The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Ozark Dreams and Mountain Memories - Part 1 of 24

Lillie A. Emory, a writer out standing in her field.Lillie A. Emery, a writer out standing in her field.By Lillie A. Emery © 1987

Issue: March, 1987

Dear Mama and Papa,

It seems to me that most of the people who live in the southern cotton farm regions and the thousands who migrated from there to the cities would enjoy reading your story immensely. And because, to my knowledge, there has been no real true to life story written about the everyday efforts, hopes, and dreams of people like you from our region, I'm going to write an account of your life together. This account of your life is going to be written in the language of our family which is a century's old mixture of English Scottish brought mixed together with the unpolished simple language of our Arkansas hill region.

Your life together was a beautiful story as old and enduring as time itself. And because of your love and respect for God, for each other, and for us children, our simple little cotton farm was an island of love and happiness.

In spite of the simplicity of our surroundings, we lived together with dignity. Throughout the years there was sorrow and many disappointments and although you never did acquire much materialistic wealth, there was always a wealth of optimistic faith and a sharing of constant love, laughter and happiness as pure and simple and unexplainable as a morning sunrise.

Eking out a living for eight children during the depression on a hill cotton farm required a child like faith in the Almighty, the cunning to outwit the elements, inexhaustible physical strength and just plain good luck. You two managed to do all this without a complaint and with a consistency that never faltered.

As I began to write this story Mama is past eighty years old and she is alone. Oh, she has someone with her, but she is still alone for Papa is gone. But just as they both knew from the beginning of their many years together, they remained together, 'til death did part them.

Now it seems Mama busies herself with her daily tasks of keeping herself unscrupulously neat, caring for her flowers, and feeding her pets that she becomes more serene, gentle, and angel like each day.

Some day Mama will be with Papa again; they will be happy in the Heaven they have earned. Perhaps they will be with their own Papas and Mamas who left them when they were so young and of course, there will be baby Mary Ann also.

In order for strangers to understand how Mama managed to overcome all the hardships she and Papa knew and still created a happy home, I felt that it was necessary to explain her early life first.

Mama was born in 1882 on a farm on a rich fertile ridge surrounded by lush swamps and timberlands. Before tragedy struck her family, she had loving parents, three grown brothers who were hard working, mischievous, and loved to play their banjoes, guitars, etc. She had some small brothers, too and the baby was only one year old.

Mama loved the big farmhouse and all of the people who lived there. She loved to help her Mama and the two hired girls keep house and cook for all of the people who worked in their fields and sawmill. She loved to get all dressed up in at least four petticoats and a red print calico dress and ride in a buggy or wagon to church on Sundays. Weekdays she loved to wait by their gate for the covered wagon that came by filled with other children and took her to school where they studied from McGuffy books and learned their three R's.

Mama was a happy little girl in a secure world. She seemed frail and timid perhaps because of her delicate features and petite stature; but during her more than eighty years, she displayed the courage and stamina of a lioness. Her eyes were a soft, dark navy blue. Her hair then was jet black framing her milk white, delicate face. Even after all these years Mama still has a beauty about her and such pretty eyes.

But alas, when she was still in her teens, Mama's happy, secure world ended with such tragedy that she never forgot the nightmare.

That winter began just as all other winters had, but it was soon evident that it was going to be different. There was rain that froze into sheets of ice; then snows that piled into high drifts. Then there was more freezing rain and more snow. The livestock had to be herded in from the pasture and fields to be protected from the elements.

First Mama's baby brother came down with the flu; the neighbors also began to come down with the flu and measles that soon turned into pneumonia. Soon in most families, there was serious illness. The community's one doctor was busy night and day; Mama was left to care for her family while her Mama helped out more sick and needy families. The great concern at their house was that the baby would not take a relapse and keep improving.

The epidemic grew worse; the people began to gather frequently at church to bury their relatives and friends and to pray for the recovery of others caught in the awful nightmare.

Then Mama's favorite big brother began running an alarmingly high temperature which was soon diagnosed as the beginning of measles and flu. It seemed in no time at all until pneumonia had set in. Then as in a bad dream the happy, mischievous boy was no more.

Oh, he was there with the faintest, still smile on his young face as he lay so silently beneath the counterpane.

Many people were there. The preacher said a prayer for the departed one's soul and asked for strength to be given so that the others might overcome the terrible epidemic. The doctor was there. He had used every bit of scientific knowledge that he knew; then he knelt with the others to say a prayer. The photographer was there; he took a picture of the beloved boy lest his image should dim in future years. But alas, it was all in vain for his parents never lived to see the picture.

A few times during the years when we were growing up and looked at the family pictures in her big trunk, Mama told us about the tragedy. They had barely said good bye to her older brother when Mama herself took sick abed. She recalled how at times she was aware during her feverish deliriums that she was being cared for by neighbors, that her Mama and Papa and another of her big brothers were also sick abed. Bits of conversation drifted to her, things she couldn't and wouldn't believe. The voices asked each other such frightening questions as who would go get the preacher for a finale prayer and who had the strength to dig another grave in the frozen ground.

Then Mama awakened one morning as sunlight beamed through the windows. Her baby brother chattering about having eaten his egg and drinking his milk for breakfast. As she ate the food brought to her by a neighbor woman, Mama knew that she was facing a new life where she would have to depend on her own strength and wisdom and that of her one remaining big brother. She knew they had to keep the little children together in their home.

She and her big brother managed to salvage the big house and a portion of the farm, but the sawmill, much of the land and most of their livestock had to be sold.

Mama missed the love and guidance of her parents, the care free gaiety of her other brothers and the gatherings at their house for plantings, harvestings, or just getting together for occasional square dancing or just listening to the songs and music of their friends. Mama was often frightened, for overnight she had been changed from a protected, cared for, beloved child to the head of a parentless house of younger children. Yes, there was untold fear and hard work to be reasoned with, but Mama never faltered with her duties.

The years passed. The younger children grew into young adults and went their own ways, except for her baby brother; he still lived at home, her big brother married his childhood sweetheart and brought her to share the big house with them. Then, at last Mama had time for a life of her own. She met Papa; she fell in love with Papa; she married him. She was then twenty five years old.