Wandering Back in Time

  Wandering back in time in Appalachia blindpigandtheacorn
1940s era Nehi soda bottle found up the creek

Back when I first started writing here on the Blind Pig and the Acorn I followed Terry Thornton's blog. Terry has since passed away, but his writing strengthened my belief that we need to understand what went before to gain a hope for the future and an appreciation for the present. Terry documented not only personal details about his life, but also described in detail the landscape of his homeplace in Mississippi and the many changes he'd seen take place over the course of his life. 

I live in the same mountain holler I grew up in and even though I don't consider myself an old timer like Terry was, I too have seen great changes in my lifetime. One house is gone, five have been added, fields have turned to lawns, roads have been re-worked for better access and too many trees to count have been taken down to make room for all the growth.  

I've always been intrigued by the trails and old road beds that run through the acreage surrounding our land. Pap could remember when they were traveled by people, sleds, wagons, horses, mules, and a few cars.

Growing up we had gravity water (water that came from a spring up the mountain). I always enjoyed going up the creek with Pap to check on the water. He told me stories about the cornfields that used to be on the sloping sides of the ridges, he showed me where a stone stable had stood for horses, and he pointed out old house places and told of the people who had lived there. Even though the houses were long gone having been erased by time and nature, Pap made it all seem so real to me.

As I've traveled the same trails with the girls during my life as a mother I've tried to point out the changes I remember. At one creek crossing I can recall there were a few logs rotted and turned green with moss that were left from a wooden bridge. There were random car pieces here and there including the dash of a model t Ford. 

Most of the trails have grown up with trees, saplings, and bushes because there's no need to walk them now. And as with each passing generation children who might have played along the trails as we did have more and more to occupy them indoors. 

I've always thought if I could sit quietly by one of those trails and wait I'd eventually be able to see some of the folks who traveled the paths in days gone by. Maybe it'd be some of my ancestors walking to check on a neighbor or work in the corn, maybe it'd be settlers who lived before Pap's time, maybe it'd be my cousins, my brother, and me walking, arguing, playing, and keeping the paths wore.


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Christmas in July

Christmas in july in appalachia 2

The old saying Christmas in July means something happened smack dab in the middle of the summer that rates right up there with Christmas.

Why do I feel like its Christmas in July? 

  • I got a new car! Not brand new, but new to me and pretty new too considering my old one was 12 years old and the one the girls drive is 18 years old. Wow 18 years old! Anyway-so very nice to be able to drive to and fro and not worry about ending up on the side of the road which has happened several times in the last year. Of course those side of the road break downs almost always happened when it was coming a torrential downpour and I had a trunk full of guitars or groceries. 
  • The Deer Hunter got a new job with more money and less STRESS!
  • The Pressley Girls' first cd is getting close to being finished and it sounds AMAZING!
  • We've had plenty of rain this summer. 
  • I'm no longer feeling the suffocating broken hearted despair over losing Pap. I still mourn his passing and I know I always will but at least I'm not wallowing in grief like I was last July.

In honor of my Christmas in July feeling I'm giving away 2 of Pap and Paul's Songs of Christmas CDs.

To be entered in the giveaway leave a comment on this post. *Giveaway ends Sunday July 23, 2017.

If you'd like to buy one of the cds go here


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The Zombie Apocalypse

Zombies in appalachia

Have you ever watched a tv show or movie about the zombie apocalypse? I don't watch much tv so I can't really say I'm up on the whole zombie phenomenon, but it is a subject I've had fun discussing with the folks at work. 

For the last few years we've teased each other about our survival plan for the coming zombies. Those of us that have worked there longest say we'll trip the newer employee to give us more time to get away. My boss seems to think if you have an aliment of some sort zombies will overlook you so she plans to scream out that she has a disease. We have a small kitchen in our area so if we're locked in for a while we could cook...if we had any food. Then there's the huge bank of windows-seems like a zombie would just break right through, but some folks think their reflection in the glass will confuse them causing them to pass up our building for another one. Silly I know, but an ongoing bit of fun that makes the work place more enjoyable.

In the last few years our county has been besieged by drug problems which have caused all sorts of problems we've never had to worry about.

Problems like people stealing every thing that's not tied down while folks aren't at home and even people trying to steal things when people are at home!

Pretty much every day the sheriffs department arrests a new string of people for having drugs in their possession, making drugs, or stealing to buy drugs.

I've taken to saying the ever increasing segment of people who've become so addicted that they've lost their own lives are the true zombie apocalypse.

We live in such an isolated area we've never given much thought or worry about any of those addicted folks bothering our home. Our house is at the end of the road with nothing behind it but woods in all directions. In all the years I've lived in this holler there has never been a stranger wandering around...until last week.

Chitter was home alone one morning. As she sat on her bed, working on a piece of jewelry, she noticed someone walk directly by her window. She jumped up and looked out the other bedroom window as the man went on around the back of the house. He was dirty, barefoot, and looked like he'd had the same clothes on for several weeks. He was also sneaking along. Chitter knew the doors were locked so she got one of her Daddy's guns and immediately called him. As Chitter stood in the back of the hallway praying her Daddy would hurry and praying she wouldn't have to do more than hold the gun she heard the man come up on the porch and try to get in the front door.

By the time The Deer Hunter came flying up the driveway the man was gone leaving nothing but two half eaten apples in the fire pit that he'd picked off one of my trees.

We reported the incident, but when the deputy came out all he saw was a blacksnake in the greenhouse, the stranger was long gone. The deputy said there'd been an increase in drug related break-ins lately and advised us to keep things locked up tight.

Even though nothing was harmed or taken, other than the apples, we have all been rattled by the incident. Especially Chitter. I guess we feel like we've been violated even though we haven't really.

Maybe it's that our safety has been violated.

We've taken for granted that our remote location surrounded by family would protect us from the assault of those who would do us harm. I've never given one thought to going out after dark to lock up the chickens when The Deer Hunter is off hunting, now I find myself reluctant to even go outside during the day and it makes me mad at myself and at the man who tried to get into our home. 

Even though we don't live by the side of a busy road it's been made clear we too are vulnerable to the assault of the increasing drug problem facing our county and much of Appalachia. 


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Water in Appalachia

Mountain water

On Mountain Water by David Templeton 

One of Life's greatest pleasures for me is wading and swimming in some sweet water stream that has come down out of an East Tennessee or Southwest Virginia mountain. I allow that I will also stick my face down to the water and drink until my belly hurts and that I will find some flat rocks and send them skipping over the water, counting how many times I can make each one skip; I got nineteen one time.

Where one ends up is usually not the result of some well-planned journey but more accidental. I don't get to live in Appalachia any more. My father lost his job of work at the defense plant, he had no skills, he heard about a place in Indiana that would hire him, a new start sounded good, and so we left Tennessee. I was fourteen. A part of my psyche never grew up past fourteen. For sure, I have remained Appalachian, lo these fifty years on.

Here in Indiana the land is so flat that I can almost watch a train coming from tomorrow; see until the Earth curves away. The land is flat. The land is flat and well-farmed. From the land, up here, water comes colored like coffee with cream. And, I can see many rivers and streams but I can't see clear, clean water in any of them. That's not to condemn the farmer; it's just the way it is. But the water is dirty, the streams and lakes. Not poison but unclear, giving the sense of unclean, and uninviting. It doesn't hurt the snakes but people don't swim in these waters.

We swam all the time back there in Hawkins County. The water was cold but it was crystal clear and refreshing. As a kid I didn't think about the water, not philosophically, not scientifically; I didn't think about it at all...it was there. I was born with it all around...like I was born with skin...as a kid, some things don't beg reflection.

It is remarkable though that water so abundant in the hills was often a scarcity in our home. Up the dirt road where we lived the water utility didn't come that far. We had to carry water home or sometimes we had a well. The well wasn't deep so the water wasn't clear all the time. Dad tried to dig his own well one time. Took a forked twig from the apple tree and doused around the yard till it pulled hard down and there he dug. When he hit solid rock he covered up the hole and soon packed us up and moved us to a place with a spring and a spring house right there in the yard.

Now there was sweet water. And, fresh-churned butter from a butter mold, kept in a crock in the water in the spring house. And sweet milk, cold. And all the mountain spring water we ever wanted, crystal clear. It ran out and down a little stream with water creesies in it and the cows drank from it and then it finally went murmuring on down to the Holston.

God gave us rainwater, too. Mom had a rain barrel. My four sister's and Mom's Cherokee black hair was washed and rinsed in it. And, when there was enough, clothes were washed in it.

I don't stop missing all that was the mountains. The breathless beauty, the heavenly peacefulness, the simple ways of the folk, and, yes, the clear clean mountain waters. Maybe more than anything, I miss the mountain waters. I miss the mountains and I miss the waters. I know nothing else to drink will ever be as perfect as that.


David wrote this guest post way back in 2009. He now resides in his homeland of Appalachia and I'm positive he's enjoying that wonderful mountain water that he so beautifully described. 


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Making Pickles

How to make bread and butter pickles
Pickling's More'n Cucumbers - Murphy (Mountain Cooking by John Parris)

"To many a mountain woman who grew up at a time when the kitchen stove occupied most of her 16-hour-long day, pickling is a heap sight more than just preparing cucumbers.

"It's most every thing," said Mrs. Tennie Priscilla Cloer. "It's meats and fruits and vegetables."

"I came along at a time you had to plan ahead for the long, cold winter months when the food came mainly from the cellar," she recalled. "You pickled and preserved all sorts of things."

"We pickled beets and beans and corn, watermelon rind and tomatoes and kraut, cherries and apples and peaches," she said...

"Pickling's a lot different now from what it was back when I was coming on. Back then we didn't have glass jars. We did our pickling in two-gallon and three-gallon stone jars and put beeswax paper over them as a cover. "I was 18 years old before I ever saw a glass jar. The first ones were half gallon jars and very thin. Later they got out a green glass jar and it was better, didn't break so easily."

"As a child, I remember my mother used 30-gallon cider barrels to pickle her beans and kraut and corn in. She had one barrel full of beans, one full of kraut, and one full of corn. It was enough to last the family over the winter."


So far, I've only made one run of pickles this summer, but I'm hoping to make more. Here are some of my favorite pickling recipes.


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Cash on the Barrelhead

Today's guest post was written by Paul Wilson.

Cash on the Barrelhead

Paul - Murphy, NC - July 2017

In one of our Youtube uploads a few weeks ago, I sang an original song about how Pap sang songs for me when I was little. Cash on the Barrelhead is one of the songs that I would often ask him to sing for me. He would sometimes try to get out of singing it because he didn't know all of the words. He sang the song in G major, which is three frets higher than I sing it here, in E major. Singing it in G would make it much easier to pick, especially the little intro, but I cannot sing the song that high.

This song is one of the few solo songs ever put out by the great Louvin Brothers while they were still recording as a duet. According to Wikipedia, it was released in 1956.

Ira sang the song in D major, which interestingly is two frets lower than where I sing it in the video. I think he clearly made that choice for the sake of the music (rather than for the vocal). The original recording features excellent mandolin picking by him as well as great steel work from Don Helms (Hank Williams, Sr.'s steel player), and the great Paul Yandell on electric guitar.

According to Wikipedia, it has been recorded by many other artists, including Dolly Parton, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Leftover Salmon, Bobby Lord, Ronnie Sessions, Rhonda Vincent, and Allison Krauss. Charlie Louvin also recorded the song a couple of times in his solo career. In the version I've heard, he sings the song comfortably in F, one fret higher than this video.

There are many versions of this song on YouTube featuring full bluegrass band accompaniment. I wanted to do this with a single guitar, similarly to how Pap did it for me when I was a kid. I added the pauses and extra beats in B and other places to give me extra time to think of the words. I apologize for my appearance. I had just gotten home from a tennis tournament.

This song always stirred my imagination particularly because I knew that Pap had personally experienced many things similar to those described in the song. As a young man, he did a lot of hitchhiking and navigating through situations where he had very little money. To me, this song shows how life can sometimes be unsympathetic when you don't have $.

The lyrics are below. I updated "six gun" to "9 mil" to make it more in line with present day. By the way, if you're wondering why I'm playing this Ibanez guitar, it's because this guitar may be given away in the coming months here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn. 

Cash on the Barrelhead

Got in a little trouble at the county seat.
Lawd, they threw me in the jailhouse for loafing on the street.
When the judge heard the verdict, I was a guilty man.
He said, "$45, or 30 days in the can."

"That'll be cash on the barrelhead, son.
You can take your choice. You're 21.
No money down, no credit plan.
No time to chase you. I'm a busy man."

Found her telephone number on a laundry slip.
Had a good, hardy jailer, 9 mil on his hip.
He let me call long distance. She said, "Number please."
No sooner than I told her, she shouted out at me:

"That'll be cash on the barrelhead son.
Not part, not half, but the entire sum.
No money down, no credit plan.
For a little bird tells me, you're a ramblin' man."

30 days in the jailhouse. 4 days on the road.
I was getting mighty hungry. My feet a heavy load.
Saw a Greyhound comin'. Stuck up my thumb.
Just as I was being seated, the driver caught my arm.

"He said that'll be cash on the barrelhead, son.
This old grey dog gets paid to run.
When the engine stops, Lawd the wheels won't roll.
Give me cash on the barrelhead, I'll take you down the road.
Give me cash on the barrelhead, I'll take you down the road"


I hope you enjoyed Paul's guest post and his picking and singing as much as I did! I can remember Pap singing the song to Paul when we were little so that makes the whole thing seem extra special. Yet when I watched the video for the first time after Paul uploaded it, it wasn't Pap that I thought of it was Uncle Henry. I've never once thought Paul looked like Uncle Henry in any way shape or form, but something about his mannerisms and expressions in this video is Uncle Henry to a T. 

Today would have been Pap's birthday. It seems fitting that Paul wrote the guest post and sung the song even though we sure didn't plan for it to be published on his birthday-that's just how it worked out. 


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Dinner Time in Appalachia

Silver queen corn in brasstown

"Yep, dinner at noon and supper late in the day.

My Grandma W. Cooked dinner everyday on the wood-burning cook stove. In summer she cooked by burning corncobs left from shelling corn for the livestock. Corncobs make a quick heat and burn out fast, letting the kitchen cool down a bit after cooking.

The meal is much as you described, the pork was grown, processed, and cured right on the farm. Much of what we ate was called side meat. It was greasy and it was quite tasty. The grease was saved to make lye soap.

Leftovers were sometimes put in a hollowed out piece of stone called the spring house. It was outside the smokehouse, about the size of a bathtub. No spring ran through it. We pumped cold well water to put in it. There was no electricity until well into the 1950s, then a refrigerator called a Crosley Shelvedoor assumed leftover duties.

Some leftovers stayed on the table til supper. After dinner everything was covered with a square white cloth, nothing fancy. I am guessing it was made from flour sacks, there were always seams in it.

In summer sliced tomatoes and fried corn were delicious additions to dinner."

June 2016 ~Eldonna Ashley 



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Appalachia Through My Eyes - Keeping the Bugs Away

My life in appalachia keeping the bugs away

If you're around a camping area or attend an evening cookout after dark in Appalachia (and in other places) you're likely to see citronella candles sitting around in an effort to ward off the bugs. 

Instead of using store bought candles or torches Pap built a small fire and placed green or damp leaves and branches on it to produce a smoky haze to ward off the bugs.

Pap's fire didn't smell near as good as the citronella, but I do believe it worked a whole heck of a lot better. 


Appalachia Through My Eyes - A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.

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It's Lay By Time

Packsaddles hide in the corn and sting you

Lay by verb phrase To leave a crop to mature after hoeing it for a final time late in the summer. When a farmer has the crop "laid by," the labors of plowing, planting, and cultivating are over, and he can sit back until the crop is ripe. 1834 Crockett Narrative 154 Having laid by my crap, I went home, which was a distance of about a hundred and fifty miles. 1905 Cole Letters 80 Soon as crops is laid by if I live expecting to here from you soon I remain your son. 1953 Hall Coll. Bryson City NC The spring of the year come, why [Jake Welch, a neighbor] went to plowing and planting his corn, and beans, and potatoes, and things-cultivating that stuff at home. He'd take care of that ontil he got through and got his crop laid by. He'd generally get it done laying by corn in the latter part of July. (Granville Calhoun) 1955 Dykeman French Broad 322 The third or fourth week in August, when crops were "laid by" and "garden truck" was at its most plentiful, families within a radius of many miles put finishing touches on their arrangement to attend camp meetings. 1976 Carter Little Tree 90 "Laying -by" time was usually in August. That was the time of the year when farmers were done with plowing and hoeing weeds out of their crops four or five times, and the crops was big enough now that they "laid by," that is, no hoeing or plowing while the crops ripened and they waited to do the gathering. 1979 Smith White Rock 47 All cornfields were hoed at least three times; the last time was called "laying it by." 1995 Weber Rugged Hills 67 "Well," someone will say, "the corn is 'laid-by' for this year." What they mean is that there will be no more hoeing or cultivation. Crops are now tall enough so that they won't be crowded out by weeds. Any weeds growing in the rows will be left where they are. 

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


We didn't plant any corn this year, but Granny has more than made up for it. She's planted corn at pretty much every corner of her garden and yard. Every time I think she's through with her corn planting she'll tell me she planted a few more little rows. None of her corn patches get enough sun so it's doubtful any of it will actually make, but she sure does like planting it and hoping it will. 


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How to say Completely in Appalachia

How to say completely in Appalachia
I was plumb happy that our friend David played our gig with us on Sunday

In Appalachia we have many ways to express completely or all the way

  • clean through: The bullet went clean through his hand and into his brother's back.  
  • done dead: The snake was done dead when I saw it.
  • plumb: I walked plumb up to the gap of the mountain.
  • eat up: She was eat up by bug bites.
  • slam up: I'd be covered slam up with bites too if I went traipsing around half naked. 
  • slap: She didn't get home till slap dark and I was worried to death.
  • pure out: That boy is pure out sorry. He's been that way since the day he was born I reckon.

 I'm sure you can think of more ways to express completely-leave a comment and share any you think of with us.


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