“Sunday meeting on the ground, you meet in the family cemetery and you have a picnic right on top of the graves and eat and have a big time. …a lot of people say aren’t you afraid of that cemetery? Lord no! If you can go eat on somebody’s grave, if they don’t get you while you’re eating on that grave, they ain’t gonna’ get you! (Laughs).”
Darla Hood, Living History Actor; Duffield, Virginia:
“I’ve lived here all my life, and it was a lot of fun growing up here. [We would] run around; wasn’t afraid of nothing and wasn’t afraid of nobody. Everybody knew everybody and everybody was our friend. If you got in trouble and your mom and mad weren’t around, if another adult was around or knew that you was in trouble, they would help you. It was very enjoyable. I miss those days.
We had farm animals, of course. We had cows and chickens and horses, and I loved horses! Every time daddy got the old plow-horse out, I’d have to ride the horse while he plowed. I thought that was heaven every time I got to ride. My granddaddy, he raised Belgian horses and he would have some of the prettiest teams of horses. They made a living logging and that’s the reason why he had the Belgian horses, he logged with the horses.
It wasn’t like it is now, where they clear-cut. It was select cut. They’d harvest the biggest timber that was growing, and they would haul it out or pull it out with the horses. If they could, they’d put it on a wagon. Eventually, they would get it to the railroad and then the railroad would take it on to wherever it was going. That’s how they made a living. I don’t remember them doing that, but my Dad had an old forty-some model big truck when I was a little girl, and he would let me go with him. We went back in this mountain one day and it was just steep. Kept going right straight up. He got to the point where they were actually bringing the logs out, and granddaddy was up there with his horses and they made a pulley system where they would pull the logs up on the truck. After they got the truck loaded, Daddy was ready to go.
I was just little, maybe six years old, and I thought we was in God-knew-where, way back in that mountain and I’d never been back in there. And he said, ‘Now you’re going to have to walk out of here. Follow my truck and walk out of here.’ I couldn’t understand, I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Well, the truck might get away with that big load and us, too.’ I can remember him going down that road and my little short, fat, legs (laughs). I was just running just as hard as I could to keep up with that truck. When we got down to where it was level enough where I could actually ride in the truck, I tell you what, I might’ve been little but I said a whole lot of prayers! I was just scared to death.
But I can remember doing things like that. I always went with my dad. I was a daddy’s girl. And my granddaddy, he’d come by the house and he’d get me and put me up on his horses and I’d go with him to work, maybe on the creek pulling stumps where they’d cleaned the creek bed off. Just things like that. It was wonderful!
My father’s mother and dad were just wonderful. My grandmother was Cybil Dishner, and she was a granny doctor in Duffield at that time. Anybody got sick or anybody had a baby, she went. They would come get her. They called her Granny, of course. Even when she was young, I think they called her Granny. Her grandmother was Cherokee and her grandmother had taught her herbal medicine but now, Grandma Dishner did not pass that on to anybody. I wished that she had. I really would’ve liked to have known how to do stuff like that. Grandaddy, he worked hard all his life. Just ol’ hard, rugged, work.
My mother’s parents lived in Clinchport, Virginia. They were Mullinses. My Grandfather Mullins, he worked on the railroad and he was gone most of the time. Grandma Mullins was home and she ran a rooming house. They had a big old two story house and any time you went down there, besides the family which was about seven of them still living at that house when I was little, there would be about four or five more people. They’d say this is Uncle So-and-So and this is Aunt So-and-So. I don’t know if they were really my uncle or my aunt, but it was family. It didn’t matter! It was always something going on down there. It was a nuthouse. She’d cook these big meals, and everybody would come and gather around and they’d say their blessings and then they’d just eat like crazy. She was a good cook, I have to say that. She was generous. She would open a door up to anybody. If they needed somewhere to stay, she’d let them stay. I had good grandparents.
Grandaddy had taken me down to the creek one day, he had one horse and this dog was with us. He always had a dog. They were cleaning off another section of the creek. Well, there was a groundhog come up. The dog got after the groundhog. Grandaddy loved groundhog meat, so he called the dog off, and he knocked the groundhog in the head. I played down there all day. We ate lunch and that groundhog was just lying there, never moved. Never made a sign. That evening about four o’clock, [granddaddy] said, ‘It’s time to go home now.’ I said okay, and he put me up on the horse and we came to the house and he threw the groundhog down at the edge of the driveway.
Daddy had just gotten home from work, he worked in the mines at that time, and here this big ol’ fat groundhog was laying here on the ground and all of a sudden that thing raised up and went, ‘RARRRR!’ (laughs) Liked to half scared me to death! Grandaddy had that thing hung on that horse and it was right behind me and I thought, oh my gosh!! Well, here Grandaddy went and he knocked that thing in the head again and he said, ‘Well, I guess I better get home so your Granny can cook my groundhog.’ There was a lot of funny things like that, just crazy things.
You find it hard to believe when you’re remembering things like that; you think did that really happen? But it did! It was just part of your life. And it was a good learning experience. I know a lot of kids nowadays don’t get to learn things like that as they’re growing up, but that’s life. That is part of the natural type of life.
When I got out of school, I got married. I had just turned eighteen. My father told me that I couldn’t get married till I was eighteen and graduated from high school. I graduated in May and got married in September. We started raising a family. We had two boys, and I helped take care of my mother, she was sick. And helped my dad. It all revolved around family. We lived close to my mom and dad. I think that’s another aspect of being in the mountains - the family takes care of the family. We all pitched in and took care of mom and when daddy got elderly and got sick, we took care of Daddy. I wouldn’t change that.
My husband worked at Tennessee Eastman in Kingsport, Tennessee, but we lived in Duffield. We look back on that now and think, well how crazy! (laughs) But you know, he wanted to live over here and I wanted to live close to my mom and dad, and so that’s what we done. We still live there. My youngest son lives in my father’s house and I was born in that house. I know it sounds silly, but that house has a special hold on me.
My dad built that house in ‘51, I was born in ‘51. When he built the house, he didn’t build a basement. So he decided after I was born that he wanted a basement in that house. He was using the horse and a sled. He’d get under the house and dig the ground out, and he ran into some black slate. He couldn’t get it out, so he was drilling holes for dynamite and the story goes that I was about three months old and they had just got everything settled in the house and he was still digging out on this basement. He was going to set off a charge. I was in the bedroom asleep, and the charge was right directly under me and he set the charge off. The house was just plastered inside, I reckon it raised the house up and cracked the walls and the ceiling. Mommy said that daddy come running up out of the basement because he knew he’d set off too big a charge and he ran in the bedroom to see if I was all right. I reckon that was the only thing he was worried about, and they said I was sound asleep. I always thought that was funny, Daddy would say, ‘You was just sound asleep!’
You have fond memories, tales that they tell you. Things that happened, all kinds of crazy stuff they would laugh and tell you about. I know they had a hard life ‘cause they had to do everything by hand. They didn’t have a lot of money to buy a lot of extra things, but I know they had a good life. And they enjoyed their lives.
What makes us (mountain folk) different is probably the way we’ve been brought up. When I was growing up, I lived on HWY 23-58 and in that little community, everybody knew everybody. We had neighbors that weren’t kin to us and then we had neighbors that were. But everybody watched everybody’s kids, made sure that the children were okay. And I’m glad that they did! There were a lot of times I needed somebody to help me, and they’d always help me. I think that makes us special. Some people may say we’re clannish. But in that clannishness, we love each other and we take care of each other. It’s part of humanity, a part we all should have for one another. It doesn’t matter whether we live together or not. Show humanity towards someone else. If you see a child that you think may be in trouble, ask are you okay. I think that’s some of what makes it special and different here. But I’ve not lived anywhere else. People I’m sure in New York City, probably on these little community streets, I’m sure they take care of one another, too.
Another thing, a lot of us have got Scots-Irish in us, and I think we’ve inherited that trait to be outspoken. I can remember when I was growing up; my mother was very outspoken for the time period. My dad, a lot of times would say, ‘Now you going to’ have to calm down...’ (laughs). But when I got old enough to understand, he’d say, ‘you tell people what you think. You tell them what you think and you don’t let them run over you.’ I thought, that’s what mother was doing. I can remember that. After I got older, I would think, when I would get kindly heated up over situations, I would think, ‘I guess I need to calm down a little bit.’
I love these mountains. I love it. Even love the copperheads (laughs). Nah, I don’t like them, but I can live with them. We’re re-enacting here today, eighteenth century cooking. And we’ve got a lot of different things going on. We’ve got the blacksmith and we’ve got candle making and we’ve got the brick oven.
What we’re cooking today is Three Sister Stew. It originated as Cherokee. The Cherokee garden had three sisters in it and the three sisters were corn, beans and squash. So that’s what the stew consists of. We’re going to make the stew and cook it on the fire, and we’ve got a bread to go with that. It’s similar to like, a dressing-type bread. It’s made a little different; it’s got a different consistency, grainier and not as smooth. We’ve got stuffed winter squash, stuffed with day-old bread and raisins and apples and brown sugar and walnuts. And then we’ve got the pumpkins. We’re going to put those on a bed of coals and let them bake for about an hour and they’ve got Apple Brown Betty in them. It’s pumpkin and apples and raisins, some currants and pecans and brown sugar and we’ve got brown sugar syrup.
Old people, where I was raised, they would get the dark brown sugar. It’s got more of a molasses consistency. They’d take about two cups of dark brown sugar and one cup of water and boil that until it became a syrupy mixture, and they would make their pancakes and pour that brown sugar syrup on it. It’s almost as good as maple syrup! The pumpkins have the brown sugar syrup in it to make them moister. You cook that for about an hour on those coals, and after the stuffing gets to bubbling up a little bit, they’re ready, they’re good.
While we’re doing that, we’re going to fry some pumpkin seeds that we cleaned out of the pumpkins. We’ve cleaned them and we’re going to poach or fry them. Then, we’ve got mint-cooling water. It’s very easy. Any type of mint that you have growing in your garden, you pick your best leaves and bring them in and wash them. Then you put them in cheesecloth. If you want, you can put a cinnamon stick or whatever else, but this is just mint what I’ve made today. You let that boil like you’re making a tea; you let it steep. After it gets done, it’s almost a concentrate. You take the cheesecloth bag out of it. It takes about thirty or forty mint leaves to make a gallon of cooling water, or tea. After you get your tea made you put sugar in it to your taste. You can put honey in it, if you want to. Then, you add your water to make the gallon because you have really made a concentrate with the tea. When we bring it up here, we put it on ice and we call it mint-cooling water.
I just learned all this growing up from my parents and grandparents, my mother in law. Different places, you pick it up. When I was growing up, I used to go back in these mountains all the time where these poor, old, people lived. They just lived from hand to mouth. I’d watch them cook and the poor, old, people didn’t have nothing, but they’d offer you. They’d say you’re here; we want you to eat with us. I had been scolded a lot when I got home after they found out where I’d been. ‘You didn’t eat did you?’ and I’d say, ‘Yes, I did! They offered!’ I couldn’t refuse them; I thought it would be an insult. I ate a little bit everywhere I went. But I loved walking in these mountains doing that, just visiting people. It was a lot of fun.
It gets back to the basics of where we come from and how we lived, and how we made this country what it is, I think. There’s a lot of tradition in these things, but at the same time, you have to think - these people, they were actually living this. This was their life. Just like the lifestyle we live now, this was their life. This was how they made their living, this was how they took care of themselves. There was something to do every minute of every day. I think the younger generation, kids 18 and under, they need to know these things. And even older people who haven’t seen these things in a long time. I’ve heard a lot of people when we’re out there cooking say, ‘Well my Granny did that!’ You know, Granny did do that! It’s just part of living in this area and the way things are. It’s important to preserve that heritage.
I guess i’m a good cook I eat enough! (Laughs) I like to eat, I like to cook. Traditional Appalachian cooking, well, a lot of it is the same thing as these people did in the eighteenth century, and they got it from the seventeenth and sixteenth century, so this stuff has been going on for a long time. I know they brought a lot of different types of beans over, but they actually got the corn from the Cherokee. And they got the squash from the Cherokee. The beans were from everywhere. We eat soup beans, mustard greens and corn bread. That’s a meal! And fried taters with it, or you could have mashed potatoes. I think they not only ate that type of food to nourish their bodies, because they were doing hard work and they needed that protein and the starches, but at the same time, if you’ve ever noticed when you’ve eaten a meal like that and you get really good and full, it’s a comfort to you. I think that was really a comfort to them and they didn’t have a lot of comfort during their lifetimes.
I have researched a lot of these old recipes and they are so similar to what I actually cooked at home when my children were growing up. Like what I had learned from my mother and grandmothers, how to cook. I think it’s a tradition that is passed down to us. We cook just like they cooked. It might be more convenient the way that we cook; we usually aren’t out on an open fire or a brick oven. We’re inside on a gas or electric range cooking. And we have all these other conveniences we can use, a mixer and whatever. If they whisked up a whipped cream, they had to whip that cream! You couldn’t just put it in a mixer. They had to do it! I think everybody - Italians, Germans, Scot-Irish, Spanish, whatever heritage - that is something you have inherited from your ancestors. Your cooking! We can incorporate other groups into our cooking, but what you’re brought up with is what you go to.
Around we like to have people over to eat with us and get together. Sunday meeting on the ground, you meet in the family cemetery and you have a picnic right on top of the graves and eat and have a big time. Now that was something! I really enjoyed that. There’s a cemetery behind our house and a lot of people say aren’t you afraid of that cemetery? Lord no! That cemetery’s got some of the best people in it that ever was. I’m not afraid of that cemetery. If you can go eat on somebody’s grave, if they don’t get you while you’re eating on that grave, they ain’t gonna’ get you! (Laughs).
I can remember when I was growing up I had a cousin that had gotten killed, a car had hit him. He was older than I was, but after I got up to be a teenager and I was going through those teen rebellion type deals, if they told me no or I couldn’t do so-and-so and I got in a pouty, crying, mood I’d go up to the cemetery and I’d sit at his grave and talk to him. I’d feel so much better! I know that was just all in my head, but it was a comfort thing. I’m sure not everybody has the privilege to go to the cemetery and talk to their kin people about their problems, but that was a good thing for me.
I’m just what I am. I’m me. I want it to be remembered that I love life. I love people. I like to have a big time. When I was able, I could dance all night! I loved to go to these hootenannies and stagger a little, do the jigs and all that stuff. I loved jigs when I was young. I grew up around a lot of music. My grandmother Dishner, her grandparents and uncles and brothers they played guitar and banjo and she played the autoharp. She would play that and yeah, it was a lot of music. My grandfather’s people were directly from Germany and they had this stiff type thing, but now he was a big teddy bear. He just loved you. When they’d all get together and start making music and stuff, he would cuss like crazy. He’d say that’s the laziest bunch he’d ever seen in his life! (Laughs) Wouldn’t do anything but play the guitar and sing and make music! But it was a lot of fun. Grandaddy really liked it, he just liked to raise Cain about it.”