The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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


By Sarah Hammett © 1988

Issue: November, 1988

My Papa; for the twenty-two years I knew him, I never saw him in anything but overalls paired with a long sleeve shirt and boots. If it was Sunday, the boots changed to a lace up pair of black shoes he referred to as "slippers." No matter what day it was he carried a bandanna in his back pocket, and in the bib of his overalls he kept his pocket watch. I cannot remember asking him for the time that he did not give his own estimation of what time it was before he looked. He was very seldom wrong.

His shirt pocket held a can of Prince Albert and cigarette papers. He always rolled his own. Blowing in the little packet of thin papers to separate them as if they were priceless, he would tear out a single sheet, fold it between his fingers, fill it with tobacco, roll the long ends together sealing it with his tongue and twist the end to be lit. His fingers were permanently stained from years of this ritual.

I stayed with Papa in the summer while my parents and my grandmother were at work. By then he was in his early sixties and spent his days farming, which had been the only life he had ever known, but now, he farmed on a much smaller scale.

Those days, just the two of us, were some of the best I have ever lived. Hot summer sunshine, outdoors all day; working in the garden, sitting in the shade.

We lived in Western North Carolina on a dirt road, and in those days there was not a lot of traffic down our way. It was quiet. Honeysuckle smelled good. Birds sang and so did the bugs. The highlight of the day was the mail.

As the afternoon grew hot, we would seek the shade of the front porch where I would rest in the glider while Papa sat in his favorite chair. Sometimes he would tell me stories of things he had done as a young boy. One time he caught a hummingbird by slipping up on it while it was deep inside a flower. He had covered the flower with his hands, trapping the bird inside. After giving it a close inspection, he let it go.

Another time a black snake fell out of a tree right in front of him. The snake was not as fortunate as the hummingbird though. Papa cut it in two. But, the black snake still managed to get revenge, because when Papa picked the "head section" up, it bit him.

Papa was not someone who talked unless he had something to say, so I knew he enjoyed telling me about his childhood.

But the summer did not last forever and soon, it was time for school. The bus would come down our road, turn around and then pick up the students on the way out. While the bus was gone to turn around, I would cross the road and wait. Since we lived next door to my grandparents, I would always tell Papa good-bye every morning. I can still see him out on that front porch waving good-bye to me. He always returned my good-byes with "bye-duck." Anytime he called good-bye to me it was always the same "bye-duck."

Papa would be watching for my return in the afternoons, especially during the fall months. As I would hop off the bus to go to our house next door, he would wave to me from where he sat on the front porch. I knew what this meant - it was time to pick up chestnuts.

One looked for chestnuts at least twice a day. Papa always picked them up in the morning. Everyday it was the same; I was always shown the most impressive find of the day.

After we had gathered all the chestnuts we could find, we would always boil some to eat that evening. The rest we stored in a big burlap sack.

How wonderful those times were. Even as a child I relished in that life I lived. Nothing exceptionally special, certainly not costly, but the rewards of those days have been in the beautiful memories I have. Just some memories held dear that a Granddaughter experienced with her Grandfather. Worth more than their weight in gold if they could be weighed. I would not have missed those days for anything.

That dirt road is paved now and has been for quite some time. There are too many cars and trucks coming and going on it, most of them too fast. That Granddaughter is grown. That Grandfather is gone. But the memories are precious of a man who seemed as happy to be with me as I was to be with him. The things the two of us shared that people would not take the time for today.

I still lower my American flag every year for Papa's birthday in my special tribute to him. How I would love to have him back again, to live those childhood days over. I miss him.