The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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

The John Hayes Hollow - Superstitions

By Hazel P. Hedrick © 1988

Issue: April, 1988

We were standing on ground that was once as familiar to us as the back of our hands. Our little bare feet had walked on this same dirt thousands of times, and now it all seemed so strange. I felt a lump in my throat as we relived bits and pieces of our childhood, and tears dimmed my eyes as they searched for some familiar sights and found none.

We walked down the mountain toward what used to be home. There was no road or footpath just a gully that followed the creek. We knew if we followed the creek we could find where we once lived, because this little rippling stream bouncing over the rocks was our lullaby in the winter months when the frogs and katydids were still.

After a while we saw through the trees the top of another old rock chimney. We hurried on down the hill pointing out to each other familiar trees and rocks along the way. The house our Daddy built for us lay in a heap of rotting boards and rusting nails. It almost made me cry to see it laying there overgrown with briers and honeysuckle, as if nobody cared.

In my mind I put the house back like it was many years ago when we three and three more children would run and play in the yard while Mama cooked supper and Daddy did the chores. I could almost hear Mama's voice calling, "Hazel, come mind this baby. Hazel, run to the spring and get some milk for supper, (our refrigerator was a wooden box in the spring branch) or Hazel come set the table."

I stood by that chimney remembering so many things I had not thought about in years. The magic in my Mama's touch, how she could kiss the hurt away when one of the children would fall and skin a knee or mash a finger, how when one of us got a bee sting she would quickly grab some weeds from the yard roll them in the palm of her hand until they turned her hand green, then rub them on the bee sting, and it would stop hurting; or if Daddy was around he would take a little piece of his chewing tobacco, wet it and place it over the sting to stop the hurting and swelling. All this seemed just like magic to us kids. We thought our parents could make almost anything better and if they couldn't, Miss Estep could.

I remembered too, some of the fun things, like sitting under the cherry tree with Daddy and watching him call the birds. Daddy was a super whistler, so he could make the call of any bird he ever heard, and it was so real that the birds couldn't tell the difference. The bob whites were his favorite and ours, they would come right to him, close enough we could almost reach out and touch them. He taught us different birds by sight and sound, he also taught us all the insects, which were good and which were poison. On a Sunday afternoon in early spring when trees first started to turn green he would walk with us in the woods pointing out the different herbs, wild flowers and trees. We would come across a spring, Daddy would rake the leaves back then show us how to make a cup by putting our hands together and dip up the cold, clear water to drink.

I believe our Daddy could have survived in the woods forever. We thought he knew everything. We were taught the squirrels, rabbits and some large birds were for killing to eat in the winter months, but no bird or animal was to kill just for sport. He taught us about snakes too, which were poison and which were not. A poison snake has a blunt tail and the non poisonous have a pin sharp tail. We were allowed to kill the non-poisonous, but never even try to kill the poison snakes. If we found ourselves close to one before we saw it, we were to stand perfectly still and call for help. We found many snakes of all kinds, shapes and colors in these mountains, but no one ever got snake bit, or spider bit, and none of us ever had a broken bone.

I remember too, how our parent's hands were always busy, even when they sat down to rest after a hard day's work in the fields. Mama would be stringing beans, shelling peas, patching overalls, darning socks or something. Never did she just sit down and do nothing. In the winter she would be shelling corn to take to mill, piecing quilt tops, cracking walnuts or mending something. Daddy kept his hands busy too. He made ax and hoe handles with his pocket knife and pieces of broken window glass. He had no tools or sandpaper, but he made perfect handles, they were as smooth as glass when he finished with them. Daddy did a lot of shoe mending too; it took some doing to keep shoes on the feet of six kids all winter when there was no money for new ones. Never was a pair of old worn out shoes thrown away. All were kept for mending others with. We were hard on shoe strings too; sometimes Daddy would have to make us a pair from tobacco twine. No one scrap of anything was wasted.

Superstitions were something I never quite understood, but was afraid not to go along with what our parents believed. For instance, if Mama would by mistake get her dress on wrong side out some morning, she wore it that way all day long, because to change it would bring her bad luck. If a black cat crossed your path, watch out, you were going to have bad luck for sure. If a bird got into the house that was bad luck but if an owl came in it brought good luck.

I remember one time Daddy was gone somewhere and didn't get back before bedtime, Mama was worried and pacing the floor. I was awake watching her pace back and forth from one door to the other. Mind you we had no screen windows or doors and this big owl came in and landed on the door right over my head. Mama turned and saw it there; she smiled and went to bed. She said the owl told her Daddy was all right. I didn't hear it say anything, but my head was under the covers, so how could I be sure it didn't.

There were so many superstitions and old wives tales in those days, there is no way I could remember them all, but I think it might be fun to get together with my brothers and sisters and see how many we can recall and put them on paper. They should not be allowed to die with us. People used to live by them and who is to say they were just foolishness.