We sat in a semicircle around the trusty Duotherm oil heater, the only warm place in our house, as the wind whistled through the limbs of the apple trees outside the windows. Nearby an Admiral radio emitted the wail of a country song by means of WSM in Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry.
Momma had made popcorn and she and Daddy and I enjoyed the salty treat interrupted only by an occasional sip of hot chocolate. This night could have been almost any winter Saturday night but I believe this one was probably 1951, the year I entered the 1st grade.
In the mountains of the Blue Ridge, a few miles east of the Smokey’s, snow in the winter was almost as common as the sun. But this year was different. We had several days of temperatures in the low 20’s and teens and freezing rain and sleet. The result was layers of ice about 4 to 6 inches deep over the whole surface of the mountain we lived on, lovingly dubbed “Grouchy Knob” by my mom. When the snow started it began as a sort of frozen dust and slowly the size increased so that by the 3rd or 4th day the snow flakes were the size of half dollars.
Our tiny two bed room house was about 50 paces from the top of the mountain with the only protection from the north wind being perhaps 10 to 15 miles distant where the Blue Ridge Parkway wound around the higher peaks toward Mt. Mitchell and finally to Virginia. Daddy used to say the only thing between us and the North Pole was one barbed wire fence and a row of white pines. We were completely unprotected from the frequent winter storms.
Our front porch was 3 steps up from ground level and already the snow was level from our front door across the gravel road and into the fields. Ice had formed on the “inside” of our windows so it was not easy to see outside. I found that if I stood on a chair and held my thumb in one place on the glass, long enough, the ice would melt and afford a small peep hole to view the yard and across the road. Daddy’s old Ford truck had snow well over the running boards and there were no tracks in the road.
We spent several days in the house that Christmas season. Except for those necessary trips to the outhouse, we stayed close to the oil heater and talked and listened to the radio. In the corner of the living room was a Christmas tree decorated with pop corn we strung on sewing thread, some tinsel, and a few lights with metal deflectors shaped like flowers. By any standard it was as ugly as a mud fence but we all pretended it was not so. Daddy had done his duty of cutting it and setting it up and Momma and I had done our best with what little we had and it was our Christmas tree and we enjoyed it.
I don’t know how we made it then… we had no TV, no telephone, no electronic games, it was just us. We were as poor as dirt but since no one had told us we didn’t know it and were as happy and content as could be.
I’m thankful that I came from that place and that time with those wonderful parents who shaped me and taught me to do right because it is right, to be nice to other people, to open doors for women, and take my hat off inside buildings. They taught me to tell the truth, a rather rare thing in some quarters today.
That Christmas, and many others I am certain, we were willing prisoners of the Blue Ridge winter, and those tough winters were loved, and I think helped to build into us mountain folks character and resolve that is more uncommon where life is much easier.
I don’t share the excitement of my Texan wife when we have a rare snow flurry here in North Louisiana. I had enough of the white stuff to last a life time growing up in the hills of my beautiful home, Western North Carolina.
While I cherish those days and revere their memory, I don’t crave to repeat them. A sunny, clear day in the low 70’s would be just fine this Christmas for me.
Merry Christmas all,