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A comb, mirror and a brush

As young Pearl sat quietly on the edge of the bed, the red, white and green patchwork quilt wrapped around her feet to ward off the chill of the January frost laying heavily upon fields of brown grass around the homestead below the Gravelly Spur mountain, she stared endlessly over the shoulder of her mother Kitty into the dressing table mirror.
Kitty worked carefully and diligently to take down her long reddish brown hair from the bun she had placed on her head before the rising of the morning sun.
She spread its length down upon her shoulders and towards the floor performing a nightly ritual that her mother Rachel taught her to do before the Scarlet fever came and took her red hair.
From the dark oak dressing table she picked up a brush left her by her mother, encrusted upon it in gold were lightly lilting engravings that surrounded the initials RMH. Beside it lay a matching comb and hand mirror. Kitty took the brush and slowly ran it through her hair as Pearl began counting “One, Two, Three….”
With each stroke Pearl quietly continued her mathematical exercise as Kitty moved from one side of her head to the other not missing a single strand of hair.
As the process continued, Kitty began humming the “Wildwood Flower” gathering momentum as she pulled each stroke.
What to some might seem like an eternity passed for these two in an instant as this quiet time the two shared as Kitty reached her 100 strokes.
When Pearl reached 100 in her count, Kitty turned and said its your turn now and Pearl sat upon the dark green upholstered stool in front of the dressing table and her mother took the golden comb in hand and pulled it through the reddish brown hair removing the tangles brought on from her day’s work around the farm.
She then reached for the brush that Pearl already had in her hand admiring the engraving upon its back.
“When I was just a little one, I watched Momma do this every night. Her hair simply stacked on the floor it was so long,” Kitty said.
“Why do we do this?” Pearl asked
“So that our hair will always be beautiful,” Kitty said.
“Why do we want our hair to be beautiful?” Pearl asked.
Kitty thought about this for a while before answering as she continued to run the brush through Pearl’s hair.
“You remember last year when we took that pony you are so fond of to the fair?” Kitty said.
“Yes,” Pearl replied.
“We’ll didn’t you spend nearly three hours brushing Roscoe down and trying to make his mane look just right?” Kitty asked.
“Yes, I wanted him to look good when everybody saw him and maybe win a ribbon,” Pearl said.
“That’s why we do this each night. We want to look good when everybody sees us,” Kitty said.
“Most of the time the only things that see me er Roscoe, the chickens, and our cow Flossie,” Pearl said. “And that old Stephens boy that’s always hanging around. I don’t much think they care how I look.”
“What about all of us, me and your dad, your brothers and sisters?” Kitty said.
“Well y’all don’t count, y’all have to like me no matter what I look like,” Pearl said.
“Yes, that’s true we will always love you no matter what you look like but even with those who are suppose to love us no matter what, its best to always put some effort into being someone to be proud to be around,” Kitty said.
“Then we better get to work on the twins Wilson and Woodrow, they were wollering in the mud all day and I shore ain’t proud to be around them,” Pearl said. “We better get the washtub out and start boiling some water to give them a bath.”
“I think we will pass on giving them a bath tonight,” Kitty said.
“Tomorrow?” Pearl said.
“We’ll see if there isn’t too much else to do,” Kitty said.
“Can we use some of your fancy perfumed water on them?” Pearl asked.
“I don’t think they will like that very much,” Kitty said.
“If you put a little on me, I’ll let them smell it and if they don’t run away we’ll know,” Pearl said. “I got some nice blue ribbon we can put behind their ears.”
As Kitty pulled the last stroke with the brush through Pearl’s hair, she sat the brush down upon the dressing table and said, “OK, now scoot off to bed.”
“May I go out and tell Wilson and Woodrow they are getting a bath tomorrow?” Pearl said.
“I have to go by the pig pen when I gather eggs in the morning. I’ll be sure to tell them what you have in mind although I think you are going to have an awfully tough time convincing them about your notion,” Kitty said.
As Pearl ran from the room, Kitty picked up the hand mirror and looked more closely at her hair, in one side of the mirror she noticed a portrait of her late mother hanging upon the wall and as she glanced to the other side of the mirror she saw Pearl peaking around the corner. Rather than chastising her for not going right off to bed she reflected on how interesting it was that all three of them were in her mother’s mirror.
(A story from Randall’s book “A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes”)

Warsh and wear

Today most folks don’t give a second thought if they get their clothes dirty to go and change into another outfit. Of late, I have found myself babying a electric dryer as I have been trying to get parts to keep it working, so I am a little more cautious about how many clothes I have to wash.
In the valley below the Gravelly Spur, an abundance of clothes in the closet was not something that most folks experienced.
The Wood boys, like everyone, were often faced with limited things to wear. Little Woody had long grown out of his white cotton dress that he wore in the shadow of his late mother.
The dresses provided mothers the added benefit to keep track of a child when they had to leave the room by lifting the old iron bedpost and placing it on the tail of the gown. That kept the toddlers from toddling into mischief.
By this point the young boy had graduated to two pairs of overalls and two shirts.
After working in the fields two days in a row, both pairs of his overalls and his two shirts were stained with red dirt and mud. He came to his older sister and said “I haven’t got anything to wear to school tomorrow.”
She took him into the bedroom reached into the closet, pulled out her extra dress, and laid it on the bed.
“Get that on and I’ll wash up your overalls.”
Little Woody didn’t have much choice in the matter it was either put the dress on or run around in his all together. So out of the clod covered overalls and into the gray colored dress he slipped.
So even though it was late in the day, she pulled out the washtub and the warshboard and scrubbed them overalls from rusty brown to a faded blue.
She took them out and hung them to dry on the clothesline, as one would normally do.
As the family went to sleep that night, the temperature dropped way below freezing. When the family slowly made their way out into the kitchen wiping the sleep from their eyes with the rooster’s crow, little Woody’s older sister sent one of the other boys to fetch the overalls while she cooked.
He brought them in frozen solid, straight as a board. He stands them in the corner taking a bit of delight in the feat.
Woody is standing there in her gray dress and says “What are we going to do, I can’t were those to school and I am sure not wearing this dress.”
She took the overalls and shirts and placed them on chairs by the fireplace and within just a short time the overalls and shirts had melted into something looking like the occupants had simply disappeared. She quickly ironed one of the shirts.
Woody could not wait to get out of the dress and as soon as the overalls were warm enough and before the iron had hit them, he was into one of the pairs and out of that dress.
While the experience might not have been so bad for little Woody if his older brothers did not see the whole thing as an opportunity for some good old fashion ribbing once they got to school.
When the Moss brothers asked the Wood boys what they had done the night before each mentioned some adventure they had but one of them had to say, “Woody didn’t do anything. He was afraid to come out of the house cause someone might see him wearing sister’s dress.”
Needless to say this was enough to get Little Woody’s blood to boiling and with a little more agitation its safe to say that clean pair of overalls picked up a little schoolyard dirt as the kidders found themselves on the receiving end of his frustration.
Good thing his sister washed both pairs of overalls or he’d been back in that dress all over again.
( From “A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes” by Randall Franks)

A daisy for Momma

The old T model Ford chugged and stammered its way along the thin pig trail that crisscrossed up the side of the Gravelly Spur Mountain.
On one side looking down was a shear drop, while the other side was straight up.
As Pearl looked off the mountainside, in the valley below the farmer’s new crops of corn were beginning to show some strength in the neatly planted rows they laid off earlier in the year traipsing behind their best mule teams.
The mountain laurel dotted the side of the mountain and a faint smell of wild roses occasionally whisped through the open car.
This trip up the mountainside would eventually reach a point where the car would stop because there was no more passable road and Grandma Kitty, Grandpa Bill and little Pearl would get out and walk the rest of the way.
Their goals were three fold — Grandpa Bill was scouting the mountainside for any usable timber, Grandma Kitty was planning to hit her favorite spots to gather remedy roots, barks and berries, but the main goal involved a tremendously large bouquet of daisies tightly grasped in Pearl’s hand.
You see this was Mother’s Day weekend and for Kitty and Bill their mothers were both in heaven.
Grandpa Bill’s mother lay in a green patch of ground nestled between stately cedar trees on the side of the mountain where generations of the family rested, while Grandma Kitty’s mother was buried miles away in another county.
Through the years they had created a tradition of alternating between the locations on days like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Memorial Day.
As the T model hit the end of the road, Grandpa Bill shut her off and picked up the lunch pales sitting neatly in the back seat. Grandma Kitty pulled her burlap sack from beneath the seat and Pearl jumped out without losing a single daisy from her bouquet.
As they walked up the old mountain trail Grandpa looked over at an old cabin and said, “Pearl, that there is where your great, great, great grandpappy built his home after beating them there Red Coats.”
Though abandoned the lonely the cabin still held its position strongly on the side of the mountain creating a natural fortification against potential attack from indians.
Grandma Kitty spied a bit of wormseed and she strayed from the trail to gather some to grind. Some of the neighbor’s kids had needed a batch of her remedy to rid them of worms.
The canopy of the dogwood trees almost hid the entrance to the little cemetery.
As you walk between two majestic oak trees, in a clearing high on top of the mountain, was this lush green field with lines of stones marking departed loved ones. Some stones were store bought with fancy writing on them while some were simply mountain stone where someone had chiseled in the name of those gone on.
Pearl had made this trip before and knew the ritual just as if it was a part of daily life.
As they stopped near the edge of the cemetery, Pearl gave half of the daisies to her father ‘cept six.
He took them and walked over to where his mother slept. He sat down on the grass next to the stone and started talking with her. He told her about how the crops were last year, how the children were, and anything he thought might interest her.
As he did this Kitty took Pearl’s hand and they walked to the graves of the other six mothers who came before her and placed one daisy on each plot of mountain ground.
When they finished Bill had placed his flowers on the grave, told his mom how much he loved her and said goodbye once again.
He joined Kitty and Pearl and they walked slowly to the edge of the cemetery that went up to the very edge of the mountainside.
Pearl still tightly gripped the other half of the bouquet and when the time was right she gave it to Kitty ‘cept one.
Kitty quietly held the bouquet and looked to the east to her ancestral home, she called out to the four winds to carry her love to her mother dear and she tossed the daisies across the sky and they flew through the air off the mountainside.
As Kitty walked back to join Bill and Pearl, Pearl looked up at her and handed her the one remaining daisy she would not relinquish earlier.
“Mommy, I want you to have my love now. I don’t want to wait until I have to talk to a stone or to the four winds.”
Kitty put her arms around her and Bill put his around Kitty’s. They stood there and gazed off the mountainside watching the four winds carry the daisies across the sky.
For more stories of the Gravelly Spur, see the book “A Mountain Pearl.”

A mule in charge

In the valley below the Gravelly Spur Mountain there was a partnership of sorts between the humans and the animals that worked the farms to create the crops that helped feed them all.
There was no more needed partner than the mules that helped to cut the furrows straight along the curves of the mountainsides near the old apple, peach, pear and plum orchards that bore the fruit for summer canning of preserves and drying for the special Christmas cakes that helped make each season a little more fun for each family.
Young Pearl had a knack with the animals and especially the mules around the valley. No matter whose they might be, she always seemed to be able to get them to like her too.
On the Wood farm nearby it was old Pete that helped to make each workday that much easier.
All the kids loved old Pete, though he wouldn’t let anyone ride him. It was like he was a kid himself especially in the summer time. As all the kids rushed towards the swimming hole once released from their chores, you would see Pete traipsing behind them headed there too. He would be the first to climb to the leap overlooking it, jumping into the waters below as his black coat shimmered in the summer sun until he plunged deep into the waters below.
This was the only time that anyone had a chance to climb up on old Pete’s back as the kids swam along. While keeping a float himself, Pete had no power to buck them off.
One time the Wood’s hired man Richard decided he was going to teach Pete a lesson and break him. Richard was a big man, so Pete seemed small as he climbed up on him, and wrapped his long legs below Pete’s belly and twisting his toes together so Pete could not buck him off.
Pete finally got tired of trying and instead of being broke; he simply lay down and rolled over with the hired hand still attached. Needless to say, it wasn’t Pete who got broke in that maneuver,
While it was hard to realize, Pete was getting to old and weak to continue his tasks around the farm and Mr. Wood had grown so fond of him, he couldn’t bring himself to take him out and shoot him as many did when their usefulness had faded, so he decided to trade him in on a new mule.
He took him up to Shirley’s Trading Post and with the addition of 15 dollars U.S.; he traded Pete for a light brown mule named Mary. She had all her teeth and appeared as though she had many years of plowing and hauling in her.
As Mr. Wood began at first light hitching the plow to Mary, he could see that she had a reluctant streak that was deep and wide within her. It was a fight to get her moving and keeping her on the straight and narrow pulling each furrow.
As an experienced worker with mule, he did all he knew to get Mary in line but to no avail.
Finally, he went back to the house and called to his five-year-old boy Bryant to come and assist.
He told him to climb up on her back facing backwards; he cut a peach limb and handed to him.
“Boy, you just hit her with that if she starts to balk,” he said.
Mr. Wood hated to hurt any animal; he knew that young Bryant’s coaxing would be more like a nuisance than a whipping to Mary. So it began a long day of getting Mary accustomed to her duties.
By the next day, things were no better except this time after a night of rubbing cornstarch on the inside of his legs, Bryant got a piece of broken machinery belt that came from the valley saw mill to serve as a shield between he and Mary’s back and the process continued.
By the third day, Mr. Wood decided that Mary was just not the mule she should be, and he proceeded to take her back to the trading post to renegotiate.
Somewhere in the discussion with Mr. Shirley the word liar aimed at Mr. Wood brought forth a flow of anger not often seen in a man such as Mr. Wood. Bryant just barely big enough to get away from his brothers in a game of tag, saw the sawdust from the floor begin to fly as the two men exchanged blows. The flying fists stirred the shavings while Mr. Wood gained ground with each swing.
Before long the ice man cometh and before you could say winter freeze, he had pulled the two up. Showing his special deputy badge he brought the match to an end.
He told them both to settle their disagreement peaceably so the sheriff didn’t have to be summoned.
The iceman asked Mr. Shirley if he wanted to give Mr. Wood back his mule and the money or give him a new mule.
Shirley agreed on a new mule; so the threesome headed back home, with yet another helpmate for the farm.
This time, the white mule named Ada was one that actually wanted to participate without Bryant sitting astride whipping him along the way.
While he was no Pete, it was not long until the kids loved him too.
The moral of the story is simple, if you plan to trade a mule, be sure he or she is willing before you have to see the shavings fly.

Sledge and the rustling run

As a youth my Granddad Bill made his way west and when he returned to the Gravelly Spur, he brought with him the stories of the Old West, gunfights, cattle rustlers, ranchers who ran large ranches like kingdoms.

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