls and rambled on foot everywhere we went. We might cross the creek bridge and walk several miles to the house of friends who came by bus to Chestnut Mountain School. Sometimes we stopped at houses all the way down the highway to the fuzzy-topped Old Mountain.

But on the day of the trial we were rambling in the village, there at the store on the jutting ridge, overlooking the Baptist Church and the Presbyterian Church to the south and the other country store on the north. That's how we became witnesses at the trial, just sitting on the grass, watching and listening, asked to do so by the landlord trying the case. We were trained in our homes to be obedient to our elders, and nobody even thought about saying we didn't have any business being there.

The landlord claimed he had been robbed of some sort of farm possession, and it was the little family - sparsely clothed young parents and little children - who had done the stealing. So the case had been set up, the landowner grinning at the accused, then turning to look at the witnesses, seeking approval, but none of us knew anything about what had happened, and had never seen the renters before. He would turn back to his farmhands and tell them how he had trusted them, and provided a home for them. "Now ain't that the truth?" he asked, but they shook their heads, halfway hanging off the bench. Red-faced, angry, scared, they remained speechless throughout the trial. The landlord would shake his head, as much as to say they were telling a bald-faced lie. He would laugh, and try to make them talk, and ask the same questions over and over, then ask them, "Now ain't that the truth?"

The case was finally settled: The renters would have to pay for what they had been accused of stealing, and they would have to move from the farm. The landlord had made the judgment and the settlement himself. The witnesses didn't say a word throughout the trial. We never knew whether the family had stolen anything, but all of us knew what it would mean to be turned out of a rented farmhouse at laying by time, the harvest not yet in, and far too late to start a new crop.

And then there was VACCINATION DAY. I had typhoid fever when I was eight years old, and I was pronounced by my doctor as immune to the typhoid germ, and wouldn't have to be vaccinated in my whole lifetime. But my parents forgot that when word came the Public Health Doctor was coming to Chestnut to vaccinate everybody free of charge. One time in the winter, when Carl got sick, they had us all stand up in a row and take a spoonful of castor oil along with him although only my brother was sick. The fear of having to call the doctor, and no money to pay him, almost equaled the fear of the illness itself, and that had something to do with sending me along with all the brothers and sisters to the village for my shot. Every vaccination day I had to get my shot when the others did.

The Doctor and his Nurse set up their clinic in the yard of a resident, who's white, clap-boarded store was located across the alley from his dwelling house. The yard was narrow, and a country road cut through between the store and the house across the road. We ranged around the well, in a corner off to itself, and waited for our names to be called. When boys we knew drove by, we would wave at them - superior people who didn't have to worry about a typhoid germ.

The yard filled with young people, and Vaccination Day was as much fun as a medicine show in Robert's pasture, or an ice cream social held at one house and another. The Doctor kept one eye on his pretty nurse, wearing a pale green organdy dress halfway down to her ankles, and white high heeled pumps. He was a jolly man, and that part was welcome, the way we dreaded the death-smelling alcohol swabbed on our arms above the elbows, and the long steel needle, like the extra-large needles Mama used when she made straw ticks for our beds.

There were some farmers in the community who wouldn't allow their children to take the vaccination. It wouldn't have surprised these long-faced men, standing on the store porch and watching what was going on, if we had all died, and we thought ourselves we would, later on, when we got home and our jabbed arms started reddening and swelling. We felt sick and moped around a day or so, getting no parental sympathy, since Papa and Mama thought they were doing what was best for us. They had seen typhoid take its heavy toll, not only in our family, but in the neighborhood, and they considered no price too high to stamp it out.

Still another day made its mark in the memory of the rural folks of our community, and in several communities adjoining ours. Every summer CHILDREN'S DAY was observed at the Hopewell Church, set on a flatland shaded by a grove of trees, and widely known for its spring where the young people strolled together, and some made the acquaintance of the one they would marry on that pine-shaded path. Children's Day was a by-product of the various Sunday Schools of Hall and Jackson Counties. Each community prepared, and presented, a program on the stage - an outdoor wooden platform, well-roofed but open, and supplied with an organ for the occasion. I was "on program" several times, and once I prepared the program for the Chestnut Mountain Sunday School, and wrote some of the recitations myself. The Children's Day program was a test of what we had all learned from pulpit sermons, and in Sunday School, which resulted in some of the speeches turning into little sermons.

The way we got our "literature" at the Chestnut Mountain Sunday School is worthy of note, and it must have been that we were the poorest congregation in two counties, since I never heard of anybody else taking eggs to Sunday School as an offering. Our superintendent, for as long as I could remember on up till he died was Col. Will Oliver (called "Colonel" because he was a lawyer). He built a white one story house, fronted by a spacious colonnaded porch, filled with large handsome rocking chairs and bright blooming potted flowers, growing in white-washed boxes. There was a wing for sleeping rooms, a wing for cooking and dining, a parlor and other rooms for private use, and his study, called "The Library," all four walls stocked with books from floor to ceiling. He commuted to the county seat to his law office during the week, and left the farm to his family and the black people living on the farm. And he - who could bring a money offering to church - introduced the plan of farm children bringing eggs as a Sunday School offering.

On Sunday morning he arrived at church in time to ring the bell, and greet everybody with a deep-voiced "Hello there!" and a rolling kind of laughter. Mama saw to it that each of her children carried an egg to Sunday School. And not just our family, but the family across the hill from us did the same, and dozens of other families living on surrounding farms.

Miss Hattie Cooper was the secretary of the Sunday School during those years, and she would record the attendance and the offering on the blackboard for reading out after the classes ended. The sanctuary, assembly and classrooms were all the same, all just one long room with wooden benches, a foot-pedal organ and a roomy pulpit. Miss Hattie would read out the report, telling how many were present in the various classes, how much money each class gave, and last of all, how many eggs each class brought. Then she read the totals, and Col. Oliver would have her read again how many eggs (to be exchanged at the Country Store for money) and he would thank everybody special who brought eggs.

It wasn't called that - a sacrifice to us was Abraham offering Isaac on a burning altar - but robbing the hen nests for the Sunday School was a hardship, and a kindred sacrifice. When a hen was getting ready to set Mama knew it by her lazy clucking ways, not paying attention to the Rhode Island and Dominecker hens and roosters. (Some seasons we had White Leghorns, "little banty hens" and guineas who built their nests in the swamp.) A setting hen called for thirteen eggs, and it also meant a hen not laying for a long time in the row of hen-nests nailed high on the cow stable. If anybody bothered around the nest she had claimed for herself, she would peck the daylights out of the intruder. Besides there were hens who stopped laying for a while for no reason anybody could figure out. Even so, that didn't keep Mama from sending us off with eggs every Sunday morning, but it did keep eggs from the table and the sweetbread now contained only syrup, flour, lard, water and extra added soda to make the pones rise.

A half-century has passed since then and I still think it is amazing that a "town lawyer" ever thought of farm children bringing eggs to Sunday School. I think it is even more amazing that the parents parted graciously with what was a central part of the family's food. Looking back, I think they were altogether different from Abraham making a sacrifice to God - they were making a sacrifice for their children.