Blog, father, Fear, growing up country, rainy day

Storm Memories

Day 327

Yesterday we drove through a few ugly storm cells. Then when the storm moved, the dark clouds continued to linger above the highway. Seeing the clouds reminded me of my years growing up in the little valley we called home.

Growing up there gave us a lot of freedom. I had very little fear. I was not necessarily fearful of poisonous snakes, but I was aware and taught how to protect myself from them. Most every house could be found with the front doors open with a screen door to allow the mountain breezes to move through and provide a much appreciated breeze. I remember being afraid when my father went out as part of the volunteer fire crew to fight forest fires. And once or twice, we would hear of someone breaking into an isolated cabin ‘up on the mountain’ but it was a rare occurrence.

Weather was no different. We had plenty of thunderstorms with lightening, but I never feared the thunder or the lightening. We knew how to determine the distance of a storm by counting the number of seconds between seeing lightening and hearing a clap of thunder. All of the older two story houses were equipped with lightening rods with decorative glass balls on two ends of the roof structure. The lightening rods are connected to a grounding rod buried in the ground. The glass balls served a purpose as well. The theory was that if the rod was struck by lightening, the glass ball would shatter letting the owner know it was time to check for potential damage.

While we had thunderstorms, more often than not, we had rainstorms. Just saturating downpours which nourished the gardens and fed the creeks. This was the non-destructive rain that everyone hoped for.

Our home was nestled in a valley surrounded by four mountain peaks. If you were attentive you could see sheets of rain move across the mountains toward our little valley. As kids, we swam in the creek. We had three ‘swimming holes’ but the most popular was the one we referred to as The Millpond.

During the summer we spent most of our time swimming and sitting on a towel spread along the rocky creek bank. This is where almost everyone learned to swim, me included. I remember the older teenagers applying a combination of baby oil and iodine on their bodies in an attempt to get a tan. Yikes!

When we could see rain clouds and the leaves turn upside down, everyone headed home. The Millpond was in the holler which meant the trip to our house was along the road, across the bridge and on home in a u-shaped path. The closer the sheets of rain were, the faster we moved until we were in a full run. This became what we referred to as trying to outrun the rain. We seldom made it home without getting drenched in the cold summer rain. Such a great memory.

Later in life, I went home to visit. In this valley, almost everyone walked everywhere. I was alone, visiting before going to a training class in D.C. for my job. I started out on a walk one afternoon. As I stepped off of my father’s porch, he said “It looks like it might rain.” I nodded and continued on my way. I missed that freedom and wanted to take advantage of walking while I had the chance.

I was about 30 minutes into my walk when the rain came up behind me. First, a few heavy drops, widely separated. Then more drops until a solid sheet of rain was upon me. I was soaked. Then, I did as I had often done as a child, I stepped onto the covered porch of a house no longer occupied to wait out the rain.

Within minutes, I saw my father’s car driving down the road. He saw me on the porch, pulled up and motioned for me to come to the car. As he had tried to do so many times in my life, he came to my rescue.

Such a bittersweet but beautiful memory.

Blog, growing up country

Living By The Creek

My brother fly fishing on the creek bank

Day 225

I love to share the stories about growing up country. It was a different life then, a sheltered life I guess. It is such a dichotomy to live so sheltered yet have so much freedom. When I say we were sheltered, I mean we knew nothing about the horrors of the world. News was at 6:00 P.M. and 11:00 P.M. and Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite were trusted to bring the truth to American households. Was that true? I am honestly not sure. We each decide that for ourselves.

We were spared the news. Ours was a life of simplicity and exploration, not to be tainted by the reality of man’s potential to be horrible and hate-filled. We believed in good.

The Creek

The creek was part of the livelihood of growing up country. The creek seemed to be the fastest, although not the easiest, way to get from one place to another. It was not unusual to either wade into the creek, tennis shoes tossed across our shoulders, or to jump the rocks from one side to another. We had to be wary of the moss that sometimes covered the submerged rocks — it was slick and the reason for many an unplanned fall into the creek. Especially for our cousins visiting from out of state.

On days when we were had nothing else to do (we NEVER used the term bored), we would go to the creek.

Skipping rocks was a favorite pastime. Our creek-beds and creek-banks were covered with smooth rocks tumbled over and over as the water ran from mountaintop to basin. It was not challenging to find a smooth flat rock, but finding the perfect fit for your hand was worth some extra looking. My Dad and my brother were excellent rock skippers. I can close my eyes and still see the rocks rising and falling into the water again and again.

Then of course, we loved to catch crawl-dads. There is an art to that process. Always good to have an old tin can with the lid removed. Since crawl-dads flee backwards, putting the can behind them, then placing the stick in front of them would cause the crawl-dad to scurry backwards into the can. There was always the BIG rock that housed the HUGE crawl-dad that only the most fearless child would even attempt to catch. Most of the time we let them go, other times if the size was right, we saved them for bait. We always loved to find a nest of babies to hold for a moment because they tickled when they attempted to pinch you. The pinch of an adult was another story all together.

The creeks were full of treasures. I had quite a collection of smooth glass I gathered over the years. Old broken china, broken pop bottles, and discarded jars. They were beautiful with all the sharp edges worn away from tumbling over the rocks on their journey downstream. It was so exciting to find a piece of glass with an unusual color or a delicate flower still intact on the surface.

I remember the water spiders (is this the same as a water strider?) skipping across the top of the water. The part of rock under the water was covered with periwinkles which we often pulled off, just to drop back into the water and drift to the bottom. Of course there were also water snakes (non poisonous) and something we called hog mollies (a type of sucker fish), which I was horribly afraid of. It was the fish of scary campfire stories.

Of course, fishing was a favorite pastime. As kids, we all had our first jerk poles. A jerk pole is a fishing pole (often a stick) with no reel and fishing line tied to the end. If the fish would bite, you had to jerk the pole to pull the fish out of the water. The first week of fishing season was always a big event. The women in the community made bbq and chili and sold it to the hungry fishermen to raise money for either the chuch or the community club. My brother would go out in the evening and dig for nightcrawlers to use for bait. He was always an excellent fisherman and it was not at all unusual for him to sell a can of night crawlers to frustrated fishermen from away, who could not seem to catch anything with their fancy poles and shiny lures.

Our creeks were also where we learned to swim, where we were baptized and where we chilled our watermelons for summer picnics. The water was cold let me tell you, but the creeks were the very lifeblood of everything growing up country.

I always came home on time, though. My grandfather told us if a snapping turtle got us, he would not let go until daylight. That was enough of a possibility I had no trouble coming home in time for dinner and bedtime. I guess a little healthy fear never hurt us and kept us out of harm’s way.

Blog, growing up country, Mountains, nostalgia

The Appalachian Serenade

Day 141

In the small valley where I grew up, there were many old mountain customs and celebrations. Bizarre to some I am sure, but delightful memories for me. One of my favorite memories was serenading a newly married couple.

What is a Serenade?

The Appalachian serenade (or shivaree) is the custom of celebrating (or hazing depending on your point-of-view) a newly married couple. Most likely taken from the French charivari, it is a loud and unsettling event often occurring on the wedding night of a newly married couple.

The community plans the serenade and waits until about half an hour after the couple turns the lights out and retires for the evening. The community encircles the house and starts to make a loud disruption by banging on pots and pans, ringing cowbells and, yes, even shooting guns outside shouting for the couple to come out.

I remember participating in serenades as a young child, pounding on pots and pans along with the best of them. Our custom was to parade the couple from their home to the local country store where the couple was required to treat everyone to a snack of some sort. Usually a pack of Nabs (Nabisco crackers) and a pop (soda).

In the earliest serenades I remember, the woman was put into a wheel barrow and her husband pushed her all the way to the store. For those who lived in the holler (a hollow nestled in the mountains) it could be a long ride on unpaved roads.

Most people who grew up in our valley knew to expect this. It was not always on the first night because it was a real surprise if the timing was unknown. For the poor people who were from away, this custom could be quite unsettling, although always based in good fun.

My Own Serenade

This custom was still ongoing in 1974 when I married my first husband. We knew it was coming eventually, but the timing was, of course, unknown. The anticipation was the worst part! He thought it would be funny to sneak out the back when the commotion began, but when people surround your house shooting off 22s (a rifle) you think twice about it.

I was not put into a wheel barrow. We did get paraded to the store with the sound of cowbells along with banging on pots and pans and the occasional rifle being fired into the air. We got to the store where we bought snacks for the 30 or so people and then went back home, laughing but also glad it was over.

As I write this, I think how frightening this might sound to some. Even now, after moving back to the mountains, I have a physical reaction when I hear guns being fired by hunters or those target shooting.

I asked my brother if anyone was ever serenaded these days. He could not remember anyone in recent memory. It is a different time, indeed. We no longer always know our neighbors or necessarily associate with them. I suppose it’s best left as a memory of a time gone by.

Blog, Grandfather, growing up country, Home, Mountains, nature

I’m a Little Bit Country

Day 119

I am so proud of my country roots. I grew up in a small valley tucked away in the mountains of southwestern Virginia. It was the place my ancestors settled when they left Ashe County, North Carolina and the place I called home most of my life. It’s not my home now, but it is the place where my core beliefs were formed.

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As kids, we had the freedom to roam anywhere just about anywhere. We usually had a pair of shoes for the school year, a pair of shoes for church, and a pair of tennis shoes for summer. We went barefoot most of the time because wearing shoes was so restricting. I can remember being about 7 years old, sitting on the walkway that led up to my grandmother’s house, waiting for the dew to dry so I could play in the grass.

I read a lot now about how children need to have the opportunity to explore outside to develop a sense of curiosity about science. Boy, oh, boy did we have the opportunity. We left the house in the morning and did not come back until dinner time. (I honestly do not remember going home to eat lunch, but we must have had peanut butter and jelly at some point during the day.)

It was nothing for us to strike out and walk the railroad tracks to go swimming or just go for a walk. We swam in the creeks, caught crawdads and night-crawlers, went fishing and swung from huge grapevines wrapped around the branches of trees. We crossed the creeks by jumping rocks. We knew where to watch for snakes and what to do if we encountered one. We learned to look at the leaves on the trees or the clouds crossing the mountains as a sign of coming rain.

My grandfather took me into the woods when he gathered mayapple and ginseng constantly teaching me to watch out for the stinging nettle or poison ivy along the way. He would show me the hidden Jack-in-the-Pulpits and sing me old-timey songs. It was a wonderful way to grow up.

We had very few toys. Instead, we played games outside. Some familiar and some we made up. Tin Can Alley (kick-the-can) was a community favorite. We also had a game similar to hide-and-seek called No Bears Are Out Tonight which had its own original song to go along with it.

We walked everywhere we went. Along the way, we broke milkweed stalks to discover if our love was true. We popped the seed pods on touch-me-nots. We gathered glass pop-bottles to turn in for the 2-cent deposit in hopes of having enough money to buy bubble gum or candy at the small local store.

It was a great way to grow up.

I sat down tonight to write about some of our country traditions, but that may need to wait until tomorrow. For now, I am happy to be doing a little mental time-travel.