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 11 of 24

By Lillie A. Emery © 1988

Issue: January-February, 1988

Editor's Note: This is a serialized, true story of a poor Ozark family in the 1930's through the eyes of one of their children; experience their hardships and heart warming togetherness as they struggle through and celebrate life in the Ozark Mountains.

The years between the time I was born in 1924 until the Great Depression really set in were good years for Papa and Mama. But before I was born some bad things happened to them which I gradually learned about but didn't fully understand until I was grown up. I knew that baby Mary Ann became ill and was taken to Heaven, that Papa got his big toe shot off in a hunting accident, that World War I was fought, and that one winter Papa almost died with pneumonia.

My first particular recollection of an exact date and its association with a particular event - except Christmas and birthdays - was in 1930, the year I was old enough to start to the school on the town road. That was a wonderful adventure that I eagerly looked forward to for I had listened to all the other children tell of all the exciting things they saw and did and about all the story books to read there. They said there was a long plank along the wall practically filled with books and the children could read them all they wanted to as long as they didn't tear them or muss them up. They told about all the games they played at recess sometimes with as many as thirty children. I made happy plans about all the things I'd do in school never dreaming they'd never come true.

All the other children had gone to school more or less regularly depending upon the weather and the progress of the crops; until that year. It seemed Papa and Mama were doing an unusual amount of worrying about the price of cotton and about the continuing depression which they said was caused by the stock market crash in New York and some bad politicians.

I had no idea what a depression was and asked if it was caused by everyone's cattle, hogs and horses falling over a high bluff in New York and if that was a stock market crash. Papa teased and said that it was, but it wasn't the same as what they were talking about. Then Papa tried to explain but I still couldn't see how that affected my not getting to go to school.

But when the cotton was all picked and sold and there was not enough money to buy winter coats or shoes or any other new clothes, I knew Mama would never let us walk 2 1/2 miles twice a day to school. For without warm clothing she would be afraid we'd all get the croup and pneumonia. Therefore Mama and Papa and our older brothers and sisters were the only teachers Jonathon and I had until I was thirteen. Still we were much luckier than some children who lived back in those hills for some of them had parents who could not read or write therefore their children grew up without being able to read or write a word of their native tongue.

To us then, it seemed that Papa and Mama knew just about everything Miss Brandson, the teacher at the one room hill school on the town road, did. She said Ben and Alice were both smart as whips and that Alice could be a teacher and that Ben could be a lawyer if they could go away to school and study. Us other children believed her for Alice was always so bossy and Ben was always so serious and spent all his spare time trying to solve some problem or trying to figure out a better, faster way to do the work around the farm.

It seemed that Papa and Mama always had a special liking for each of us children and worried about each one of us separately. They worried about not being able to send Alice and Ben to school for higher learning; they worried about all of us other children not getting to go to school. They sometimes talked about how each of us was different from the other with distinct personalities.

Alice was always outgoing, bossy and always making big plans. Ben was quiet, serious and always worrying about somebody or something. Earl was quick thinking, temperamental and sometimes unpredictable. Jeannie was the outdoor type. She liked to be a tomboy instead of helping Mama with the house. April loved to cook and sew. She was just as tedious as Mama about baking and cleaning. Andy was good natured, big hearted and loved the outdoors just like Papa and I, Winnie, Papa said, was just like the month I was born in - changing often from a quiet lamb to a stormy, question asking pouter. Jonathon, the baby, was a combination of both Papa and Mama and just about anyone else he chose to be. By the time he was three years old, he talked incessantly and did imitations of everybody including singing and shouting like Mr. Tucker, preaching like Bro. Miller and praying like Widow Pollard and if Papa and Mama were not around, chewing tobacco and cussing like Mr. Martin.

Our main contact with the social doings of our neighborhood was going to church. Whenever the weather permitted, we'd all drive to church and Sunday school; but we went almost every night to the summer revivals that were held each year during the first two weeks after the crops were laid by.

Us children learned a lot about the Bible and religion then but we learned a lot more about all our neighbors and their individual beliefs, customs, prides and prejudices. For instance, the church house was built at the foot of our range of hills. All the people who lived on the level bottom lands Northwest of the church were more prosperous than us hill folks. The main reason, now that I'm grown, seems to me, was because they had more productive acres of richer level land than us hill folks on which they grew more and better cotton and other crops.

Some of the ladies from the level farms made no secret about how they felt about the poorer hill people who traipsed into church every now and then. Widow Pollard was not only very outspoken about her religious beliefs but she was just as outspoken about the doings of the hill folks. One night in a big crowd in church she came over to Papa and asked him in a loud voice why the Martins didn't bring that bunch of unwashed and unschooled young'uns in from them poor hills and get them churched up a little bit, Papa looked her right straight in the eyes and answered that he supposed it might be because they figured there'd be so many high-faluting rich ladies there needing to be churched up that there'd be no room for their family of young'uns. For some reason she didn't ask Papa anymore questions but pursed her lips as though she had taken a bite from a crabapple; then she sat down on her front seat in the choir where she could look out over the crowd. It seemed to me that whenever some hill folks came in that she especially didn't like, her nose sort of twitched as though a breeze from somebody's barnyard had drifted by.

Soft-spoken, question asking Widow Blooms, our closest neighbor whose farm joined Mr. Martins' on one side and ours somewhere along the creek bank along our southwest forty, often questioned Widow Pollard's high standing in church affairs. Almost every time we went to church she'd ride her horse across the fields and go with us in our wagon. One thing Widow Blooms agreed with Widow Pollard about though, was Mr. Martin. Neither one of them liked Mr. Martin, but they felt sorry for his family.