Seasons Smoky Mountains

January Jubilation: Fond Memories Of The Year’s First Month

Today’s guest post was written by Jim Casada.

Barn with Snow

Fond thoughts of Januaries in yesteryear run through my mind like the soothing sound of a gurgling mountain branch or the visual delight of a land bedecked with freshly fallen snow. By February winter would have become somewhat tiresome, producing mollygrubs or cabin fever, but the year’s first month somehow had a delightful distinctiveness to it. Here are some of the things I recall about January from a Smoky mountain boyhood filled with magic and mystique. They are present in a literary format some readers will likely find familiar, and accordingly I’ll pose two matters for your thoughts. First, how many of these recollections do you also recall? Second, can you name the beloved writer who often used this style?

*January was the joy of a snow heavy enough for schools to close, and when that happened there would be snow cream and sledding, construction of snow men and snowball fights, or scrumptious tummy warmers such as hot chocolate or Russian tea when you came indoors. Old timers would talk about how welcome the “poor man’s fertilizer” was and indulge on fireside prognostication about snows still to come.

Those homespun weather wizards relied heavily on signs—things such as “chimney smoke hugging the ground, waiting for more snow to come around” or sun dogs in the afternoon after skies had cleared—as harbingers of what was to come.

*January brought one or two snaps of bitter cold, with rhododendron leaves curled up tight as a Cuban cigar and icicles decorating every seep spring and low-lying streamside bush.

*The month meant mighty fine eating—cracklin’ cornbread and soup beans, pot likker and baked sweet taters, cathead biscuits and smokehouse ham, fried apple pies and fruit sauce for the sweet tooth. It was a fine time to look back with fondness on the hard work that produced winter fare.

*January was howling winds and hoarfrost, rime ice and freezing rain. It was bitterly cold mornings with frost so heavy that, as a reader of this blog, Ken Roper, once put it, “you could track a rabbit.”

*The month was a mountain lad checking his steel traps for muskrats, ‘coons, ‘possums, and maybe the occasional mink. It was that same irrepressible youngster making a circuit of his rabbit gums to see if they had trapped a cottontail or two.

*January was the hallelujah chorus of a pack of beagles hot on the cottontail trail; the unforgettable image of a fine pointer staunch against the skyline as it locked tight on a covey of quail or a grouse (which mountain folks often called pheasants).

*The month was the warming solace of a cheery fire, with family and friends gathered round for a session of walnut picking, quilting, or maybe just pleasant conversation.

*January’s bitter evenings were lightened and brightened by listening to grand radio offerings—The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Amos ‘n’ Andy, or maybe the wonderful music of Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, and others coming to the living room thanks to WSM out of Nashville or the Wayne Raney Show on WCKY out of Cincinnati, Ohio—“50,000 watts of pure power.”

*It was the singular treat offered by a baked hen who found her way to the Sunday dinner table thanks to having come up woefully short in her egg-laying duties, and if you were passing lucky, you might get a go at the little rows of eggs in the making lining the inside of the carcass. That was a treat, one fulfilling the words of the grand Bobby Bare song, “Chicken Every Sunday, Lord,” and about the only foodstuff as treasured was a stack cake made using locally produced molasses and apples dried the previous fall.

*It was a month for new beginnings, for sessions of what my Grandpa Joe called “dreaming and scheming,” for putting functional Christmas gifts (Duxbak clothing, new long handles, a boy’s first gun, a new knife or hatchet) to the test of practicality.

Those long ago Januaries were a time filled with simpler days with simpler ways, and for my part I miss them a great deal. Still, I have the undeniable benefit of being able to look back with longing and dig through memory’s fond vaults for the abundant times of jubilation January could produce. If you are blessed to share some similar things to recall and have known such experiences, tell yourself you’ve been mighty fortunate. For that means, deep in the echoing sound chamber of your mind, that January is  calling you home as you harken back to the enduring, endearing richness of Appalachia.

—Jim Casada


Tipper

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32 Comments

  • Reply
    Patty Hansen
    January 14, 2022 at 4:57 pm

    January memories in the making this year for me! Got myself 3 Foxfire Books with xmas $ and earned a free Jesse Stuart book, “Head of W-Hollow”. Never read any Stuart, but an excerpt that you posted intrigued me. Well, I am glad that I read your Appalachian Vocab posts, because being from Central New York, I might not have know what he was talking about in spots. It gave me a lonesome feeling for times that I will never get to experience. I could (and have) read Foxfire books over and over and now my collection is up to 6 books. I will also being hand quilting a top I just finished and finish putting a top together for a sick aunt. Knitting up a few pairs of socks, too. I like to snowy weather because it gives me an excuse to be “lazy” inside! And being from CNY on Oneida Lake, boy do we get snowy weather!

  • Reply
    Wayne H.
    January 13, 2022 at 9:45 pm

    Thanks Jim……I always enjoy reading your recollections of days past.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 13, 2022 at 8:56 pm

    Grancy–The style I had in mind came from John Parris, a grand WNC scribe of yesteryear, but you point about Earl Hammer and the Waltons is a fine one.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Grancy
    January 13, 2022 at 2:31 pm

    The folksy, just remembering style reminds me of Earl Hammer (of Walton’s Mountain fame) whose words painted pictures.
    Thanks for the enjoyable post!

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    January 11, 2022 at 6:14 pm

    Tipper thanks for posting Jim ‘s writing on years ago January memories. Jim is a very good writer.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 11, 2022 at 4:43 pm

    Tipper–If I’m inaccurate in suggesting that mountain folks sometimes used the term pheasants to describe grouse, as Ed Ammons states, then I’m in mighty good and quite extensive company. You will find the same information in entries occurring in both “The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English” and “The Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English,” with multiple examples of that usage in literature of the Appalachians. I’d like to think I’m in pretty good company with Joe Hall, Michael Montgomery, and Jennifer Heinmiller, and I often heard folks, especially of my grandfather’s generation, describe ruffed grouse as “pheasant.”

    As a side note, the description Ammons provides is of course for the ringneck (or Asian) pheasant, although it only applies to males. The hens are a drab brown the difference in appearance is so readily obvious, so distinctiveness, and in most hunting situations for wild birds only cocks can be shot. Hunting them is big business in states like South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska, and and in most parts of the country where they have become established (mainly in the Midwest where the habitat is suitable. I’m fortunate enough to have hunted them in a number of Midwestern states. They have not been successfully stocked in N. C. other than a small population that “took holt,” albeit somewhat marginally, in the far eastern part of the state.
    I wasn’t bent on controversy, just good memories, but I’ve got a world of support to indicate what I wrote reflects widespread word usage.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    January 11, 2022 at 4:18 pm

    Jim a wonderful memories of yesteryear . Your writing brings so many winter years to mind. Bryson City my family once lived only one family member lives in Franklin now. Marble was were I was born and now Texas . Thanks Jim you are an a good writer.

  • Reply
    Gloria Hayes
    January 11, 2022 at 4:12 pm

    Thanks for such a beautiful post. I enjoyed it so much. Such sweet memories.

  • Reply
    Pamela Lancaster
    January 11, 2022 at 4:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing! It leads me to think I lived in the wrong part of the country. Love to here about the woods and the simpler but harder life lived in Appalachia. I think about being there as a child and all you could do with your imagination. Thanks to all of you!

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    January 11, 2022 at 3:13 pm

    I truly enjoyed this post. There is nothing better than a pot of navy beans with ham and some homemade biscuits with butter and honey on a snowy day.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 11, 2022 at 2:31 pm

    I beg to differ on Mr. Casada’s referral of pheasants as a mountain misnomer for the common grouse or quail. The birds I witnessed at Needmore were larger and much more colorful than a quail or grouse. They had a red face and blue-green necks with a white ring between the neck and the body. The body had a bronze breast and legs with gold and gray wings and back. The tail was much longer than either of the other two birds and held more erect.
    I realize that the pheasant is not native to the United States however there is a feral population spread across the country. I also know that Ivey Cashatt of the Lauada Community was breeding pheasants. I do not know whether the birds I saw were released or had escaped from Mr. Cashatt’s flock but I am certain they were pheasants and not grouse or quail.

  • Reply
    Randy
    January 11, 2022 at 1:34 pm

    I remember the turnip greens, back bone ribs, cracklin’ cornbread, baked sweet potatoes, vegetable soup and other meals like this. We also had rabbit boxes or gums always made from old lumber. I remember bird hunting with my best friend and his daddy and hearing beagles run. I think my best member is of daddy and me laying in the floor in front of an open fire place eating parched or roasted peanuts with mother sitting in her chair reading the Bible. We had an old black and white tv with rabbit ears that you might be able to get one station out of three to play.

    Some mornings would be so cold the beagles would take booster cables with them to help jump rabbits!

  • Reply
    Ron Bass
    January 11, 2022 at 12:59 pm

    Thanks Jim, great memories.

  • Reply
    Ray C. Presley
    January 11, 2022 at 12:51 pm

    Thanks to Jim Casada for contributing to our literary memory bank, and thanks to Tipper for reposting it. It’s always good to go traveling into the mountains, streams and memories of our childhood.

  • Reply
    Donna Brewton
    January 11, 2022 at 12:15 pm

    Now I know what “mollygrubs” are, but “rabbit gum” and “poor man’s fertilizer” are new to me. I’m a Central Texas girl so that kind of snow and ice is rare but not unheard of. January is usually cold and rainy and long. Jim, thanks for the mind pictures.

  • Reply
    Betty Saxon Hopkins
    January 11, 2022 at 11:51 am

    I so enjoy Jim Casada’s writings. They always take me back to my childhood, to a simpler place and time, where we were not rich in money, but rich in love.

  • Reply
    Bob Lingle
    January 11, 2022 at 11:33 am

    Lawdy day, Jim. You dang near brought a tear to this ol’ boy’s eye when you mentioned listening to the radio. Didn’t have electricity, but did have a big ol’ battery-powered radio. Had to conserve the battery, so we only got to listen about an hour or so of the Friday Night Frolic (WCKY) on Friday nights and the same amount of the Grand Ol’ Opry (WSM) on Saturday nights. I was extremely blessed to be fortunate enough to take in a live performance of the Opry when it was in the Ryman Auditorium. That was a country-boy’s dream!

  • Reply
    dee
    January 11, 2022 at 10:52 am

    A big thank you to Jim Casada for his post, as it brought back so many beautiful memories. To me it all points to the unfailing love of the family. Sitting around the fire place with loved ones and listening to all the wonderful stories not only warmed the body but also warmed one’s heart encapsulating precious memories that forever will enrich a life.

  • Reply
    AWGRIFF
    January 11, 2022 at 10:20 am

    Jim, that brought back many memories of yesteryear that made me appreciate my parents even more. Mom and dad had little money while I grew up but I got to use those after Christmas gifts in January. One was a sled one year and another was a daisy pump bb gun from sears that cost $10. That was a lot of money in the late 50’s.

    I’ve heard the old timers call grouse as pheasants but one of my papaws called them patridge, not partridge.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    January 11, 2022 at 9:45 am

    That Jim Casada surely is a very eloquent writer who uses words to paint pictures in my mind of such clarity, it’s almost like I can see his memories myself! Such times were wonderful and the food does not sound poor to me- it sounds homemade with love and ingredients you grew and knew. (That stack Cake sounds enticing.) I see a slow return to and a growing realization the older ways were best and most prosperous, not whatever this is happening now…. thanks Tipper and Jim for your wonderful Appalachian real life stories. I used to read a magazine called Reminisce and I so enjoyed the pictures and stories. Your blog is a lot like that in my view so thank you so much for a daily spin in the way back machine! I need it…

  • Reply
    Terry Huffaker
    January 11, 2022 at 9:44 am

    What a great read; kudos to the author for bringing back so many memories of times in the rural “hills and hollers” and daily life in my childhood years. Such a great blog, Tipper!

  • Reply
    Kathy Gautier
    January 11, 2022 at 8:41 am

    Thank you, Tipper for the post and Jim for the mighty fine writing on this cold January morning. So many memories brought back to life and enjoyed again with a good cup of coffee today. Here’s hoping this fine morning finds all of us feeling better and ready to take on the chores that await us. Every morning when I read your posts, Tipper, I feel like I have received a big hug and feel comforted in the shared memories we all have.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 11, 2022 at 8:23 am

    You packed’em in Mr. Jim, memories that is. Made me a boy again for a minute, in my mind anyways. Of it all though, the phrase that caught and held me was the “rhodendron leaves rolled like Cuban cigars”. Boy, when that happens it is downright cold. I remember the crackle and pop of than crust of frozen leaves when the ‘big laurel’ rolled up. I’m a wimp about cold now compared to when I was a kid. Then it never got too cold to be out and about and who cared about falling? Just bounce and roll and get up and go again. Us boys worked our angels overtime I reckon. But I had a fine childhood. I was rich without money. Still am. Thanks for the memories, sir.

  • Reply
    OkieJammer
    January 11, 2022 at 8:21 am

    “January was the hallelujah chorus of a pack of beagles hot on the cottontail trail…” Shaking my head at this very vivid description. What a Wow.

  • Reply
    Peter Bohn
    January 11, 2022 at 8:14 am

    Great memories of Jan. On our little country/farm place. Also enjoying the Christmas gifts and great winter meals.

    Side note to Tipper: I viewed your YouTube video on country medical expressions and you left out one that was used often during the hot summer days, namely “the Vapors”. That’s when the heat and humidity were so high that all you wanted to do was grab some shade, a cool iced tea and pray for an afternoon T storm to cool thins off. My mother used to tell that the only disease to fear was the Epizutic. I still use that to this day. Love your blog and videos. Cheers, Pete

    • Reply
      Melinda
      January 11, 2022 at 11:47 am

      Wow!’ Epizutic’! First time I ever saw that in print. My dad used that name for any ailment not yet diagnosed. Wonder where that term came from? It made its way to SW Ohio anyway

  • Reply
    Jimk
    January 11, 2022 at 7:57 am

    Amen Mr Casada,
    Sitting by the woodstove listening to the sound of the fire on these cold January days I do hear the calling home of Appalachia as I remember family and friends from the past.
    Definitely a month for remembering the past and planning for the upcoming spring.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 11, 2022 at 7:53 am

    Lots of memories in there…makes me feel old…oh, that’s cause I am old! LOL!
    Thanks Jim, it’s a beautiful post, full of memories!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    January 11, 2022 at 6:53 am

    His mention on listening to the radio drew me back to my childhood way before starting school begging to stay up to listen to Roy Rogers and Dale Evens. Of course I never heard much of it before falling asleep

  • Reply
    Martha D Justice
    January 11, 2022 at 6:36 am

    Jim Casada truly had a gift for seeing all the wonders of life in Appalachia. He focused on the good and not the bad or hard things in life. I really enjoy his writings. Blessings to you all.

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    January 11, 2022 at 6:36 am

    I always enjoy the writings of Jim Casada. This one brought back many winter memories.

  • Reply
    donna sue
    January 11, 2022 at 5:04 am

    I so enjoyed Jim Casada’s guest post. He is an excellent writer, and makes me feel like his words are my reality, even if only for a few blissful moments. My heart has always wished I had grown up during the times Mr. Casada described. What a wonderful life he, and others that were blessed to be alive then, got to experience. The thought just struck me – maybe it is not a time before my years on this earth that I crave. Maybe it is just the place he, and all the others here, got to call home, that makes my heart yearn for a life I feel I missed out on – my big city life versus his small town/or country life. I feel those same wishful whispers when you tell the life stories of you and your brothers, Tipper – and you guys are my generation. So maybe it is simply the different way of life you were all blessed with. I love reading these memories. I am so thankful for the guest posts and commenters, who invite me into their wonderful lives when they share their stories. Thank you for this blog, and your channels, Tipper! I love this cozy and comfortable meeting place you have provided us with!

    Donna. : )

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