Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

A Cumberland Christmas, Circa 1910

S. R. Lee

An Excerpt from the book Granny Lindy

[The narrator of this chapter is Grady Harrris, remembering his life as an adolescent boy
adopted by an older couple, near Livingston, Tennessee.]

I do believe I liked going trading more’n I did visiting. Course, not just down to the stores, for I could go there most anytime Pap went, but at Christmas we’d go all the way down to Monterey to buy shotgun shells so we could have a real fine Christmas hunt. That was the most sociable trading I’d ever done in those days cause there was more than one store in Monterey and we would go round to three or four. We could get everything we went for at one, but it was nice to go in different places and see how they did. Course we went to get shells, but Pap would always take a little money along because he said a body never could tell what he was going to find in a town that would be interesting. We’d always get the shells first, a whole box full, for they were what we come for. I’d carry them and just the heavy feel of the box was good, seemed like I could hear the sound of a gun every now and then just back in my mind when I was carrying those shells. Then we’d go about and see what there was in town, and Pap knew a heap more folks down there than I did, seemed like he knowed most the storekeepers and a lot of the men we’d meet along the street. I worked right along side of Pap every day except when I was in school, and I knew he’d be on the farm all day, but he sure knew more folks then I could dream of. I reckon he met them a long while ago.

When we’d go up there just exactly in the week before Christmas itself, we could get oranges. I think that was the real reason why Pap took some extra money because Mammy liked those oranges so. The first time we saw them, didn't none of us know what they were, but the storekeeper said they was called ”oranges” and had come up all the way from Florida on a train. Pap thought Mammy would kind of like to see something so strange and new as those oranges, so he got three. Law, Mammy did take on over them things. I don’t believe there was anybody on this bench as fond of things from far away as my Mammy was. We tried to bring them to her every year after that, but if we didn’t get up there just exactly to the week before Christmas, nobody there had none, and the trouble with getting there was that right often the roads were too muddy for us to get through at that time of year. If the ground was frozen, we could ride the mules or take the wagon either one, but if it wasn’t then we had troubles. When the rain had been real bad, a man could walk where he couldn’t get through on muleback. Law, there was a low place between here and Pond Ridge store that would get so muddy the water and mud would come clean up to the mule’s belly when a body tried to ride through there. A man could walk round it if he was careful where he stepped, so we never were so we couldn’t get to a store at all. Thing was, if we wanted to get to Monterey at the right time for those oranges, we just had to hope for freezing weather because once winter set in with the rain and mud, we were pretty much at home except during the cold snaps.

But we could always get shotgun shells from some store in walking distance, and so we always had us a good Christmas hunt. We’d start about four in the morning of Christmas Day and not have to get home till after dark. It was fine. The weather would be cold, but when the sun shines up here toward the end of December, it’s just right for walking through the woods. Sometimes we’d really cover territory, walk all over these mountains and up toward the next ridge too. That depended on what squirrels we were finding. Some folks buy good whiskey special for Christmas as well as hunting shells, so when we’d pass by down at Guild’s store, there’d be a crowd of fellers down there having their Christmas drink and shooting round a bit maybe, seeing who could hit what. Pap didn’t hold with just a lot of whiskey drinking, though, so we never stayed but just to say “howdy.” Then we’d just go on and hunt steady the rest of the day, and we generally brought home as fine a mess of squirrels as a feller could want. Mammy would be cooking us fried squirrels and making squirrel dumplings for more’n a week after that.


S. R. Lee writes fiction, short non-fiction, and poetry. She took the Woodland Award for Best Poet in the Cookeville Creative Writers’ Contest, May 2000, and has read at the Southern Writers Festival, Nashville. She was contributing editor of The Poets of St. Paul’s, an anthology of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Franklin, TN. Lee has a Christmas carol published by Oxford University Press. Read more about her book Granny Lindy.

© S.R. Lee

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012