Fall weather is trying hard to enter our hills, with a few premature yellowing leaves drifting down from trees that are beginning to look tired and worn. Robed in regal purple, tall ironweed rules the meadows and fields, while wild sunflowers lend their bright yellow flowers in lovely contrast. These common fall flowers seem to relish the hot, humid days we have been experiencing.
Green pokeberries are beginning to turn to their purplish-black color, getting ready for the younger grandchildren to use in their mud pies. When I was a young’en, I made one so realistic that my brother Larry took a bite out of it! We also made a lovely shade of lavender ink out of the ripe berries, which gradually faded. Sadly, our secret notes are lost to posterity, as they faded away completely.
Children who are brought up in the country live close to nature, and thus appreciate the things that God has created in His wonderful world. I’m glad that my mother was tolerant of pokeberry stain, the bluish-gray clay mud smears, (we used the clay mud in our sculptures and mud pies) grime and dirt that we daily wore. Of course she did wash our clothes in hot lye water, but we survived. And we were happy.
The woods were our second home. We knew where to find the first ripe mountain tea berries, with their delicate teaberry flavor. Our curiosity knew no bounds, and we tasted practically everything. We chewed spicewood twigs, and the bark of the sweet birch. We marked the scrubby wild apple trees, and gathered the fruit from the bitter green apple stage to the ripened product. The brown-speckled yellow fruit of the Mayapple was an especially prized delicacy, which we punctured and sucked the soft pulp and seeds.
Deerberries (also called partridge berries) grew on the hillsides and around scattered rocks, and we gathered and ate the little red berries. We chewed mountain tea leaves, wild peppermint and old field balsam. I tried leaves from the pennyroyal plant (not too bad) the sickening-sweet berries from King Solomon’s seal and ripe pokeberries (awful!) We didn’t really eat most of these things—just sampled them. Wild plant books would probably class some of these things questionable or even poisonous, but we suffered no ill effects.
We received a letter from a transplanted Campbell’s Creeker hiding in the hills of North Dakota, and it pointed out the stark difference in today’s world and the one we lived in as children. He wrote, “I must have been in my easy chair ‘way too long. I went shopping with my lovely wife Susan, and I realized that the whole world had changed and not for the good. The women are wearing pants and the men are wearing shorts, and they seemed to have taken all their women’s jewelry, (especially earrings.) Instead of cowboy boots and brogans, they are wearing some kind of sandals. Even with my old eyes I do know that the women looked much better in shorts than men.
“Another thing I noticed, it seemed like all the men had a little dog on a leash. Now I have nothing against dogs—I have owned some of the best ‘coon dogs that a man would want, but I never put them on a leash and took them shopping with me. Seems that you can’t go to any store anymore without having to dodge all the little dogs that the men are walking around on leashes.
“Driving home we passed some people on bicycles, and what a shock! They had more armor on them than the medieval knights going out to do battle. I guess they were helmets; they looked more like somebody had painted a snapping turtle shell and put it on their head. The clothes they had on looked like they had been painted on and my wife told me it was a new material called spandex. I told her I thought it should have spanned a little more of their body!”
It sounds to me as if he needs to come home to West Virginia. There is more of his letter that I aim to use later—it is good!
We also received a letter from Michele (Shelly) Becher of Apple Grove that tells us “the other side of the story.” She writes, “I live in the old farmhouse where my grandparents lived, on 74 acres. Many farms are sold and turned into housing developments today. I would rather live in my cozy farmhouse which we have remodeled. There is yellow pine tongue and groove flooring in the dining room which we found under three layers of linoleum. I restored the front porch (which we use every day) back to wooden posts and banisters. We have rocking chairs on both front and back porches, and a table with four comfortable chairs to eat many a summer meal there.”
“We have three large oak trees to shade the house, and a babbling brook behind the house to make music. A basement keeps the house cool. Country life is a joy to me, and this is where God planted me 49 years ago.” She also added a couple of old time phrases—her grandfather called a blue heron a “long neck shagpoke.” Her grandparents would say, “Waste not-want not.” She adds sadly that her generation has become a “throw-away” society.
We have a few more old phrases to add to our growing collection. Barbara Crow’s mother was transplanted from Kansas, and one of her sayings is, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” That is familiar to most of us, as is the phrase, “Clean up your own doorstep first.” That’s sort of like “the kettle calling the pot black.” Sidney Dent recalls his mother telling them, “Ride shank’s pony”—in other words, walk!–when they were wanting a ride somewhere. My mom would say, “walking ain’t crowded!”
One time I was lecturing my teenage boys, and I got really worked up. I told them in a loud voice, “You’re either gonna ship up or shape out!” Of course I meant “Shape up or ship out!” They broke up laughing, and I don’t think my word had its intended effect.
FOR A LITTLE HOME
By Florence Bone
God send us a little home,
O come back to,
when we roam.
Low walls and fluted tiles.
a view for miles.
Red firelight and deep chairs,
Small white beds upstairs—
Great talk in little nooks,
Dim colors, rows of books.
One picture on each wall,
Not many things at all.
God send us a little ground,
Tall trees stand around.
in brown sod,
Overhead, the stars, O God.
God bless thee,
when winds blow,
Our home and all we know.