MEMORIES of Winters Past

MEMORIES of Winters Past

Our senior adults in the High Country can tell you what winter meant to them as youngsters – and it’s a far cry from what our children know as winter today.

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MEMORIES of Winters PastBefore her recent passing at the age of 86, Mazel Parlier remembered growing up as an only child “back in the good old days,” when winters were much colder and harder to endure than they are today. She remembered when snow drifts were “way over fence tops, and how she felt like she was in a tunnel with snow piled up on both sides of the road. “You just didn’t get out and go back then like we do now.” Her daddy would hitch up the old horse and drag a log behind him to clear a path to the spring and outhouse. “Those old johnnies were cold, let me tell you, and it’s a fact that we didn’t know what a roll of toilet paper was! You’ve heard tell of old-timers using corn cobs and catalogs, well, it’s the truth.

We had to make do with whatever we had.” The family, like most in the mountains, never went hungry in the winter, since they had gardened and farmed and canned their goods to last them through ‘til spring. “We raised our own corn that we ground into meal, and made butter from the cow’s milk, and the chickens laid eggs; we had pork and beef, so about all we had to buy was a little sugar.”

Mazel remembered Christmases when very little was to be had, and even one year when all she received was a little box of candy. “Daddy and Mama didn’t have a dime to buy anything with, but Daddy went to Will Triplett’s store and got the candy on credit. I went to bed crying that night. It was an awful sad time.” Mazel liked to read as a young girl and “play with what little toys I had.” When times were better, Mazel did get a little toy rooster in a cage that cost a quarter. “Every time you opened the door, it crowed.”

Mazel’s son- in-law, Harold Hartley, who also passed within the last year, also shared his thoughts of winters at the time of Mazel’s interview. He had vivid memories, much like others in the area, who remember fierce, cold winter snows that lasted “forever,” it seemed, but life went on and the work had to be done. Most of the individuals we spoke with grew up with no indoor plumbing or electricity and very few conveniences, as we know today. However, most also talked about the closeness of family and how those snowy, cold nights of winter found them huddled together by the fire – inventing their own pastimes and enjoying the simple pleasures of a much simpler, less stressful time.

Harold’s family lived on Brown’s Chapel Road, and he remembered how the boys in the neighborhood would shovel snow all the way down to Bamboo Road one day, and then the next day, it would be blown back in, “just like we’d never touched it.” Once they had dug out, they would pile in his daddy’s old truck, throw the back of it full of snow to weigh it down, put chains on the tires, and head out to the store, “while the gettin’ was good.”

Eula Mae Byers of the Meat Camp area, was raised up in a holler, on Tanner Road, about eight miles out town.” As the oldest of six children, she remembers that it was cold and snowed a lot during the winters in her younger days. “They put chains on the school buses, and I don’t remember ever staying out of school because of the weather. The buses had three seats across, with two on each side and one in the middle.” Mrs. Byers recalls the family having to “put our water bucket on the hearth at night, or it would freeze.”

“We’d have popcorn at night, and sometimes Daddy would get frozen apples from the woodshed and we’d pour them in a tea kettle and heat them on the coals in the fireplace and they were so good.”

To “make do” for the winter months, Mrs. Byers states, “We’d buy two hogs in the spring and Daddy would kill ‘em about Thanksgiving. We had our own chickens and eggs and several cows and we sold milk. Daddy would go to Boone to work at the warehouse of the evening and he walked across the hill everyday to Willie Clawson’s and then rode on in with him. Sometimes it would be midnight before he walked back home. We could hear his steps crunching on the snow. We would always have the wood in and the milking done before he got home. At Christmas, Mama would bake a cake with dried apples. We always dried a lot of them in the fall and we’d have fried apple pies or plain apple pies or molasses fruit cake with apples. She would make about five or six layers of gingerbread and spread dried apples between them, and stack them up.

We would get oranges and stick candy for Christmas and we’d all get some kind of a toy. The girls would get a little doll and the boys would get little cars. Daddy would get a coconut and he would bust it open and we would eat that after supper for a special treat. We decorated a tree with popcorn and paper chains that we had made and Mama would cut out snow flakes with whatever color paper we had. We never got to get out and go much – just to school. We didn’t have church when it was bad, but when it was so that we could go, Daddy went on early and built a fire in a big old pot belly stove, and by the time we got there, it would be warm. We used to visit with our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We didn’t play out in the snow much, but we would play old maid and jack-rocks. Families were a lot closer back then.

Sometimes we would have company and all of us children would have to sleep on the floor to make room for our guests, usually our aunt and uncle and their children. Saturday nights were spent by the fire, where the family listened to a battery-powered radio, tuned into the Grand Ole Opry. “That’s the only time we ever got to listen to anything, and we looked so forward to that. We would have to take our baths first, though. We had to carry our bath water and heat it in a big ole pot daddy had fixed for us, and then we’d jump in right in front of the fireplace and take our bath. It might sound warm, but it didn’t stay that way for long. The girls used the same water, and then the boy’s would get their own water. We’d hurry so we could listen to the radio. That was always a special treat for us.”

Winters in the High Country have not always been as we know them today. Talking to these folks who have “weathered the storms” of life, makes one appreciate the comforts we have today.

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