This is the fourth and final installment of "Joe Remembers the Farm". I had the opportunity to visit with Joe Edmisten and listen and learn of the heritage of our land that was his family farm in Perkinsville Valley before it became our new campus. I hope you have enjoyed reading his words and learning from his stories.
There is similar knowledge and a wealth of stories from within all of our families. But the ways of the past as practiced in these mountains is fading from elders memories. I do hope if nothing else comes of this sharing that we all will take the time to ask an elder to tell us their stories.
And it is in this spirit I have titled this series of posts : "Thanks Given"
In summer, we hoed the corn, cabbage, tobacco, and potato crops three times before they were "laid by." We cultivated between the rows, leaving the weeds in the rows with the crop plants. These we removed with hoes. We hoed three rows at a time and sometimes, four or five, if Hill Bumgarner and/or Dillard Idle happened to be working for Daddy. Although we generally started at the same place, because of our differing skills, we would end up at different points all over the field. I was usually left behind, and Dillard, always finishing his row first, would hoe back to me to help me out.
When all the crops and the two gardens were "clean," we would be allowed to go fishing at two favorite holes in the New River. The Big Rock had deep water running under and around it. We counted on catching something there within an hour. It might be brown trout, red eye, sucker, large-mouth bass, or even a mud dog.
I had mixed feelings about catching a mud dog, which really is an enormous salamander up to twenty-four inches long. We were told that if one ever bit you, it would not let go until it heard thunder. The scientific name for it is Cryptobranchus alleganiensis. The first part of the name refers to the genus to which it belongs and to the anatomical feature of having hidden (crypto) gills (bronchus). Alleganiensis is the species designation, and, in this case, tells us that this large amphibian was first found in the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania. Out of our ignorance, we would kill these ugly but harmless creatures.
We placed the "good" fish on a hand-made stringer made from a slender birch branch. We inserted the main stem through the fish's gill flap and out through the mouth. We kept the stringer with the water so the fish would live until we walked the mile back home with our fresh catch. We cleaned, scraped, and gutted the fish, making them ready for the frying pan.
The second favorite fishing hole was next to the ruins of the old power dam. Here the water was as deep as eight feet. Even as far back as the 1940s, hardly anyone could remember when the dam was intact and functional. The timbers of the dam are still visible in the water, and the many walkers on the greenway from Boone can stop and see the rock building where the generator was housed and the same timbers that I saw in the 1930s and 1940s.
We cut our own fishing poles and used a single hook with a gob of worms. We never used artificial lures. I remember catching an eight-inch brook trout on such a rig, and, as I was pulling it in, a water snake (Natrix) bit into my trout and didn't let go until I got the fish on the bank.
On one fishing expedition, a panther killed and ate me. David, Paul, Cousin Conley, and I had crossed the steel cable-supported, swinging bridge over the New River to visit the Green family who lived in a house where the sewer plant and dog pound is currently located. The men of the Green family all worked for my momma's daddy, Pa Lige Hollars, in his slaughter house and on his large farm. Mrs Green gave us some cookies and told us to be careful because a large, mean mountain lion, a "painter," had been seen prowling the area. We went back across the swinging bridge and through a potato field to the Big Rock to fish.
Just as we settled in and baited our hooks with earthworms, we heard a loud screaming nearby. We knew that it was the painter, and that he would surely kill and eat us. We panicked and made a mad dash across the potato mounds. I must have been five or six years-old, and the fishing hook and line got caught in my pants. David, Paul, and Conley left me behind and the painter killed and ate me.
At least that is the way I remember it.
Now we are saying goodbye to the farm, the site upon which the new Watauga High School will be built, on the same land where we stacked hay and grew cabbage. How can we not be sad? As some sage once said, "more than one thing can be true," so today we rejoice to come together as family to honor and remember our loved ones and our rich mountain heritage.