Appalachia Overheard




“I wish you could remember the song because I like to sing about going to the mill. Not many people can say they’ve been sent to the mill these days, but I can. When I was young I was always being sent to the mill. One time they sent me after lamp oil. I went over to Wayne Crisp’s mill to get it. On the way back I had the oil in the back pocket of my overalls. It had a cork in the top of it but I didn’t realize it was leaking until it started hurting. That oil burned a big blister right on my backside and it got in the cornmeal too. They had to wash my overalls and put some salve on my blister. The cornmeal was ruined even though it hadn’t got wet it tasted like lamp oil. They wasn’t mad at me, they felt too sorry for me cause of the burn I had gotten from the oil.”


Overheard: snippets of conversation I overhear in Southern Appalachia

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  • Reply
    Sam Ensley
    October 18, 2013 at 10:31 am

    I remember the old Townsend mill on Brasstown Creek near Jacksonville (a suburb of Young Harris) The mill was powered by a water wheel, and when it was running the whole building seemed to shake. A boy could get in a little fishing while waiting for his turn of meal to grind. Befoe my time, my dad had a hammeer mill. My older brother used to joke about losing the 1/2 bushel tub amd finding it under the toll bucket.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 17, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    Bradley-What is pavement?
    Bill- I was big for my age. I was judging the distance by how many times I had to set the jug down and switch sides with the cornmeal. As you well know, you have to squat to pick up the jug. If you bend over, the bag will fall off and you will have to start the whole process over again. But, know what? I much druther be doin that that what I am doin today. Life was hard but never boring.
    PS: If you carry the jug too long you have to take it off with the other hand and the finger you took it off of keeps that crook for a day or two.

  • Reply
    October 17, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    When I was a newer model I remember two little boys riding double on an old bicycle. They too were going to get some kerosene. These guys were two brothers – about nine and ten years old. One was driving and the little one was sitting on the handlebars holding an empty, gallon, brown Clorox jug. Something caused them to wreck – may have been a dog – going down a hill. To make a long story short, the jug shattered on the pavement and the handle on the jug turned into a deadly piece of glass. It went into the little boy’s eye. We were sure he would be bling in that eye but, that unseen power or what ever you choose to call it took charge and all that little boy lost that day was some blood and that old brown jug. His Momma put a stop to riding on those handlebars from that day forward. He grew to be a handsome young man with two dark chinquapin eyes all the girls liked so much!

  • Reply
    October 17, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    I went to the mill just yesterday, as I needed some roughcut 2x4s for a little project. So many sawmills have stopped running here in the past 15 years…I’m lucky to have two to choose from yet.
    But I think you all are talking about other kinds of mills…and b.Ruth made me laugh and laugh! 🙂

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 17, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    “Going to the mill” is a fast fading phrase it appears. The mill to most of us old Appalachians is when we run out of cornmeal or flour, we gather up some grain and take it to a roller mill or hammer mill and get it ground.
    I think most of the younger generation thinks of a mill as a factory that produces finished products such as paper, cloth, hosiery etc.
    There are still mills around that grind cornmeal but mostly it is to make little bags of tourist bait. Reckon how long it will be before those big overshot wheels will be secretly powered by an electric motor and the bags they sell will say “made in China”

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 17, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Shoud’ve been dump instead of mall!
    Thanks Tipper,
    No songwriter I…

  • Reply
    Jackie McClung
    October 17, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    It was about two miles to the mill when I was a kid. Dad put me and the corn or wheat on the horse. He walked leading the horse until I was about eight. Then he sent me alone. The miller would put me back on the horse with the flour or cornmeal and away we would go. I think dad got lamp oil in town. We had electricity by the time I was in 2nd grade.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 17, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    “Down by the Old Mill Stream”! Is one old mill song that comes to mind!Guess there are several Old Mill songs…
    How about..
    “I Galded and Gaumed Up My Overhauls When I Toted The Cornmeal and All (oil) Home From The Old Mill.”
    A “peppy” little tune would suffice. Sooo, here it is..beginning with the chorus!
    Oh, how I hopped and skipped down the mountain on Shanks mare!
    With the far (fire) follerin’ up behind me on my rear.
    Well Maw, fanned it and dusted cornmeal frum my drawers…
    Well, I ain’t goin’ to do that no more.
    She warshed my ragged over-hauls but the cornmeal still stunk,
    You could smell hit plum from the downtown mall.
    She salved up my blistering gald, as hit burnt all the way frum Crisps mill.
    Next time, she needs all (oil) and cornmeal, she can just send brother Bill!
    There’s more to the song..about losing the cork, carryin’ hit in a can instead of a small glass bottle…but I don’t have time to write the rest here….LOL
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Guess I need to work on a melody… and tweak the words a bit! LOL

  • Reply
    October 17, 2013 at 11:54 am

    yes i have been to the mill , and the way things are now i wish we could go back to the good old days that we could live simple and not worry about so many things thats going on
    but like they say we cant go home anymore
    sad to say

  • Reply
    October 17, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Miss Cindy voiced many of my questions. After the first sentence, I also wondered about being sent to the mill to work – as in a child was finally old enough to add to the family’s income. Only thing is, I wouldn’t assume a male just because of the overalls – I wore overalls a lot as a child – especially out in the fields.
    Otherwise – enjoyed “eavesdropping” on Ed’s and Bill’s dialogue. ; )

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 17, 2013 at 11:27 am

    I’m like Cindy, what mill? And who
    in the world is Wayne Crisp? The
    only ones that I ever knew that had
    a grinding mill was Raleigh Gregory and John King. I’ve been in both of those with daddy and had corn meal made.
    When I was younger and use to smoke like a sift, I filled my Zippo lighter too full and it
    leaked in my front pocket. That
    thing made a huge blister…Ken

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    October 17, 2013 at 9:46 am

    I guess Ed is determining miles by the number of steps required to cover a set distance which the length of his legs would require more steps at eight, I’m sure Harold helped him tote the meal and/or kerosene. I have walked to the mill but luckily it was just across the swinging bridge where my Great Grand Uncle Pierson Dehart ran the mill. One of my Great Uncles was sent to mill with two sacks of corn, while Uncle P.P. was grinding the meal Uncle Ray became involved in a Baseball game on our island. As the light began to fade he realized he had played longer than he intended. Fearing that his Dad wouldn’t be happy about his tardiness he rushed to the mill, picked up the two sacks of meal and carried them the three miles (real miles Ed) to High Lonesome. Arriving well after dark he began apologizing to Grandpa about the length of time he had been gone. Grandpa calmly told him that he wasn’t mad about him playing ball but wanted to know where his horse was that Uncle Ray had ridden to the mill. In his fear of being punished he had forgotten the horse tied in Uncle P.P.’s barn and carried two turns of meal on his shoulders for three miles. He then had to walk back to Needmore and retrieve the horse. My Great Uncle was a big strapping teen and Grandpa Andy was on crutches from crippling arthritis but this demonstrates the respect he showed his father’s discipline.

  • Reply
    October 17, 2013 at 9:12 am

    This story gives me an unpleasant feeling – that burn must have really hurt. Blisters and burns are so hard to deal with, especially when they happen in a sensitve part of the body. I wondered if the person was using a backpack to carry his mill items. Interesting!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 17, 2013 at 7:25 am

    Tipper, that snippet raises more questions for me than it answers. What mill, how did the man come to be sent to the mill? Was it punishment? I assume it was male because of the overalls. It must have been a fairly old man to remember lamp oil in a bottle small enough to go in his pocket. If the oil was in his pocket where was the meal that was contaminated? Good gracious, what a mystery!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 17, 2013 at 7:08 am

    I don’t remember going to the mill for cornmeal but I do remember walking to Ralph Breedlove’s little store for cornmeal and careseen. I had to lug many a 25 lb. bag of cornmeal or flour 3 or 4 miles back home. Bill Burnett disputes the distance but miles are measured differently if you are 8 years old carrying a 25 pound load on your shoulder and your finger through the handle of a brown Clorox jug full of careseen.
    Careseen is basically the same as lamp oil only it don’t have something in it to take away the smell and give it a pretty color.

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