The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

When Grandpa Was A Little Girl

By Linda J. Crider © 1992

Issue: July-August-September, 1992

When I was a child, our home was a gathering place for neighborhood children. I remember the teenage girls asking my mother's advice about what to wear on dates, new hair styles and fabric colors for particular dress patterns.

My father always razzed the girls and boys alike. He'd tease the older ones about their sweethearts and us younger ones were amazed by the things he would tell us. We could never figure out fact from fiction.

I remember once, we had chicken and dumplings for dinner and I really wasn't fond of them and there was chocolate cake for dessert. I decided to skip the chicken and dumplings and just have desert, as did my two sisters. When we announced out intentions, Dad smiled and said, "You know, once upon a long time ago, when I was a little girl, chicken and dumplings were really good for you and I liked them a lot too. I always ate them all up. They made me big and strong and made me grow hair on my chest too. So if you'll eat lots, you will grow up to be big and strong and you just might grow hair on your chest just like me too."

We kids ate so many chicken and dumplings that night, there was no room left for cake. Dad's eyes twinkled and he chuckled merrily as he watched us.

Mom was always afraid we would step on a snake, when playing outside after dark. We lived in rural Appalachia and copperhead and rattlesnakes were common in our area. She would call for us to come inside, but often we would try to sneak in one more game of tag, or whatever game we were playing. Many times, Dad would come out on the porch and say, "You children should come inside now. There could be Yellow-pen-stretchers out here."

Every time we heard this, we would all rush up on the porch to hear more about this mysterious creature.

Dad would begin by saying, "Well my granny told me about Yellow-pen-stretchers. She said they were around a long time ago, when time was very young, and you know there could still be a few of them around. They always come out from their hiding places after dark and stretch about in yards and gardens. They watch for the night fairies that come to play with the lightening bugs. Always like to see them dance. I never saw one, but I think I might have heard one once. It sounded like very soft laughter coming from my granny's flower garden."

Carol, a neighborhood playmate would always ask, "What do they look like?"

Dad would answer, I'm not really sure, but I've been told, by my granny of course, that they're green and yellow plaid with big orange polka dots."

"Will they hurt little children?" My sister would ask.

"I don't think so," Dad would answer, "but they might if they were frightened. That's why you should come inside when your folks call for you to come inside for the day. Besides, you have all day to play, and Yellow-pen-stretchers only come out to play at night."

At this, we would agree to end the day. We would then walk the neighborhood children safely home and sing songs, so we wouldn't frighten any unsuspecting Yellow-pen-stretchers of our presence.

Before my sisters and I would crawl into bed, we would look out the window in hopes of catching a glimpse of the elusive Yellow-pen-stretchers or perhaps the night fairies and lightening bugs playing games in the moonlight.

Now that I have children of my own, they love to go stay overnight at their grandparents house and play outside until after dark, then sit on the porch and listen to their grandpa tell stories of a strange night creature called the Yellow-pen-stretcher and its friends the night fairies and lightening bugs. They love to hear tall tales of another time when Grandpa laughs and begins, "Well a long, long time ago when time was very young and I was a little girl..."

Then they all sit down to feast on Grandma's famous chicken and dumplings and chocolate cake, so they will grow up to be big and strong, with hair on their chest, just like Grandpa.