The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Foot-washing Day at Crooked Oak

By Wayne Easter © 2014

Online: October, 2014

Crooked Oak Primitive Baptist ChurchCrooked Oak Primitive Baptist Church (established July 1878). The official name was Zion Hill but most people called it Crooked Oak.(Editor’s Note: Wayne Easter lives in Mt Airy, North Carolina with his wife of 57 years, Helen. He has written three books about his early years growing up, “way out in the weeds at the foot of the Blue Ridge.” His talent for taking one along on memory trips to his early days on Stewart's Creek, makes reading his stories a genuine pleasure. He has written three books, “Stewart's Creek: (The End of an Era) ,” “In the Foothills of Home: Memories of growing up in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains,” and, “Roads Once Traveled: In the Foothills of the Blue Ridge.” All are available on

Crooked Oak Primitive Baptist Church (established July 1878) stood just beyond Sid Jarrell's two log tobacco barns on the right side of Pine Ridge Road in Surry County, North Carolina. The official name was Zion Hill but most people called it Crooked Oak. The white frame building had three windows on each side, a tin roof, and two out houses out back. It was blazing hot inside in summer and ice cold in winter; even with a wood heater going full-blast.

Foot Washing Day came on the fourth Sunday in July; the high social event of summer, and the one day of the year when everybody went to church, including Pa, Mama and us boys. People came from all over to the annual gathering at the little white church on Pine Ridge Road. From Scrap-town, Garbrawley, Flower Gap, Lambsburg, Pine Ridge, Round Peak, Beulah and Low Gap they came, along the hot dusty roads; riding in "A" models, "T" models and a few newer models. By farm wagon, buggy, horseback, muleback, bicycle and on foot they came, and all wore their Sunday best.

The meeting came at just the right time of the year; giving everybody a welcome break from the never-ending grind of tending corn and tobacco fields in the hottest part of summer. Most people hadn't seen each other since the last Foot Washing or the last funeral and had a huge backlog of gossip, jokes, and news waiting to be swapped. The kids and dogs chased each other in the dust and dirt until their clothes were all the same color.

The women wore homemade, slatted cardboard sunbonnets; ankle length dresses, and fanned them-selves with cardboard fans from Moody's Funeral Home. They talked about their families, their gardens, how many green beans they'd "put up," and gossiped about the women not there. The men wore new bib overalls, and carried wind-up pocket watches in the bib pockets; with the chains hanging out. They chawed 'baccer, dipped snuff, and smoked "roll your own" Golden Grain cigarettes. Anyone who "ran out" of "store-boughten" tobacco, "rolled his own" from his own tobacco, and told nobody.

The air was a cloud of tobacco smoke and the ground was a sea of tobacco juice, as they traded guns, knives, horses, cows, mules, and told tall tales of the good old days. The more they talked about the old days, the better they became and no way would anybody ever stretch the truth. (It was hard to imagine wading six feet of snow when you were only four feet tall and going uphill both ways.) Some of their best farming of the year was done on Foot-washing Sunday, "right there under the oak trees." A never-ending discussion was held about whose horse could out-pull whose mule and whose could run the fastest. "My mule can smell rain coming and your horse can't." Everybody there had the "best durn" coon or foxhound ever put on God's Green Earth. "My ol' Blue treed a coon one time and clomb' right up that tree after it. That ol' coon come a' fallin' out scared to death and seein' ol' Blue up that tree about scared me to death too. He run a fox one time for two days, all around Skull Camp Mountain and Round Peak and Fishers Peak and the Sugar Loaf, and if I hadn't a' shot 'im, he'd a' still been runnin'."

One memorable Foot Washing Day in the 1940s, a redheaded girl from Lambsburg stole the whole show. She came dressed as a cowgirl, complete with cowboy hat and two six-guns on her gun-belt. She was an instant hit with all the men and if prizes had been given, she'd have won everything in sight. Even without a horse, she was the center of attention, and I was impressed too, because I'd never seen a real live cowgirl. The women were not impressed.

Just across the road was Zion Hill Cemetery, and on Foot Washing Sunday, Frank Coalson parked his Dodge pickup there in the shade of an oak tree. He sold ice cream cones and cups of lemonade from a brand new galvanized washtub that had a big block of ice floating in it. Pa said Frank's lemonade was, "Made in the shade, stirred with a spade, best ol' lemonade that's ever been made." I agreed and could've put away the whole tub-full all by myself, and the ice cream.

A few men sampled fruit jars hidden in the woods, and as the day went on, they became experts on everything under the sun. Their gardens, corn and tobacco crops got bigger and better and some almost became millionaires right there in broad daylight. Those who drank too much "rested" a while and snored a while, while their wives threatened to "burn them woods to the ground and everybody in there."

The preaching, foot washing, and singing took up way too much time, and the song Amazing Grace lasted for at least an hour. When my Grandma Easter sang, she sang highest and loudest of all, then all the dogs howled, then all the kids howled, then everybody laughed. Except for some lemonade and ice cream, I'd had nothing to eat for at least a week and was about on my last legs. "Don't they know people starve to death if they don't eat? All that preachin', prayin', singin' and foot washin's a' waste a' time and they might forget all about eatin' and all them cakes and pies might go bad. They should'a washed their feet last night like I had to do after wadin' them mud holes. At least the graveyard's right across the road if anybody dies of starvation."

After what seemed like a week, the meeting came to an end; just before I did. Every family had brought baskets and dishes of food from home and the long wooden tables were filled with more good stuff to eat than I'd ever seen. There were cakes and pies as far as the eye could see and every chicken in the country must have been fried and brought there. (If other people's chickens were as hard to catch as ours, there were some mighty tired people at the meeting. Our chickens ran free, and when we wanted one to eat, we had to run it down, which usually took the whole family and the dog.) For all the kids and some grownups, it was the biggest and best meal of the year. Nobody cared how much anybody ate and since next year was a long time down the road, I took no chances. No way would I go home hungry.

It had been a slow day, until the eating began, then it was "Katy Bar the Door," as the sun raced across the sky toward Fisher's Peak. In almost no time, all the food was gone, all the big tales had been told and everybody headed back down the long dusty roads to home. It was a sad time, because Foot-washing Days at Crooked Oak Church were special and should last forever.