Some outsiders call us folks who live in the mountainous coalfields of Virginia hillbillies or rednecks. Mother says we are neither. Mother says that we are just hardworking mountain people with the same hopes and dreams as everyone else.
Our farm sits on a high ridge overlooking the Cumberland Mountains to the west and the Clinch Mountains to the east. Our mountain is so high that at night, I can almost touch the moon and the stars. Our particular ridge is called Caney Ridge, named for the courageous Kane family, settlers in this part of the state. For some reason, the first letter of the spelling of our ridge was spelled with “C” instead of “K”. I guess spellings change same as our mountain changes from season to season.
In the 1700s, our country was still ruled by the king of England, who forbade the colonists to settle in the Appalachian Mountains. There just weren’t enough British soldiers to protect the newcomers from the sometimes unfriendly natives. But after making the treacherous journey across the Atlantic Ocean to eventually set down roots in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, Mother says, those independently minded Scotch-Irish weren’t going to let a king from across the Atlantic Ocean tell them what to do! Family after family continued to settle our mountains. My very own family used rubies, knives, farm tools, pots and pans, and even one fancy rifle to barter for land the Cherokee Nation had inhabited for thousands of years. The Cherokees soon realized that trinkets and tools were not a fair trade for their land. In retaliation, they murdered interlopers like John Douglas and took children captive. I’m part Cherokee. I guess that eventually, the Cherokee and the Scotch-Irish figured out how to get along.
There is never a dull moment on our mountain. Even with doing the same chores every day, it never gets boring. Mommy Laurie, my grandmother, usually does the milking, but my grandfather, Poppy, is milking this morning because he is waiting on the lumber shipment for the home he is building over on Longs Fork. While Poppy is milking, I muck out Ole Cherry’s stall; then, I fill the stall’s manger with fresh hay for the milk cow’s feeding tonight.
Poppy breaks the silence. “Your grandmother is shore goin’ to be pleased with Ole Cherry today. A gallon and a half of milk! It looks like Ole Cherry ate well yesterday. There’s enough cream here for your grandmother to add to the rest that she skimmed off the milk this week to make butter. Little Chank, looks like you and the churn are goin’ to be friends today.”
“Can’t wait, Poppy! There’s nothing better than oatmeal drowned in a good dollop of fresh butter. But I’d have to say that Mommy’s pinto beans with cornbread or her Sunday fried chicken with tomato gravy can’t be beat! Guess you’d be lost without butter to slather on your molassie biscuit, wouldn’t ya?”
Poppy agrees wholeheartedly.
Fall brings cool weather, and that means hog-killing time. I tell Poppy, “Everyone around us is butcherin’ their hogs this week. The boys at school think it’s a vacation to get off school to help. They are just daft in the head! Poppy, I wish Sadie Mae could stay a piglet.”
“Now, don’t you go namin’ those piglets. You know they have to be sold when full grown,” Poppy reminds me for the hundredth time.
We have only piglets left right now because we just sold our hogs to the butcher. Piglets are fun to watch. You see, they have this game where all ten piglets pile on top of each other like they are trying to build a haystack, only the haystack gets real slippery from the mud in which they wallow. As one piglet tumbles down from the top of the heap, another piglet climbs up. The game ends when they all tumble right back into the mud. It’s a riot!
My brothers, cousins, and I aren’t allowed to name or pet the farm animals that will be sold or used for our own food. I didn’t mean to let it slip that I broke Poppy’s rule.
But no matter what folks say, piglets aren’t all alike. You see, Sadie Mae has a big brown circle around her one squinty blue eye. She trots those little stubby legs over to greet me. As I pick up a bucket of water to pour over her, she squeals in delight. Sadie Mae would like for me to scratch behind her ears all day long. I would, if she took a bath more often.