What My Heart Wants to Tell
by Verna Mae Slone
Chapter Index | Chapters XIII - XIV and XV | Chapters XX and XXII

Chapters XVII - XVIII and XIX

Chapter XVI is not in this review

Chapter XVII

From the records of old deeds I have found with their names, I know my mother and father lived in different places on Caney. Only once in my mother's lifetime did my father move his family "off of Caney."

In the years around 1895 they lived on Bunyun, where I now live, in fact in the same house where my husband and I first lived. Three of her children were born under the same roof where my two oldest were born. I love to think when I am working in my garden, "This is the very same soil my mother once turned over with her hoe." There used to be an Old Belle Flower apple tree in the yard my mother set out. I got a double pleasure using those apples, as I was sharing something with a mother I never had.

In the year 1899, my sister Jezzie Ann died at the age of two, just a few months after my mother had lost another premature baby. My father was gone from home and the older kids buried the small child on the hillside across from my home. Losing Jezzie Ann so close after this other tragedy (end of page 88) upset my mother very much. My father thought it would help her if he could get her away from all the unpleasant memories. He swapped land with one of his brothers and moved to Possum Trot. But this only made matters worse. So in 1901 he bought the old family home from his father and moved to the mouth of Trace, close to the family graveyard. There they remained until my mother's death.

Around 1930, my father, stepmother and I moved to Dwarf, a distance of less than thirty miles, but in that day and time, it seemed a long way.

We loaded our "house plunder" on wagons pulled by mules drove to Hindman. There it was loaded on a truck and taken to Bear Branch, and then up the hollow in sleds. We loaded the wagons the night before and started long before daylight. I remember eating dinner just outside of Hindman, from a bucket. We had packed and brought along boiled eggs, fried side meat, corn bread, and onions. When we drive through there now, I try to remember how it looked then. We sat there on the side of the creek, drinking water from a spring, feeding and resting the mules, visiting with everyone that passed. After sharing our lunch, the men with the wagons returned home and we went on with the truck.

I never will forget the first night at Dwarf in our new home. The house was little more than a barn, one room about twelve-feet square, with a chimney made from picked up creek rocks, and the logs of the walls nothing but poles. We had bought the place from a Emery Halland, who wanted to sell so as to move to the coal mines at Harlan. My father was building a new house, but he wanted to move before cold weather, so we lived in this shack for a few weeks until the new house was finished. That first night, there was only time to put up one bed, so I slept on some fodder placed on the floor with quilts, sheets, and pillows. I (end of page 89) was awakened the next morning when an old mule began pulling the fodder through the cracks between the small logs of the wall of the house.

When my father and my brother-in-law Sam Fugate got the three sides of the new house finished, we moved in. The old house had to be torn down for the new one's fourth side. Before a chimney could be made, cold weather set in. I remember my father kept a large fire made of logs in the yard, and believe it or not, it kept us warm, even though the house was open on one side. The only thing was, we had to take turns sleeping, so as to guard the fire.

I had never seen such big trees as those that grew on Bear Branch; the woods on Caney had been timbered out a long time before I was born. My brother-in-law and my sister owned almost half of the hollow. He had bought a saw mill and was cutting the logs and selling the lumber to some of the mining camps. Every time I think of these years, I can still hear the hum of that saw and recall the smell of the sawdust, in which my nieces and I used to play.

He had several men to help him. Some cut trees, some worked at the mill, while others drove the teams that hauled the finished lumber to the mouth of the hollow, where it was picked up by trucks. Many of these men boarded with my sister. Some were blacks. The white men slept in the house with the family, but the blacks had a small shack close to the mill. They all ate together. The table was not large enough for everyone, so first the white men ate, then the blacks, and last of all the family. There was a hired girl, whose last name was Richie. How that girl could sing! The girls would help her do the dishes, if she would sing for us. When she got tired -- because we never got through listening -- she would say, "Sing a little song, won't take long. Duddle up, duddle up. Now it's all gone." We knew it was all over for the night. (end of page 90)

I don't think my father was ever completely satisfied at Dwarf. He moved back to Caney, then back to Dwarf so many times that it became a family joke. Once he said he had made the move so many times that the chickens had gotten so they would "lay down on their backs and cross their legs so as to be ready to be tied." And once he asked my brother Vince to help him with his wagon and mule, and Vince told him, "Well, Paw, I am kind of busy this week with making my molasses. You get some of the others to help you. I will be free next week and help you move back." (end of page 91)

Chapter XVIII

Sometime between 1901, when my father moved his family to the old home place at the mouth of Trace, and the year 1909, when my sister Alverta was born, a large lumber company named Cole and Crain came to Caney Creek to buy up all the trees that were eighteen inches in diameter "or up."

Their foreman's name was Hayes Johnson. He built a shanty at the mouth of Hollybush for those men who lived too far away to go home at night. He also had a store and sold dry goods and notions (I don't think he sold groceries) near the shanty.

He had the men that he hired to work for him build a dam just below where the waters from Caney and Hollybush meet. Then they built a "trom road" from the dam up to the mouth of Trace. Here it branched out and became two tracks -- one going up Trace as far as Bill Owens', and the other up Caney onto Short Fork. It ended where Short Fork is divided onto two different branches of water. Henry C. Short lived there. (end of page 92)

This trom road was made somewhat like a small railroad track. Logs about four feet long were placed every two or three feet on the roadway, in a straight line. Then running lengthwise along the top of each tie the rails were "spiked down" with iron spikes. The rails were also made of wood, but had an iron coating on the top side.

The logs were carried to the dam along the trom road on small flat cars, also built of wood, with three wheels on each side. The outside of these wheels were iron, with a groove in the middle to fit on the rails of the trom road.

Each car could carry four or five logs. It was all downgrade from the end of the road to the dam, so there was no power needed to operate them. They did have some kind of a "hand brake" for stopping the cars. I think the empty cars were pulled back up the hills by oxen or mules.

After the water had been caught in the dam and enough logs had been hauled and dumped ready, the gate of the dam was opened and the logs floated to Maytown, where they were then taken by riverboats to Catlettsburg. I don't know where they went from there. There may have been a large sawmill there, or they may have been sent somewhere farther on.

G. C. Huff was living in Trace then and owned several oxen. He and my father hauled most of the logs out of the hills using these "beasts of burden." One of these oxen had an accident that resulted in a broken leg. It was killed and fed to the workers. My father did not approve of this; he said it was "eatin' one of his friends." When the men were called to eat their dinner, they were surprised when Kitteneye expressed a wish to say the blessing. He always said you should give thanks to God every hour of the day from your heart. A memorized prayer repeated automatically came only from the lips and did not please God. Kitteneye's blessing that day may not have met with the approval of his Maker, but it caused the men to laugh: (end of page 93)

Poor old steer, what brought you here,
You been beat and banged for many a year,
Beat and banged and given abuse
And now brought up for the table use.

Almost everyone on Caney sold their timber to Hayes Johnson. My father sold his and helped to cut it. Hayes paid so much a cubic foot for the trees and sixty cents each for cutting and hauling them to where they were loaded on the flat cars. This job lasted for five or six years. My sisters said they could remember when my mother sold vegetables and chicken eggs to Hayes Johnson. He bought them to feed the men who lived in his shanty. In exchange she received cloth and other things from this store. Vada said she could remember that mother "swapped cabbage to the cloth to make the dress she is wearing in the picture I have of her, which is in my living room now."

After Hayes Johnson got all the trees he wanted, and, maybe became a rich man from the profits, he left Caney. Soon the shanty rotted down. The dam was used no more and soon washed away. The trom road was covered over by soil with each new spring flood, or "warsh out" as we mountain folks call it. Another part of Caney's history was forgotten so completely, that when the flood of 1937 uncovered some of the old trom road, many people wondered what it was. (end of page 94)

Chapter XIX

My father did not, nor would he let us believe in ghosts. We called them "haunts" or "buggers," but many of our neighbors would "sware right down to ye" that they had "seed things." There were certain places where more than one person had encountered something that did not comply with the laws of nature, and heard voices or sounds when there was no reason (or so they said). We even still have a Bugger Branch on Caney and a Bugger Hollow just across the hill on Watts Fork. I wonder if any of our old folks really believed these stories. There were many great storytellers. We had few books, and listening to these stories were our only entertainment of this kind. Father would tell us it was alright to listen, but to never tell the person that we did not believe them. When we would hear some "bugger tale" from one of our schoolmates and come home and repeat it to him, he would make a fanning motion and with his arms and a blowing with his lips and say, "Now, there, you see, I have blowed it all away. No more bugger." (end of page 95)

When he heard or saw something strange he never stopped until he found out what it really was. When he was a child, folks believed a cow could lose her cud. They had noticed how cattle would burp up their food and chew it the second time. They did not understand, and thought the cud was a special thing belonging to cows. If a cow lost this cud they thought it would die. They would make them another from an old dishrag and a salty meat skin, maybe adding something else. This would save the cow's life. One day Father was watching a small calf. His job was to see it did not get into the corn or garden patch. When the calf began to chew its cud, he held its mouth and made it spit it out, to see what it was.

Some of the folks also believed in witches. Some even said they were a witch themselves. To become one you had to go up on a high hill on the first night of a full moon, spread a white sheet on the ground beneath an oak tree, kneel on this sheet, shoot a gun toward the sky, curse the Lord and bless the Devil. Three drops of blood would fall on the sheet. Then you would have the powers of a witch. But when you died you would belong to the Devil.

Once there was this old woman who thought someone had bewitched her cow, causing her milk to "turn" and to taste awful. Father knew the reason was because she was not a very good housekeeper and did not sterilize her churn and milk bucket. So he told her to go to the north side of her spring where she got water, choose three small "gravels" or stones, wash her churn real clean, put the gravels in the bottom, then rinse it with boiling water. This would break the spell.

One story told and believed by some of my husband's folks was about the Devil. Some men had a habit of going to an old lonely shack every Saturday night to play cards, gamble, and drink moonshine whiskey. This one time, (end of page 96) about midnight, a stranger rode up on a very fine black horse, hitched it up outside to the fencepost, and came in. He spoke to each one and called each by name, although none knew him. He asked if could he sit on their poker game. No one refused. Very slowly, as the game went on for hours, he began to win all their money. One man dropped a card on the floor. When he stooped down to pick it up, he saw that the stranger had hooves where there should have been feet. This scared him so much that he jumped up, turning the table over, and ran out the door. All the other men ran after him, leaving all their cards, money, and jugs with the stranger. As they ran out of sight, they heard the stranger laughing, a strange high crackling sound, like the wind through a forest fire. The next day when it was daylight some of the men were a little braver and came back. The shack was burned to the ground. They looked in the ashes and found the silver money, melted and formed into the shape of a cross. None of these men ever played poker again.

One old lady gained a lot of fame because she had a "knocking spirit." Anyone who spent the night with her could hear it, ask it any question, and it would answer two knocks for a no, three for a yes. This was a great mystery, until someone found out that one of her sons had tried a thread spool to a string, and pulled it through a knothole near his bed.

There was another woman who heard a knocking in her loft, every night, three knocks -- the second one not as loud as the first, the third one still fainter -- only to begin again. She was a "wedder," living by herself. She asked my father to come and find out what this knocking sound was.

Now these old - fashioned lofts were much more than just a space beneath the roof. They were more like a second story to the house -- not high enough for a bedstead, but feather (end of page 97) beds or straw ticks were placed on the floor for the children or extra company. Some had a stairway that went up by the chimney inside, some, not so nice, had a ladder on the outside. In my father's house, this upstairs was very nice and comfortable, but I remember staying all night with some friends. We had to climb up an outside ladder. There was no shutter to the opening where we went in. The next morning we awoke to find a two-inch snow covering us, where we were warm between two big feather beds and many quilts. I would be scared to death for you, grandchildren, to sleep like that, but we thought it was a lot of fun. We put our clothes on under the covers and hurried, laughing, down to the fire and breakfast.

In these lofts we also kept our dried beans, cushaw, onions, and seed corn. Almost everyone had an old trunk or two full of the dead folk's clothes, and anything else that needed storing away. So it was up in a loft like this that the old woman heard the strange knocking sound. As luck would have it that night the moon was full, not a could in the sky. After supper and before dusk, my father went up the ladder and settled himself in a corner. It was very hard for him to keep from going to sleep. The light came in from a small opening where the wind had blown a board off. He thought, "Tomorrow I will nail that back on fer her." He tried counting the rows of boards, the strings of popcorn the bunches of dried beans. He would first rub one eye, then the other -- anything to keep himself awake. He could hear the squeak, squeak, of the old woman's rocking chair. At last there was something moving in the other corner. There was a board across a barrel, probably filled with dried apples. Next to this sat a large churn. Like a flash something ran across this board, made a dive from the end, and landed in the churn. Whack, whack, whack, three times went the other end of the board. He went over and looked into the (end of page 98) churn. Mr. Rat gave a fast retreat. The churn had been full of cracklin's, kept there until the "right time of moon" to be made into soap.

When one family went to stay all night with another (as they often did), after supper and the dishes were washed and put away, and all the other "work done up," everyone would get together. We'd gather around the fire, if it was winter, or on the porch, around a "gnat smoke" made by burning rags, if it was summer. The older folds would sit in chairs with the young children in their laps, or huddled around their feet. That's when we would hear all these scary bugger tales. By the time we were ready to go to sleep, it sure was nice to know the small ones would be stuck in at the foot fo the grown-up's bed, or so many of us in the same bed that we would have to sleep sideways so as to have room for us all.

These stories lose a lot in being written -- the facial expressions, the movement of the hands, the bending forward of the body, the lowering and raising of the voice by the storyteller -- cannot be captured on paper. They added much to the enjoyment of listening to these bugger tales.

There was one story my father taught me that I have told my grandchildren so many times I know they will never forget it. It's a kind of a poem, or maybe you would call it a chant. There is no end to it, and each line must be followed by a long, low moan:

There was an old woman all skin and bone -- mo-o-an
She took a notion she would not stay at home -- mo-o-an
She got up -- she walked down --mo-o-an
To the village churchyard ground -- mo-o-an
She saw the dead a'laying around -- mo-o-an
She saw the grave of her only son -- mo-o-an
She thought of all the crimes he had done -- mo-o-an (end of page 99)
And on and on until you had your audience really listening. Then, very suddenly, maybe right in the middle of a word, you would jump and scream boo. Even after telling it over and over again, and they knew the loud boo was coming, I would still be able to scare them. Just think what it would do to someone hearing it for the first time.

I think some of the parents used bugger tales to scare their children just to make them be good. It seems as if every family had a "Hairy Mouth" or a "Bloody Bones" that would come and get you if you were not good. My father would not let us be told anything like this. We were taught to be good because that was what Jesus wanted us to do. He told us there was a Devil, but not one you could see with your natural eyes. And so have I taught my dear grandchildren.

Kitteneye knew a lot of fairy stories, some different and some very similar to your versions today. Rumplestiltskin was named Tom Tim Tot, and the girl with the glass slipper was Cinder Ellen. He knew hundreds of songs or rhymes all by heart. I can't recall all of them, but this story would not be complete unless I gave you at least two: "The Bird Song" and "The Fox Song," my favorite ones.

The Fox Song
It was a moon shining night
The stars shining bright
Two foxes went out for to prey.
They trotted along
With frolic and song
To cheer their lonely way.

Through the woods they went
Not a rabbit could they scent
Nor a lonely goose on stray.
Until at last they came

(end of page 100)

(pages 100 - 102 are not part of this book review)

(page 103) Was laying there bleeding and dead.

I picked it up in my anger,
I stroked the motherly bird.
Not never again in my lifetime,
Would I kill a poor innocent bird.

Kitteneye was a good hand at making up his own rhymes or pieces. I am sorry to say many were about his friends and neighbors, and he would picture their character so quaint and real that I would be afraid to repeat them. He used his imagination in using swear words and expressions. Some of his sayings he must have made up, because they seem to belong only to him:

If you don't stand for something, you will get knocked down by everything.

Cooked potatoes are easy to eat, but you have to do some gnawing to get meat off the bone.

There are no "little white lies." They are all black, trying to hide from the truth.

When you become discouraged, think of the hole a little ground squirrel makes in the side of the hill. It does not bother him how large that mountain is.

Don't be concerned about something that don't concern you. It won't make your bed any softer, or your meat fry any faster.

Two things I love to hear, but seldom do: truth and meat a'fryin'.

I think the one he used most was "Devil take it." He told about the one time when he came in from picking blackberries without his shirt. His mother asked him why he had no shirt and he answered, "Well, you see, I kep' git'n caught in these blackberry briars. And ever'time I would say, 'Devil take it,' and I guess the Devil, he just come and took it." (end of page 103)

End of Chapters XVII - XVIII and XIX
Verna Mae Slone

Chapter Index | Chapters XIII - XIV and XV | Chapters XX and XXII


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