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 15 of 24

By Lillie A. Emery © 1988

Issue: November, 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.

In the summer of 1933, Mr. and Mrs. Reed wanted Alice to stay with Mrs. Reed for company after their daughter got married and moved to Missouri. Mama thought it would do Alice good for not only were the Reeds good Christian folks but Mrs. Reed was a refined lady and Mr. Reed was a pharmacist with college learning. So Alice was happy to go stay with them for she'd have money to buy new clothes with and get to make friends with some town people. Later, sometimes we'd see her in church and she'd be all dressed up in silk stockings and acting like the town ladies acted and even walked like them too. When she came home she would talk about how she and Mrs. Reed almost every day sat around and visited with the other town ladies drinking tea or lemonade or crocheting or embroidering.

Then Mr. Reed wanted Papa to let Ben help him with his drug store and help feed his cattle in the winter time. Ben soon bought himself some fine new clothes and us other children thought they were just as grand as any of the town people. Mama and Papa were proud of how well they were doing; but I heard Mama and Papa talking one day just as we were finishing gathering in all the cotton and they said there wouldn't be enough money left over after they paid all the grocery bills and Dr. Gilbert his money for getting the thorn out of Andy's foot and for doctoring Earl up for nose bleeds, for us other children to have anything new for Christmas. That didn't really worry me for we had always got something for Christmas and I was sure we would that year.

After the crops were all gathered and the vegetables were put away for the winter, Papa would go out early every morning to cut wood. He cut and ranked the wood on the hill near the wagon road that ran along our northwest forty. If it wasn't too cold Mama would take all us children to help him. Week after week we sawed and ranked wood along the road. Some days we'd be so tired we could barely walk down the hill, across the valley and up the hill our house sat on.

Almost every day Clem and Josh Garner would come by in their '29 Ford coupe and talk for awhile. Papa and Mama didn't like those two very much for they never worked. They just spent their time coon hunting, going to the state line to get bootlegged liquor and spending their mother's government widow's checks. Their father had been killed in Germany in 1919. Even though they were about thirty-years-old and still lived with their sister and mother they didn't bother to farm the family farm. Their farm was down the wagon road that branched off from our road near where we had our wood ranked. Earl was pretty sure that Clem and Josh stopped some nights and filled the rumble seat of their car with our wood; so every night while Mama fixed supper Earl would climb on the corn crib roof and keep a watch on the wood on the road. One evening just at dusk he saw the coupe stop by our ranks of wood, but when he ran in for the shotgun to shoot Clem and Josh, Papa wouldn't let him. Papa said he wasn't sure they had taken any wood and even though they were lazy, he didn't think they were outright thieves. Earl and us other children were convinced that they should have been shot at just once to scare them away.

Week after week Papa hauled load after wagon load of wood four miles to town to anyone that would pay him anything for it. By the time he'd drive the four miles back he'd be so cold his face would be almost frozen and the team would be so tired they could hardly eat.

Then just a few days before Christmas, Mama announced that she and Papa were going to drive to the county seat to do some Christmas shopping. The day they left, Alice and Ben were in town helping the Reeds so Mama made all the rest of us promise to be good. Us three little ones were told not to put any logs on the fireplace, not to prowl in the big wooden trunk, and most of all not to bother the shotgun. We were to do as Jeannie, April and Earl told us to do.

At first nothing much happened except we three small ones had a pillow fight and jumped up and down in the beds until the slats fell out of one. Jeannie and April were getting real mad; they were almost as particular as Mama. They told Earl to whip us; boy, did we simmer down for we knew that Earl had a real bad temper. Later in the day Andy coaxed the big girls into letting us boil down some molasses to make popcorn balls with. That turned out to be a foaming mess which ran out of the pot, but we finally managed to get it under control and poured it over the popcorn. For some reason that molasses popcorn didn't turn out like Mama's did.

The long handled spoon had a ball of hot molasses stuck to it which Andy wanted to eat. He stood outside on the back porch in the icy wind waving the spoon and ball of sticky candy around to cool. After it had cooled a minute he popped the whole sticky business in his mouth and bit down into it with all his teeth. The icy wind, I guess, caused it to cling to is teeth and mouth as though it was glued there. We heard grunts, snorts, and groans coming from the porch. We saw Andy frantically pulling at the spoon handle.

After much doing we finally got him inside. I thought he was dying for sure. I began to cry and yelled for Earl to run to town to get Dr. Gilbert. Habits are sometimes just automatic reflexes, I guess. So it seemed with Earl. He ran around to change into clean overalls before going to town to get the doctor.

In the meantime us three girls were trying to sooth Andy who was snorting and turning every color of the rainbow. Finally Earl dashed out of the house heading toward town leaping along as though the four miles to the doctor's would mean nothing. Just before he headed through our gate the candy loosened up and the spoon came out of Andy's mouth. We yelled to Earl to come back and started ringing the dinner bell to be sure he heard us. Earl thought Andy had already choked to death for sure; he turned around galloping back to the house as fast as his long legs could carry him. He looked so funny in his too short overalls that came above his sock tops. His fourteen-year-old face was as pale as a ghost as he looked down at us from his almost six foot height. When he saw that Andy was all right he had one of his temper spells yelling if we three little ones caused any more trouble he'd lock us outside in the snow that was just beginning to fall.

The rest of the day we were good; we helped churn the butter, carry in the eggs - some of them were already frozen, and helped April fix the vegetables for a big pot of soup for supper. We didn't even steal a bite of the big stack of fried apple pies that Jeannie and April fried. Just before dark, Earl and Jeannie did the milking, fed the hogs, cows and chickens. Then we all waited for Papa and Mama but when it was real dark and snowing harder they still weren't home. Snow was coming down in big feathery flakes.

The whispering wind rattled the windows. It sure was lonesome there without Mama and Papa. At first Earl whistled nervously then he got out Papa's fiddle and tried to play, "Them Golden Slippers" but finally gave that up and went to look out the front window for Papa and Mama, but they were nowhere to be seen. Then we all just sat around the table for awhile and except for the wind and rattling windows there was an eerie quietness.

Finally, we all decided to sing so we all began to sing Old Strawberry Roan except for Jonathon and he burst out singing Old Time Religion just like Mr. Tucker. We all broke up with laughter. He sang louder then he began to shout and got up on a chair and jumped off a few times. Then he preached awhile imitating Bro. Miller then, kneeling down like Widow Pollard he opened his mouth to pray but instead let out a hair raising scream as he looked toward the kitchen window. Finally Jeannie and Earl got him quieted down enough to understand what he was saying. He said a Gypsy was looking through the window at all of us.

Every year or so some Gypsies would come through our parts. It was said they could steal people's watches or money right out of their pockets without anyone even knowing what was happening. Earl said a Gypsy perhaps knew about Papa's gold watch and toothpick that had belonged to his Papa. These two family valuables were kept in the wooden trunk along with the other things that had belonged to our grandparents.

Earl blew out the coal oil lamp and we all huddled in the bedroom where we could see the kitchen door and window. The only noise was the wind rattling window, except now the smokehouse door seemed to be banging back and forth in the wind. There in the dark we all sat huddled together while Earl propped Papa's shotgun on his knee pointing it toward the backdoor. Jonathon stood on the bed behind Earl leaning over to get a better view of the door, just then there was a loud bang on the porch as though something had hit the tin galvanized wash tub that sat out by the smokehouse. We all nervously jumped but Jonathon slipped off the bed falling against Earl and the shotgun went off with a loud blast that broke the kitchen window. Someone seemed to let out a yell; we didn't think it was any of us so we just sat there too afraid to look outside. The cold wind blew snow in through the broken window and the logs on the fireplace burned down; we all just sat there shivering for a long time.

It seemed like hours before we heard Papa and Mama getting out of our wagon at the back porch. Papa said in a loud voice, "What is that?" Then they both came rushing in; Papa lit the lamp then he picked up a pick sack from the back porch and poured the contents onto the floor. Out fell two of our biggest hams and a side of bacon; they were all sprinkled with shotgun pellets. It was very late before we went to bed that night.