Did you Ever? Vanishing Aspects of the Mountain Scene

Today’s guest post was written by Jim Casada.

Mountain View

Increasingly with the passage of time I find myself reflecting on things I did as a youngster, ruminating on glorious days in Smokies sun. Most recreational activities were simple, inexpensive, and relied more on youthful ingenuity, along with a good dose of suggestions from my Grandpa Joe and others, than any of the store-bought junk—video games, technological gadgets, and electronic gizmos–which pass for entertainment with today’s kids. My looks backward, and I’ll happily acknowledge they are longing ones, almost always bring to the mind thoughts as to how many other folks have been privileged to know the joys of these Smoky Mountain pastimes.

Here’s a sort of list asking whether you ever participated in a given game, enjoyed a particular experience, consumed some type of food, or have this particular recollection stored on the shelves of your memory’s storehouse. For each reflection, I’m simply asking: “Did you ever?” Hopefully many of you have similar experiences and this list should this leave no doubt that my Smokies boyhood offered richness and variety.


*Boil eggs at Easter and “fight” them for keeps—the egg which broke went to the proud holder of the one which remained intact after the small ends had been knocked together. Of course there was always some wiseacre who managed to slip in a guinea egg—about the only way they would lose would be matched against a rock. The shells of guinea eggs are that hard. A good “knocker” egg could produce the makings of a big bowl of egg salad or a batch of deviled eggs in short order.

*Play rolly-bat, either with a real baseball or maybe just a suitably sized rock wrapped with old socks. In order to get to be the batter, you had to field the ball and then throw or roll it towards the bat. The bat had been laid out on the ground sideways facing the field. If your roll hit the bat, or if you caught  a fly ball or line drive hit by the batter before it hit the ground, you took his place at bat.

*Play war—with imaginary armaments such as grenades which were maypops (passion flower fruit), white pine cones, or magnolia seed pods; homemade bows-and-arrows; forts built from pines or other trees you had cut; sling shots; and the like.

*Convince a visiting cousin or some poor city slicker soul to take a bite of a persimmon which had turned orange but was still a long way from being ripe.

*Enjoy the indescribable delight of a properly made permission pudding, something as delicious as a green persimmon is disgusting.

*Buy fish hooks, shotgun shells, or .22 cartridges individually—all could be purchased that way in the 1950s.

*Come across an old still (or maybe an active one) while wandering through the woods. 

*Get a good dose of hickory tea. Or maybe two doses—one at school and a second one when your parents learned of your transgressions. I must admit, back in the days when corporal punishment as part of the educational process was not only accepted but on the part of most parents actually appreciated, that happened to yours truly on more than one occasion.

*Hear grown folks talk about an elderly family member who was a bit “quare,” “not quite right,” a bit “addled,” or “poorly.” This was a standard way of describing dementia.

*Visit “shut ins” and maybe carry them some food or gifts.

*Listen to grand old radio programs such as “Gunsmoke,” “The Lone Ranger,” or “Amos and Andy.”

*Make a particular point of being near the radio when the Grand Old Opry, Louisiana Hayride, or Wayne Raney’s show on WCKY out of Cincinnati was on the air.

*Go to a drive-in theatre (and sometimes try to sneak two or three “extras” in by hiding them in the trunk).

*Browse dreamily through the major mail-order catalogs from Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward.

*Live in or visit a house which did not have electricity.

*Make the cold trek to an outhouse on a winter night or else use what was variously called the “night jar,” “necessary bucket,” or simply “pot.”

*Participate in May Day or Sadie Hawkins Day festivities when they were a standard part of spring at many schools.

*Visit someone’s home, usually on a Friday night, to participate in “making music” or maybe just taking care of the “grinnin’” while others did the “pickin’.”

*Participate in square dances with a local band, maybe just a pianist, or even a record player providing the music while a caller hollered out the next movement in what could sometimes be an intricate undertaking.

*Listen to traditional square dance songs such as “Under the Double Eagle,” “Down Yonder,” “Soldier’s Joy,” or “Buffalo Gals” at those gatherings.

*Grow your own popcorn and enjoy the special treat of shelling and popping it.

*Go on a ‘coon hunt and enjoy the hallelujah chorus of a pack of dogs on a hot trail or the tales of old men harkening back with longing to their respective “dogs of a lifetime.”

*Go “sanging” (gather ginseng for sale).

*Go “gallacking” (gather galax leaves to use in wreathes or as table decoration, especially at Christmas.

*Find a case holding praying mantis eggs while out hunting in the winter and bring it home.

*Skate on leather-bottomed shoes across frozen ponds or places where water had frozen on a sidewalk or driveway.

*Make your own fishing outfit from river cane you had cut, with the lead covering of roofing nails used for sinkers and a bottle cork for a float.

*Find yourself on one of the two business ends of a cross-cut saw.

*Use a go-devil to split wood, or, if you really want to reach back in time, split wood using wedges made not of metal but of dense woods such as dogwood.

*Split kindling from rich pine to use as a fire starter.

*Lay kindling each night in a wood-burning stove for cooking breakfast the next morning.

*Participate in hog killing and butchering.

*Gather eggs from the family chicken house.

*Put a glass egg in a nest to encourage a laying hen to set.

*”Blow” an egg and refill it with hot sauce to deal with an egg-suckin’ dog or an egg-eatin’ snake.

*Take part in a rat killin’ at the family corn crib or that of a neighbor.

*Pull weeds to feed hogs.

*Get stung by a packsaddle.

*Knock down a hornet or wasp nest after smoking it or dig up a yellow jacket nest after pouring gasoline down it—all to obtain some prime fish bait.

*Trap ‘coons, muskrats, mink, ‘possums, and fox for their fur.

*Go skinny-dipping in your favorite swimming hole.

*Burn your belly with a “belly flop” or your bottom with a “cannon ball” with jumps into a swimming hole.

*Use a rope tied to a convenient tree limb to launch out into a swimming hole.

*Get a bad case of chiggers or poison ivy.

*Use wild grape vines on a ridge as a swing.

*Find an abandoned old home place in early fall where there was fruit on apple or pear trees and enjoy a field snack.

*Eat a hunter’s lunch of tinned sardines or Vienna sausage with saltine crackers.

*Drink the finest spring water imaginable from some remote seep high up in the Smokies.

*Listen to someone recite wonderfully lyrical poems from the likes of Rudyard Kipling or Robert Service around a backwoods campfire.

*Hear a recitation of Stephen Vincent Benet’s “The Mountain Whippoorwill” and identify with half the lines in the poem.

*Mow grass with a reel-type push mower.

*Have a secret crush on some curly-haired little girl but be far too timid to look her in the eye, much less speak to her.

*Play spin the bottle or similar boy-girl games at parties.

*Run a trot line, throw line, limb line, or jug fish for catfish.

*Attempt to smoke rabbit tobacco.

*Enjoy a crackling fire in the family room or food cooked on a wood-burning stove.

*Eat a supper consisting of nothing but cornbread and milk (either sweet or buttermilk). Those who haven’t enjoyed this culinary pleasure might think it constitutes mighty slim pickings. In truth, a big chunk of cornbread made from slow-ground, stone-ground meal and crumbled in a glass of cold milk is a taste treat of great delight.

*Enjoy home-churned butter, nicely salted and pressed in an old-time wooden mold.

*Milk a cow.

*Churn butter.

*Eat fried pies with filling made from dried apples or peaches folded into a round piece of dough folded like a half moon to hold the fruit. Slathered with butter, such fare is fit for a king or any son or daughter of the Smokies.

*Pour molasses over soft butter and mashed it all up before applying the resultant mix to a cathead biscuit. The trick is to get just the right amount of molasses and butter for the biscuit, although missing your measurement isn’t a tragedy. It’s just an excuse to eat another biscuit.

*Eat fresh-made pork sausage for breakfast.

*Enjoy the genuine privilege of eating tenderloin from a recently butchered hog.

*Have hamburger and milk gravy, with cornbread, as a main dish. That was one of Mom’s favorite ways of making a relatively small amount of meat go a long way.

*Eat old-fashioned stick candy in flavors such as horehound.

*Buy loose stick candy by the piece.

*Take a hefty dose of sulfur and molasses, or maybe a cup of sassafras tea, as a “spring tonic.”

*Drink syllabub at Christmas time.

*Slop hogs.

*Feed scratch feed to chickens.

*Shell corn you had raised to feed fattening hogs.

*”Plug” a watermelon to check its ripeness. I never really understood this process; once the melon was plugged it had to be used.

*Eat sauce or pies made from some of the winter squash which were widely grown, along with pumpkins, in the mountains. Among them were candy roasters and cushaws. 

*Feast on country ham your family had cured, with the obligatory side dishes of redeye gravy and biscuits.

*Eat sawmill gravy (a milk gravy, usually made with drippings from sausage and plenty of sausage bits left in for good measure).

*Savor a properly made stack cake, with at least seven thin layers of cake, each one separated by spiced sauce made from dried apples or maybe blackberry jam.

*Participate in a cake walk.

*Attend an all-day singing with dinner on the grounds.

*Go to a brush arbor or tent revival.

*Prepare homemade pickled peaches.

*Pick up ripe honey locust pods from the ground and eat the meat which surrounds the seeds.

*Find a prime patch of hazelnut bushes and gather the delicious nuts.

*Gather fox grapes to make jelly.

*Find a patch of ripe pawpaws and enjoyed a woodland feast.

*Eat the sweet-sour flesh surrounding the seeds of maypop fruit.

*Sample liver mush, scrapple, head cheese, or other foods made from the parts of animals which frugal “waste not, want not” mountain folks put to good and tasty use.

*Go to school where someone who had eaten a bait of ramps was in attendance. Suffice it to say you’ll find your sense of smell works all too well on such occasions.

These are but a sampling of the experiences which come to my admittedly disordered mind as I look back, with longing, to a world I can only hope we have not completely lost. If these are pleasures you enjoyed as a youngster, you were truly blessed.

I hope you enjoyed Jim’s post as much as I did! The piece is an excerpt from a book Jim is working on that is scheduled to be out sometime this fall. If you’d like to be notified when the book is published shoot Jim and email at [email protected] and he’ll add you to the list.

Be sure to jump over to Jim’s website and poke around I know you’ll enjoy the visit.


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  • Reply
    Gaye Blaine
    August 9, 2020 at 8:12 pm

    Remembered or done 99% + of those things. Such a childhood as this is one for the books. Daddy and I used to dye Easter eggs with Paas.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 8, 2020 at 11:42 pm

    The wooden wedges you use to split with are properly called “gluts”. Dogwood gluts are the best but white oak in right behind.

  • Reply
    August 8, 2020 at 5:41 pm

    Did all of the listed things, may not have been just as mentioned, but been there and did that !!
    I am 76 years of age and its a wonder, the LORDS gift, that I still able to talk about all the thinks that I and some so called friends did !!!!

  • Reply
    Hank Skewis
    August 8, 2020 at 4:41 pm

    I fondly remember the Burma SHave signs along the mountain highways of West Virginia.

    Also loved the interview with your daughter. Fun to see her in a little different context. Thanks you.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 8, 2020 at 2:03 pm

    Jim and his brother, Don, has been to my shop. They’re both Friends of mine. Jim is a little older than I am, but Don is a little bit younger. Since Daddy was born in 1910, the same year Commador, their daddy was born, and they’ve got a Sister who lives somewhere in Michigan, they’re All Friends of mine.
    Jim mentioned Easter egg fighting, and that reminded me of a time when my Daddy made me an Easter egg he made me out of talc and told me to keep it in my front Pocket. And he told Harold not to Spill it neither.

    I broke many of the boy’s eggs and they went away Sniffling. Grover Mason had given the Talc egg to Daddy, and there’s no telling at the countless hours he spent making that thing from a Solid Peace, cause He Was a Talc Hunter. He had Polked Holes in the ground all over Nantahala, looking for Talc.

    My uncle by Marriage to Aunt Toots, Tommy Higdon said “that what washed away Mama and Daddy’s house one night during the Great Depression from a relentless Storm.” Mama said to me,”I could hear the Chickens Squalking as they went down the Mountain to the Nantahala River, never to be seen again. Hogs too.”

    Jim and I have some of the Exact same Experiences and Everyone Needs and Uncle Joe in their Lives. …Ken

  • Reply
    August 8, 2020 at 12:23 pm

    I have many of those same memories from my rural upbringing although I did not live in the mountains.Country life was similar at that time no matter what part of the south. I miss most the home churned butter, the home made biscuits and the closeness of families. Great post. Thanks.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    August 8, 2020 at 11:41 am

    Jim, you have made a good start on my biography.

  • Reply
    August 8, 2020 at 10:52 am

    In addition to about 99 percent of the activities in Jim’s list we also played war with green persimmons. We hid behind the road bank and lobbed rocks onto the tin roof of a neighbor until he came out and fired his gun over our heads. We used flips that are referred to now as slingshots. To us the forked stick, tire rubber and shoe tongue pad were flips to ‘flip’ the rock. A sling or slingshot was two pieces of leather or baler twine with a pad for the rock. You slung it around a couple of times and released one string to ‘sling’ the rock like David used to kill Goliath. Inner tubes were not available when David was a lad.

  • Reply
    Doug Bishop
    August 8, 2020 at 10:26 am

    I have done most of these things At hog killing time kids would sit around the table cutting fat into little cubes to render lard. then get that first cake of warm craklins that came out of the lard press. The big iron pot , one day used to render lard, the next day filled with meat cooking , later to be ground into scrapple. Later in the year the same pot was used to make lye soap. Raised on taters fried in pork fat, home grown meat ,veggies, and raw milk. It’s enough to drive a cardiologist insane! And we haven’t even touched killing chickens !

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    August 8, 2020 at 10:22 am

    Those Were The Days. My brother and I wee into most that Jim remembers in those long summers of the late 40’s and 50’s. Our knuckles were filthy my granny would say from playing marbles then we would slip off to the creek among other things. I look forward to Jim’s book.

  • Reply
    August 8, 2020 at 10:22 am

    Thanks Tipper & Jim for this wonderful post. I can sure identify with a few of those memories. I am so very glad when they built Oak Ridge that they left the woods & even the grape vines we found to swing on. I caught crawdads in what we named Tadpole Creek. I was always excited when we got to go on outings to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

  • Reply
    August 8, 2020 at 9:37 am

    What a wonderful post! It brought back memories of my childhood and I didn’t grow up in the mountains. My husband makes homemade breakfast sausage, and there is nothing better than a plate of sausage gravy and biscuits on a cold morning! Before I retired, I could almost teach all day on a breakfast of sausage gravy and biscuits! As a child, I didn’t need a bunch of fancy toys to have fun playing outside. I didn’t dare tell Mama I was bored, because she would find a chore for me.

  • Reply
    August 8, 2020 at 9:19 am

    Jim’s post brought back many memories, as I also grew up doing some of the same things in a different era and different mountains not too far away. We entertained ourselves for hours with simple things we found, never bought. A piece of board could serve as a jump board or seesaw. Leaves became paper money and flat rocks were coins we used to buy mud pies at a cousin’s store that was operated from the front porch. We were allowed to walk miles to a small family owned store to buy penny candy. My penny was always spent on a two-pack of stick chewing gum that I called blow gum. It had the most unique taste and was dusted with a powdery sugar.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 8, 2020 at 9:19 am

    I have done or at least heard tell of every one of Jim’s recollections. That not being unusual considering I grew up in Swain County just a very few years behind him. I can’t claim to be a son of the Smokies as Jim does. More accurately I am a son of the Nantahalas. Needmore born and raised to be exact. Not born in a hospital in some town somewhere and brought back to Needmore, but born in a little two room shanty at the head of Wiggins Creek. Not many people alive today can make that claim. That’s my “did you ever” for today.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 8, 2020 at 9:19 am

    36 of them and 2 probables plus 2 of the four AW mentioned. I’m richer in memories than I had realized. But, as AW also mentioned, I was a child at the ‘tail end’ of many of the ‘old timey’ ways. I didn’t realize it then of course. What kid ever does have a perspective on their times? But that is one of the big graces for childhood, not to know. Probably a big reason why, Mr. Jim, that we look back with longing.

    Once again, as Tipper’s post did yesterday, you remind me why Appalachia is home.

  • Reply
    August 8, 2020 at 8:59 am

    Wish I was back at the age I did most of these when times were that good.

  • Reply
    gayle larson
    August 8, 2020 at 8:46 am

    I do remember with all the fun we had there was also a lot of hard work which I do not miss.Thanks Jim. Lots of memories in that post. I was in the hills of Pennsylvania but we seem to have many of the same memories.

  • Reply
    August 8, 2020 at 8:38 am

    Like others, I look at the past and wish I could go back and do some of them again. I have done many of the things Jim writes about. I was lucky in living next to my Grandaddy Kirby, I tried to be with him every minute of the day. One of my fondest memories is going with him in the fall through the woods looking for lightered knots.(that may not be a word or miss spelled) but that is what we called the pine starter wood mentioned by Jim. Grandaddy would take his cotton sack and a little something to eat and make a morning of it. How many of you have drank water out of a creek by holding your hands together to form a cup?

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      August 8, 2020 at 2:05 pm

      I drank water from cupped hands often but would just as sooner lay on my belly and drink directly from the branch. If I did that today I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back up.

  • Reply
    John Hart
    August 8, 2020 at 8:16 am

    You and Casada are in my top ten writers of all time. You may be ahead of Jim because you add music!

  • Reply
    aw griff
    August 8, 2020 at 7:44 am

    I’ve done and remember most of these things and it makes me realize I seen the last of the old Appalachian culture. Some of the things we done that Jim didn’t mention but probably did were; smoke out a squirrel, throw rocks through a hornets nest to get them to chase you, killing rats with the dogs at the corn crib ,and making a rock thrower out of a corn stalk,

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 8, 2020 at 7:02 am

    Thank you, Jim! Thar’s a wonderful list with a lot of memories. My father grew up with all of these things and I remember much of them from my grandparents house out in the country. I didn’t really grow up with it because my parents worked in out local paper mill that opened another paper mill in Pasadena, Texas. My folks moved there when I was very young so we came back for visits every summer but I was gone from the mountains till I was around seventh grade.
    So, I’m a mountain girl with some flatland experience and let me tell you, I much prefer the mountains.
    I know of or have heard almost all your list and it certainly brings back memories. My Grandmother was a fine country woman and I loved spending time with her. They had milk cows, pigs, and chickens.
    They sloped the hogs and fed scratch to the chickens. They churned milk and made butter, selling any they didn’t eat.
    Cornbread and milk or cornbread and buttermilk were a fine nighttime snack or sometimes for lunch as well.
    They had an outhouse but later built a bathroom on to their house.
    That was a different life in a different world. Thanks, Jim, for your list. It certainly brings back memories!

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    August 8, 2020 at 6:35 am

    I have done a lot of those things……but I don’t miss that outhouse on a frosty morning!

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