The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Life and Mountain Memories

By Lois McGrady Thorn © 1989

Issue: December, 1989

At first glance early one morning, as I looked through some tall Georgia pines, it appeared as if the woods were afire. The sun was coming up over the horizon with such a brilliant red giving an appearance of fire.

My mind rolled back to childhood and Mountain Memories - how the big yellow moon used to play tricks on me. Coming down the Mountain at night, the moon would seem to jump from one side to the other. When I asked, "why doesn't the moon stay on the same side of the road?" It would only bring a big laugh from the other folks.

I was born the sixth child to Victor and Lena DeHart McGrady, two parents that any child could be proud of. But I think I was born to be the "biggest little pest" to my older brothers and sisters. I know they loved me, and I loved them so much I did not let them go anywhere unless I went also. And how can anyone have any fun with a "little pest" under their feet all the time.

One day plans were made so they would slip out for a day of freedom at a friend's house. But my eye caught them not to far away. So did they see me, and up a ladder on an old building they went. They begin to call out, "'Mad dog' coming, Lois run home!" But the "little pest" was too small to even reach the first rung of the ladder, so I just stood there and screamed my lungs out. If there had been a mad dog, he would not come near those howls of mine. My sisters and brothers came on down, disgusted and took me home. Their plans of fun seemed never to mature.

One game my brother and sister liked best of all was playing war, one game I understood very well and did stay far from for I knew the danger of rock balls. They found a place with clay they could shape into balls below the house. When dry it was like rocks. They would divide up and get behind a fort. If any head popped up it was sure to be a good target.

Later in years war became a reality to five of my brothers and sisters and to their husbands at home and over seas in World War II.

One summer day I'll never forget. My two oldest sisters went down to Cherry River for a swim. Of course "little pest" tagged along. And what does a four year know of danger? And how can older ones have fun and watch a four year? Only by placing the four year across a log that seemed safe and secure to the bank. A little squirming pest on a log pulls loose and goes a foot toward deep water and brings screams and yells for sisters to "catch Lois."

Meanwhile our grandmother was coming along the river bank picking black berries. She hears the splashes, and begins to grumble "those dirty old boys. They should be drug out of there and tan their hides." And she bet they were neckid as jay birds.

After the coast was clear, we scrambled out got dressed and went home dry. If we went home with wet clothes the secret would have been out. There would have been some hickory tea served.

I shall never forget my first and last day in Free Union School. School had started one fall and "little pest' was not of age. But I was determined I was going. My mother finally gave in and let me. It was one of the most miserable days I've ever spent. I was not allowed to go in classes with my sisters, so I sat and cried all day. We were allowed to be together at lunch.

When we got home that evening I told my mother, "A mean ol' school, A mean ol' teacher. I'd not go back." I did not, we moved to Stuart before I was old enough to start to school.

We lived near our grandparents and great-grandparents. It was always a joy to visit with them. One visit was always a joy to all. In the fall we would help grandpa harvest the apples. Afterwards he would rob the bees hive and serve honey. My oldest sister loved honey and could eat more than I could. So she hid behind the house and sent me for more for her. The last trip my granddaddy said sorry, no more. You will be sick. I was sick, because I could not take more to a sister I loved.

People used to kid my grandmother DeHart about the trip down the mountain to get some blackheart cherries. She found a tree, got her bucket full, then sat down and ate them all. They were so good she carried the bucket of seed home to plant her a garden.

When she got home, Grandpa asked if she found any cherries? She told him what she did. He leaned back and said. "Eat the meat, bang the bone and bring the empty bucket home."

Funny things can happen and one happened to me and a sister. We were living at Stuart and we had a huge blackheart cherry tree. The druggist at Stuart came down one day and asked Mother if she would sell him two gallons. She did and we took them to the drug store the next day. He took us out on the street and said, "See that row of houses across from the cow pasture? See where those cows are standing? Well that is my house right in front of those cows. Take these and give them to my wife."

We were very obedient. It was a good mile walk, but we did not mind. We chose the house right in front of where the cows were and rang the door bell. The lady came to door in a shock, "What does he want me to do with those cherries?" I said make preserves. She said, "Will you help pit?" We did - and were paid for it. The druggist came home that night - No cherries - He searched the neighborhood and found the cherries ok, all ready to go into preserves.

Houses do not move, but grazing cows do. A druggist should have been smarter than kids. We did not even know his name, he did not tell us.

It was quite an adventure the day we moved to the foot of the mountain to Stuart. An Uncle came that morning on a cold December day. We all got in the covered wagon, my mother, baby twin sisters and other sisters. My dad and older brothers had gone on a few days before to get things together for the family.

One guess could tell where "little pest" rode - right up front where I could see every step of the way. If I wanted to follow anyone back I knew the way. And I was the first one out of the wagon to see the house first. And first I was in one room and then another, till I found one door I walked in [and] shut (which was [a] closet). Just behind me was my oldest sister. She had me just where she wanted me, in jail. The door was closed and latched. Everyone was just as excited as I was and did not hear my plea for help for some time.

It was always a treat and joy to go back on top of the Mountain to visit the grandparents. On one trip back to get apples, a sister and I went with Dad. That evening Granddaddy asked us if we would go to the pasture and bring the cows in to be milked. We got to the pasture gate. Things had changed so much. The beautiful spreading chestnut trees that graced the countyside so beautiful just a few years before had been hit by blight and now stood like ghosts with out stretched arms and boney fingers as if they could reach out and drag you in. With the evening sun going down and shadows falling, a child's imagination begins to run as wild as the countryside around us. We remembered the tales that grandfather used to tell us were about the mountain lions, bears and wild cats which used to roam so freely there in the mountain. And we knew it was true. He had the proof nailed to the house - A wild cat's paw, one of the biggest ever bagged in that part of the country. We slowly but surely begin to retrace our tracks swiftly (more so than when we went out) back to the house and were exhausted, mostly from fright.

Granddaddy looked at us and said, "Where are the cows?" We replied, "We looked every where, but could not find them." He gave one of his famous grunts and said, "I do not believe you even looked!" We went back to the foot of the mountain keeping that secret to ourselves, but knew we were not fooling our granddad.

I miss the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. I guess what I miss more is going through the woods and meadows in the springtime gathering wild flowers you can find no where else.

After living in Florida for several years, I heard from a cousin in the heart of the Blue Ridge. He said, he had considered retiring and moving to Florida. But one day a heavy rain came up and washed out a hill of potatoes. They were so large they made a dam a cross the river and flooded his house. I love good baked potatoes and I really began to get home sick for the Blue Ridge. So we decided to sell out and go back to Virginia.

We got as far as Atlanta, Georgia. We were blocked and could not get out for a few days. They had a terrible rain storm there. Later we found the problem. Someone had a peach tree on Nancy Creek and the peaches had washed off and blocked the creek and that about washed Atlanta away. I love peaches so much, made up so many ways, that I just decided to stay here in Metro Atlanta and have been here ever since.

But I still miss my Virginia home and the Blue Ridge, and the most wonderful people in this world.