What My Heart Wants to Tell
by Verna Mae Slone
Chapter Index | Chapter I | Chapter III

Chapter II

So Kitteneye grew. Although he was always small in size, he was hard and sturdy as the hills that stood protecting and imprisoning his cabin home at the mouth of Trace on Caney Creek. But he was as gentle as the cool summer winds that found their winding path up the narrow hollow.

He was walking by himself by the time he was seven months old. By his first birthday, he had learned to climb over the four-rail fence and get outside the yard.

I do not know too much about his childhood years, but he was a "smart young'un." I know he learned all the old folks could teach him. From his father he learned how to make the staves that became "picklin' barrels" to hold our sauerkraut, pickles, corn, and beans, and the "water barrels" for water (and I hate to admit it, but sometimes something much strong). The washtubs and buckets were made from shorter staves. The iron to make the hoops that held the staves together was the only thing that had to be store bought.

Sometimes they used one-half of a log for a wash trough. It could also be used for a water trough for their stock. If they were lucky enough to find a hollow log, so much the better. Then they were saved the trouble of having to hew or burn a trench to hold the water.

Many times they would leave a hollow stump in the yard for the same purpose. They would also chip a deep hole in a stone or rock for a wash basin. These were always smaller and here they washed their hands or face.

Kitteneye must have helped his father to build a "kil," a place to dry apples and peaches. They dug a ditch about three-feet wide and five or six-feet long. On each side of this hole they put a small wall made from creek rocks, cemented together with clay. A large flat slate rock (or two or three small ones) was used to form a roof. One end of this man-made cave was left open; the other end was finished with more creek rocks and clay, to form a very low chimney. The tablelike top was made smooth with about a two-inch layer of clay. Sometimes they built an open shed with a split board roof, to keep off the rain.

He learned to keep a slow fire burning in the opening on the ground inside the kil, before it was ready for the apples. The rocks and clay had to be slowly "seasoned out," for too much heat would cause the clay to crack or break.

The apples were peeled and quartered, the seeds and core removed. Sometimes they dried apples with the hull on, without removing any of the skin. Other folds preferred the "rung" process: Only a circle of peeling, around the center and another at each end, was taken off, leaving the remaining skin.

There is nothing in the world more tasty than a dried-apple pie. Eaten raw they are a kind of combination bubble gum and candy to nibble on. There were Horse apples, Johnson Winter Keepers, Black Twig, August Arch, Virginia Beauty, Roman Beauty, Belle Flower, and June Apples. A sweet apple called Rusty Sweet was good for drying, as was the Roman Beauty.

Peaches were also dried, but although the hills were full of wild grapes and plums, I don't think they fooled with these fruits.

From his father Kitteneye learned to split rails and to make a stake and rider fence. It took a very skilled person to lay the "worm" or first row. They would try to follow the ridge, or tops of the hill whenever possible. Sometimes they'd go through a flat, or bench the small level footholds. But how they built the fences strong enough to hold up, when they were following an upgrade of ninety-degree angle, I can't understand. It would seem as if the first wind would have sent them flying all over the place. But if the "worm" was laid right, the fence usually stood firm and strong until it decayed.

Kitteneye's father also taught him to lay the foundation for a house. It had to be on a "four square" to be solid and strong. The cabins were always low on the ground. This served a double purpose: It was warmer and the last logs didn't have to be lifted too high. The location of the cabin was determined by the closest spring of water, usually in the middle of the only little bottom ground they had. Then the garden, or "truck patch" was planted all around the cabin.

With only a "straight axe" and a "broad axe" for tools, these cabins were built solid and strong, ugly and rough, but so snug and warm---sturdy as the men who were to spend their lives in them.

These mountain home builders had no gadgets to "count off" inches or feet, yet all the logs had to be the same length, and each corner at a forty-five-degree angle. They used the width of their hands for measurement of one foot. The hands placed downwards--open and spread out thumbs meeting together---was one foot. Of course some folks' hands were larger than others. This was solved by learning just how far to lap your thumbs--to the end of the nail or up to the first knuckle. (Kitteneye's hands were smaller than most, so in order to get a true measurement he had to add the width of one thumb to the width of his hands.) Then they would cut a straight hickory stick to the desired length of several feet, and use the stick for longer measurement. And by placing the heel of one foot before the toe of another foot, they could "step off" an acre and even miles, and were much more accurate than you would presume.

Kitteneye learned from his folks the different plants, the names and uses of all the trees that grew on the steep hills of Trace, Hollybush, Short Fork, and Bunion. He knew which tree made the best boards or shingles, that the chestnut was the best to use for fence rails because it split easy. The black locust was hard and sturdy and not rot, so post and foundation logs were cut from these. The birch made good stove wood. Maple burned a lot longer, but the birch gave a pleasant odor when burned. Of course, the pine caught fire more easily, making good kindling and torches. Baskets were made from white oak, chair rounds (rungs) were hickory, the legs maple.

Kitteneye learned that cutting the bark off in a circle around the chestnut tree, about three or four feet from the ground, would cause the tree to die. The best time was in early spring, when the sap was in the tree. That way the wood had a better chance of seasoning or drying out and the tree would be ready for use later. If the tree had been cut down it would have decayed very quickly. There are some large chestnuts still standing on the hill above our house that bear these "rings." I love to think this was the work of my father's hand.

Of course all this work was hard, but to these mountain folks work came as natural as breathing. They loved to work. They began as soon as it was light enough to see, continuing until it was too dark.

Kitteneye's folks taught him about planting, gathering, and putting up food in accordance with the "signs of the seasons," or the signs of the zodiac. They did not use the astrological names, but the parts of the human body that represented each sign: Aires (head); Taurus (neck); Gemini (arms); Cancer (breast); Leo (heart); Virgo (belly, bowels); Libra (kidneys); Scorpio (sex organs); Sagittarius (thighs); Capricorn (knees); Aquarius (legs); Pisces (feet).

There were many rules that went along with the signs;

1. You must not castrate an animal when the sign was in Scorpio.
2. You must not wean a baby when the sign was in the head. If you did, the baby would cry until the sign went out to the feet. Also, you must not wean a calf in this sign.
3. If you planted your cucumbers when the sign was in Gemini, then they would grow two together and produce more. Beans were also planted in this sign so the blooms would not drop off.
4. Sweet potatoes were "set out" or replanted when the sign was in the feet, so they would "take root" better. All plants that were transplanted in this sign grew better. House plants made from "cuttings" should also be started in this sign.
5. You must not have a tooth pulled when the sign is in the head.

There are many, many more. When my father grew up, he did not believe any of these. He said, "I plant my stuff in the ground, not in the moon."

From his mother Kitteneye learned to tell time "by the sun." The length and the direction of the shadow cast by a tree or a large rock would determine the hour of the day. You had to take into account the time of the year, if it was spring, winter, or summer. And Frankie knew the stars in the sky by name, not the names you are familiar with, but the names she had been taught: the Seven Sisters, the Dog stars, and the Twin Brothers.

Because they had no calendars, it was hard for them to keep any kind of record. One thing I love to remember was the way they knew it took the same length of time for their fingernails to grow full length as the pregnancy period of a hog. When their sows got with pig, they would cut with a knife a very small nick or hole just where the nail began. When this small scar grew to the end--about three months, three weeks, and three days--they knew that the baby pigs were due to arrive.

Some folks did not know the months. I know one woman who could not tell you the month in which her children were born, but could always tell you if it was fodder-pulling time, grubbing time, or cold weather.

The way the smoke rose from the chimney meant rain or fair weather. This was not altogether a foolish saying. The heaviness of the air brought on by the moisture in the air caused the smoke to rise straight up or float out. Frankie did not understand the scientific reason for this but she had learned by watching and remembering.

Granny Frankie passed on to Kitteneye a vast store of knowledge of herbs: which ones were good for what ailment or sickness, whether for animal or person, and how to prepare them. Some would be used as a "pollus" and some boiled for tea. Oh how I wished I had paid more attention and learned from him what he learned from her. It was not all foolish.

I do remember a few things: Catnip was used for colds and to make you sleep; peach tree bark for vomiting. The bark of the possum bush (pussy willow) was good for headaches.

I remember my father once said, "I don't believe God would have wasted his time to create any plants or varmint or anything at all if it did not have some use or purpose. Us humans are jest to dumb to know what everything is fer."

I know there were some things that had no sense and were only superstition, like carrying a buckeye in your pocket to cure rheumatism. The buckeye is a brown nut with a yellow circle on one side. It's so named because it looks so much like a male deer's eye. There were a few people who believed in this cure; I know Papa did not. He always said, "The only thing carrying a buckeye will do is make a hole in your pocket." And he would rather have a hole in his pocket than in his head.

Kitteneye's only books were the Blue-backed Speller and the Bible. From these he learned to read. His favorite heroes were little David, the one with the slingshot, and a Slone, who held a high position in the English army when they told "them frog eaters a thing or two at the battle of Waterloo." There was also supposed to have been a Slone in the army that helped to win the Revolutionary War. I don't know if either of these Slones were real or not. Kitteneye believed they were.

There have been Slones living on Caney since 1790, when Alice Slone, better known as Little Granny, came from Virginia with her husband and three sons. They had a government grant to several acres of land here in Knott County. Slone could have been the Revolutionary soldier. The three half-grown boys, Shady Hall, Isom Adkins and Isaac Stephens, weren't his sons, but as their stepfather, he gave them his name. He and Alice had one son, Hi, the only true Slone, and he moved to Texas. Shady Hall Slone married Katy Reynolds. One of their sons, Billie, married Sally Casebolt. They were the parents of Jim Summer Slone, my grandfather.

I love to picture in my mind Little Granny's long journey from "somewhere in Virginia": all their "worldly goods" on two or more oxen-driven wagons; coops filled with squawking geese, ducks, and chickens; one of the boys herding the milk cow and mule.

What did Alice think when she saw these rocky hills, the new home for her family? They were the first white people to live on Caney. For over 150 years, the Slones lived, loved, fought, and died undisturbed by the outside world, protected and imprisoned by the hills.

Someone once asked my father how far back he could trace the name Slone and he answered, "Well, for shore I can only go back to Little Granny Alice," and then with a laugh he finished, "but by the way of one of Noah's sons, we go back to Adam."

There are three different ways of spelling our name: Slone, Sloan, and Sloane. We jokingly say that the richer ones spell it Sloane, the middle class, Sloan and the poorest, Slone. The Slones resent having it spelled Sloan. I know for sure that a man who used an "e" lost many votes in an election on Caney because he changed the way he spelled his name. It is his privilege to spell his name however he wants to, but it is our privilege to resent it.

I am glad that I did not have to change my name when I got married--although me and my husband are not cousins---and could pass on to my children the name my father gave me. As all my children were boys, all my grandchildren are also Slones. But now that one of my granddaughters is married, there is the first break in the chain.

End of Chapter II
Verna Mae Slone

Chapter Index | Chapter I | Chapter III

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