The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Mudpies To Moonbeams

By Pat Hadley Davis © 1996

Issue: Spring, 1996

As I rounded a curve at the foot of the Brushy Mountains [North Carolina] on Brocktown Road I thought I recognized something familiar. I stopped along side the paved road and found remnants of an old spring. I walked a short distance into the woods and came upon a small meadow alive with wildflowers. Then I remembered.

We were cousins, Dick and I, and near the same age. His given name was Ralph Richard, mine was Patsy Ruth. Someone tagged the nickname "Dick" to him. He tagged me with "Cuz," short for cousin.

Grandmother's house was within walking distance of our homes and we rarely missed a day meeting there to play together. It also meant we rarely missed a day getting in trouble with either our grandmother, aunts, and uncles, or parents.

I blamed Dick's imagination for keeping us in trouble with the grown-ups ninety percent of the time. I wasn't much of a leader, but I was surely a great follower. Dick could always think of some way to make something work or look better. I cheered him on.

We loved to make mud pies but found they cracked and crumbled after being left in the sun to dry. He had the brilliant idea of sneaking an egg from grandmother's kitchen and using it to make the mud pies stick together. We were preparing the water and red clay dirt for our creation when my cat came along and ate the egg we had prepared to use.

A chase ensued with both of us screaming death threats at the cat. Grandmother heard the commotion and asked why we were chasing the cat. I can't recall our answer but we didn't tell about the egg we had snitched for the mud pie batter.

We pestered that poor cat to death. At the sound of our voices he ran up the nearest tree. He spent a good portion of his life on earth sitting in a tree to avoid our presence. I don't know what happened to "Monkey," but if there is a cat Heaven he surely ended up there. We saw to it that he lived Hell on earth in his first eight lives.

Dick's home was located on a hill where a high bank overlooked the street. We discovered a huge tree with limbs large enough to support a rope. Dick tied a big knot at the end of the rope. We held on to the knot and swung out high over the street below.

After the initial flight Dick did some calculations and arrived at a brilliant conclusion. We could swing out over the cars as they drove up the street. We decided we had discovered the ultimate thrill. We swung out over the street, our feet and legs being just above the tops of the cars. Of course, all the motorists could see was two feet and legs swinging overhead. Brakes screeched, confused motorists stopped, exited their car, looked around, scratched their heads, and decided they were just seeing things. By the time the cars stopped, we had dismounted our swing and were lying down on top of the bank, out of sight.

That escapade went on for several hours before a neighbor lady must have recognized Dick's long skinny legs as they came into view. She didn't see anyone around when she slammed on the brakes but she was certainly shaken up. We decided it was time to take a break so we headed for Dick's house. We were scampering down the hill when Mrs. Godbee, the neighbor we had frightened half to death, came barreling up the driveway. Our game was up; we were not allowed to play together for a week. Dick's only comment after his punishment was "Mrs. Godbee is not a very good sport." That was his favorite comment if I didn't go along with some of his cockamamie ideas, so I usually obliged.

Our grandmother was a very industrious woman. She canned vegetables and fruits in the summer and stored them in neat rows on shelves in the basement. This did not escape our attention.

Each year she filled a large kraut crock to the brim. On top of the crock she placed a piece of cheese cloth, the lid, and a large rock to weight it all down. We would wait about two weeks and then peep in the crock to see what was going on. We stuck our grimy little hands in the brine, pulled out the cabbage stalks she always placed in the top, washed them to lessen the salt taste, and had a feast.

On a hot summer day it didn't seem unusual to our grandmother for us to go to the ice box and chip slivers off the big block of ice for a cool glass of water.

She didn't know we had already swiped the sugar from the bowl on the dining room table. Water and sugar in hand we proceeded to the basement. From the shelf we took a quart of canned blackberries, opened it, and poured the juice in the sugar water and ice mixture. It was certainly a refreshing drink on a hot summer day.

The washwoman, Lou Welborn, came to grandmother's each Monday to do the family laundry. We poked at the fire under the washpot as we chatted with Lou. She was a great story teller. Her parents were freed slaves and she was born shortly after the Civil War. We listened to stories of her childhood and how they had few toys and made dolls from sticks and rags.

She used a big black kettle in the back yard with a fire going under it. As the water boiled she threw in a handful of homemade lye soap to make the whites come out sparkling clean and the colors slightly faded. She stirred the pot with a homemade paddle.

We kept wanting to cook something in the fire. On one occasion Lou told us to be sure and be there the next washday. She promised there would be a surprise for us.

Early in the morning of the next washday we appeared at the wash pot. We were told we would have to wait until the fire died down. After taking the clothes from the pot and while the coals were still glowing hot, she took two huge potatoes out of her pocket and wrapped them in brown paper she had soaked in water. She wrapped them until there was a big ball of potatoes and paper. Placing them under the coals we were instructed not to disturb the coals and give her time to rinse and hang the clothes to dry.

When the potatoes were removed from the coals she cut them open, and lathered them with our grandmother's freshly churned butter. It was a feast fit for a king.

Lou dipped snuff and it looked like she enjoyed it so much we thought it must taste like candy. One day we found her snuff can on a shelf in the basement and took a big sniff. That was the last time we tried sneaking snuff.

In most of our escapades, we were just swinging along with the breeze for fun. I feel that our association with Lou taught us lessons that could never have been learned anywhere else in the world except our grandmother's backyard on Mondays.

Aunt Maisie, Dick's mother, was an art teacher. Occasionally she took us on excursions to gather wildflowers for use in her art classes. We went to a small picnic spot located at the foot of the Brushy Mountains. There was a spring nearby next to the gravel road. A gourd dipper hung on a tree near the spring to allow travelers a taste of the pure sweet mountain water. The little roadside picnic spot was known as "Isaak Walton's," apparently named after the pioneer naturalist of the same name.

Aunt Maisie told us the names of the wildflowers as she gathered them. To keep them fresh she placed them in newspaper she had wet at the spring. She identified one plant as "rabbit tobacco." Dick's imagination began to work. He had heard that dried "rabbit tobacco" could be smoked like real tobacco. He stuffed his pockets full of every plant that even resembled "rabbit tobacco."

In the car, on the way home, I told Dick he smelled like cut grass. He told me to "shut up." His mother had no idea why I told him he smelled bad. A word battle ensued between us. Finally Aunt Maisie told us to stop "mouthing" at each other or one of us would have to ride in the front seat with the younger son, Billy. I stopped my end of the word battle. I sure didn't want to sit in the front with Billy. He was small but he had a mean bite for anyone who crossed him up.

A few days later Dick came up with some cigarette paper and was ready to launch his new career. He had visions of being the R.J. Reynolds of "rabbit tobacco." The weed had been properly dried in the sun. He rolled the dried leaves in the paper and tried to light his first cigarette. Apparently it was the wrong kind of paper. The whole thing went up in smoke as soon as the match touched it. Dick decided he had dried it too long.

Dick was a talented artist from a very young age. He kept us amused with caricatures of our friends and family. I had so little artistic talent he told me I was the only person he had ever seen who couldn't draw a straight line with a ruler.

I tried to teach him to dance. I told him he was the only person I had ever seen with two left feet and only knew two tunes. One was "Yankee Doodle," and the other one wasn't.

Dick's voice took a strange course and we went into gales of laughter every time his voice went from alto to soprano and back again.

As the seasons of the years changed, so were our lives changing.

He discovered a little girl who lived around the corner could draw a straight line without a ruler. I met a boy from up the street whose feet matched and could recognize more than one tune.

Dick asked me if I could start calling him Ralph. I told him I sure could if he would stop calling me "Cuz."

Our word battles and escapades came to an end. As we went from the springtime of our lives into summer our paths took different directions.

Occasionally a familiar sight or sound will take me back to the slaphappy days of our youth. I dip into my most treasured possession, a pocketful of memories.

Editor's Note: Pat Davis is a friendly, Brushy Mountain North Carolina person who is a local historian and has written books about the area. If you would like information about her books, you can write: Pat H. Davis, 1002 K Street, North Wilkesboro, NC 28659.