HEARTH AND HOME
By the lamplight, I wrote my mothers name in neat bold lettering Naomi Ruth (Dysart) Keene in our family Bible. The Bible had been passed down from one generation to the next with the previous entry entered only six months ago. Mother had placed fathers name: Joseph Allen Keene, born April 14, 1888- died December 23, 1937. Beneath his name was my mothers with her birth and death dates listed May 21, 1902 and June 20, 1938. Later I would enter the birth information about my infant sister, enduring this day, this documentation was enough. Tomorrow was another day for sorrow and remembrances.
My grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Rhea) Dysart bathed her adult daughter with warm water I took from the cook stove. I helped dress her in the best cotton dress with floral print. As my granny washed mother’s hair, let it air dry, she returned some time later to brush her long brown hair then braid it and form it into a bun. Granny's hands trembled as she placed dried flowers in the hands of her daughter. On the table of maple, that my daddy and brother John built together a candle flickered. I promised my granny and papaw that I would sit up through the night with our dead loved one. This custom allowed that someone would be with the body up until the burial. Jonathan David, sixteen and my younger brother Charles Allen fourteen, stepped into the sitting room and John commented on making the two rosewood caskets with our father and storing them in the barn until needed. I was named for my grandmothers Anna Marie (Anderson) Keene died before I was born. Daddy said his mother was the family storyteller. Her stories originated in Donegal, Ireland and had been passed down in generations for over a hundred years. In another week I would be twelve years old.
Early morning light shone through the cabin's one window. Granny held the baby girl in her lap nodding as she rocked in the oak rocker that momma had rocked all of us until now. The baby had a head of full hair, black as coal and bright blue eyes taking in all around her. Granny woke abruptly and said; “Child, you have the chore of naming this baby.” “Make it a right purty name.” “I will try Granny. “ I said as I went outside to attend to chores. A yellow finch flitted across the open field.
Entering the hen house, I peeked at the Rhode red hen in her nesting box. Sitting on eggs, soon to hatch her brood of chicks. I gathered seven eggs in my God's eye basket and let out the other hens and rooster to roam free range. Crossing the barnyard I unlatched the barn door with a sliding pull. Our milk cow, Belle was ready to be milked. Her sac was full and as I squeezed her udders with a few squirts my little silver pail was full. Releasing her from her stall, I listened to her ring her tiny brass bell as she made her way to the nearby field to graze. Our collie dog Sparky rounded the side of the barn and followed me into the cabin to wait patiently to be fed.
Our closest neighbors were about five miles from us in this hilly country. The preacher, Reverend Thomas Carter and his wife Martha came the morning of the funeral bringing some flour, sugar, and a sack of golden and red delicious apples. Martha would make fried apple pies that she was well known for. Granny was preparing chicken and dumplings, fresh green beans cooked with onion and corn bread. Ladies from our church brought ham, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy. John's sweetheart Sarah Ann Fogleman brought collard greens and soup beans.. Her mother and father brought her, and supplied their delivery wagon to haul mother to the family cemetery in “Little Pumpkin Valley “ close by “Compromise Church" established in 1886.
Upon arrival at the little country church, the church bell rang out the number of years of my mother’s life. My grandmother lovingly snugly tucked a “Star of Bethlehem “ quilt all about my mother. Next to the dried wildflowers in my mother’s hands I placed a sprig of lilac which was her favorite flower. The congregation sang “Amazing Grace" without musical accompaniment when it dawned on me the name selected for my infant sister; Melody Grace. I sat on the hard oak pew between my brothers holding tightly to their hands. My tears flowed freely for the love of my dear mother.
Kinship ties in the mountains stretched to cover heartache, death, new birth, poverty, want, and an abiding love. Upon leaving the church graveyard, most folks had packed away some ham biscuits and fried apple pies for the trip home. At the hearth, a colicky baby was held and rocked to an old mountain melody. A song as timeless as the mountains and as heartfelt as birdsong at break of day. Home a shelter from the harsh elements of time, weather, and decay. A refuge to keep out disloyalty and corporate greed.
Ten years passed as a dream, we settled into a routine of day to day living. Granny and Papaw had raised us teaching us the values of work ethic and fair trade. Jonathan David and Sarah Ann lived over the holler from us. My elder brother worked in a saw mill and crafted wood furniture was well known in the Carolinas. They had four children by this time: Priscilla at six years of age, Joanna at four years of age, Joseph at three years of age, and Rebecca at one year of age. Grace and I visited in their happy home.
I recalled Melody Grace at two years of age, scattering wild rose flower petals from a little handmade basket on what must have been a long walk to the altar. Upon reaching her destination, she turned about and retrieved most diligently every petal. When we returned to Granny and Papaw's homestead the table was spread with fried chicken, biscuits, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, okra, and plenty of sweet tea. The tradition of the Appalachian Wedding Cake was practiced on this day of June 7th, 1940. From the surrounding community, each wedding guest or neighbor invited brought a layer of stack cake. Layer upon layer with apple butter or dried apples between layers. This was a simple cake, not fancy or expensive. Trips to town were lengthy and infrequent, for flour and sugar supplies. Celebration of my brother and his new wife extended well into the evening with noisy clattering following them home. Home for them was the cabin that our mother and father had built to start their life together. Sarah showed us her hope chest a few days before the upcoming wedding. The hope chest was made of cedar. It was filled with bed linen: embroidered pillowcases of flowers and butterflies, a double wedding ring patterned quilt, a lovely wedding gown and veil worn by her mother, and a set of china for her table from her grandmother.
Grace filled her days with having her own little flower and vegetable gardens. Learning to tend the soil and plant bulbs and seeds. She planted petunias, marigolds, and zinnias in her flower garden. Brilliant flashes of color in yellow, orange, pink, and red brightened the front of our grandparents homestead. She was delighted in growing vegetables from the garden. Lettuce, tomatoes, green pepper, summer squash and zucchini provided us with our own food. Papaw and Granny kept chickens for meat and eggs. They also kept a hog to butcher in the fall of the year. In the evenings Grace would learn to crochet with Granny guiding her to make an afghan blanket. Our brother Charles found work at a dairy farm in farm country in Morganton North Carolina. He rarely was able to take off time to visit, and one spring day he surprised all of us driving up in an old truck and trailer. He led out of the trailer a Guernsey calf, and asked Grace if she could do an important job for him. This little heifer had been rejected by her young mother and needed to be bottle fed. Grace squealed and hugged her brother around the neck
Her responsibility required her to bottle feed this calf two or even three times a day. The calf well fed would sleep through the night. In a brief amount of time the calf was comfortable in being petted and Grace named her “Daisy.” Charles gifted her to Grace so that in time we all would have fresh milk. Charles settled a town away from us, delivering milk to homes. He preferred to be a bachelor and seemed satisfied with his life choice.
For myself, I have never ventured too far from my Appalachian country home. I have visited Colorado on an excavation trip and once traveled to New York City. Both nice places to visit, a yearning for the hills of Appalachia kept calling me home. Indeed, home is where the heart is. Home is living in a place where you know everyone in your community. You rejoice when neighbors celebrate a wedding, a new birth, or other happy event. You grieve when neighbors grieve over losing a family member or crops are destroyed or a barn is flattened by a heavy storm. You stand beside them lending a helping hand, replenishing resources when needed, or supporting them with the raising of a new barn.
Resting by the hearth, experiencing a calmness of mind, heart, and soul. Knowing the day has been spent in a productive day to the best of your ability. Reflecting on the sufficiency and sustainability of the ministers, teachers, neighbors and family members through the years. Restorative sleep at night to awake refreshed the next morning. Arise to a magnificent sunrise atop the hills and retire to a spectacular sunset descending most likely for a lifetime. An old saying goes like this, never sweep under an unmarried girl's feet, she will never marry.” Listen, observe, learn and take heed! Time will tell.”