Monday, February 7, 2011
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Monday, January 24, 2011
This Won't Hurt Much
This won't hurt much, he said,
As he pressed down on my chest.
But the fear I felt in my head
Was like to burst my breast!
His pliers gripped the tooth
And I cried aloud forsooth!
Tha's the w'ong one I cw'ied
As his strong hands I pried
He tapped the one before
But that wasn't sore
He tapped the one after
Gone was I to the hereafter.
So then his pliers were placed
I was then almost disgraced
He said again, with a chievious grin
This won't hurt much, but like pure sin!
Tears came to my sorry, fearful eyes
But his hand displayed the prize,
It didn't hurt much.
Her Daddy was a farmer, trying to scratch out a living on a small piece of rocky ground below Snowbird Mountain. The farm was in a valley where the small creek passed through, on its way to The Cheoah River. The Snowbird Community has almost no level or flat land, in fact, most of Graham County is situated on a thirty percent grade, and some of it even steeper.
How her Daddy was able to coax even the barest subsistence in the earliest part of the Twentieth Century is a mystery today. In his favor, though, is that there were no tractors or such, for on his farm they would have been useless. Her Daddy did own two mules, Judy, and Bell, and they were big strong, sensible, animals; and one horse, who was strong, but not so sensible..
Will had been born and raised in these mountains, while there were still many indians about, for this was their country, and the Cherokee was here until just a few years ago. Snowbird Cherokee are there, even now. He had never known many creature comforts, but now it seemed at last that his little piece of land would supply the needs of his family
Beside the mules, he had a good milk cow, laying hens, and fat roosters, a few turkeys, two sows with pigs, and a good garden spot. If he made it through the winter, maybe his crops next year would help him get ahead, at least for one more year. He had learned as a young man not to expect too much; that way your disappointments weren't so bad.
Will and Flora's little cabin was full of younguns, and they loved them all. Three brothers, Roy, Mack, and Vick, one sister, Ethel, were all older than Bonnie, and second sister, Minnie was the youngest. All of the children shared in the chores about the farm, the boys in the fields, and the girls in the garden and the house.
Will and the boys grew, corn, wheat, tobacco and potatoes for food and for income, though most income was in the form of bartering. Few were the store-bought needs of a mountain family of that time.
At the little store in Snowbird there appeared a poster, in 1920, announcing a plan to build a big dam on the River. The poster stated that survey crews and land managers would be coming to the area to check for elevations and drainage. It stated that if there were any questions about this work, the concerned party should contact the Ordinary in Robbinsville.
Few of the patrons at the store understood the implications of a "big dam", or why there would be surveyors coming into the area. Up to now, surveys were done mostly by measuring off land in chains, or rods. And the old English term, "more or less", was inserted into every land deed, for precision was next to impossible in land that was more vertical than horizontal.
As Will and Flora pondered the notice, and as they asked their neighbors at church which met only monthly, the baseless rumors far out-numbered the few facts.
It became more clear by the spring of 1921, as the first surveyors showed up with their strange instruments. They were not measuring acres, but how high the land was. WHY?, when everybody knew it was high by how fast the branches and creeks drained into the rivers.
More than a few of the farmers had visits from land speculators, and government agents. Since the beginning of land development in days of yore, where there is a projected use of the land, there have always been speculators willing to offer a pittance for a property, using scare tactics to purchase at far below the actual value. And the government agents were there to try to protect the owners, while in point of fact, many of the agents were in the pockets of the speculators.
It was common among these mountaineers, in what was still virtually wilderness, to look at any stranger with skepticism, so when outsiders began to come among them, more than one was shot and killed, and others just disappeared, never to be seen again. And the itinerant Preachers of the day, usually circuit riders, who came only a few times a year, were hard-pressed to assuage the fear and anger among the mountain folk.
In early 1922, Will and Flora were faced with a choice neither wanted to make. At the meeting, held at their church, the government had laid it down: A topographical map was brought of the Snowbird Section, showing which farms were to be flooded when the big dam was built. Since any clear-thinking man built his cabin in the valleys with the most level land for farming, most of the good land in those valleys was going to be flooded.
They would have to move, leaving everything behind that couldn't be hauled on the wagon, or the animals who could walk. "How long before we have to move," Will asked. "You mean yore a goin' to take my place?" "Where will we go?" "How can I move all my animals?"
The questions were slow to be answered. Turned out the government wasn't building the dam; some power company was, the same one which built the big one a few years before, further up the Cheoah, also causing many families to lose their homesteads. But the government was letting the big power company come in and take their homes just like at the other dam. A few folks tried to fight the government and the companies, but to no avail. This was called progress, and the little man was the loser, in every case.
Time seemed to pass so slowly as they waited for word on the details of the land take-over. But in the meantime, Will and the boys had to farm to survive. Flora and the girls had to make a garden and care for the homestead. The only heat was from the fireplace, and cooking was done on a rudimentary wood- burning cook stove, so a supply of dried fire wood was always required. Most of the trees on the steep slopes was evergreen, fit only for cooking, but the hardwood in the bottoms was perfect for the fireplace.
The small tobacco patch was the only cash crop the farm produced, so it was tended with great care, fertilized with compost and manure from the livestock, and checked daily for the voracious horn-worm, that could eat a big leaf in just a few days. The stalks were cut-off at the base when the crop was mature, and then hung up in the barn, by the base to dry, and cure.
When the leaves were cured, they were removed from the stalk, and wrapped in a twist for storing, until a buyer could be found. Many times the tobacco never left the valley, bought by a local store-keeper, and sold in twists for chewing and for pipe smokers, it being too strong for good cigarette tobacco, which were becoming more common.
Corn was the main crop for any farmstead, providing feed for livestock, and was a staple in every kitchen. Hominy was eaten almost every day, and the corn meal saw daily use either in bread, or mush. No family could long survive without corn and its by-products. This crop was carefully tended like tobacco, the best kernels chosen from the previous years crop, carefully stored to protect against weevils, and planted at the right sign of the moon, hoping for a good yield, which in that time was no more than twelve to fifteen bushels to the acre.
White, or Irish potatoes and yams were also important crops, though requiring smaller patches, but they also needed great care to protect from bugs and beetles. Will and the boys put up a good crop if the weather gave a good yield. With so many head of livestock to feed, there was never any surplus in the crib by harvest each year, and sometimes, the hogs, cows and mules were allowed to forage in the woods. The Old English method of ear notching livestock was commonly used in the mountains and beyond.
Bonnie was a bright girl, and with three brothers and an older sister to help at home, she was the first in her family to go to a real school house. The school of that time hardly resembles the educational facilities of today. The term usually lasted only three months, those being when children could be spared from work on the farmstead. So, at six or seven she was allowed to go to school, and did so until the family left Graham County NC.
In 1925, the final charts were drawn, and the land was taken, with assistance from the government, and the homesteaders were told of a future date when they must leave their home and land. Will and his boys put in their last crop, praying to make enough to hold them until they could resettle, somewhere. Flora and the girls did the same with the garden.
At the Snowbird store rumors were like Crows; lots of noise, not much use. Somehow Will heard of some good land just inside Georgia, near a town called Blairsville. The story was that there was more good land to be found there than here in these NC mountains. Good soil, and wide, rich bottoms for crops, and homes. He decided to go look at it. It took almost a week to go and come, and his words were encouraging to the family when he returned
Now the final decision had to be made; try another place in these mountains of Graham County, or pull up stakes and journey to a new land, as Moses had done. The choice was made, when the three boys began to all speak in favor of the move to Georgia. They saw little chance of ever making anything for themselves and a future wife, in Graham County. Maybe Georgia would offer more hope.
So, on a day in the late summer of 1926, with the wagon over-loaded with what they must carry, Will, Flora, and the family, with the milk cow in tow, and with the hound walking alongside, drove the mules out of the yard just after sunrise, for the last time. Will had twenty-five dollars in his pocket, the price he got for his farm, house, barn, livestock, and land. He had very little other cash, but in that time, it seemed like enough. It was a sad day, but at least there was hope for tomorrow. Bonnie was almost ten years old as they left The cabin.
The distance was uncertain, but Flora and the girls had cooked some bread, and biscuits, a stew and side-meat, and syrup, and a little water. Will estimated the journey would take two full days of steady walking with the wagon loaded as it was, spending one night on the ground along the way. He had even staked out a spot on a creek, just north of Murphy, NC, for their stop that night.
The family arrived at the creek just before sundown on the first day, and as the boys gathered pine boughs and leaves for a bed, the girls unhitched the mules and led them to the creek for water, then tied them to a tree, and gave them a little corn and some good hay. In the meantime, Flora started a fire, and soon had the pot of stew heated. Placing the pot on a big, flat rock with some corn-bread, she fed her hungry family.
It had been a day to remember for each of the family members. Will had seen it all once before, and was deep in thought about what the future would hold in this new place. The three boys, young men really, talked among themselves as they walked; guessing what the girls would be like, and how to get some good land for each of them, when they found a wife. Ethel, was frightened a little at what she would find in this new land, but her Mama comforted her, and reassured her that things would work out OK.
Bonnie, always playful and carefree, had cut-up and sung, and danced a jig as she walked, until she tired herself out, then climbed on top of the loaded wagon, and slept part of the way. Minnie was right beside her, in play and at rest. The dog had walked beside the wagon, until his feet were sore and bleeding, and Mack put him in a nook of their belongings, where he rode the rest of the way to Georgia.
The whole family had rested the sleep of exhaustion through the night, though, once the hound had smelled a Panther, but thankfully it ran away, instead of at the family. Big cats don't like people any more than people like big cats. At daybreak, Will had the family up and moving, as this was the day when they would reach Blairsville, GA.
The weather had held good until early afternoon on that day, when a thunderstorm came up and all got drenched in the downpour, but thankfully it cooled them off, so no harm done. Bonnie just danced in the puddles, along the way. Just after the rain ended, Will's family reached the mountain village of Blairsville, Ga.
In 1926, Union County Georgia, was just as remote as Graham County North Carolina, as far as the developing world was concerned. The few roads were poor, barely trails in some instances, and as in their former community, folks were mostly self-sufficient, and independent. The one major difference from Graham County, was the abundance of good level ground, just waiting for the trees to be removed, and crops to be planted. The mountains here were not as rugged, nor as prominent, so the life here could be made easier.
Easier, is a relative term, when seen from the perspective of today, and comparing it to 1926. The soil, though fertile, was still abundant with stones, and many hours were spent each spring time moving them to the borders of the fields. A good farmer also knew when to move a stone, or just plow around it.
The family found a cabin in the Lone Oak community, very like the one they had left behind. The former homesteader had moved on, and with a little work, it was soon suitable for their new home. The homestead had a good barn and lot for the mules and cow. Land was available for their use, so plans were made to put in a crop of corn and tobacco, and potatoes next spring. In the meantime, the boys began to locate downed trees suitable for present heat and cooking, and to cut, and split for next year. The mules were in good shape after the journey, and found forage aplenty in the lush valley where they settled.
The school term was over until next year, but Bonnie had a Reader, given before she left NC, and she read it over and over again, until it was memorized. She practiced arithmetic and words, though spelling was hard, but she read the simple book with ease. Every time her Dad or other family went anywhere she begged them to bring her any kind of book or paper with words on it. She wanted to learn so bad that it hurt. As there was no Public Library, and limited Public Education, her opportunities were few. But she never stopped looking and asking.
Here we end this chapter of the story of Bonnie. In the next chapter she goes to school again, and begins to grow into a pretty young woman.