The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Mail Box - April, 1991

Issue: April, 1991

Dear Susan Thigpen,
You asked readers for ghost stories. I have a few short stories I will tell at the end of this letter.

But first, I would like to set the place and time this took place. It was the year 1929. I was born May 26, 1929 at Danville, Virginia, near where old 97 wrecked at the Dan River, a cotton mill and tobacco town.

When I was two, my grandma came one summer and stayed a week. Living in those days was very hard. There wasn't much work and very little food. I was one of four brothers, the oldest.

Seeing how things were, my grandma asked my mother to let her take me home to stay with her. My grandma lived at Cool Well, Virginia. It was said that George Washington stopped there and drank water from a well. The water was so cold and good he named it Cool Well. Cool Well, Virginia, is located between Monroe and Amherst on 29 North in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. My grandma's last name was Jennings and Grandpa was Odgen. Grandpa's nickname was Uncle Bill. The Southern Railway ran through Cool Well and her and his people worked on the railroad at Monroe.

Grandpa and Grandma did not have any small children, so I had to grow up by myself. We slept on a mattress we called a tick stuffed with wheat straw or chicken feathers. Cooking was done on the wood stove. I can smell the country ham frying, fried chicken, big country biscuits, blackberry pie, pinto beans, cornbread and buttermilk, country butter and wood smoke. Wasn't this wonderful to what we have today?

All the canning and washing clothes was done outside in a big iron pot called a wash pot. My job was to keep the fire and stir the pot with a wooden pole. We made lard and cracklins in the pot when we killed hogs. Good old cracklin cornbread and cool butter milk, you just can't beat it.

I got my school lessons by a oil lamp. How about going blackberry picking, huckleberries, walnuts, chinquapins, and wild strawberries? How good they were. Long walks through the woods, crossing a cool stream and getting a cool drink from it. My, this had to be heaven on earth. My grandma died when I was eight years old. Mother and Dad and my brothers moved from Danville to Cool Well and lived in my Grandma's house. This was about 1936. Times were getting better and we were all together again.

Grandpa and grandma told these ghost stories to us at night around the fireplace. Supposed to be true, all the stories happened to the family.

My grandma had broke her churn and she sent her brother to a neighbor house to borrow a butter churn. His name was John. John was coming back to the house carrying the churn on his back when a black shadow ran past him. He could feel the wind from it. It ran up the path in front of him and stopped. When he got to it the shadow took the churn off his back and started to carry it. Then the shadow set the churn back on his back. John was near the gate to the house. He jumped up on the top rail and the shadow ran under it and was never seen again.

A graveyard was located on the same path he carried the churn on. An old man was passing near the graveyard when he heard voices. They said, "One for me and one for you." The old man ran home and told his wife he had heard the Lord and the Devil dividing up people at the graveyard. Two or three days later a black and a white boy owned up to dividing hen eggs they had stole from a neighbor's chicken house in the graveyard.

There was supposed to be buried gold at an old house that had burned down. My grandpa had sent off for a treasure finder. He was always going to old homeplaces with it looking for gold. One day he told John about the gold at the old house. John asked to borrow the gold finder. The old house was two or three miles in the woods off a dirt road. When John got to the old house foundation, he began to walk around it with the gold finder. All of a sudden the needle on the gold finder pointed straight down. John took his shovel and started to dig. When he went into the woods the sun was shining. When the shovel hit the dirt, it clouded up and a hard wind began to blow. It haled and rained. He got so scared he ran out of the woods. When he got back to the dirt road, the sun was shining and there was not a cloud in the sky.

P.S. I have traveled the Parkway from end to end and the BACKROADS. We love the mountains and The Mountain Laurel.

Fred L. Dalton
Gibsonville, North Carolina

Dear Ms. Thigpen,
We were very pleased on Saturday when we received the September, 1990 and the March, 1991 issues of The Mountain laurel. We had missed the pleasure of reading it during the intervening months when you were experiencing the difficulties which you described in the March issue. I'm sure that the other subscribers to your wonderful paper join us in the hope that those troubles will not burden you folks again in the future!

Your review of the history of the evolution of the paper was interesting, and we admire the tenacity and devotion which you have obviously demonstrated in efforts to create and publish The Mountain Laurel for all of those eight years. The many letters which have appeared in "The Mail Box" bear ample witness to the satisfaction of us readers and to your success! We "old timers" really enjoy the theme of the paper and the way those stories transport us to those years that we remember so fondly! We shall continue to enjoy each new issue for as long as you folks feel inspired to continue it.

R.L. Rudolph
Roanoke, Virginia

Some More Remembrances:
I remember shocking and pitching small grain bundles and feeding a steam driven threshing machine. I also remember scarecrows in check planted cornfields when 20 acres was a field and 80 acres was a farm and it was worked with a team and a walking plow.

I remember mud roads and mule pulled graders that had a platform for the operator to stand on and a big wheel on each side to raise and lower the blade. Road builders used slips that moved about 3 cubic feet of dirt at a time.

I remember the 3 pedal model "T" Ford touring car that you could put the top down and drive back roads and pick all the wild grapes you could haul.

I remember when Indian head pennies and buffalo nickels were in common use. I remember starting school in a building that had 2 big rooms downstairs with 4 grades in each and upstairs was the high school. And ain't wasn't part of the English language. These times are gone forever and sad it is that they have been replaced with greed and crime. Thank you Mr. [John] Stoneberger.

R.O. Davis
Ft. Madison, Iowa

Dear Susan,
You don't make "Clabber Milk" - it just happens. My Mom and Dad liked it very much, but not I. She let fresh milk sour in the cold water in the spring house. Next she skimmed off all the cream for churning. The milk left was clabber milk. I don't know how long the milk had to set to "clabber" but when it was poured from the container it broke up into different size and shape clabbers or clumps-very different from buttermilk. They would drink it with a meal as you did sweet milk. Sometimes they crumbled in corn bread and ate it with a spoon. If you were in a hurry you could "make" it by pouring vinegar in skim milk, but it wasn't as good.

N. J. Willis
Laurel Fork, Virginia

Dear Mountain Laurel,
I read with great interest the one asking how to make thickened milk. I did not think anyone else knew about it.

Now I had never heard of such a thing until I was married. I watched my mother-in-law make it and I helped eat it for my first time. She, like my mother, never measured anything, so I always had to guess at things too. She put about 2 or 3 quarts of milk in a large kettle to boil. Then she broke 2 or 3 eggs in a mixing bowl and beat them with a fork. Then she began to add flour, a small amount at a time, but mixing well after each addition, using lots of flour until dry mixture could be crumbled with fingers. Add a chunk of butter and salt to taste to milk. Stir all the time while adding crumb mixture. For smaller amounts use less milk. Pepper can always be added if desired.

Boil a few minutes and you have thickened milk like my mother-in-law made.

V. E. Hylton
Floyd, Virginia