Stories from the holler

Erica Wilder Eldridge - Contributing Writer

If you grew up “Pine Mountain” you will have no trouble understanding the things that I say or the way that I feel about the wonderful place that I grew up.

I remember attending one of the many summer camps hosted by Pine Mountain Settlement School and watching in amazement as my neighbor, Fern Cornett, would card clean wool and then spin it into yarn on a spinning wheel that was well over a hundred years old. I knew Fern as my humble neighbor and sweet little lunch lady at Green Hill Elementary School, I didn’t know about this side of Fern, I still own several pairs of socks that she has made. I worked at an antique loom using that same wool; learning a time honored tradition, and somewhere there is a tapestry hanging that I help to create. I sat for endless hours listening to jack tales and other folk stories being told by some of the finest storytellers in the entire world.

My little eyes delighted in all the beautiful spring flowers that would peek through the earth, an absolute sign that colder weather was fading away and warmer weather was just around the bend.

I remember walking out into a spring morning watching for the trillium flower as they emerged from the ground. First a beautiful white flower and then becoming tinted a pink sometimes purple hue as summer continued on. The dirt and gravel road leading the way to our house from the main highway was my playground. I don’t ever remember being afraid that some wild animal would get me! Now I am reluctant to take the trash out if it is even nearing dark because of black bear activity. We were fearless as kids. I remember crawling under the house in the heat of summer to get to some puppies that were born there. It was only a crawl space, and I don’t know what would have happened if I had come upon a snake. I close my eyes and dare to think of it; all I know is that I couldn’t have gotten away. We walked miles into the mountains alone and we were not afraid, there was such a sense of well-being growing up in these beautiful mountains.

Once as summer was drawing near its end, the poke berries were hanging in huge purple pods; my sister and I thought what an awesome die those dark purple berries would make. We looked through our clothes hanging in the closet and those that lay in our dressers, but none of those clothes were plain or white. Then the idea struck us; dads white undershirts would be the perfect white fabric to soak up that gorgeous purple die!

She and I go out to the building where my dad kept all of his tools and found a large gallon size pickle jar, filled it about half full of the purple berries and smashed them to literal pulp, we then filled the jar half way with water and stirred the concoction together. We then took several of dads brand new white Stafford brand T-shirts that my mom had recently purchased from Belk and put them one by one into the purple liquid. We let each shirt soak for about 10 minutes and proudly hang them up to dry. Seven T-shirts we dyed the illustrious purple — after all he would need one for every day of the week.

We were completely and utterly proud of ourselves. We ran to the car as my mother pulled up and showed her our masterpiece. It did not register to her that these were dad’s shirts. Consequently we decided that dad could not have purple T-shirts and white underwear, it would simply be a fashion disaster if that were to happen. So back to the dresser we went for seven pairs of underwear to match the already fabulous T-shirts.

This time as we carried the not so tighty-whities to the clothesline my mother realized where the colorful articles had actually come from. She came outside with her mouth open in disbelief; after the initial shock wore off we knew that dad was not going to be as happy we thought he would be. In fact, dad did not share our enthusiasm or our fashion sense and of course we got in trouble because we destroyed some expensive undershirts. Now we look back and laugh because I don’t care who you are that is funny!

As I reminisce about my good old days I think about my life now as a mother of two girls and two boys. Believe me when I say that the apple does not fall far from the tree, because my children have pulled some stunts that I am certain we will look back on one day and think they are hilarious; I am just not there yet! Sadly though I have discovered how fast childhood slips away and I want my kids to experience all the wonders of a childhood like mine before my time with them fades away.

What kid would not enjoy the bone-chilling, teeth chattering cold water of Gabe’s Branch Falls? I want them to look up in amazement as their hands scrape the sides of split Rock as they pass through its immense walls. I want to see their little eyes shining with excitement as they forage for hickory chickens, wild bear’s lettuce and poke sallet. I want them to know that there is more to life than video games and cell phones. I want to know that they have experienced at least a portion of the life I did growing up in these beautiful mountains.

I know that had it not been for the wealth of opportunity that was provided by the Pine Mountain Settlement School that I would not have been able to participate in the many wonderful activities that I did as a child. I suppose I need to address my own immortality and share with my children traditional activities that I want to see continue on with my lineage long after I am gone. There are wonderful traditions that may fade away if we don’t encourage and support places like Pine Mountain Settlement School. I have discovered that there is but one certainty in life, and that is that life will always change. Love one another, find happiness in all of life’s challenges and don’t ever forget where it is that you come from.

Erica Wilder Eldridge

Contributing Writer

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