Autumn seems to have stretched forth her hand and is displaying her beautiful flowers in our hills. The official date on the calendar is weeks away, but you can see her in the bountiful patches of black-eyed Susan’s that grow on the road banks and pasture fields. The Joe-Pye weed is beginning to bloom; their lovely pinkish flowers standing tall beside purple ironweed.

Ironweed gets its common name due to the toughness of the stem, and was once used to treat stomach ailments. Joe-Pye weed’s name is attributed to an American Indian by the same name who used this plant to cure fevers, and the early American colonists used it to treat an outbreak of typhus. We should be so thankful for modern medicine instead of having to forage all over our hills and fields for a cure for ailments.

It’s canning season for the country housewife now, and the busiest time of the year. The recent major flooding washed away a number of gardens, and too much rain played havoc with others. Those who were fortunate to reap a harvest of vegetables are working diligently to put up food for the future. We thank the Lord for providing us another summer’s bounty. Even though it is hard, hot work, it is so rewarding to see the Mason jars lined up in the cellar shelves, full of summer’s goodness.

Old-timey words and phrases seems to bring a lot of welcome response. Mr. William T. Yates of White Sulphur Springs remembers what his grandmother used to say when things didn’t go too well. (Mr. Yates is 85 years old so you can imagine how old his grandma was!) She would use the expression, “Great land of Fresk!” Wherever that was, I have no idea!

He also said that stump water was used to get rid of freckles—he never did see it used, so he didn’t know if it worked or not! The idea of using stump water was mentioned in Mark Twain’s book, “Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” only it was called “spunk water.” Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were discussing remedies to cure warts, and Tom told Huck it was “spunk water.”

“You got to go all by yourself, to the middle of the woods, where you know there is a spunk-water stump, and just as it’s midnight you back up against the stump and jam your hand in and say: ‘Barley-corn, barley-corn, Injun meal shorts, spunk-water, spunk-water, swaller these warts,’ and then walk away quick, eleven steps, with your eyes shut, and then around three times and walk home without speaking to anybody. Because if you speak, the charm’s busted . . .” I don’t need the remedy for warts, but that sure makes me want to reread “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” one more time!

My cousin Frank (Bobby) Samples of Florida, recalls a co-worker when he was in Michigan who described a homely woman as “Ugly enough to tree boogers!” He says his wife Mary still uses “buggies” (baskets) to do her grocery shopping, although she has quit “renching” her clothes when doing laundry, since the automatic “warsher” was invented. Mike Hopkins of Bridgeport remembers his great-grandfather, who was a calvaryman in the Civil War and also a blacksmith, speak of a stupid person and saying, “He’s dumber than a bag of hammers!”

Larry Taylor of Charleston recalls the homespun sayings that were once used—and still are sometimes. When visitors arrived, they were greeted with, “Come in and take a seat” or “Pull up a cheer!” One of the first things you asked your guests was, “Have you eaten?” or more commonly, “Have you et yet?” Larry remembers the farewell saying, “You all come again, hear?” He said that with school teachers on each side of his family, you had to be cautious if you said, “Dang it!”

I remember what Mom used to say when she came up against a hard problem that she was having trouble with, “Well there’s more ways to kill a cat than choking it to death on hot butter!” That reminds me of the way we used to “skin a cat” when we were energetic youngsters. The Virginia office building was fenced with cable and iron arch ways that were at least six feet high. It was perfect for gymnastics, and one of our favorite games was turning a somersault (we called it “summerset”) through our arms while hanging on the arch way.

I’m sure there will be plenty of old phrases that will surface in memory, and in fact, we catch ourselves using some of them unconsciously. One of the grandchildren asked me a question this evening, and I replied, “Well, I can’t tell you ‘right off the bat!’” I told my son-in-law Bob that “my name is mud today,” and he asked me if I knew the origin of that expression. It seems that after John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln, he jumped off the balcony and broke his leg, and Dr. Samuel A. Mudd set his leg after he arrived on horseback. Dr. Mudd was sentenced to life in prison, although it is controversial whether he knew Booth or not. His name was sullied however, and is still used today to describe someone in trouble.

Acacia Stribling sends along a household hint that is worth sharing. This comes from her son Sam, the appliance repairman. She writes, “To clean an automatic washing machine, fill tub with hot water on the highest setting. Add another gallon of boiling water, and one-half gallon of white vinegar. Run on longest cycle.” She adds, “If you can’t stand the smell of vinegar, use three or four times the usual amount of dishwasher detergent (not Dawn.) Borax can also be used if diluted first in boiling water.”

We used to wash our canning jars by hand in a No. 3 zinc wash tub, and a “tejus” (tedious) job it was! I’m so thankful for the automatic dishwasher which produces sparkling clean, germ-free jars. Sometimes the good old days were not so good.

I found a prayer by St. Augustine that touched my heart.

“O Lord, our God, under the shadow of Thy wings let us hope.

Thou wilt support us, both when little, and even to gray hairs.

When our strength is of Thee, it is strength;

but, when it is our own, it is feebleness.

We return unto Thee, O Lord, that from our weariness our souls may rise toward Thee;

for with Thee is refreshment and true strength. Amen.

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Alyce Faye Bragg

She writes the "News From the Hills" column. Born and raised in the country, and still lives on the same farm where she was raised. Has a sincere love for nature and the beauty of the hills. Began writing in 1981 & currently has three books published. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer