Growing up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, in Shenandoah County, we didn’t think much about the fact that we were living in Appalachia. We knew we had the Blue Ridge Mountains on one side the Appalachian Mountains on the other. But, like I said, we were in the valley. We considered ourselves, and everyone we knew, to be mountain folk or country folk. As kids, we just didn’t think too hard about it. I guess it really was a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees.
My three older brothers and I, were all born within a five and a half year span, which coincided with our parents first five and half years of marriage. As you can imagine, that kept them busy for the next twenty years. There were a few other kids in the neighborhood our ages. So, at least we each had a little bit of an escape from each other. Invariably though, somebody was always bringing a friend home to sleep on the couch for a night, week or month or more. My parents, and all of us, got used to lots of people in our little house. But, we liked it that way.
Mom and dad showed us early on I guess, that no matter how little you had, you always had enough for someone else. Sometimes, that simply applied to bathroom time. Being boys though, we always looked for an opportunity to pee outside, so it wasn’t too bad. The dog may not have liked the competition though.
I tended to roam from neighbor to neighbor, more than our old collie did.I would visit Mary Ann, in the old grey shingled house. She was different and I liked her. She would tell fortunes to people for a few dollars. If I was there and someone would come by to get their fortune told, I had to go sit in the other room. Some people said she was a witch, but I didn’t care if she was. I loved helping her get water in her kitchen. She still had an old cast iron pump and spout. I would pump away and you could hear the water come gurgling up. When it got a good flow to it, she would tell me to STOP! The water was always so cold. She would sing all the time too. I don’t remember any songs that she sang. I just remember her singing. When the weather would turn cold, I would help her get out the big wash tub, place it over the fire pit and begin filling it up with buckets of that cold water. Then she would get to making her lye soap. I could help up to the point that she added the lye. I had to stand way back for that. But, once it was all in, I could help stir again with a big ole stick. Now I get why people said she was a witch. I wonder what they said about me? They also had an outhouse. It wasn’t as cool as peeing outside, but it was kinda close. Sometimes the smell though was too much to take. Her daughter was a few years older than me, and I remember her as being a bit strange. Her husband was an angry man. Except for a little bit in between when he had just a little to drink and a little too much to drink. Outside of that, he was just a nasty drunk. I’m not really sure what ever happened to them.
After they moved away, a man and his two sons moved in. Randall, Jason and I were inseparable for a while. But they moved back and forth between their mom and dad. Then one night, years later, their dad shot his girlfriend and killed her. She lived just three houses down from us. I hate to admit it, but we never liked her much either. Not that she deserved it, but being a little nicer could have helped her out. I’ve not seen or spoken to Randall or Jason since I was about twelve.
Now, this is not Mary Ann, but its pretty close to what we used to do. I may need to try making some on my own soon. That would be an interesting post! I think I’ll leave some of the other neighbors and tales of what I learned from them for another post or two.