In my wildest dreams I never pictured life as beautiful as it has turned out to be. We did not have access then to a library filled with books that told us how boys and girls lived in other lands. How I wish I could have had a hundred of the available present-day books! Our children are privileged to visit with others of any land under the sun, if they desire. I would encourage them to go more often through the pages of a book to investigate the great things God has in every part of the world.
As a small. child, I had no books to look at, except a Sears and Roebuck catalog which was very carefully protected from the careless hands of children, no radio to listen to, and of course no television to watch. There was something which we had that was wonderful, though – story telling! My Dad could tell the most exciting stories a child ever heard.
Just after dark was the usual story hour, for we went to bed early, and daylight hours were too full for such trifling things. Anyway, darkness lent itself better to the “scary” stories we longed, yet feared, to hear. I can still seem to hear Dad say, “I wan-n-t-t- my tail-e-e- poo-o,” as the cold chills chased each other up my spine. That was from the story of a cat that came back to haunt the man who cut off its tail..
Br’er Rabbit and his other animal friends and foes were great favorites also. Br’er Rabbit was the hero who always came out “on top” because he was lovable, kind, always right, and best of all he was smarter than all the other animals. I was encouraged to study and apply myself so that I could be as smart as Br’er Rabbit.
Our school books had stories that taught us some things besides reading,, writing, and arithmetic. Many of the finer lessons of culture, honesty, obedience, and sincerity came from the readers we studied. I remember one story in a second grade reader which always thrilled me, even on the two-hundredth reading! We used the same reader all. year, going through it as many times as we could. By this I mean that we not only read aloud to the teacher, but we read it to ourselves times without number. We measured our reading ability by how many times we read through the book. The story told of a father, mother and small daughter, Amy, who went to the seashore for a picnic. They walked along the shore picking up shells. ‘They built “castles” in the sand. They dug for crabs in the edge of the water. Every hour was exciting and full of pleasure. After the picnic lunch, the father and mother wanted to rest and they suggested that Amy run along the beach and play; but she was not to get out of their sight as she played. She was used to being told what to do, so this limitation did not hinder her having fun. She began to dig a tunnel near the edge of the water that would open into her castle where the beautiful princess was held prisoner by the wicked witch. When the tunnel was finished, the gallant prince came along and entered it and was nearly up to the castle wall when she heard, “Amy, come here at once!”
Amy didn’t say, “Wait a minute, ” or “I don’t want to.” She just left her play and ran quickly to her father. As he caught her in his arms, he said, “Look.” There was no castle there and no tunnel there for a great wave had suddenly washed them all away. The moral is you must always obey your parents without delay. Never be guilty of saying, “Wait a minute.”
It seems to me that for years I never heard my name called to come home without remembering that it is necessary to obey at once, or something terrible may happen. I wasn’t likely to be washed out to sea by a wave, but there was always the danger of a snake, a mad dog, or a gypsy! Of course, there were many unknown dangers lurking in the shadows also.
Every story we read had a moral and taught some important lesson. I am sure we didn’t profit from all of them, but neither did all of them fall on deaf ears and dull hearts. Maybe our present generation of “hippies” would have been better adjusted if they had studied books that taught them some of the lessons of life that their parents never bothered to give them. Young minds are most easily influenced for good or bad, and we fail. our youth pitifully when we do not use every method at our command to teach them how to live happy and useful lives.
Mountain people told their sad stories in verse and song. On the rare occasions when I willingly sat still for any length of time, I enjoyed hearing my mother sing these sad songs. “In the Baggage Coach Ahead” was one of my favorites. It told the story of a young couple who had moved West. She died giving birth to their son, and the husband was shipping her body and taking the tiny baby back home to his folks.. The song tells about the train trip. ‘The baby cried and kept the passengers awake, and they complained to the conductor. Finally, he was told to take the baby to its mother, and he responded that he wished he could but. that she was dead in the baggaage coach ahead. He told his sad story, and the women on the train felt sorry for him and love for the baby, so they cared for it until the train stopped at the station. The song ended
Next morn at the station
They bid him goodbye.
“God bless you,” he softly said.
And each had a story
To tell in their homes
Of the “baggage coach ahead.”
Such songs taught a measure of compassion and understanding for those who had great sorrows come to them.
Even very young children will absorb a little romanticism from the happenings around them. Here is the ending of another of those heartthrob songs: (I don’t know why I remember only the endings.)
Will you always love me, darling,
As you did that starry night
As we sat beneath the maple on the hill?
Another one over which one could become very sentimental on occasions was the explanation of why the red roses grew at the corner of the church. A young couple were about to be married when he died suddenly. She could not live without him and died of a broken heart. They were both buried in the same churchyard, and out of their graves grew red roses whose branches entwined on the churchhouse, reminding all who saw them of the undying love of this couple who had been deprived of the joys of their love in their youth, but by this had symbolized true love to the sad world they left behind.
Going barefoot is one of the joys of childhood which city children must really miss. Many of them have no shoes, so they walk the hot pavement until the soles of their feet become like tanned leather, without any of the thrills of wiggling their toes in the cool clamp earth of a newly turned corn field. We went barefoot for the pure pleasure of it. Through the last days of the winter, we looked forward with great anticipation to the time when we would hear ” Today I will plow the garden,” from Dad. That meant two wonderful experieinces: we could follow the plow barefoot up one furrow and down another. As we ran, jumped and shouted, we picked up the earth worms that were unearthed (there were always many nice fat ones) and put them in a tin can. When the edge wore off that excitement, we could take the worms and our fishing pole which had been stored over the rafters of the “outhouse” since the previous summer, and rush down to the river for the first fishing of another year.
(some text was missing here) eating and black ones which were about as wide as they were long. You may consider me prejudiced, or even presumptuous, but I must say it anyway—no fish ever tasted better than those I caught, cleaned, and fried in pure lard!
Occasionally the men of the community would go on a “gigging party” to a large river a few miles away. They would take wash tubs for bringing home the fish and we would usually end up with a tub nearly full of fish and frogs. We would eat fish for breakfast, dinner, and supper; and everybody in the community would do the same. What a shame we didn’t have a freezer so we could save some to eat later!
I was never permitted to go on one of these trips, so I don’t know exactly what happened; but here is my idea of it.
Gigging was done at night. They fixed long-handled spears. Sometimes they used hay forks for their weapons, but because they seemed to be too large and clumsy, they made their own, using hay fork handles and attaching a sharp :instrument to them. The water had to be clear and not too deep, for they must be able to see their prey swiming along. As they waded in the water and saw fish, they thrust their gig at them and threw them in containers. They usually had some boys along who were not permitted to gig but who could carry the containers and pull the fish out of the water.
Frogs and turtles were considered as special treats. We children were always warned to stay away from the head of the turtle because of its bite. They said if one bit you, it would set its jaws and hold on and would not let loose until it thundered! I never gave one a chance to prove that statement to be false. One time Ashby and I found a good sized hard shell turtle on the river bank. It was burrowed in the mud, but he dug it out and he put a stick in front of it. It bit that stick and held on so that we carried it home between us. I was very glad that it wasn’t my hand or arm that he got.
I remember another thing about turtles. Old folks said that the life remained in them and that even as you cooked them in the kettle, they jumped and moved about. We tried to see whether that was truth or fable by watching it cook, but we could never be sure, for we would tire of the watchman job.