Laura Dean Bennett
Probably like a lot of readers of The Pocahontas Times, I was raised listening to the old-fashioned language of “the old people” here in Appalachia. Our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and all the folks hereabouts spoke a peculiar dialect peppered with a seemingly endless supply of hill country expressions.
As an example, I offer one of my mother’s all-time favorites. Mom’s chipper response when greeted with, “How are you, Mildred?” was usually the cheerful reply: “Still able to sit up and take nourishment!”
So, it’s with fond memories and pride that I offer this little tribute to the language of our ancestors. I leave it to you, gentle reader, to judge the veracity of the tale, but I promise it’s plumb full of expressions I learned at my mama’s knee.
One day up on the mountain, Mommy sent me to take some vittles to our kin who were livin’ high on the hog in a big house up Big Bug Hill. Well, I got a late start ‘cause I had to redd up the table, do the dishes and feed the chickens before I left out. I took a short cut across the mountain, and I was just a’trucklin’ to beat the band.
Bein as how it was the month of May, we wasn’t expectin’ such weather, but all a’sudden a cold wind came a’blowin’ and wouldn’t you know it, before you could say Jack Robinson, there was a skift of snow on the ground. That cow path was long and crooked as a dog’s hind leg and bad to have ice in the low spots, so I was right smart tuckered out and ‘bout froze half to death when that big house hoove up in the near distance.
I know my hair was standin’ on end and I must have looked rode hard and put up wet, cause when Aunt Lizzie opened the door and shoo’ed me in, she said, “Why, who is this child, out galavantin’ in this kinda weather?
Now, my Aunt Lizzie was as old as the hills, deaf as a post and taken to mis-rememberin’ my name quite regular, so I had to holler pretty good to tell her who I was and explain how it was I come to her door through a snowstorm carrying Mom-my’s slumgullion and rhu-barb pie.
My teeth were just a chatterin’ and my belly must have thought my throat was cut, cause I et every bite Aunt Lizzie had on the table and was startin’ in on the chow-chow and light bread when Uncle Lester said, Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise, he’d get me home before the snow got too bad.
“Before you light out of here, you’ll need a get-up for that snow,” said Aunt Lizzy.
She switched around real quick and found me a topcoat, a wool cap, gloves for my “poor hands” and pulled a pair of old clodhoppers over my shoes. Then she handed me a bumbershoot to keep the wet off. Like always, she pinched my cheek and gave me some good advice ‘afore I could get out the door. “Now, Missy, don’t you be getting’ too big for your britches and just remember, pretty is as pretty does! And you tell your Mama and your Grandmom, you all need anything, you just holler!”
I was tucked up snug as a bug in a rug in a quilt they kept in the pickup and we were down on the hard road when Uncle Lester stopped to collect an old rag picker, all stove up, just settin’ and shiverin’ on a stump. He called the old fella by name and told me he’d known Ol’ Jim since Hector was a pup and that we’d better carry him up to his camp. At the drop of a hat, Ol’ Jim went to tellin’ about the time it snowed six feet in July one time when he worked in the lumber camp. Uncle Lester told me Ol’ Jim was known to tell some pretty tall tales, so I mustn’t pay him too much mind. Before we could get to what might have been some slightly colorful details of life with the wood hicks, without so much as a by your leave, wouldn’t you know, Uncle Lester’s truck just up and quit.
Well, we were pretty sad sacks, ‘til, ‘round the bend here come Granddaddy with the team. He said he was come to fetch me and for us to climb in the wagon lickety split and he’d get us home. We’d done made it to the foot of the mountain, and I looked up that steep track and asked, “Will the horses make it up the top?” Granddaddy just spit out his chaw of tobaccy and said, “Aw, youngin’, that ain’t no hill for a climber!”
Well, we made it back to the farm and there was Grandmom and Mommy, fit to be tied, waitin on me. They fussed around my cold hands and feet, and in less than a whip stitch they had me set by the wood stove and fed me hot milk toast til I was like to bust.
And that’s the story of the time I like to froze to death one fine spring day in May.
It may be such a thing as you have a few tall tales of your own to tell. If you do, I say get ‘em out, polish ‘em up and get ready to hold court downtown during Pioneer Days when Marlinton’s sure to be plumb full to burstin’ with folks who would appreciate a good yarn.
Pocahontas County is fixin’ to go hog wild and kill the fatted calf for Pioneer Days, so just be sure you’ll not be caught sittin’ home like a bump on a log.
Set your cap for a good time, and if you’re bound to go – go loaded for bear!