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The Love of Music

Clearing New Ground in Choestoe

Today's guest post was written by Ethelene Dyer Jones.

Bean vines reaching to hold hands

I just now accessed Charles Fletcher's delightful "New Ground," and it brought back memories of my Daddy, Jewel Marion Dyer, of Choestoe, GA, Union County, clearing "new grounds" in our 200 acres of land when I was a child. I must have been about 6 (the same year I went with Daddy as he used the "Divining Stick" to find the place to dig for the spring when our well went dry.) Daddy wanted an acre or more patch to plant beans "for market." The bean patch was to be still another of the several "money crops" we raised on our Choestoe farm. The large fields along the Nottely River were mainly planted in our main crop, corn, and in "Blue-Ribbon Cane" for making sorghum syrup which my Daddy made at his syrup mill in the fall for all the farmers in a large radius from us who brought their cane for him to make into sorghum syrup "on the shares."

But back to the bean patch: Daddy and some neighbors (who always helped each other in such endeavors) cut trees off the measured-off acre of land. Some of the trees were big enough to snake to the sawmill and have sawed into timber. The tree-cutting and clearing of the land happened in the late fall/early winter after all the crops were safely in. It would take awhile to clear the land. First cutting the trees. Then, small as I was, I had the job of "piling the brush" on top of stumps. This would be set afire to get rid of the brush, but also to "burn down" the stumps of trees, and eventually get them removed--one of the hardest jobs of clearing the new ground. It seems like it took two or more years, ridding the trees, first; then the brush; then the stumps and roots.

Finally, finally, Daddy thought the acre was in good enough shape to "turn" (with the turning plow, both horses hooked up to it). He still discovered roots aplenty, and more digging and grubbing had to be done. But finally, he was "satisfied" (a good mountain word he used to approve of an operation like this big "land-clearing") and the ground was read to "lay off" in rows, scatter the fertilizer in rows and "stir it into the ground" and plant the bean seeds--seeds that would yield green beans to be picked, measured into bushel hampers, then put into feed sack bags and hauled to market, all the way to Gainesville "across Neal Gap" on the new highway that came in sight of our farm even before I was born (road finished in 1925).

I liked everything about our "new ground" except one thing. Well, you expected me to say "the hard work," didn't you? Not the hard work, because we were "brought up" to work; and if we needed a reminder, we were quoted scripture to the effect "Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might" (Ecclestiastes 9:10). But some days, my mother would send me to the "bean patch" to pick a "mess" of beans so she could cook them for our family and whoever the work hands were my father had doing farm jobs. I took my pail and obediently walked through the woods to the wonderful, well-producing bean patch. But lo, I couldn't help but be scared the whole time I was there picking beans, and I hurried to fill the pail and get safely back home to my house.

Was I afraid of wild animals that might spring forth from the woods surrounding the bean patch? No! Daddy had thoughtfully put a good fence around the acre patch to try to keep wild animals out (although I think some could scale the fence with relative ease).

The fear came to the young child (I was maybe 7 or 8 years old by this time) because, just northeast of the bean patch, lay a tract of land that somehow I had a deep-seated fear about. You see, Old Choestoe Cemetery where many of my ancestors were buried (early settlers to Choestoe even before the Cherokees were removed on the "Trial of Tears") had their resting places in that cemetery. Looking through the trees and up to Old Choestoe Cemetery, I could see my Grandmother Georgianne Hunter Collins's white tombstone. I could also see several others' stones, whose names I will not mention here.  My Grandmother had died before I was born, and my mother gave me the name Georgianne Ethelene after my Grandmother, and her sister, Ethel.  Somehow, in my child's over-active imagination, I thought Grandmother might want to come forth from the grave and get acquainted with me, who worked so hard within sight of her burying place, to pick a mess of beans for "dinner" (what we called our noon meal on the farm in Choestoe).

Well, I really did want to meet my Grandmother Georgianne, for I had been told beautiful tales about what a sweet, hard-working woman she was, stately and a good wife, mother and neighbor to all. But somehow, I didn't think I wanted to meet her in that beanpatch, with me the only one to see.  And after all, she had already been dead since October 3, 1924, and I was picking beans in the summer of 1938. Fourteen years had been a long-time gone for a dear grandmother.

Such is the imagination of an 8-year old child. I did remain to fill my bucket, left the bean patch, remembering to latch the gate behind me, and hurried through the woods trail to my house where I helped my mother string the beans and get them ready to cook for our family's noon meal.

The New Ground was a place that yielded well through many years, as long as my father was able to cultivate the "cleared acre." He was still growing beans on that acre and taking them to market the year before his stroke that debilitated him. My mother, Azie Collins Dyer, died February 14, 1945 at age 49. My father died September 4, 1974 at age 84. I grew up happy on our farm in Choestoe, and am grateful for my Appalachian heritage.

Ethelene Dyer Jones - March 2017


 I hope you enjoyed Ethelene's memories of clearing new ground as much as I did!


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Thanks to all the Blind Pig friends who took the time to read and comment on the new ground (newground) story! I read each comment with great interest.

I've been anxiously waiting for another story from Georgianne Ethelene. She is one of my favorite writers and this story of land clearing hits home with me. I remember Daddy plowing several acres and most of my brothers and friends tending to the farm. That was a good time of hard work, but we learned humility, the Lord blessed us. ...Ken

Another good read this morning. Thanks Georgianne Ethelene!

One thing I noticed was missing in Mrs. Jones's account of clearing the newground. Rocks! Where I came from rocks are a bigger hurdle than stumps and roots. Unlike stumps and roots, which will burn or eventually rot away, rocks never go away. You carry, roll or pull them to the edge of the field and they come right back. They seem to float to the surface. You think you have rid yourself of them then along comes a rain and they are all back. Maybe they were the little ones that you though wouldn't be a problem but when the rain came they started growing. Maybe they are not just little pebbles. Maybe they are actually rock seeds.

One more little note, I have always thought of a newly cleared field as a "newground" (a noun-one word) whereas I am finding most people write "new ground" (a noun modified by an adjective ). I just wondered is there anyone else who sees it this way.

I also helped clear 'new ground' and former farm land that had become overgrown during the time men were gone off to war. My job was gathering brush and roots to burn and rocks to carry to the gully at edge of the field. My older cousins dug around the stumps and pulled them out with horses and mules. When it came time to turn the ground Dad used three horses to pull the plow. Two horses were older and trained. while one younger was being trained. There were still many roots for me to remove to the woods or gullies.

Tipper & Ethelene: Thanks for a beautiful reminder of those days of WORKING THE FIELDS! When I was about 8 or 9 years my Daddy would load up the wagon with hoes, a half dozen children and head out to the CROSS TIE HOLLOWER, in the Matheson Cove. He had cleared the mountain side of timber and turned an acre of land into a cornfield. When we headed out for a day of hoeing corn we knew Mama had fixed us some bags of food. We would get spring water for our 'lunch' break.

When we finished high school, we headed to Atlanta and Daddy traded the Cross Tie Hollower for an old piano. NOW THE CROSS TIE HOLLOWER IS COVERED WITH BEAUTIFUL HOUSES WHERE FOLKS FROM FAR AND WIDE LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER!

Eva Nell

What a wonderful story. Thank you, Ethelene. New ground is a term I heard often as a child. I once cleared a small area on Dad's land using a tiller. The advantage was somebody had cleared all the trees years before. Unfortunately I had loads of allergies, and the tiller unearthed so much my eyes watered the entire time. By far the best garden was where an old barn once stood. That was where I learned the faster you pick cucumbers the more abundant they become. My Mom called that a "good garden spot."

I enjoyed this wonderful story. While I never participated in clearing any new ground, I heard lots of stories about it. There is something so satisfying and right about producing some of your own food with the help of family members. I am trying hard to get my children and grandchildren involved with me in gardening and preserving our produce. I know many people like the thought of being more self sufficient, but few people really do it.

Ethelene , I really enjoy your true stories.
You may already know this, but the Collins were some of the first settlers of E.KY.

Most of us in the US have lost touch mentally with what Ethelene describes, that being farm life and work before the gasoline engine replaced human and animal power. The limits that imposed, among other things, created a requirement for patience and long-term thinking. Now every kind of job has a way to get it done with power.

Ethelene's story also illustrates rural kids having responsibility at a very young age leading to them being mature early even if still rather inexperienced in the wider world. She did not require an adult to go with her to the bean field. The time she was gone and the full pail of beans told the story of how diligent she had been. That whole idea of quantified result for time and effort is a mature attribute at least some seem to have forgotten.

Life was hard, but must have been very satisfying. A hard job done well.

I never had to clear the land but I sure did pick a lot of beans over the years.
The men would butcher, the kids would pick whatever was in at the time and the women were in the kitchen canning or preserving.
This went on all summer into the fall. I spent my weekends and summer vacations on the farm.
What great memories.

Thank you, Tipper, for posting my account of our "New Ground Clearing" in Choestoe, Union County, Georgia. I am seeking to write many memories of our way of life "back then". I was fortunate to be born into a loving family who gave me a good foundation for life and living. I think it is good for all of us to return, at times, to the land where we were born and recall both happy times and times when we overcame hardships or dealt with them with the best discernment, wisdom and faith available to us.

When I was a child, I asked why some gardens had fences around them. Granddad Dyer explained about the hogs and other 'free range' stock that used to roam the mountains, fattening up on the chestnuts that were now long gone due to the blight. The bean patch that Mom wrote about in this post might have been one of the last ones to be fenced in for that reason. Present-day residents might find it hard to believe, but whitetail deer were relatively rare then due to overhunting. One of my slightly older cousins, Bill Collins, wrote a book about his experiences with capturing deer and re-stocking them in the mountains. If you can find, "The Last Deer Trapper" it is worth reading!

Love the story Tipper but it does bring back good memories.

What a wonderful story, thank you, Ethelene! In this story you really can grasp the enormity of clearing ground. Now days we simply take in big equipment and make small work of the clearing. It took two years to get from woods to cleared field! AND, lots of labor!
Thanks for the story.

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