The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Place On Peters Creek and Beyond, Part 8 of 8

By William J. Sowder © 1992

Issue: July-August-September, 1992

"Through The Eyes Of A Young Boy and The Heart Of An Old Man"

One of the happiest members of our home was Claudine, who at eighty-seven [1991] is the last of Nannie' s children still to be alive. I often talk to her and always the conversation is dominated by the Place on Peter's Creek. I still marvel at how much she looked like Nannie - the same beautiful black hair, the low hair line, the brown eyes under the high cheek bones.

She was a little taller than Nannie and very much different in personality. While Nannie was a ball of fire, keeping things hopping, Claudine was sweet tempered and fun loving and an advocate of peace at almost any price. She spent a good deal of time settling quarrels between Jenks, George and me. She was the only one who could convince me to keep my hands off of the teddy bear. Claudine remembers this and much, much more. In fact she seems to have total recall of the twenty or so years she grew up in the Place. She has a wonderful memory of names. It is she who recalled the names of the neighbors and the hired man. She remembers her days in the one-room elementary school at Washington Heights and her frozen feet and chapped hands. She also recalls getting her hands ruled for missing a word in a spelling bee.

To my consternation she also remembers that I cried for a year after I was born and that the only way to stop it was to bump - not rock - me to sleep. One day when she was performing this chore she bumped so hard that she fell over backwards. When she hit the floor she landed upside down with me sticking straight up in her hands. Nannie often said that Claudine was the one who helped her most; Claudine says she was a drudge. I agree with Nannie; she was Nannie's good right arm. When there was no one else to churn, there was Claudine. When there was no one else to mow the grass, there was Claudine. When there was no one else to clean the spring, chop wood, wash and iron, there she was as uncomplaining, cool, and lovable as she always was and at eighty-seven still is.

The cornerstone of the Place on Peter's Creek was religion. Nannie and Grandpa were deeply religious, so much so that neither one ever questioned the religion of the other. The children, out of custom more than anything else, were brought up in Nannie's church, Mt. Olivet Methodist Church. Sunday may have been a day of rest but don't tell the Days. There was always the unforgiving routine to be followed, with Nannie and Claudine leading the way; milking, feeding, chopping, pouring, picking, gathering, washing, measuring, tossing, towing, bending, cutting, currycombing, burning - all entailing a great hurrying and scurrying and arguments as to who would wear what, as to who would walk and who would ride in the buggy . . . And then of a sudden, like the dividing of the waters, a calm settled over the Place and the family made its way to worship.

Singing was one of the great joys in Nannie's life. She had a full sweet, true alto. Often when she hit the lowest notes, I would wonder how such a resonant sound could come from such a small woman. She loved to sing hymns, those offering comfort, healing, compassion, "Amazing Grace," "I Need Thee," "Nearer My God To Thee," "I Come To The Garden," "Whispering Hope," "'What a Friend," "The Old Rugged Cross," "Faith Of Our Fathers," "Just As I Am." She loved best the hymns offering action: "Help Somebody Today," "Lead, Kindly Light," "Love Lifted Me," "Brighten The Corner," "I Love To Tell The Story," "Dwelling In Beulah Land," and best of all, "Onward Christian Soldiers."

All of these hymns were found in the Methodist hymnal. The paperback covers of this divinely inspired song book had faded to a pale yellow and was covered with smudges and fingerprints - the blessed ties binding the past generations to the present. The book itself seemed to speak a musical language of its own, a language with its glorious manifestations of faith, hope, and charity. It was as if the hymns had banded together in an effort that went beyond the efforts of mere men and were truly on the way to redemption, each hymn expressing God's love, power, and sanctity and expressing them as one. There was nothing anemic in this expression, this Old Time Religion, just as there was nothing anemic about those singing His praise. They gave testimony, they bore witness. Especially Nannie.

Bobby and I often went to Sunday school and church with Nannie and the children. One Sunday was especially special. After a strong sermon and the call to the rail, the preacher announced that the final hymn would be "Onward Christian soldiers." A surge of joy flowed through the congregation, and off we went - Nannie with her great voice at its best. Near the end of the hymn, the preacher with no intention of stopping this wondrous outpouring gave the command, "Again!" It set the already primed congregation on fire. In their show of strength you could almost hear the sounds of distant cannons, see the Cross of Jesus, feel its allmightiness, feel Jesus' all-conquering presence as Nannie did; her face aglow, her eyes sparkling, her voice never more beautiful - Jesus' soldier marching always onward, always toward the Promised Land and everlasting life.

She crossed the border July 2, 1962.

As Bobby and I and my Uncle stood beside the casket, he remarked that she was too "prettified. Only the hands are mama." He was right. Nannie had strong square fingers, hands made for action, not repose. Her knuckles and joints in her fingers were swollen with arthritis. They were also a treasury of love and compassion - the palms smoothed by a continuous flow of seventy-three years. Then suddenly my memory took me back to the kitchen table where Bobby and I would sit after supper and a hard summer's day playing, "Son, have you washed your feet?" "Yessum," "Yessum." We were so tired that we could hardly hear the old enameled kettle whistling on the stove, so clogged with limestone that Nannie could hardly pour water in the wash pan. Then she would swivel my hair from under the table and kneel down before me. Her beautiful hands would gently place my foot in the warm soapy water and her palms with quick light strokes and then the drying cloth and then the other foot - cleaning, comforting, soothing, life-giving and then the flickering of the wall lamps and the coming of the dark; "Good night, Nannie. Sweet dreams."