The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Hatcher Place

By Nancy B. Collins © 1987

Issue: December, 1987

When I look back at the time I was born and growing up in the mountains, I have lots of love and admiration for people that lived there and are still living, knowing what most of their lives were like.

There were no good roads, no cars, no television and no radios. When I tell a story or write about it, I can't tell it quite as bad as it was as I don't believe there is anyone who would believe it.

I am going to write about the hard times we had while living at the Hatcher Place near Woolwine, Virginia. Our family was large and there were times when my parents had such hard times keeping us food to eat and clothes to wear.

The Hatcher Place was a good place to live. There were lots of fruit trees and good woods to hunt in and get fire wood. The old house was an interesting house. The old kitchen was all out to its self. It was built with logs and daubed with mud inside and out. The fireplace was so big we children could stand up in it. There were Hooks and chains built in the chimney to use for cooking. Mom had a stove, but she did some cooking in the fireplace. We loved the corn bread and the hoe cake that Mom cooked in a three legged skillet with fire coals under it and coals on a lid on top of it. There never has been bread so good.

There was a plank walk between the kitchen and living rooms. There were some steps to go up into the living and bedrooms.

Many things happened in that old house that I shall never forget.

My baby sister was born in the kitchen.

One beautiful morning in May, my dad and all of the children went up to a place we called the Knob to hoe corn about one half a mile from the house. We came down and ate lunch and went back. About the middle of the afternoon, Dad heard the old dinner bell ring. He knew what this meant, but we children did not know. Dad dropped his hoe and said you all come on a little later. When we went on down to the house Dad was leading Mom up the steps into the bedroom. She had a baby in her arms.

She had the baby so quick she said, "I could not help but just have the baby right there in the kitchen." She tied the cord and wrapped the baby in her apron. When Dad got Mom to bed, he went across the way and got neighbors to come over and bath the baby and look after Mom. All went fine.

They named the baby Miriah after the woman that had been so kind and good to us while Mom was in bed. We called the baby Ria and years later when she could get outdoors, she loved to play in the dirt, we called her Gully Bug.

There was a large Mulberry tree that towered up over the whole house. This was nice. Only when the berries were ripe, we had to keep a walkway swept out all day long to keep from walking them into the house and making a mess.

We had some bees that started to swarm and settle on one of the large limbs of the tree. Dad got a gum that he had fixed for them if they settled close enough for him to try to bring them in. He put the gum on the table and got a dish pan and a big spoon and got behind the gum and began to beat gently and made a lot of settling noise. The bees began to come down and go into the gum. He did this for about an hour and they had all gone in. When night came he put the gum out with the others under a shed. The bees began to work the next day as if they had lived there always.

Day in and day out we all worked at something; drying apples, picking up chestnuts, getting the first wood for winter, putting potatoes and turnips in for winter use. We did lots of canning. We used all of the canning jars we had. Dad said we had some nice stone jugs he did not see why tomatoes would not keep in a jug if the jug was sterilized and a new cork stopper was put in it tight. Mom pealed and cooked them real good and put them in a two gallon stone jug and put a new cork in for a stopper. All went well for about two weeks. One evening we were all eating around a big table that sat in the middle of the floor. The jugs of tomatoes were on a side table over in the corner. All at once the cork blew and made a loud noise and threw tomatoes all up on the ceiling of the kitchen. What a mess! This scared us children into a panic until we found out that we could not can tomatoes in a jug.

After we had got most of our summer work over we kept seeing men going toward the creek in the woods. One evening Dad watched them and found they were building a shack down at the creek on a sandy place. They had a door and one window in it. He went back one Sunday morning when he thought no one would be around but he was mistaken. There was a gang of men and boys and they were having a cock fight; seems that they had some roosters in coops in the shack. Dad stood off at a distance and watched them wondering what he would do. He thought about calling the sheriff, but he was just about as crooked as anyone around. Dad let a week go by and in the mean time he ran across a newspaper that he had taken in the past. It was called the Chicago Ledger. On the front cover was a large picture of a dinosaur with wings and big teeth.

Dad knew that not many people in that part of the country had ever seen this picture. He cut the picture out and pasted it on cardboard and waited until all of the people had left the little shack down on the creek then he nailed the picture on a tree near the shack and signed it from the Sheriff of Nile and said there was a reward to any person that will bring the animal in. It has been seen about a mile down the creek bed. This upset all the people around, even the sheriff was upset wondering who put the picture on the tree. This broke the gang up that was gambling and cock fighting.

People had very little entertainment. One thing we did, Dad would take us kids down to the swamp and listen to the different kinds of frogs that hollowed at night. We would watch the foxfire come up out of the swamp in a sort of ball then disappear in a sort of vapor. It was no way as good as television but it was real.

We had most common food when I was a child, but it was good to me. Mom could make the best Rabbit Hash. She would boil two rabbits tender and leave some broth that was cooked in them. She would fry some good country fat back out and brown two onions in the grease, then she would take the meat all off the bones of the rabbit and put it in with the onions. Then she would pour the broth in and crumble up some corn bread and some hoe cake bread. Salt and pepper good, then the last thing she would put about a spoon full of dried sage in it.

We would have rabbit hash and fried pies just any time and never seemed to get tired of it.

Now we have good highways, television and radios. At this age people are blessed with about everything in all sections of the country and I'm glad the mountain people don't have to endure what we did back in that age I grew up in.