Blue Ridge Country
by Jean Thomas
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Again Jorde's eyes sought the neglected grave far off. He looped back to the story of his son. "Everything was peaceable here, though we did miss Cynthie powerful after she died. But me and Ben made on the best we could. We had a living from our whiskey. Then come Effie! That woman nat'erly tore up the whole place. She kept gougin' Ben for more cash money." Jorde pointed a condemning finger toward a ravine. "There's a half dozen washtubs rustin' away under there."

A part of a zinc tub protruded from the brush heap. "One day," Jorde continued, "unbeknown to Ben's wife, Effie, I snuck off up here away from that Jezebel though she had talked no end about me being too old to climb the mountain. 'You'll get a stroke, Jorde,' she'd warn me. 'You best sit here in the cool, or feed the chickens or the hogs.' Effie was ever finding something for me to do if I offered a word about comin' up here to see how Ben was getting on. That made me curious. So I snuck off from the house and come up here one day." Jorde's eyes turned toward the ground. "When I come up on Ben I couldn't believe my own eyes. My boy had a fire goin' not under just one but a half dozen tubs! What's left of them are over yonder." He jerked a thumb toward the brush covered ravine. "My boy Ben was stirring around not with the wood fork like he had been learnt, but with a shovel!" Jorde lifted scandalized eyes. "A rusty shovel, at that! He was talking in a big way to his helper—a strange man to me. I come to find out he was a friend of Effie's from Cartersville."

Jorde pondered a while. "Come to find out, to make a long story short, Ben was cheatin' them that bought his whiskey, tellin' them it was a year old when he knew in reason he'd just run it off maybe the night before. Ben Foley was sellin' pizen!" Old Jorde Foley's voice trembled. "That's all it was that he was makin'. Pizen that he forced to ferment with stuff that Effie's friend, who used to work in the coal mines, brought here. And Ben sellin' that pizen that burnt the stummick and the brains out of men that drunk it. Hi gad!"—old Foley spat vehemently—"I never raised my son to be no such thief! It was that Jezebel Effie that led my boy to the sin of thievin'. She wanted more cash money than he could earn honest with makin' good whiskey."

It was Ben's fear of prison, old Jorde explained bluntly, that caused him to run from the law, and running he had stumbled and thereby stopped a bullet.

"What the law didn't bust to pieces of them tubs and shovels and such, I did," Jorde added with a note of satisfaction. For a moment he lapsed into silence, then added gravely, "Ben just nat'erly disgraced us Foleys." The father hung his head in shame. "Why, Cynthie would turn over in her grave if she knew of him thievin' and runnin'—runnin' from the law! It's such as that Jezebel with her carryin's on, temptin' men to thievin' that's put an end to makin'—makin' good whiskey in these Dug Down Mountains here in Georgia. Put an end to sellin' good pure whiskey for an honest price like me and mine used to make."



The individualism of the mountaineer has not made of him a scientific inventor, but this marked trait of character has developed his self-reliance and resourcefulness. He may not know, or care to know, in figures the degree of the angle at which the mountain slopes. Probably he has never heard of the clinometer by which geological surveyors arrive at such information. Yet the untrained mountain man seeing a stream gushing down a steep escarpment knows how to divert it to his own best use.

Sometimes he set his tub mill, or the wheel, at the most advantageous point to grind his corn into meal. If, however, his house happened to be near no stream he had a simpler method for grinding his corn, a way his forbears learned from the Indian, or heard about through his Scotch ancestors. He rounded two stones, about the size of the average dishpan, with great patience. Bored a hole in the center of the top one, placed the two in a hollowed log and patiently, laboriously poured corn, a few grains at a time, into the opening. With the other hand he turned the top stone by means of a limber branch attached to a rafter overhead, the other end of which was thrust into a small hole near the rim of the top stone. In this way he kept the top stone moving, slowly, steadily. The Scotch called this simple handmill a quern. It was a laborious way of grinding meal.

It has amazed men of the U. S. Geological Survey to find that the corn patch of the mountaineer often slants at an angle of fifty degrees so that it is impossible to plow. The mountaineer cultivates such a patch entirely with a hoe. When the mountain side, crop and all, slides down to the base he bears the ill luck with patience and fortitude and tries to find a remedy. He hauls rocks to brace the earth and plants another crop. He had no time to sit and bemoan his fate. Through such trials, and because neighbors were so far removed, his self-reliance and resourcefulness were of necessity developed. The mountain man learned early to face alone the hazards of life in the forest; first of all was defense of his home against wild beasts and the Indian. He knew the danger to life and limb from fallen trees, treacherous quicksand, swollen creeks, the peril of slipping mountain sides after heavy rains. Of necessity he relied upon himself; he could not wait for a neighbor to help pull the ox out of the ditch. He learned early to make his own crude farm implements at his own anvil. In short, he had to be jack-of-all-trades—blacksmith, tanner, barber, shoemaker, wagoner, and woodsman.

Men of the Blue Ridge did not clear their land after the manner of the German farmer in Pennsylvania, who uprooted his trees. Instead, it was done by belting the tree. He notched a six-inch band around the trunk, removed the bark which prevented the sap from going up and thus killed the tree from lack of nourishment. A field of such trees he called a deadening. The roots were left to rot and enrich the soil but the hillsides were so steep that the fertility from wood soil soon washed away and another deadening had to be made before another crop could be planted. Though crops were scant, the forest itself was ample and sometimes brought him rich returns if he managed right.

A timber cruiser would come into the community, prospecting for a lumber company, and examine the standing timber. After he reported back to the company, a lawyer was sent to sound out the landowners—to see if they were willing to sell their surface rights. When the legal matters were attended to, the lumber company sometimes bought as much as seventy thousand acres of forest. Woodsmen were brought in to work along with the mountain men. Portable sawmills were set up and busy hands—sawyers, choppers—set to work leveling the giant trees.

The owners calculated it would take twenty-five years to cull out all the large timber and by the time that job was finished there would be a second growth ready to cut. With this in view, hardwood and rich walnut were cut and used with utter extravagance and disregard for their great worth; full-sized logs of the finest grade were used for building barns, planks of black walnut found their way into porch floors, walnut posts were used freely for fencing by the mountaineer himself.

So profuse was the supply up until a quarter century ago that no thought was given to its possible disappearance through wasteful methods of lumbering, frequent forest fires, and the woodsman's utter carelessness and disregard for the future.

A timber cruiser in Knott County, Kentucky, once came upon an old woman chopping firewood beside the door of her one-room cabin. Upon examination he found it to be a fine species of walnut. After talking with her he learned that she owned hundreds of acres of timber, much of which was covered with walnut such as she was ruthlessly burning in the fireplace. He spent days going over the acreage and offered the old woman a fabulous price for the larger timber, at the same time assuring her, through written agreement, protection of all her rights. But the old creature, who lived alone, dismissed the timber cruiser with a wave of her bony hand. "Begone!" she chirped, "I don't want to be scrouged by your crew comin' in on my land choppin' down trees and settin' up them racket-makin' contrapshuns under my very nose. No how such as that skeers off the birds in the forest." Though the cruiser agreed that his company would even be willing to keep a distance of three miles in all directions from her little cabin, the old woman still refused, and when he tried again in honeyed tones to persuade her she up with the ax and chased him off the place.

The mountain man, however, often seized the opportunity to dispose of his timber and set to work with a vim to get it to the nearest market, though such was a mighty task. Having cut down the larger trees, he rolled the logs down the mountain side toward the watercourse. Usually the creeks were much too shallow to carry rafts of logs so he constructed a splash dam at a suitable point between the high banks of the stream. A splash dam consisted of two square cribs of logs filled with great stones. Against these two crude piers he built a dam in the middle of which he placed an enormous gate. He remembered how he had made rabbit traps when he was a boy. So now, on a bigger scale, he made a figure-four trap-trigger for his splash dam. On one side, the gate which he built in the middle, pushed against two projecting logs in the dam. A long slender pole like a telegraph pole held the gate in place. This is the trigger pole. Thus dammed, the water soon formed a deep lake into which strong-armed men threw the logs.

Gate and trigger are in readiness. The mountaineer has only to wait for a tide, which is often not long in coming. Even overnight, even in a few short hours, a stream has been known to swell from sudden rains or snow, bringing the water with a rush down steep mountain sides and carrying with it the logs that were left strewn on the slopes or near the bank. Men work with feverish haste to roll the logs into the stream. The whole is swept into the dam, the trigger is released at the right moment and the rush of water with its freight of logs sweeps through the open gate with a mighty roar, carrying its cargo for miles on down to the river.

Zealous workers have been known to splash out in this fashion as many as thirteen thousand logs in one season.

Timber so floated down the Big Sandy River made at its mouth the largest round timber market in the world and brought untold fortunes to capitalists who ruthlessly cut down the virgin forests along its banks.

Here at the waterfront taverns a motley crowd of loggers and raftsmen, woodsmen and timbermen, were wont to gather for nights of revelry. The old taverns rang with as rollicking songs as ever enlivened a western bar in gold-rush days. Here too woodsman and logger rubbed shoulders betimes with Devil Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy, for it was to the mouth of Big Sandy, the village of Catlettsburg, the county seat of Boyd, that the clansmen repaired to reinforce their ammunition for carrying on their bloody feud.

And here, in the spring of the year, the calliope could be heard far down the Ohio as the showboat steamed into view. Shouts of glee went up from the throats of youngsters along the way as they rushed excitedly for the river-bank to watch the approach of the flag-decked boat. And when the Cotton Blossom had docked and deckhands had made her fast to her moorings with rope and chain, a gayly uniformed band—led by a drum major in high-plumed hat and gold-braided coat—with sounding horns and quickened drumbeat walked the gangplank, leaped nimbly to shore, and paraded the narrow winding village street.

Old and young wept over the death of Uncle Tom and hissed viciously the slave-whipping Legree. Woodsman or logger, who had imbibed too freely at the waterfront taverns, sometimes arose and cursed angrily the black-mustachioed villain. Whereupon the town marshal patted the disturber on the shoulder (the officer always had passes to the showboat for himself and family and friends), wheedled the giant mountaineer into silence, and left him dozing in his seat.

When the curtain fell on the last act, woodsmen and raftsmen and their newfound friends in the village returned to the riverfront tavern to make a night of it.

By sunup the crew would be on its way back up to the head of Big Sandy to make ready for another timber run.


The woman of the mountains has always been as resourceful in her way as the man. She made the sweetening for the family's use from a sugar tree and as often used sorghum from cane for the same purposes, even pouring the thick molasses into coffee if they were fortunate enough to have coffee. She made her own dyes from barks and herbs. And though she may have had a dozen children of her own she was ready and eager to help a neighbor in time of sickness. Doctors were scarce, so she of necessity turned midwife to help another through childbirth. She shared the tasks of her husband in the field and home. She was as busy at butchering time as the menfolk. Once the hog was killed and cleaned, she helped chop the meat into sausage and helped to case it. She boiled the blood for pudding and looked to the seasoning, with sage and pepper, of the head cheese and liverwurst. Hers was the task of rendering the lard in the great iron kettle near the dooryard. And once the meat was cut into slabs she helped salt it down in the meat log. But only the man felt capable of properly preparing and smoking the ham for the family's use. She frugally set aside the cracklins, after rendering the lard, for use in soap-making at the hopper.

At sorghum-making time mother and daughter worked as busily as father and son. The men cut the cane and fed it to the mill, while the womenfolk took turns tending the pans in which the syrup boiled, skimming off the greenish foam and scum that gathered on the top. They urged the young boys, who hung around on such occasions, to bring on more wood to keep the fire going under the pans. The owner of the portable sorghum mill sometimes took his pay for its use in sorghum, if there was no money to be had. He was paid too for the use of his team in hauling the mill to the cane patch of the neighbor who had engaged it, and he himself sometimes tarried to help set it up. A small boy was sometimes pressed into service to urge the patient mule on its monotonous course around and around pulling the beam that turned the mill.

Sorghum-making had its lighter side. The young folks especially found fun in seeing a guileless fellow step into the skimming hole concealed by cane stalks. The sport was complete when the bewildered fellow struggled to free himself from the sticky mess. But the woman was quick to help him out of his plight by providing a change of raiment and soap and water and clean towels, "yonder in the kitchen-house." She knew what to expect at sorghum-making time.

Each season of the year brought its communal activity: corn shucking in the fall, that was ever followed by a frolic. Bean stringing when the womenfolk pitched in to help each other out stringing beans with a long darning needle on long strands of thread. These were hung up to dry and supplied a tasty dish on cold winter days. There was also apple-butter-making in the fall when long hours were spent in peeling and preparing choicest apples which were boiled in the great copper kettle and richly seasoned with sugar and spice. Apple-butter-making was an all-day job in the boiling alone but the rich and tasty product is considered well worth the effort and any mountain woman who cannot display shelves laden with jars of apple-butter would be considered a laggard indeed.

But the mountain woman's greatest pride and joy was handiwork—quiltmaking, crocheting. Perhaps it is because these crafts have always gone hand-in-hand with courtship and marriage.

At the first call of the robin in the spring, Aunt Emmie on Honey Camp Run, in clean starched apron and calico frock, dragged her rocker to the front stoop of her little house and there she sat for hours rocking contentedly while her nimble fingers moved swiftly with crochet needle and thread. "Aunt Emmie's crocheting lace for Lulie Bell's wedding garments." Folks knew the signs. Hadn't Lulie Bell ridden muleback from Old Nell Knob just as soon as winter broke to take the day with the old woman. "Make mine prettier than Dessie's and Flossie's," she had said. Or, "I want the seashell pattern for my pillowcases." Or, "I want you to crochet me a pretty chair back." "I want a lamberkin all scalloped deep"—another bride-to-be measured a half arm's length. "I want my edging for the gown and petticoat to match." Passersby overheard the talk of the young folk. "Wouldn't you favor the fan pattern?" Aunt Emmie offered a suggestion now and then while the shiny needle darted in and out of scallop and loop. Sometimes she dropped a word of advice to the young, how to live a long and happy married life, how and when to plant, what to take for this ailment and that. There were things that brought bad luck, she warned, and some that brought good.

"If a bride plants cucumber seed the first day of May when the dew is still on the ground, the vines will grow hardy and bear lots of cucumbers and she will bring forth many babes, too," her words fell on willing ears of the young bride-to-be. "If you sleep under a new quilt that no one has ever slept under, what you dream that night will come true." Many a young miss declared she had experienced the proof of the saying. There was something else. "Mind, don't ever sew a ripped seam or patch a garment that's on your back. There will be lies told on you sure as you do." That could be proved in most any community in the Blue Ridge.

Yards upon yards of lace Aunt Emmie crocheted, the Clover Leaf pattern, the Sea Shell, Acorn, the Rose, and if a bride-to-be had no silver, the lacemaker was content to take in exchange a pat of butter, eggs, or well-cured ham. Her delight was in the work itself.

The thrifty woman of the mountains takes great pride in her quilts; not only does she strive to excel her neighbor in the variety of patterns but in the number as well. On a bright summer day she brings them out of cupboard and presses, and hangs them on the picket fence to sun. She is pleased when a passerby stops to admire, and especially so if it be a young miss. The older woman recognizes the motive behind the question, "What is this pattern?" "Is this easy to piece?" The older woman knows the young miss has marrying in her head and goes to great lengths to explain. "Now this is Compass and Nine Patch and it's easiest of any to put together. This is Grandmother's Flower Garden—it's a lot of little bitsy pieces, you see, and a heap of different colors and it's most powerful tejous to put together. This is Double Wedding Ring, this Irish Chain"—she names one after another—"this is Neck Tie, and this in the fair blue and white is Dove in the Window."

The quiltmaker is even more pleased when the young miss comes to take the day and she has the proud privilege of starting John's or Tom's future wife on her very first quilt. It is an occasion of merriment when the quilt is finally finished and taken out of the frames after many a pleasant quilting bee. Then, at the urging of one of the older women, two girls shake a cat on the new quilt. The one toward whom the cat jumps will be married first, they believe. Some brides believe too that by going to the oldest woman in the community to set up the quilt for their marriage bed they will be insured long life and joy. There are lovelorn maidens so eager to peer into the future they will even help a neighbor on wash day. Two girls will wring a dripping quilt by twisting it in rope fashion. The one toward whom the end curls up will be first to rock the cradle.



Philomel Whiffet was dim of eye and sparse of beard. A little white fringe framed his wrinkled face and numbered indeed were the hairs of his foretop. Trudging up the snow-covered mountain, he caught sight of the glowing stove through the window of Bethel church house whither he was bound this winter night to conduct singing school. He chuckled to himself, drawing the knitted muffler closer about his thin throat and making fast the earflaps of his coonskin cap. "Yes, they're getting the place het up before the womenfolk come. Mathias or Jonathan, one or the other." The singing master had come to know the signs by the behavior of the old heating stove—who rivaled, who courted, who might be on the outs. "It's Jonathan that's making the fire tonight. I caught the shadow of him against the wall when he threw in the stove wood. Jonathan's all of a head taller than Mathias. Trying to get in favor with Drusilla Osborn. It's a plum shame the way that girl taynts him and Mathias. At meeting first with one, then the other. She's got the two young fellows as mad as hornets at each other nigh half the time. No telling, Dru's liable to shun them both when it comes to choosing a mate. Women are strange creatures." The singing master talked to himself as he plodded on.

Many the year Philomel Whiffet traveled that selfsame road with the selfsame aim, for the church house was the only place on Pigeon Creek where folks could gather. The seat of learning too it was there in the Tennessee mountains, so that old Whiffet, having journeyed hither and yon to take up a subscription for singing school, must need get the consent of school trustees and elders in order to hold forth in Bethel church house. Honor-bound too, was he, to divide his fee of a dollar per scholar with his benefactors.

"We're giving you the chance, brother Whiffet, to earn a living," one of the elders murmured when the singing master that year shared with them his meager earnings. But when Philomel ventured to suggest it might liven the gathering somewhat if he brought along his dulcimer and strummed the tune while scholars sang, both elders and trustees stood aghast. Couldn't believe their ears. "Brother Whiffet!" gasped one of the elders, "so long as we're in our right mind no music box of any nature shall be brought into Bethel church house. We don't intend to contrary the good Lord in any such way."

That settled it.

The memory of that session brought a smile to the old man's face. "Elders and women have strange ways," he told himself as he walked on through the snow, eyes fixed on the beacon light of the old heating stove in the church house.

"Now I used to think that Mathias had got the best of Jonathan," his thoughts returned to the present, "but there's no knowing if Drusilla is aiming to set down her name Mistress Oneby or Mistress Witchcott. Women are powerful tetcheous. Keep a man uncertain and troubled in his mind with their everlasting whims."

No one knew that any better than did Philomel Whiffet. It made him patient with the young fellows in their trials, for he had had a mighty hard row to hoe in his own courting days. Hadn't Ambrose Creech and Herb Masters aggravated him within an inch of his life before he finally persuaded Clarissa that neither of the two was worth his salt, that only he, Philomel Whiffet, the singing master, could bring her happiness in wedded life. That had been long years ago.

Philomel had been a widower for ten years past and never once had he cast eyes on another woman; that is to say, with the idea of marriage. "There's no need for a man to put his mind on such as that without he can better himself, and I never calculate to see Clarissa's equal, let alone her betters. Nohow, singing school is good a-plenty to keep a body company." That was Philomel Whiffet's notion and he stuck to it. It was as though she, Clarissa, still bustled about the Whiffet cabin, for Philomel, though he lived alone, kept the place as she had—spic and span just as Clarissa had left it. There on the shelf were the cedar piggins, scoured clean with white sand from the creek, one for spice, one for rendering, one for sweeting. And there on the wall hung the salt gourd. "It's convenient to the woman for cooking," he had said when first they started housekeeping. How happy he had been in those days, looking after Clarissa and the little Whiffets as they came along. Not until they were all grown and married off and gone, and he and Clarissa were alone once more, did he really come to realize how very happy their household had been. He liked to look back on those times. "It's singing-school night, Pa"—Clarissa had taken to calling him Pa; got it from the children. "You best strike the tuning fork and sing a tune or two before you start. Gets your throat limbered up and going smooth." Philomel had come to wait for her urging. Then he would fumble in his waistcoat pocket for the tuning fork and tapping it to chair rim or bootheel, he'd hold it to his ear, pitch the tune, and sing a verse or two of this ballad and of that. Then when he started forth on a winter's night, "Mind your wristban's!" his wife would say, "and your spectacles! Don't forget your spectacles! Your sight's not sharp as it once was. And your tuning fork, Pa. Don't forget to put it in your pocket." It pleased the old singing master in those days to have Clarissa feel that he was dependent upon her. And now that she was gone, for ten long years, those familiar words running through old Philomel Whiffet's thoughts were all he had left to remind him of his needs when he started out to singing school.

Slowly he plodded on through the snow, his eyes raised now and again to the light of the heating stove in the church house.

Arrived at the door he stomped the snow from his well-greased boots and went in. Untying the flaps of the coonskin cap he moved across the floor. "Good evening, boys," he greeted cheerily, unwinding now the muffler from his throat.

"Good evening, sir!" the early birds, Jonathan and Ephraim Scaggs, answered together. It wasn't Mathias Oneby, after all, whose shadow he had seen against the wall. At once the singing master knew why Ephraim Scaggs was there. His sister, Tizzie Scaggs, was head-over-heels in love with Jonathan Witchcott. She was trying every scheme to get him away from Drusilla Osborn. Yes, Tizzie had sent her brother Ephraim along with Jonathan to make the fire so he could drop in a few words about her; how apt she, Tizzie, was at many tasks, what a fine wife she'd make for some worthy fellow. Philomel Whiffet knew the way of young folks. And Drusilla knew the ways of Tizzie. She was really wary of her and watchful, though Dru would never own it to Jonathan Witchcott.

Even though the snow was nearly knee-deep it didn't keep folks from singing school. Already they were crowding in. So by the time old Whiffet was ready to begin every bench was filled. Young men and old in homespun and high boots, mothers and young girls in shawls and fascinators, talking and laughing at a lively clip as they took their places: sopranos in the front benches opposite the bass singers; behind them, altos and tenors.

"I'm sorry to see that some of our high singers are not here this evening." The old singing master from his place behind the stand surveyed the gathering, squinting uncertainly by the light of the oil lamp. High on the wall it hung without chimney, its battered tin reflector dimmed by soot of many nights' accumulation. He picked up the notebook from the little stand which served as pulpit for the preachers on Sundays, and casually remarked, "We kinda look to the high singers to help us through, to pitch the tune and carry it. Too bad"—he squinted again toward the gathering—"that Drusilla Osborn is not here. Dru is a extra fine singer. A fine note-singer is Dru. Takes after the Osborns. Any of you heard if Osborns' folks have got sickness?"

A titter passed over the singing school and just then Tizzie Scaggs, leering at Dru, piped out, "Why, yonder's Dru Osborn in the back seat!"

The tittering raised to a snicker and Philomel Whiffet, too flabbergasted to call out Drusilla's name and send her to her own seat with the sopranos where she belonged, turned quickly his back to the school and fumbled in his pocket. He brought forth a piece of charred wood, for chalk was a rarity on Pigeon Creek, and began to set down on the rough log wall a measure of music. In shaped notes, for round notes had not yet made their way into Philomel Whiffet's singing school. Painstakingly he set down the symbols, some like little triangles, others square, until he had completed a staff. Nor did he face the school again until all the tittering had subsided. Then with the same charred stick he drew a mark on the floor and called for sopranos, alto, bass, and tenor to toe the mark.

Drusilla Osborn was first, then Lettie Burley, an alto, came next. Tom Jameson, the tenor, and Felix Rideout, who couldn't be beat singing bass, stood in a row careful-as-you-please to see that they kept a straight line, toes to the mark, shoulders back, chests expanded. They sang the scale through twice—forward and backward, bowed to the singing master, then went back to their seats. It was a never-changing form to which Philomel Whiffet clung as an example for the whole school to follow should they be called to toe the mark. A fine way to show all how a singer should rightly stand and rightly sing.

"Now, scholars," Whiffet brushed the black from his fingers, having replaced the charred stick in his pocket, "lend attention!" Taking the tuning fork from his waistcoat pocket, he looked thoughtfully at the school. "Being as this singing school is drawing to a close, seems to me we should review all we can this evening." He paused. "Now all that feel the urge can take occasion to clear their throats before we start in."

Not one spurned the invitation, and when the raucous noise subsided Philomel Whiffet tapped the tuning fork briskly on the edge of the stand, put it to his ear, and listened as he gazed thoughtfully downward.

"Do! Me! Sol! Do!" he sang in staccato notes, nodding the sparse gray foretop jerkily with each note as bass, alto, tenor, soprano took up their pitch. Thereupon he seized the pointer, a long switch kept conveniently near in the corner, and indicated the first note of the staff.

Scarcely had the pointer tapped a full measure before the school realized they were singing by note an old familiar tune and with that they burst forth with the words:

Oh! have you heard Geography sung? For if you've not it's on my tongue; First the capitals one by one, United States, Washington.

They changed the meter only slightly as they boomed forth:

Augusta, Maine, on the Kennebec River, Concord, New Hampshire, on the Merrimac.

Of course they knew it was the Geography Song from their McGuffey Reader which the singing master had set to tune. To make sure they had not forgotten the McGuffey piece he halted the singing and directed that they speak over the piece together, which they did with a verve:

Oh! have you heard Geography sung? For if you've not, it's on my tongue; About the earth in air that's hung. All covered with green, little islands. Oceans, gulfs, and bays, and seas; Channels and straits, sounds, if you please; Great archipelagoes, too, and all these Are covered with green, little islands.

Philomel Whiffet sometimes had his school do unexpected things that way. And now once again they went on with the geography singing lesson, putting in the names of places and rivers to the tune.

Far and wide traveled Philomel Whiffet's singing school, wafted by note from freedom's shore to African wilds. They knew it all by heart. On and on they sang, and Drusilla Osborn's voice led all the rest:

Bolivia capital Suc-re Largest city in South America

Mexico is Mexico Government Republican

Around the world and back again, nor did they stop until they again went through all the States, finishing with a lusty:

New Hampshire's capital is for a fact Concord on the Merrimac.

Silence came at last.

Taking from the stand the songbook, Philomel placed a hand behind him and announced with quiet decorum, "Those who have brought their notebooks will please open them up to page—" he faltered, fumbling the leaves of his book. "Open to page—" still groping was Philomel Whiffet and squinting at the faded pages. "Those who have not brought their notebooks can look on with someone else." Trying to act unconcerned was the singing master. "Turn to one—of our—old favorites," poor old Whiffet murmured, still fumbling the pages of the book. "My eyes—are dim"—he mumbled in confusion—"I—cannot see." Vainly he searched his vest pockets, the pockets of his coat. "—I've left my specs at home," he blurted in desperation.

With that the tantalizing Drusilla Osborn, from her bench at the back of the room, nudged the girl beside her and, pointing to the staff of music left on the wall where Philomel had placed it,—Dru began to hum. "You've pitched it too shaller," whispered the other girl, and quickly Dru hummed a lower register until her companion caught the pitch; then the two sang loud and shrill:

My eyes are dim, I cannot see, My specs I left at home.

And before Philomel Whiffet knew what had happened, sopranos, altos, and bass had taken up the tune. Even Jonathan Witchcott, for all he sat on the very front bench where anybody could see with half an eye that the singing master was plagued and shamefaced, let out his booming bass with all his might and main. Hadn't Drusilla pitched the tune? What else was the doting Jonathan to do? The two had been courting full six months, just to spite Mathias Oneby if for no other reason. And Mathias, the patient and meek fellow, sitting in the far corner of the very last bench straight across from the adored Drusilla, sitting where anyone could see that Dru was playing a prank, when he heard the mighty boom of his rival, joined in with his high tenor:

My eyes are dim, I cannot see, My specs I left at home.

Louder and stronger roared Jonathan's bass. And Mathias, not to be excelled, raised his shrill notes higher still, sweeping the sopranos along with him.

Bethel church house fairly trembled on its foundation. Poor old Philomel Whiffet raised his hands in dismay: "I did not mean for you to sing!" he cried, and again Drusilla took up his words:

I did not mean for you to sing

and louder swelled the chorus. All the while the singing master stood trembling, shaking his white head hopelessly. "I did not mean for you to sing," he pleaded, "I only meant my eyes were dim!"

His words merely spurred them on. On surged the voices, bass, soprano, alto, tenor, in loud and mighty

I did not mean for you to sing, I only meant my eyes were dim.

The singing master fumbled his woolly wristbands, thrust his hands deep into pockets of coat and breeches, and peered searchingly about the little stand where, it was plain to see, was nothing but the songbook which he had dropped in his confusion. At last his trembling hand sought the sparse foretop. There, bless you, rested the lost spectacles. He yanked them to the bridge of his nose, and then, just as though he didn't know all the time it was Drusilla Osborn behind the prank, he turned his attention toward that pretty young miss.

"Drusilla"—you'd never suspect what he was up to—"we all favor your voice in the ditty of My Son John. And you, Jonathan Witchcott, I don't know of any other fellow that can better sing the part of the courting man than you yourself. And I'm satisfied that no fairer maid was ever wooed than Dru yonder. So lead off, lest the other fellow get the best of you."

Almost before Jonathan was aware of it he was singing, with his eyes turned yearningly upon Dru:

My man John, what can the matter be, That I should love the lady fair and she should not love me? She will not be my bride, my joy nor my dear, And neither will she walk with me anywhere.

Then, lest a moment be lost, the singing master himself egged on the swain by singing the part of the man John:

Court her, dearest Master, you court her without fear, And you will win the lady in the space of half a year; And she will be your bride, your joy and your dear, And she will take a walk with you anywhere.

Encouraged by the smiling school, Jonathan Witchcott took up the song, turning yearningly to Dru who now smiled coyly, head to one side, while he entreated:

Oh, Madam, I will give to you a little greyhound, And every hair upon its back shall cost a thousand pound, If you will be my bride, my joy and my dear, And you will take a walk with me anywhere.

Scarcely had the last note left his lips when Drusilla, now that all eyes were turned upon her, sang coquettishly:

Oh, Sir, I won't accept of you a little greyhound, Though every hair upon its back did cost a thousand pound, I will not be your bride, your joy nor your dear, And neither will I walk with you anywhere.

With added fervor Jonathan offered more:

Oh, Madam, I will give you a fine ivory comb, To fasten up your silver locks when I am not at home.

That too Dru spurned, but all the same she was watching nervously—indeed Dru was watching anxiously—Tizzie Scaggs, lest she take up Jonathan's offer, which is another girl's right in the play-game song.

Quickly Jonathan Witchcott, knowing all this, sang pleadingly:

Oh, Madam, I will give to you the keys of my heart, To lock it up forever that we never more may part, If you will be my bride, my joy and my dear.

Whereupon Drusilla, her eyes sparkling, her rosy lips parted temptingly, sang:

Oh, Sir, I will accept of you the keys of your heart; I'll lock it up forever and we never more will part, And I will be your bride, your joy and your dear, And I will take a walk with you anywhere.

When her last note ended Dru turned demurely toward Jonathan, whereupon that happy swain leaped to his feet and, extending a hand toward the singing master, sang:

My man, Philomel Whiffet, here's fifty pounds, for thee, I'd never have won this lady fair if it hadn't been for thee.

With that the whole singing school cheered and laughed.

Drusilla Osborn was so excited she almost twisted her kerchief into shreds, for she and all the rest knew that by consenting to sing the play-game song through she and Jonathan had thereby plighted their troth. Either could have dropped out on the very second verse if they had been so inclined. But there, they had sung it through to the end. If she hadn't Tizzie Scaggs would have leaped at the chance. So now, the singing master arose and was first to wish them well.

"A life of joy to the Witchcotts!" He bowed profoundly.

Even Mathias Oneby wished his rival happiness. The girls tittered. Older folks nodded approval.

Then away they all went into the starlit night, trooping homeward through the snow, Jonathan and Drusilla leading the way.

Philomel Whiffet lingered a moment in the doorway of Bethel church house chuckling to himself, "Dru's got her just deserts. She had no right to taynt the two young fellows. I'm pleased I caught her in the snare and made her choose betwixt them." He wrapped the muffler about his throat and, drawing on his mittens, the singing master stepped out into the snow, the coonskin cap drawn lower over his bespectacled eyes. "I'm proud I caught Dru for Jonathan," he repeated. "She's too peert nowhow for that shy Mathias Oneby. Women are strange critters when it comes to courting. And her prankin' like she did over me misplacing my specs."

He went steadily on his way, mittened hands thrust deep into coat pockets, spectacles firmly on the bridge of his nose. "She had no call to make mock of me and my specs like she did," Philomel mumbled to himself as he trudged along.

As for the courting play-game song and the way it turned out for Dru and Jonathan, that story too traveled far and wide, so that Philomel Whiffet never lacked for a singing school as long as he lived. That is the reason, old folks will tell you, you'll come upon so many good singers to this day along Pigeon Creek.


Telling riddles is no lost art in the Blue Ridge Country and their text and answers are much the same whether you turn to the Carolinas, Tennessee, or Virginia. There is little difference among those who tell them. It is usually the older women who cling to the tradition which goes hand-in-hand with trying fortunes.

Aunt Lindie Reffitt in Laurel Cove would rather have a bevy of young folks around her anytime than to sit with women of her own age. "It's more satisfaction to let a body's knowing fall on fresh ears." That was her talk.

Aunt Lindie knew no end of riddles and ways to try fortunes. And as soon as girl or boy either turned their thoughts to love they took occasion to drop in at Aunt Lindie's.

What would be the color of their true love's eyes, the hair? Or, "Tell me, Aunt Lindie"—a lovelorn one begged—"will I have a mate at all or die unwed?" And the old woman, sipping a cup of sassafras tea made tasty with spice-wood sticks, had an answer ready:

"On the first day of May, just as soon as the sun comes up, go to an old well that's not been used for many a year. With a piece of looking glass cast a shadow into the well. The face that appears reflected there will be that of your true love. The one you are to wed."

One of the Spivey girls had tried her fortune so. And no one could make her believe other than that the handsome black-mustached man from Collins Gap was the one whom she had seen reflected in the well. They married. But poor Minnie Tinsley. That same May she tried her fortune at the well. But never a face appeared. Instead there seemed to float to the surface of the water a piece of wood in the shape of a coffin. Minnie died before the summer was over. For a while others were afraid to go near the well. But, as Aunt Lindie reminded, "There are other ways. In the springtime the first dove you hear cooing to its mate, sit down, slip off your shoe, and there you will find in the heel a hair. It will be the color of your husband's locks."

There were other ways too, even for the very, very young. To try this fortune it had to be a very mild winter when flowers came early, for this was a fortune for St. Valentine's Day. "The lad sets out early on his quest," Aunt Lindie explained. "He knows to look in a place where there is rabbit bread on the ground—where the frost spews up and swells the ground. Close by there will be a clump of stones, and if he looks carefully there he will find snuggled under the stones a little Jack-in-the-pulpit. He plucks the flower and leaves it at the door of his sweetheart. Though all the time she has listened inside for his coming, she pretends not to have heard until he scampers away and hides—but not too far away lest he fail to hear her singing softly as she gathers up his token of love:

A little wee man in the wood he stood, His cap was so green and also his hood.

By my step rock he left me a love token sweet, From my own dear true love, far, far down the creek.

Some call his name Valentine, St. Valentine good, This little wee man in the wood where he stood.

When Aunt Lindie finished singing the ballad she never failed to add, "That is the best way I know to try a body's fortune. My own Christopher Reffitt was scarce six when he left such a love token on my step rock and I a little tyke of five."

Many a night they told riddles at Aunt Lindie's until she herself could not think of another one. Some of the young folks came from Rough Creek away off on Little River and some from Bullhead Mountain and the Binner girls from Collins Gap. If several of the girls took a notion to stay all night, Aunt Lindie Reffitt made a pallet on the floor of extra quilts and many a time she brought out the ironing board, placed it between two chairs for a bed for the youngsters, Josie Binner, her hair so curly you couldn't tell which end was growing in her head, always wanted to outdo everyone else. Some said Josie was briggaty because she had been off to settlements like Lufty and Monaville.

No sooner had they gathered around the fireplace and Aunt Lindie had pointed out the first one to tell a riddle, than Josie popped right up to give the answer. It didn't take Aunt Lindie a second to put her in her place. "Josie, the way we always told riddles in my day was not for one to blab out the answer, but to let the one who gives it out to a certain one, wait until that one answers, or tries to. Your turn will come. Be patient."

Josie Binner slumped back in her chair.

"Now tell your riddle over again, Nellie." Aunt Lindie pointed to the Morley girl who piped in a thin voice:

As I went over heaple steeple There I met a heap o' people; Some was nick and some was nack, Some was speckled on the back.

"Pooh!" scoffed Tobe Blanton to whom Nellie had turned, "that's easy as falling off a log. A man went over a bridge and saw a hornet's nest. Some were speckled and they flew out and stung him."

"Being as Tobe guessed right," Aunt Lindie was careful that the game was carried on properly, "he's a right to give out the next riddle."

Tobe was ready.

A man without eyes saw plums on a tree. He neither took plums nor left plums. Pray tell me how that could be?

The cross-eyed lad to whom Tobe had turned shook his head. "Well, then, Josie Binner, I can see you're itchin' to speak out. What's the answer?"

Josie minded her words carefully. "A one-eyed man saw plums. He ate one and left one."

It was the right answer so Josie had her turn at giving out the next riddle:

Betty behind and Betty before. Betty all around and Betty no more.

No one could guess the answer. Some declared it didn't make a bit of sense and Josie, pleased as could be, challenged, "Give up?"

"Give up!" they all chorused.

"Well," Josie felt ever so important, "a man who was about to be hanged had a dog named Betty. It scampered all around him as he walked to the gallows and then dashed off and no one saw where it went. The hangman told him if he could make up a riddle that no one could riddle they would set him free. That was the riddle!"

"Ah, shucks! Is that all?" Ben Harvey scoffed and mumbled under his breath, "I'll bet Josie made that up herself."

"It's your turn." Aunt Lindie had sharp ears and young folks had to be mannerly in her house. If not she had her own way of teaching them a lesson. She took Ben unawares. He had to think quickly and blurted out the first riddle that came to his mind:

Black upon black, and brown upon brown, Four legs up and six legs down.

Even half-witted Tom Cartmel to whom Ben happened to be looking gave back the answer:

"A darky riding a horse and he had a kittle turned up-side-down on his head. The kittle had four legs!"

Not even Aunt Lindie could keep a straight face, but to spare Ben's feelings she gave out a verse that she felt certain no one could say after her. And try as they would no one could, not even when she said it slowly:

One a-tuory Dickie davy Ockie bonie Ten a-navy. Dickie manie Murkum tine Humble, bumble Twenty-nine.

One a-two A zorie, zinn Allie bow Crock a-bowl. Wheelbarrow Moccasin Jollaway Ten.

No one could say it, try as they would.

"Then answer me this," Aunt Lindie said. "Does it spell Tennessee or is it just an old comical way of counting?"

Again no one could answer and Aunt Lindie said smilingly if she told all she knew they would know as much as she. Though perhaps she wasn't aware of it, Aunt Lindie was keeping alive their interest in telling riddles. For young folks went about in their neighborhood trying to find answers to her riddles.

She now pointed to Katie Ford, and that young miss started right off, saying:

"As I was going to St. Ives," but everyone protested, so Katie had to try another that everyone didn't know.

As I was going over London bridge I heard a lad give a call; His tongue was flesh, his mouth was horn, And such a lad was never born.

"A rooster!" shouted cross-eyed Steve Morley, who vowed Katie looked straight at him. And in the bat of an eye he said:

As I went over London bridge I met my sister Ann; I pulled off her head and sucked her blood And let her body stand.

"A bottle of wine," two in the corner spoke at once, which was against the rules, but both thought Steve was looking in their direction.

"Tell another," Aunt Lindie settled the matter.

"As I went over London bridge I met a man," said Steve. "If I was to tell his name I'd be to blame. I have told his name five times over. Who was it?"

No one spoke up for they all knew the answers to Steve's simple, threadbare riddles. "The answer is I," he said, running a hand over his bristling pompadour.

And lest he assert his rights by starting on another, Aunt Lindie, which was her right, gave a jingle and the answer to it too.

As I walked out in my garden of lilies There I saw endible, crindible, cronable kernt Ofttimes pestered my eatable, peatable, partable present, And I called for my man William, the second of quillan, To bring me a quill of anatilus feather That I might conquer the endible, crindible, cronable kernt.

She looked about the puzzled faces. "I'll not plague your minds to find the answer. I'll give it to you. As the woman walked out in her garden she saw a rabbit eating her cabbage and she called for her second husband to bring her a shotgun that she might kill the rabbit."

The old teller of riddles pointed out that there was good in their telling. "People have been known to be scared out of doing meanness just by a riddle. Now what would you think this one would be?

Riddle to my riddle to my right, You can't guess where I laid last Friday night; The wind did blow, my heart did ache To see what a hole that fox did make.

Whoever knows can answer." She looked at Josie Binner. "You have the best remembrance of anyone I know. Don't tell me you can't give the answer."

"I never heard it before," Josie had to admit, twisting her kerchief and looking down at the floor.

"Speak out!" urged Aunt Lindie. But no one did so she riddled the riddle. "A wicked man once planned to kill his sweetheart. He went first to dig her grave and then meant to throw her into it. She got an inkling of his intent, watched from the branches of a tree, then accused him with that riddle. He skipped the country and so that riddle saved a young girl's life. And while we're on trees, here's another:

Horn eat a horn in a white oak tree. Guess this riddle and you may hang me.

For the fun of it they all pretended not to know the answer so she gave it. "You're just pranking," she admonished playfully, "but nohow—a man named Horn eat a calf's horn as he sat up in a white oak tree. But I'll give you one now to take along with you. It's a Bible riddle, now listen well:

God made Adam out of dust, But thought it best to make me first; So I was made before the man, To answer God's most holy plan.

My body he did make complete, But without legs or hands or feet; My ways and actions did control, And I was made without a soul.

A living being I became; 'Twas Adam that gave me my name; Then from his presence I withdrew; No more of Adam ever knew.

I did my Maker's laws obey; From them I never went astray; Thousands of miles I run, I fear, But seldom on the earth appear.

But God in me did something see, And put a living soul in me. A soul of me my God did claim, And took from me that soul again.

But when from me the soul was fled, I was the same as when first made. And without hands, or feet, or soul, I travel now from pole to pole.

I labor hard, both day and night, To fallen man I give great light; Thousands of people, both young and old, Will by my death great light behold.

No fear of death doth trouble me, For happiness I cannot see; To Heaven I shall never go, Nor to the grave, or hell below.

And now, my friends, these lines you read, And scan the Scriptures with all speed; And if my name you don't find there, I'll think it strange, I must declare."

That was the way Aunt Lindie and other older mountain women had of sending young folk to read the Word.

There was rarely a gathering for telling riddles and trying simple fortunes, especially during the winter, that did not end with a taffy pull. That too afforded the means for courting couples to pair off and pursue their romance.

The iron pot filled with sorghum was swung over the hearth fire to bubble and boil. In due time the mother of the household dropped some of it with a spoon into a dipper of cold water. If it hardened just right she knew the sorghum had boiled long enough. Then it was poured into buttered plates to cool. Often to add an extra flavor the taffy was sprinkled with walnut kernels. The task of picking out the kernels with Granny's knitting needles usually fell to the younger folks. There on the hearth was a round hole worn into the stone where countless walnuts had been cracked year after year.

When the taffy had cooled so that it could be lifted up in the hands the fun of pulling it began. The girls buttered or greased their hands so that it would not stick, and the boys, of their choice, did likewise. Pulling taffy to see who could get theirs the whitest was an occasion for greatest merriment. "Mine's the whitest," you'd hear a young, tittering miss call out. Then followed comparisons, friendly argument. And when at last the taffy was pulled into white ropes it was again coiled on buttered plates in fancy designs of hearts and links and left to harden until it could be broken into pieces with quick tap of knife or spoon.

Once more the courting couples paired off together and helped themselves politely when the plate was passed.

Riddles and fortunes, taffy pulling and harmless kissing games, like Clap In and Clap Out, Post Office, and I Lost My Kerchief Yesterday, made for the young folk of the mountains a most happy and (to them of yesterday) a most hilarious occasion.

And when a neighbor like Aunt Binie Warwick gave out the word there'd be a frolic and dance at her house, nothing but sickness or death could keep the young people away. Such an occasion started off with a play-game song in order to get everyone in a gay mood. The hostess herself led off in the singing:

Come gather east, come gather west, Come round with Yankee thunder; Break down the power of Mexico And tread the tyrants under.

Everyone knew how to play it. The boys stood on one side of the room, the girls on the other, and when the old woman piped out the very first notes the boys started for the girls, each with an eye on the one of his choice. Sometimes two or more of the young fellows were of the same mind, which added to the fun and friendly rivalry. The one who first caught the right hand of the girl had her for his partner in the dance that would follow. Immediately each couple stepped aside and waited until the others had found a partner. If there was a question about it, the oldest woman present, who by her years was the recognized matchmaker of the community, decided the point.

"Who'll do the calling?" asked the hostess, Aunt Binie.

Everyone knew there was not a better caller anywhere than Uncle Mose, who was just as apt at fiddling. So Uncle Mose proudly took his place in the corner, chair tilted back against the wall. Fiddle to chin, he called out: "Choose your partners!"

With a quick eye he singled out one couple. "Lizzie, you've got a bound to stand to the right of the gent!"

Quickly Lizzie, tittering and blushing, stepped to the other side of Dave.

"And you, Prudie," Uncle Mose waved a commanding hand, "get on the other side of John. You fellows from Fryin' Pan best learn the proper ways here and now."

A wave of laughter swept over the gathering and Uncle Mose, sweeping the bow across the strings, called: "Salute your partner!"

There was bowing and shuffling of feet and, as the tempo of the fiddle increased, heels clicked against the bare floor and the caller's voice rang out above music and laughter:

Salute your corner lady, Salute your partners, all: Swing your corner lady And promenade the hall.

They danced to the fiddle music of O Suzanna and Life on the Ocean Wave, and Uncle Mose had calls to suit any tune:

Swing old Adam Swing Miss Eve, Then swing your partner As you leave.

Now and then a breathless girl would drop out and rest a moment leaning against the wall. And just for fun an oldster like Old Buck Rawlins, who didn't even have a partner, caught up one boot toe and hopped off to a corner moaning:

Sudie, Sudie, my foot is sore, A-dancing on your puncheon floor.

Sometimes a young miss limped off to a chair. "Making out like someone stepped on her toe," Aunt Binie whispered behind her hand, for she knew all the signs of young folks, "but she's just not wanting to dance with Big Foot Jeff Pickett." The next moment Dan Spotswood had pulled himself loose from his cross-eyed partner and made his way to the side of his true love who had limped to the corner.

Nor was Uncle Mose unmindful of what was going on. The caller must have a quick eye, know who is courting, who is on the outs, who craves to be again in the arms of so and so. Quick as a flash he shouted, "Which shall it be Butterfly Swing or Captain Jinks?"

"Captain Jinks," cried Dan Spotswood jovially. For Dan knew the ways of the mountains. He didn't want any hard feelings with anyone. This dance would give all an opportunity to mingle and exchange partners. Even though Big Foot had tried his best to break up the match between him and Nellie, Dan meant that that fellow shouldn't have the satisfaction of knowing his jealousy. So he urged the couples into the circle. Dan, however, did see to it that he had Nellie's hand as they circled halfway around the crowded room before following the familiar calls of the play-party game as they sang the words along with the lively notes of the fiddle. They were words that their grandparents had sung in the days of the Civil War, with some latter-day changes:

Captain Jinks came home last night. Pass your partner to the right; Swing your neighbor so polite, For that's the style in the army.

All join hands and circle left, Circle left, circle left, All join hands and circle left, For that's the style in the army.

They saluted partners, they stepped and circled, and sashayed, they fairly galloped around the room, much to the disapproval of old Aunt Binie. "I don't favor no such antic ways. They're steppin' too lively." Her protest was heeded.

The fiddler stopped short. Folks were respectful in that day and time.

"Mose," the hostess called out to the fiddler when he had rested a little while, "please to strike up the tune Pop Goes the Weasel."

No sooner said than done. The notes of the fiddle rang out and Uncle Mose himself led off in the singing:

A penny for a spool of thread, A penny for a needle,

while old and young joined in the singing as each lad stepped gallantly to the side of the girl of his choice and went through the steps of the Virginia Reel.

Though all knew every step and danced with grace and ease, they perhaps did not know that the dance was that of Sir Roger de Coverley; that it was one of a large number of English country dances, so called, not because they were danced in the country, but because their English ancestors corrupted the French word contredanse, which had to do with the position the dancers assume. Of one thing they could be sure, however, they owed it to their elders that this charming dance had survived.[A]

With what charming ease even old Aunt Binie with an aged neighbor went through the lovely figures of the Virginia Reel, harking back to the days of powdered wigs, buckled shoes, satin breeches and puffed skirts, as the head lady and foot gentleman skipped forward to meet each other in the center of the set. How gracefully she bowed to him and he to her with hand upon his chest, as they returned to their places!

Then the head lady and foot gentleman skipped forward, made one revolution, holding right hands.

With dignity and charm they went through the entire dance while those on the side lines continued to sing with the fiddle:

A penny for a spool of thread, A penny for a needle. That's the way the money goes. Pop! goes the weasel.

Each time on the word "Pop!" the fiddler briskly plucked a string.

There was an interlude of fiddle music without words, then followed another verse while the dancers stepped the tune:

All around the American flag, All around the eagle, The monkey kissed the parson's wife, Pop! goes the weasel.

This was followed by a lively tune, Vauxhall Dance, with a lusty call from the fiddler: "Circle eight!"

Whereupon all joined hands, circled to the left and to place.

Head couple out to the right and circle four, With all your might Around that couple take a peek!

At this Dan Spotswood peeked at smiling Nellie, almost forgetting to follow the next figure in his excitement.

Back to the center and swing when you meet, Around that couple peek once more.

Back to the center and swing all four, Circle four and cross right o'er.

The dance was moving toward the end.

"Balance all. Allemande left and promenade," the fiddler's voice raised louder.

There was repetition of calls and figures and a final booming from the indefatigable caller: "Meet your partners and promenade home."

Then the fiddler struck up Cackling Hen and a Breakdown so that the nimblest of the dancers might show out alone and so the frolic and dance ended.

——- [Footnote A: DANCE DIRECTIONS:

I. (a). Head lady and foot gentleman skip forward to meet each other in center of the set. They bow and return to places. (b). Head gentleman and foot lady repeat (a).

II. (a). The head lady and foot gentleman skip forward and make one revolution, holding right hands. (b). The head gentleman and foot lady repeat (a). (c). The head lady and foot gentleman skip forward and make one revolution, holding left hands. (d). Head gentleman and foot lady repeat (c).

III. (a). Head lady and foot gentleman skip forward and around each other back to back. (b). Head lady and foot gentleman repeat (a).

IV. The head couple meet in center, lock right arms, and make one and one-half revolutions. They go down the set swinging each one once around with left arms locked, the gentleman swinging the ladies, the lady swinging the gentlemen. They meet each other swinging a round with right arms locked, between each turn down the line. They swing thus down the set.

V. Couples join hands, forming a bridge under which the head couple skips to head of set. They separate, skipping down the outside of the lines and take their new places at the foot of the set. The original second couple is now the head couple. The dance is repeated from the beginning until each couple has been the head couple.]


Even when the dulcimer, that primitive three-stringed instrument, could not be had, mountain folk in the raggeds of Old Virginia were not at a loss for music with which to make merry at the infare wedding. They stepped the tune to the singing of a ballad, nor did they tire though the infare wedding lasted all of three days and nights. It began right after the wedding ceremony itself had been spoken—at the bride's home, you may be sure.

How happy the young couple were as they stood before the elder, the groom with his waiter at his side, and the bride with her waiter beside her. Careful they were too that they stood the way the floor logs were running. Thoughtless couples who had stood contrary to the cracks in the floor had been known to be followed by ill luck.

When the elder had spoken the word which made them one, the bride with her waiter hurried out to another room, if there was such, if not she climbed the wall ladder to the loft and there in the low-roofed bedroom she changed her wedding frock for her infare dress—the second day dress. In early times it was of linsey-woolsey, woven by her own hands, and dyed with homemade dyes, while her wedding frock had been of snowy white linsey-woolsey.

And what a feast her folks had prepared for the occasion. Cakes and pies, stewed pumpkin that had been dried in rings before the fireplace, venison, and wild honey.

While the bride was changing to her infare dress, older hands quickly took down the bedsteads, tied up the flock ticks and shuck ticks in coverlids and quilts, shoved them back into the corners so as to make room for the frolic and dancing.

If the bride's granny lived it was her privilege to lead off in the singing, which she did in a high querulous voice while the young folks, the boys on one side, the girls on the other, faced each other and to soft handclapping and lightly tapping toe sang:

There lived an old Lord by the Northern sea, Bowee down, There lived an old Lord by the Northern sea, And he had daughters one, two three; I'll be true to my love, If my love will be true to me.

All the while the bride and groom sat primly side-by-side near the hearth and looked on.

The rest stepped the tune to the singing of the Twa Sisters, reenacting the story of the old ballad as it moved along.

It gave everyone an opportunity to swing and step.

After that the bride's father stepped to the middle of the room and urged even the bride to join in. In the meantime the young folks had taken the opportunity to tease the bride, while the young men went further by bussing her cheek. A kiss of the modest, proper sort was not out of order; every groom knew and expected that. Even a most jealous fellow knew to conceal his displeasure, for it would only add to further pranking on the part of the rest if he protested.

Presently two of the young lads came in bearing a pole. They caught the eye of the groom who knew full well the meaning of the pole. Quickly he tapped his pocket till the silver jingled, nodded assent to the unspoken query. They should have silver to buy a special treat for all the menfolks; forthwith the polebearers withdrew, knowing the groom would keep his word.

And now the father of the bride egged the groom and his wife to step out and join in singing and dancing the next song, which the father started in a rollicking, husky voice:

Charlie's neat, and Charlie's sweet, And Charlie he's a dandy.

It was a dignified song and one of the few in which the woman advanced first toward the man in the dance. The lads already being formed in line at one side, the girls one at a time advanced as all sang, took a partner by the hand, swung him once; then stepping, in time with the song, to the next the lad repeated the simple step until she had gone down the line. The second girl followed as soon as the first girl had swung the first lad, and so each in turn participated, skipping finally on the outside of the opposite line, making a complete circle of the dancers, and resuming her first position.

It did not concern them that they were singing and stepping an old Jacobean song that had been written in jest of a Stuart King, Charles II.

At the invitation of the bride's mother the dancing ceased for a time so that all might partake of the feast she had spent days preparing. Even in this there was the spirit of friendly rivalry. The bride's mother sought to outdo the groom's parent in preparing a feast for the gathering; the next day, according to their age-old custom, the celebration of the infare would continue at the home of his folks.

When all had eaten their fill again the bride's granny carried out her part of the tradition. She hobbled in with a rived oak broom. This she placed in the center of the floor with the brush toward the door. Everyone knew that was the sign for ending the frolic at the bride's home. Also they knew it was the last chance for a shy young swain to declare himself to his true love as they sang the ancient ballad, which granny would start, and did its bidding. Usually not one of the unwed would evade this custom. For, if she sang and stepped with him, it meant betrothal. So they stepped and sang lustily:

Here comes the poor old chimney sweeper, He has but one daughter and cannot keep her, Now she has resolved to marry, Go choose the one and do not tarry.

Now you have one of your own choosing, Be in a hurry, no time for losing; Join your right hands, this broom step over, And kiss the lips of your true lover.

So ended the infare wedding at the bride's home.

The next day all went to the home of the groom's parents and repeated the feasting and dancing, and on the third day the celebration continued at the home of the young couple.

In those days mountain people shared each other's work as well as their play. Willing hands had already helped the young groom raise his house of logs on a house seat given by his parents, and along the same creek.

It was the way civilization moved. The son settled on the creek where his father, like his before him, had settled, only moving farther up toward its source as his father had done when he had wed.



To the outsider far removed, or even to people in the nearby lowlands, mountain people may seem stoic. A mountain woman whose husband is being tried for his life may sit like a figure of stone not for lack of feeling, but because she'd rather die than let the other side know her anguish. A little boy who loses his father will steal off to cliff or wood and suffer in silence. No one shall see or know his grief. "He's got a-bound to act like a man, now." The burden of the family is upon his young shoulders.

Mountain folk love oratory. Men, especially, will travel miles to a speaking—which may be a political gathering or one for the purpose of discussing road building.

To all outward appearances they seem unmoved, yet they drink in with deep emotion all that is said. Both men and women are eager to go to meeting. Meeting to them means a religious gathering. Here they listen with rapt attention to the lesser eloquence of the mountain preacher. But at meeting, unlike at speaking, they give vent to their emotions, especially if the occasion be that of funeralizing the dead.

Much has been written upon this custom, but the question still prevails, "Why do mountain people hold a funeral so long after burial?"

The reason is this. Long ago, before good roads were even dreamed of in the wilderness, when death came, burial of necessity followed immediately. But often long weeks, even months, elapsed before the word reached relatives and friends. There were few newspapers in those days and often as not there were those who could neither read nor write. For the same reason there was little, if any, exchange of letters.

So the custom of funeralizing the dead long after burial grew from a necessity. The funeralizing of a departed kinsman or friend was published from the pulpit. The bereaved family set a day, months or even a year in advance, for the purpose of having the preacher eulogize their beloved dead. "Come the third Sunday in May next summer," a mountain preacher could be heard in mid winter publishing the occasion. "Brother Tom's funeral will be held here at Christy Creek church house."

The word passed. One told the other and when the appointed Sunday rolled around the following May, friends and kin came from far and near, bringing their basket dinner, for no one family could have prepared for the throng. Together, when they had eaten their fill, they gathered about the grave house to weep and mourn and sing over "Brother Tom," dead and gone this long time.

The grave house was a crude structure of rough planks supported by four short posts, erected at the time of the burial to shelter the dead from rain and snow and scorching wind.

Many a one, having warning of approaching death, named the preacher he wished to preach his funeral, even naming the text and selecting the hymns to be sung.

As the service moved along after the singing of a doleful hymn, the sobbing and wailing increased. The preacher eulogized the departed, praising his many good deeds while on earth, and urged his hearers on to added hysteria with, "Sing Brother Tom's favorite hymn, Oh, Brother, Will You Meet Me!"

Sobs changed to wailing as old and young joined in the doleful dirge:

Oh, brother, will you meet me, Meet me, meet me? Oh, brother, will you meet me On Canaan's far-off shore.

It was a family song; so not until each member had been exhorted to meet on Canaan's shore did the hymn end—each verse followed of course with the answer:

Oh, yes, we will meet you On Canaan's far-off shore.

By this time the mourners were greatly stirred up, whereupon the preacher in a trembling, tearful voice averred, "When I hear this promising hymn it moves deep the spirit in me, it makes my heart glad. Why, my good friends, I could shout! I just nearly see Brother Tom over yonder a-beckoning to me and to you. He ain't on this here old troubled world no more and he won't be. Will Brother Tom be here when the peach tree is in full blowth in the spring?"

"No!" wailed the flock.

"Will Brother Tom be here when the leaves begin to drap in the falling weather?" again he wailed.


"Will Brother Tom be up thar? Up thar?"—the swift arm of the preacher shot upward—"when Gabriel blows his trump?"

"Eh, Lord, Brother Tom will be up thar!" shouted an old woman.

"Amen!" boomed from the throat of everyone.

As it often happened, Tom's widow had long since re-wed, but neither she nor her second mate were in the least dismayed. They wept and wailed with fervor, "He'll be thar! He'll be thar!"

"Yes," boomed the preacher once more, "Brother Tom will be thar when Gabriel blows his trump!"

Then abruptly in a very calm voice, not at all like that in which he had shouted, the preacher lined the hymn:

Arise, my soul, and spread thy wings, A better portion trace.

Having intoned the two lines the flock took up the doleful dirge.

So they went on until the hymns were finished.

After a general handshaking and repeated farewells and the avowed hope of meeting again come the second Sunday in May next year, the funeralizing ended.


Though in some isolated sections of the Blue Ridge, say in parts of the Unakas, the Cumberlands, the Dug Down Mountains of Georgia, there are people who may never have heard of the Gregorian or Julian calendar, yet in keeping Old Christmas as they do on January 6th, they cling unwittingly to the Julian calendar of 46 B.C., introduced in this country in the earliest years. To them December 25th is New Christmas, according to the Gregorian calendar adopted in 1752.

They celebrate the two occasions in a very different way. The old with prayer and carol-singing, the new with gaiety and feasting.

To these people there are twelve days of Christmas beginning with December 25th and ending with January 6th. In some parts of these southern mountain regions, if their forbears were of Pennsylvania German stock, they call Old Christmas Little Christmas as the Indians do. But such instances are rare rather than commonplace.

Throughout the twelve days of Christmas there are frolic and fireside play-games and feasting, for which every family makes abundant preparation. There is even an ancient English accumulative song called Twelve Days of Christmas which is sung during the celebrations, in which the true love brings a different gift for each day of the twelve. The young folks of the community go from home to home, bursting in with a cheery "Christmas gift!" Those who have been taken unaware, though it happens the same way each year, forgetting, in the pleasant excitement of the occasion, to cry the greeting first, must pay a forfeit of something good to eat—cake, homemade taffy, popcorn, apples, nuts.

After the feast the father of the household passes the wassail cup, which is sweet cider drunk from a gourd dipper. Each in turn drinks to the health of the master of the house and his family.

Throughout the glad season some of the young bloods are inclined to take their Christmas with rounds of shooting into the quiet night. Some get gloriously drunk on hard cider and climbing high on the mountain side shout and shoot to their hearts' content.

However, when Old Christmas arrives, even the most boisterous young striplings assume a quiet, prayerful calm. The children's play-pretties—the poppet, a make-believe corn-shuck doll—the banjo, and fiddle are put aside. In the corner of the room is placed a pine tree. It stands unadorned with tinsel or toy. On the night of January 6th, just before midnight, the family gathers about the hearth. Granny leads in singing the ancient Cherry Tree Carol, sometimes called Joseph and Mary, which celebrates January 6th as the day of our Lord's birth. With great solemnity Granny takes the handmade taper from the candlestick on the mantel-shelf, places it in the hands of the oldest man child, to whom the father now passes a lighted pine stick. With it the child lights the taper. The father lifts high his young son who places the lighted taper on the highest branch of the pine tree where a holder has been placed to receive it. This is the only adornment upon the tree and represents a light of life and hope—"like a star of hope that guided the Wise Men to the manger long ago," mountain folk say.

In the waiting silence comes the low mooing of the cows and the whinny of nags, and looking outside the cabin door the mountaineer sees his cow brutes and nags kneeling in the snow under the starlit sky. "It is the sign that this is for truth our Lord's birth night," Granny whispers softly.

Then led by the father of the household, carrying his oldest man child upon his shoulder, the womenfolk following behind, they go down to the creek side. Kneeling, the father brushes aside the snow among the elders, and there bursting through the icebound earth appears a green shoot bearing a white blossom.

"It is the sign that this is indeed our Lord's birth night, the sign that January 6th is the real Christmas," old folk of the Blue Ridge bear witness.


He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.

After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.

"It is writ in the Good Book," said Brother Jonathan solemnly, "in the thirteen chapter of St. John, the fourth and the fifth verses."

With hands meekly clasped in front of him Brother Jonathan stood—not behind a pulpit—but beside a small table. Nor did he hold the Book. That too lay on the table beside the water bucket, where he had placed it after taking his text.

It could be in Pleasant Valley Church in Magoffin County, or in Old Tar Kiln Church in Carter County; it could be in Bethel Church high up in the Unakas, or Antioch Church in Cowee, Nantahala, Dry Fork, or New Hope Chapel in Tusquitee, in Bald or Great Smoky. Anywhere, everywhere that an Association of Regular Primitive Baptists hold forth, and they are numerous throughout the farflung scope of the mountains of the Blue Ridge.

"He laid aside his garments ... and after that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the feet of the disciples...." Again Brother Jonathan repeated the words.

Slowly, deliberately he went over much that had gone before. This being the third Sunday of August and the day for Foot-washing in Lacy Valley Church where other brethren of the Burning Spring Association had already been preaching since sunup. One after the other had spelled each other, taking text after text. And now Brother Jonathan—this being his home church—had taken the stand to give out the text and preach upon that precept of the Regular Primitive Baptists of washing feet. It was the home preacher's sacred privilege.

Old folks dozed, babies fretted, young folks twisted and squirmed in the straight-backed benches. A parable he told, a story of salvation, conviction, damnation. But always he came back to the thirteenth chapter of St. John. He spoke again of that part of the communion service which had preceded: the partaking of the unleavened bread, which two elders had passed to the worthy seated in two rows facing each other at the front of the little church; the men in the two benches on the right, the womenfolk in the two benches facing each other on the left. Among these, who had already examined their own conscience to make sure of their worthiness, had passed an elder with a tumbler of blackberry juice. He walked close behind the elder who bore the plate of unleavened bread. The first said to each worthy member, "Remember this represents the broken body of our Lord who died on this cross for our sins." The second intoned in a deep voice, "This represents the blood of our Lord who shed his blood for our sins." All the while old and young throughout the church house had sung that well-known hymn of the Regular Primitive Baptists.

When Jesus Christ was here below, He taught His people what to do;

And if we would His precepts keep, We must descend to washing feet.

That part of the service being ended, Brother Jonathan exhorted the flock to make ready for foot-washing.

The men in their benches removed shoes and socks. The women on the other side of the church, facing each other in their two benches, removed shoes and stockings. A sister arose, girthed herself with a towel, knelt at a sister's feet with a tin washpan filled with water from the creek, and meekly washed the other's feet. Having dried them with an end of the long towel, she now handed it to the other who performed a like service for her. This act of humility was repeated by each of the worthy. All the while there was hymn-singing.

The menfolk who participated removed their coats and hung them beside their hats on wall pegs.

"It is all Bible," the devout declare. "He laid aside His garments. We take off our coats."

Brother Jonathan and the other elders are last to wash each other's feet.

And when the service is ended and the participants have again put on their shoes, they raise their voices in a hymn they all know well:

I love Thy Kingdom, Lord, The House of Thine abode, The church our blessed Redeemer saved With His own precious blood.

The tin washpans were emptied frequently out the door and refilled from the bucket on the table, for many were they, both women and men, of the Regular Primitive Baptist faith who felt worthy to wash feet.

At the invitation everyone arose and those who felt so minded went forward to take the hand of preacher, elder, moderator, sister, and brother, in fellowship. An aged sister here, another there, clapped bony hands high over head, shouting, "Praise the Lord!" and "Bless His precious name!"

Again all was quiet. Brother Jonathan announced that there would be foot-washing at another church in the Association on the fourth Sunday of the month and slowly, almost reluctantly, they went their way.



The death of 48-year-old Robert Cordle, who refused medical aid after being bitten by a rattlesnake during church services, brought 1,500 curious persons today to a funeral home to see his body.

While the throngs passed the bier of the Doran resident, the Richlands council passed an ordinance outlawing the use of snakes in religious services and sent officers to the New Light church to destroy the reptiles there.

Commonwealth's Attorney John B. Gillespie, who estimated the visitors at the funeral home totaled 1,500, said after an investigation that no arrests would be made. He explained that the state of Virginia has no law, similar to that in Kentucky, forbidding the use of snakes in church services.

J. W. Grizzel of Bradshaw, itinerant pastor who preached at the services Thursday night when Cordle was bitten, was questioned by Gillespie.

The Commonwealth's attorney quoted Grizzel as saying:

"I was dancing with the snake held above my head. Brother Cordle approached me and took the snake from my hands. I told him not to touch it unless he was ready."

After a moment, the rattler struck Cordle in the arm, Gillespie said Grizzle told him. Cordle threw the snake into the lap of George Hicks, 15, and then was taken to the home of a friend and later to his own home.

—The Ashland Daily Independent


Kinsmen of snake-bitten Leitha Ann Rowan permitted her examination by a physician today, but barred actual treatment and claimed she was recovering rapidly in justification of their sect's belief that faith counteracts venom.

The six-year-old child was brought to Sheriff W. I. Daughtrey's office today by relatives, after having been missing for three days while her mother, Mrs. Albert Rowan, sought to avoid treatment for the girl.

Dr. H. W. Clements did not support relatives' claims that Leitha Ann was almost fully recovered but said she had made some progress in overcoming the effects of a Copperhead Moccasin's bite sustained eight days ago in religious rites at her farm home near here.

He said her condition remained serious and directed that she be brought to his office for another examination Monday.

Meanwhile the child's father, a mild-mannered tenant farmer, and preacher-farmer W. T. Lipahm, tall leader of the snake-handling folk, remained in jail on charges of assault with intent to murder. Sheriff Daughtrey said they would be allowed freedom under $3,000 bonds when the child is pronounced out of danger.

—Atlanta Journal


A man listed by chief of police Ralph Tuggle as Raymond Hayes of Harlan county was in a serious condition today from the bite of a copperhead snake suffered yesterday during religious exercises in a vacant storeroom.

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