The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Homestead Party

Hostess Betty Wood greets the guests in the "courting" parlor.Hostess Betty Wood greets the guests in the "courting" parlor.By Susan M. Thigpen © 1991

Issue: April, 1991

The Mountain Laurel would like to share something with you that we were invited to attend - A Homestead Party.

I got a phone call from Miss Addie Wood of Mayberry Trading Post. She was at her niece's house in Woodlawn, Virginia, and soon she put her niece, Betty Wood, on the phone. She didn't give me many details, just directions that literally went "over the river and through the woods" to get to the place of the party in Carroll County, Virginia. The party was to start at 10:00 am and last all day. I was told that eight ladies were invited and all were encouraged to wear long, old timey dresses.

Mahlon Martin with his team of steers.Mahlon Martin with his team of steers.The day of the party, was a foggy day with heavy rain at times. Betty called early to tell me there was a low water bridge that might be under a few inches of water, but she thought it would be all right. I got to the homestead party a little late, after getting lost twice and stopping for directions from friendly farmers along the way. When I got to the location, Betty's husband, Lonnie, was at the road waiting to tell me that I was at the right place. The homestead was still about a mile further, on a private, dirt road. The homestead was tucked into a wide green open meadow.

The "girls" bedroom upstairs.The "girls" bedroom upstairs.As I stepped up on the porch of the old house, Betty threw open the door wide and sang, "She'll be coming around the mountain." She had on a beautiful black dress (which I learned later she had made herself) with a black and white checked apron over it and a black bonnet, looking for the world as though I stepped back in time to the turn of the century.

Inside of the house, I was led into the living room where there was a fireplace with a nice warm fire going in it. After a couple more late arrivals, the fun began.

The cooking hearth. Pot on left has cornbread in it. Pot on right contains whole potatoes.The cooking hearth. Pot on left has cornbread in it. Pot on right contains whole potatoes.The fun began with a museum tour of the old house. All the guests learned about the family that built it, which turned out to be Betty's father's family. Betty's father was the first child to be born in this house, six others followed. It was the home of Reed and Mandy Quesinberry. They had nine children in all, but the first two were born in the old house, before they built this one between 1890-92.

The Quesinberry's ran three stores in the community at that time period - Keno Store, Laurel Fork Supply Company and Stone Mountain Store. The old outdoor wash pots.The old outdoor wash pots.They also had a growing concern of a transportation business, hauling lumber and produce from the top of the mountain to Mount Airy and Winston-Salem, in North Carolina in horse drawn wagons.

The owner of the homestead, Mahlon Martin, tried to explain the family's complicated genealogy. Of Reed and Mandy Quesinberry's nine children, three of their daughters married Martin brothers and one of their sons married a Martin sister. Mahlon was the product of one of those marriages.

During the Great Depression in the 1930's, the homestead went out of the family due to dire financial circumstances suffered by so many during that time. It had been family land since the days when a young America was writing its Constitution. Although Mahlon Martin and Betty Wood's generation of the family didn't experience this homeplace, his mother and her father had been born here along with five of their aunts and uncles. It was the place where the last generation had grown up and they had been told many family stories about it.

The original house was four rooms - two downstairs and two upstairs. There was a chimney in the center of the house with fireplaces opening into both rooms downstairs. One room downstairs was the bedroom of the parents and the other room was the kitchen. Upstairs was divided into two bedrooms, each one with three double beds in it. One bedroom was for the girls and one for the boys.

After we were all introduced to each other, we were given a tour of the house and introduced to the Quesinberry family personality that had been built into the house and furnishings. The house has been restored as closely as possible in the way Mahlon Martin was told it was like when his grandparents built it and raised their family in it.

When the house was expanded, or built onto, the old kitchen became a parlor his parents "courted" in. There is a square oak table in the center of the room with a lamp on it. The parents wanted this room to be well lit so no "hanky-panky" might occur. The floors downstairs are the original floors.

What was the parents' bedroom downstairs is now a living room. There is a small closet beside the fireplace where they kept their water bucket in winter to keep the water from freezing. In the corner of the room, the stairs rise steeply to the second floor.

At the top of the stairs is the boy's bedroom. In it are three iron bedsteads. Two of them have old fashioned, homemade feather ticks for mattresses, two to a bed. There are also two antique trunks in that bedroom. One belonging to Mahlon's Quesinberry grandfather and one belonging to his Martin grandfather. Grandpa Martin always kept candy in the lift out drawer in his trunk and visiting children could have one piece each. If you lift the lid to the trunk today, there is candy waiting for visitors. There is a hole in the wall with a door on it leading under the eaves. This was the place where they dried their "leather britches" green beans.

In the girls' bedroom there is a unique handmade crib. It was made by Grandma Martin, who we are told was an excellent carpenter. It is made mostly of bead-boarding and has screen wire sides and a fitted top with wire on it also. It is supposed that is could be carried to the fields where the adults and older children were working and would protect the baby from insects and maybe, even snakes. The girls' beds are covered with handmade quilts and there is a white curtain at the one window with beautiful crocheted lace on it. The lace was made by Aunt Goldie (Mahlon's mother) and originally put on a pair of pillowcases. It was salvaged from the old pillowcases and put on new curtains for this room. Grandma Quesinberry made the quilt squares. There is also an enameled chamber pot. We were told the contents of it were thrown out the upstairs window each morning and heaven help anyone who might be standing under it. Betty's father was the first of the children to get married and Uncle Lawrence and his bride spent their honeymoon here at this house, and slept in one of the beds in the girls' room. The girls' room is papered with newspaper as it originally was.

Back downstairs, we were led through the hall to the modern addition of the bathroom. It is a large, up to date room with an out house, in its entirety, built within the room. It is complete with a door with a half moon and a star cut out of it. Inside of the "outhouse" is not one but two modern porcelain commodes, continuing the tradition of "twoseaters." Of course it is also decorated with a Sears catalog and corn cobs. A lantern hangs inside of it and the paper is hung on wooden pegs.

We are then shown the kitchen addition. It has a large fireplace with the original cooking hooks in it. There was a big fire going in it also and food for our lunch was in different stages of preparedness cooking in it. As we watched, they brought in corn meal batter and poured it into a cast iron pot sitting on the hot coals. Then the lid was put on it and more hot coals were heaped on top. In another pot, whole potatoes were roasting. It was all we could do to tear ourselves away from the tantalizing smells of this food to continue our tour. In this "new kitchen" were hung an old photograph of Reed and Mandy Quesinberry and one showing Reed's parents. The couch in the kitchen was the original family "courting couch." The table was Grandpa Martins and there are two benches on either side of it. One bench belonged to Grandpa Martin and one to Grandpa Quesinberry. In the corner of the kitchen is a large basket with socks in it. On wash days, Grandma Quesinberry would put the clean socks there, after darning them if needed, and the children came to the basket to get their socks.

At this point, Betty has slipped outside and we hear a dinner bell ringing from the back porch. We are then told we need to "wash up." We all go to the back porch where there is a small wash table with water bucket and wash pan on it. A towel that looks like it is hand woven hangs on the wall beside of it. Water is poured in the pan and we all wash our hands and dry them on the towel.

Back inside, we take our places at the dinner table. We are told the dishes are the same design used by Grandma Quesinberry, as are the glasses. There are several preserve stands that were in the family sitting on the table with delights in them such as strawberry preserves and yellow tomato preserves. Food is being brought to the table. There are two kinds of homemade pickles made by Mahlon himself. One is an old timey salt pickle and the other is sweet. A great big whole white onion is placed on one dish. There are plates of country ham, "leather britches" green beans, chicken and dumplings, whole roast potatoes, pickled beets, and more. (These were just the things I put on my plate - there was so much, I might have overlooked something!) Then the cornpone was taken from the hearth and put on the table. It was thick and crusty on the outside. Following tradition, it was broken into pieces as it was passed around, each person taking what they wanted of it. Breaking bread together is not just a figure of speech.

What did we drink with this meal? A blue half gallon fruit jar was brought in with buttermilk in it. For those who preferred sweet milk, there was an earthenware crock with a wooden lid. The sweet milk was dipped out of it to fill glasses.

For desert there was a traditional molasses stack cake. For those of you who have never had stack cake, I will describe it. This cake had seven layers. Each layer is like a big gingerbread cookie. They are usually made the size of a dinner plate and baked individually. The layers are then stacked with apple butter between the layers and apple butter on top instead of icing. It was the favorite desert of the people in the mountains

By this time we were all thoroughly stuffed and retired to the living room. The inviting fire lulled us into drowsiness. We sat around talking and learning more about the Quesinberry family. Then, in spite of the rain, Mahlon went to the barn and hitched up his yoke of young steers. He is training them to pull to a yoke together. We all went to the windows and out on the porch and watched him put them through their paces. He is actually training three of them and had the third hitched behind the other two.

After this show, Mahlon came inside and changed out of his wet clothing and the rain let up. We all went outside for a tour of the spring house. Mahlon is a rock mason and has done some beautiful work in the house and on the spring house. The spring house has a chair and a churn in it. We are all given a drink of cold refreshing spring water, directly from the spring, out of a long handle gourd hanging there.

He has also set up a black iron wash pot near the spring house. It was where his grandmother did her wash. He has built a new smoke house and a large barbecue cooker. Every September, he invites the large extended family of Reed and Mandy Quesinberry to come home to the homeplace. They said they counted over three hundred people at this year's gathering and barbecued three whole pigs.

Mahlon is modest about holding such a gathering. He says he just wants to "bring them home." The fruits of Mahlon's labor of love, restoring this old homeplace, must certainly come home in the many distant family members who enjoy it. They have photograph albums showing the get-togethers. The old ways and values are not forgotten here and are shared with younger generations who might never have gotten a chance to experience many of these things.

When we get back to the house, there is a tea set up in the living room. I am still so full from lunch that I can't even taste the delicacies set before us - regular and fried pumpkin pies. I did have a cup of tea though, and find that it was no ordinary tea, but sassafras. For some of the group, it is their first taste of sassafras tea. It led to a conversation about other old time teas such as spicewood and about fixing ground ivy tea for babies who had colic.

After tea, although we are slow to wish to leave this inviting atmosphere, it is time to depart. We all profusely thank our host and hostess for this experience and know we will never forget it. We cross over a low water bridge that is now a couple of inches under water, thanks to the day's steady rains and wind our way back out to the modem day world, sighing at the happy peacefulness of how it used to be.

We really thank Betty Wood and Mahlon Martin for sharing their memories in such a unique way.