Life is still simple for some in the Blue Ridge mountains, where springs of water run cold and pure, and time seems to stand still, unfettered by the hustle of the rest of the modern world. The woman before me, a 40 something Irish-Indian lass with silkie, long white hair and biceps more defined than most men I knew, seemed as if she stepped out of a history book. Pointing to some empty 5 gallon buckets, she said “this is our water supply, we carry it in from the well outside.” I tried to lift a full bucket. Clearly, this would be a challenge for me. Married to a man who did not allow her to cut her hair, have outside friends, or wear makeup unless they were together, she did not seem unhappy. He worked on projects around the farm, and together, they lived off the land.
She had lived in that same house her family owned since the 1800s. Knowing no other way of life, she seemed both backward and uncommonly wise all at once.
“This is the tour,” she said, cackling in her raspy voice. She smoked, but could not let her husband see her, as he saw it as a disgrace. So she hid it. Probably only a half cigarette a day, as smokes were expensive, she said.
The pantry was amazing. Hundreds of jars of various items she canned glistened on the shelves. Some had been there since the 1920s, canned by her mother. Black strap molasses and green beans, she said. “They’re still good.”
Opening one jar, she let me have a taste. Interestingly enough, the molasses were not rancid. Strong, yes!
No wonder her cookies were so good.
She farmed, growing tomatoes, beans and squash. Sometimes, onions and peppers.
Soft deerskins were draped over a banister upstairs, as she showed me my room for the week.
“I cured those, the old way,” she said.
With the Indian heritage she had, she could hunt, butcher, dress, and cure the meat the family brought in. Truly, nothing went to waste. “Pa hates waste,” she said.
Other delicacies included wild hog, squirrel, rabbit, and lots of fish.
“We may be poor, but we do not go hungry,” she said.
Her days were long, though because her husband was a night owl, she did not wake until the late morning hours. She slept maybe 6 or 7 hours.
I looked at my room. The bed had an old, very flat feather mattress, laid on a handmade frame, and topped with what is known as a handmade “crazy quilt.” Crazy quilts were a way pioneers used all of their fabric scraps. Embroidered on the quilt was a family member’s initials and 1800 something. I do not even remember what year it was, because I could not get past the 1800 part.
“We have no heat upstairs,” she said. “But your room is warm, because the vent from the wood burning stove downstairs will keep you toasty.”
She and Pa would sleep downstairs, she said.
The home seemed like a museum that should have been kept safe from the modern world.
“We have electricity for lights and the tv, only,” she said.
Surprisingly, I slept well. Yet morning brought the mountain’s sub zero temperatures. She had already been outside with one of her boys, chopping wood.
She poured me a cup of coffee she brewed on the gas stove. “It may be strong for you,” she said.
It was. But I was glad for it.
“Bath time is different around here,” she said. Showing me to the tiny bathroom with a large white tub and a sink, she said she would need to heat up the water, and it would take about 30 minutes to get a few inches of water in the tub.
They did add septic pipes for the toilet, tub and sink, but had no running water.
Quietly, I had to ask. “Doesn’t that bother you?”
Knowing her husband had the know how to bring running water into the house because he had been a handyman by trade, she said she had never known any other way.
Which explains her fascination with my bathroom when she visited me in the city.
I helped her carry the hot water into the bathroom, and was surprised the tub kept it hot for so long.
“As you can see, we don’t need to exercise, we get plenty around here,” she said.
After I readied myself for the day, the guys went outside for target practice to get ready for hunting. We stayed to prepare breakfast before they left, and make the one large meal they had a day.
No restaurant on earth could compete with home made biscuits and gravy, fresh green beans, smoked venison, sliced tomatoes, mashed potatoes and more. Her cookie jar was two feet tall, 12 inches wide, and full. Pies adorned the shelves nearby.
I thought to myself, once upon a time, people worked really hard just to survive. They did not have as much time for leisure. But they learned to enjoy the moment.
Thoughts for the day. And yes, this is a true story. Ask my children. They remember the farm, which still exists today.