The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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

Ozark Dreams and Mountain Memories - Part 4 of 24

By Lillie A. Emery © 1987

Issue: June, 1987

A few weeks after Papa was born in 1875, both his parents died. He was raised by his teenage half brothers and sister. Goodness sake's alive, how in the world did four children that young manage to raise a little bitty baby back then, I've often wondered. And how did their English/Scottish parents come to be in the Ozark Hills?

Papa was almost 30 years old when he met Mama on a crisp autumn day. Mama and the two hired girls, Emma and Widow McMartin, had gone to town to buy calico print and eyelet embroidery for new dresses and petticoats. Their buggy broke down in the middle of the road. Papa came along hauling a wagon load of lumber to town; he stopped and fixed the buggy.

Mama told me about meeting Papa a few times when I was a little girl. When I was sick abed she'd read to me from her McGuffy reader or Papa's King Arthur book. She said he acted as courteous as a real prince when he fixed the buggy. She said he was so handsome with a mischievous twinkle in his Scottish blue eyes and his shy smile.

Mama and her brother Andrew lost the sawmill when their parents died, but they still owned the bunkhouse. Widow McMartin and Emma cooked for the mill hands. They said Papa was quiet, and after supper he mostly sat by the fireplace and read till real late from some books he carried in a big leather saddle bag. And they said he was single, but not a bit rowdy.

When Widow McMartin yelled out, "Gentlemen the vittles be ready now." No matter their upbringing or lack of it, every lumber jack in them parts knew to act like a gentleman when he came to sit at McMartin's table; else he'd find himself outside looking in.

The Saturday next after he fixed the buggy, Papa came to the house just as Mama had supper ready. He returned a bridle and some other harness that had fallen by the road when he fixed the buggy. Andrew thanked Papa and insisted he wash up and join them for supper. When Andrew asked him if he'd ask the blessing, Papa obliged with old world eloquence.

Mama took items of his table manners and the courteous regards he showed for her younger brothers. She was sure he came from a learned and genteel family.

He asked Andrew about their parents. He quietly listened as they told him about all the good and happy times their family had before the awful sickness came. Then when Andrew asked Papa about his parents, he didn't answer for the longest time. He got up and as he put on his coat, he said he was sorry, but he didn't have any memories of happy times with his parents to share.

Andrew insisted Papa take off his coat and stay for a snack of hoe cake and milk. Mama said that snack turned out to be a festive meal with a world of laughter and fun. Papa took charge of cooking the hoe cakes while Andrew got some ham from the smokehouse and Mama and her younger brothers set out the milk, honey and apple sauce.

It was late when Papa went to the bunk house. Before he left he told them about his childhood. His father was a widower with four children when he married Papa's mother and a few weeks after he was born, his parents both died. His three teen age half brothers and sister told him they had promised their dying father to always take care of Papa and each other and to teach him to cipher and to read their Bible and other books. And their father told them to work the farm and for them to teach Papa all the things they would learn while raising him.

Papa said even though his brothers and sister were so young, they possessed a vast storehouse of wise and wonderful knowledge about caring for people and all living things on the Earth. He said much of their knowledge came from over yonder across the ocean wide from Scotland, Ireland and England from whence their families came.

Before Papa grew up, his brothers and sister married. They divided the farm, built homes, bought more land and started their own families. Papa then had a big family. He lived with and helped which ever one needed him most. In bad weather he took his nephews and nieces to school in the buggy. Sometimes the teacher would invite him to stay for spelling bees and ciphering matches. Each night he would read their books by the coal oil lamp. Vaguely Papa started to make him some plans for a life and a home of his own. Even though he had a lot of kinfolk, he felt alone and outside when his brothers' children began making plans for going away for higher learning.

Papa's oldest brother came down with the dreaded fever and died. Then later another brother also died. Papa felt duty bound to stay and help his brothers' widows with their families and farms. He worked and lived a lonely life while repaying a debt he felt he owed his departed brothers. His nephews and nieces went to school and became successful as teachers, farmers and at other jobs. When the farming season was out, Papa hauled lumber for his own money then later as an excuse to see Mama.

Two years after they met, Mama and Papa got married. She was then 25 and he was 32 years old. They packed her belongings in Papa's wagon to begin the journey that took them to their cabin in the hills near his people.

Mama told us many times what she took from her childhood home. She took her Mama's big camel back trunk packed with her white wedding dress and other clothing, family pictures, some quilt tops she had helped sew when she was a little girl and some other keepsakes. She took an iron tea kettle, skillet and soup kettle and a big iron wash kettle filled with dishes wrapped in quilts. She took her big feather bed and bolster pillow. She took good things to eat from their smokehouse and cellar and following behind the wagon was a fine cow and calf. On their homeward journey they spent a few days in a boarding house in town and shopped and made plans for their life together.

Eighteen years later on March 25, 1924, I was born in a log cabin that set high upon a hill on Mama and Papa's new and bigger farm. I was the seventh of eight children and the youngest of four girls. Two years later Jonathan "Baby Brother" was born.

Today as I prepare this story to mail to "The Mountain Laurel" for publication, it is March 25, 1987, my 63 birthday. When I began writing this all down half a lifetime ago, I did not know it would be published, but in my heart of hearts I knew it was a precious and rich bit of Americana about the Ozark Mountain/Hill folks that should not be forgotten. Mama and Papa, as well as so many other Ozark families, taught their children and raised us with practically no help from the outside world. But when Mama and Papa's four fine sons grew up they were needed and sent to the four corners of the world to help preserve our precious freedom. Most of us Ozark kids dreamed of seeing the outside world and crossing the ocean and most of our boys did, but many, many of them never came back home. Lordy, freedom cost a heartbreaking price there in the Ozarks. Too many of our "Hillbilly" boys lost their lives or their youth and peace of mind in too many awful wars. Why?

I've often wondered how Mama and Papa became so patient, kind and wise. They both knew so much about so many things. They knew how to raise children, pigs, puppies, peanuts, popcorn and everything else in between. Today I can walk through our meadows and woods and name almost every plant or creature I see and I learned it all from my parents down in the Ozarks.

So today on my 63rd birthday, as I look back down yonder road to my beginnings and farther back to Mama and Papa's beginnings, it's really hard to believe I've made this bitter/sweet wonderful journey to here. Lordy, the road was oft times uphill, rough and rocky, but always mysterious and sometimes gloriously wonderful!

Oh Life, what an awesome adventure! The hopes, dreams, tears, laughter, love – I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I hope to keep on and on living, learning and writing. Shucks, it would take another lifetime to write about how I survived being called "Baby Sister" at home, "Jaybird Legs" at school and "Hillbilly" when I went into the cotton fields and cities.

For Goodness Sakes, it is my birthday and I'm going to Ponderosa later for dinner, but first I'm gonna take my daily walk down the hill by the pond, then through the woods to the creek. But next month, my dear friends and readers, I'll share with you another episode of my Ozark Dreams and Mountain Memories.

Till then, look for me down by yonder creek.