The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

My Grandmother, Sarah Christena Stowers - 1855-1936

By Beulah S. Fox © 1987

Issue: March, 1987

Monday morning as I hung my clothes on the line to dry I thought of Christena. She was my Grandmother. Come Hell or High Water she always washed on Monday, washing on the board all day long.

Before she did this she made her own soap. First a hole was bored in the bottom of a wooden barrel; then the barrel was set on a bench. Some straw was placed in the barrel with fresh wood ashes on top of the straw. When the barrel was nearly full of ashes water was poured over the ashes. A brown liquid would drip out the hole. This was the lye she needed to make the family's soap. She would test it to see if it was strong enough by dipping a feather in it. If it ate the feather it was strong enough. When a mother came visiting her with a baby or small child the mother would usually visit at our house and bathe the child. Grandmother never guessed what was going on.

Hollyhocks, lilacs, snowballs and day lilies surrounded an L shaped house which was never allowed to be painted. She thought if her house was painted all of the preachers would stop for dinner. She always laughed when she said this. She probably fed more ministers than anyone around and they always enjoyed going to her house.

The church record which was transcribed by the Rev. S. K. Byrd, June 3, 1887 shows that she joined Mt. Nebo Methodist Church sometime prior to this date, her name being the twenty eighth name of this early church record. She never missed a service unless she was too sick to attend. She'd put on her best dress, a new blue gingham apron, her best bonnet tied under her chin, and her high topped shoes. A safety pin seemed to be present at the neck of her dress. Then she rode horseback on a side saddle to church. To get to the church she had to ride around a hill which rose abruptly on the other side of the creek. This path wound around by chestnuts trees, full of chestnuts in the fall of the year, and led to a small white church on the very top of the hill. She always sat on the front row. "What's the use of a body going to church if a body has to sit back so far she can't hear?" When she got happy, and this was almost every time, she would shout. As she shouted her bonnet would come off and go back over the crowd toward the rear of the church. There she talked with God asking him to save sinners. I can remember as many as a dozen coming forward at one time to accept Grandma's Savior.

In looking back now I know she wasn't only my Grandmother she was my friend. I enjoyed helping her. I can remember being sent to the cellar, which was about a block from the house, for cans of fruits and vegetables. She always called it the apple house. The door was so thick and heavy that it was all I could do to get the key to work and the door pushed open so I could get the things she wanted. Once inside there was a certain predictable odor, probably coming from the apples.

She had a little meal room joining the kitchen. In the meal room were barrels and barrels of flour and meal along two sides of the room, made from wheat and corn raised on the hillside farm. On the walls were shelves supported by spools strung on a metal rod. Across the end of the wall were gourds of different sizes with round holes cut in front. In the gourds were ingredients for making bread. Many times I watched her go in, turn around a time or two, and come out with a pan full of biscuits ready to go in the oven. She could make biscuits faster than anyone I know about. She never used any baking powder in her biscuits because she thought it was bad for the stomach. The biscuits raised more in the center than anywhere else. Along with this she might have chicken and dumplings, which seemed to be her specialty, hot raspberry pie, honey in a square dish, baked melons, brown sugar syrup, and a pound of country butter. I never remembered eating there without the brown sugar syrup, or the peaked biscuits.

One of my fondest memories is going to her house for butter milk to make bread. She had a stone churn setting behind the stove full of cream ready to be churned. She dipped in the churns and brought out about a quart of sour cream. "Here, take this home and make you some good bread."

One time, when her son was getting married, she said, "Go tell your mother to come over here. Randell is going to jump the broomstick." I ran home and asked Mother what jumping the broomstick meant.

There was always a lot of patching to do. That was where the spools came from. She never wasted anything. Yet that big heart of hers was just as generous as could be if she could share something with someone who needed it. When she patched anything dark she used white thread. When she patched anything light she used black thread. I think she could see her work better that way. She never wore glasses.

One time she had a hen to steal her nest out and bring in one little chicken. Winter was coming on. Instead of bringing the chicken inside, she took care of it. She looked over at me and said, "Go fetch my scissors and the over all patches." I obeyed. She looked at the chicken and then she cut and sewed a garment to fit it. There may have been other chickens hatched late in the fall but I bet this was the only chicken in Clear Fork Valley that wore a neat little pair of overalls. I can't remember whether the chicken survived or not, but knowing my Grandmother I would say it probably did.

Grandma would say, "Beulah can you spend the night with me?" My bedroom was in a little bedroom joining the big room. In the winter she would heat irons, put them to my feet and then tuck me in for there was no fire in the bedrooms. I still like my feet tucked in.

I would sit for hours while she hooked rugs. Rugs overlapped each other in her living room, which was called the big room never the parlor. Regardless of the number she had she continued hooking rugs, while the five big clocks on the fireplace mantle in the big room went on ticking. They were never quite together, one ticking and then another. One was never allowed to run down.

You've heard of "kissing cousins." One day one of Grandma's cousins from Nebraska came to see her. The man called her Aunt Christena and put his arm around her. She slapped his face and said, "Now God I say, no stranger is going to do me that way."

As far as I know Grandma was never more than twenty miles from home nor had she ever been to school a day in her life. She had leaned to count to twelve from counting eggs and kept her butter and egg money in a tin syrup can in the corner cupboard.

One day Grandpa left early one morning with his hired hands to work in the field, without cutting any stove wood. They came in for lunch but there was no lunch. Without saying a word Grandpa got busy and cut some wood. Then Grandma prepared the noon meal. From then on she had plenty of wood.

When God made her He threw the pattern away. Her uniqueness only caused me to love her more.