I grew up just around the hill from my maternal grandparents, this gave me lots of time to spend with them throughout my life. Those experiences shaped me in ways big and small. I have many fond memories and stories and I have more than a few I would like to share.
My grandparents had a small farm like many others of that time when Ashe County was still largely an agricultural community. Everyone had a garden to have fresh vegetables through the summer and to provide canned goods for the long winter. Maybe one or two hogs to raise each year, chickens, a horse or mules to plow, mow and other jobs that required big muscle. Last but certainly not least, the cow.
The cow is a most versatile creature. She can provide a calf to be raised every year to be sold or slaughtered as well as milk twice a day. Milk to be kept chilled in huge glass jars set in the spring or a smaller amount in the Kelvenator for daily use. Not to mention milk kept at room temperature for butter, cottage cheese and butter milk.
Hester and Spence kept two cows for many years and these were milked twice a day. Needless to say there, was a surplus. This surplus was poured into large metal cans that held ten gallons or so. A couple of short fat ones and two more sort of tall and slim. These cans were made of stout metal, the mouths were large and the lids fit snuggley enough that they were tapped shut with a wooden mallet and opened the same way. On the sides were sturdy handles along with numbers which on a list somewhere corresponded to the Wyatt’s. Like many other folks in the county ( probably a few hundred) they sold their milk to the Kraft plant in West Jefferson, which turned the milk into cheese. Ashe County Cheese, as we know it today, was much different in those days. These small farms, many up in narrow hollows with even narrower winding roads, were not accessible to a large tanker truck. So this system with the milk cans worked well. Every few days Spence would load two or three cans on his ’48 Chevy pickup and take them the mile down to the highway and set them off. Sometime later in the day, the milk truck would come by and pick them up. The driver would also drop off empty cans from the previous trip. When a load was taken into town the cans were off loaded, weighed and the amounts recorded.
Now I don’t remember how often payday was, but I assume maybe once a month. On these days my grandfather would take the milk to the highway and he would let me tag along. I can remember sitting on the tailgate of that old truck waiting for the milk man to come. In those days the payments were made in cash. Sometimes we would wait maybe an hour but a young boy doesn’t have a great grasp of the concept of time.
What was important to me was the time I got to spend with Spence, one on one. Many the time he might just whittle on a stick as he chewed tobacco, or we might just stand on the bridge and watch the creek go by. I remember once in particular when a box turtle was making his way across the road and he picked it up to let me investigate. Now box turtles become shy when you pick them up and go into their nice safe shell. As cool as a turtle shell may be its not nearly as much fun as getting to see the turtle himself. Now Spence had a way of coaxing that shy turtle right out of his shell. I’m sorry, but I can’t share this as its a closely guarded family secret.
Mr turtle would poke his head out and look around as his legs moved back and forth trying for purchase on thin air. His short little tail could be seen bringing up the rear. I can remember how amazed I was to see these creatures up close and personnel. I didn’t get to see a turtle every trip of course but it did happen more than once. As time went on, my grandfathers health began to deteriorate they went to just one cow. She provided more than enough milk for our consumption but not enough to take the cans to the highway.
Another cherished memory from about this same time is learning to shoot. Spence had among other guns, a Springfield bolt action single shot .22 rifle. For a .22 this is a long heavy rifle but very accurate. I was too small to hold the rifle up, much less steady it. Spence would hold the rifle and let me aim at a target about 50 feet away. He taught me to relax and to breath slow and easy just before pulling the trigger. I became a good shot and before long I had grown enough to hold the rifle by myself. After a couple of years Spence traded the old Springfield for a Remington pump action. Oh the joy of having ten shots before reloading!
This was one of more than a few things I learned from Spence which have given me much joy through the years as I still have a great respect for fire arms in general and target shoot as often as I can. I believe that if young people of today had as close of relationships with there parents and grandparents as my generation did and were taught more respect for themselves and others that the headlines of today would be much different.
I hope the audience has enjoyed this trip down Memory Lane and will rejoin me next week for another drive.