What it Was Like to Grow up in WNC

Today’s guest post was written by Lewis Kearney.

Growing up in western nc 1

After reading one of your daily blogs, the thought hit me of things I had not thought of lately growing up in western NC:

emptying my mother’s chamber pot
seeing my grandmother’s flowers on the outside porch rail, mostly in coffee cans
going to church in straight back chairs in the back of my uncle’s pickup
building the tables for dinner on the ground at church
starting the fire in the cook stove with “coal oil”
gathering eggs and putting my hand on a black snake in the nest
playing with new kittens in the hay in barn loft
eating a cold watermelon on Sunday afternoons
sitting in the shade of the front yard visiting on Sunday afternoons
slopping the hogs
playing in the creek
Saturday night baths
getting a moon pie and “pop” at the country store
watching my grandfather salt his hams
seeing a new baby calf
seeing new chicks
seeing a new litter of pigs
baling hay
driving my uncle’s tractor at age 12
making a sling shot
not wearing shoes all summer (except for church)
visiting “smelly old aunts”
porch swings
the whole crowd sitting on the porch after supper visiting and talking
hearing the whip ‘or wills
shooting crows

hanging out clothes for momma
Helping my grandfather churn butter (his job only, but he would let me “help”)z
an after dinner nap (noon) when working in the fields
pork chops, fried chicken, or country ham for breakfast
biscuits, eggs, and gravy every morning for breakfast, 365 days a year
keeping the wood box full
picking blackberries for jelly
helping to milk our two milk cows
riding behind my grandfather on his horse, Snapper, going to church
watching my mother using the wood stove to make a cake
tinkling out the upstairs bedroom window rather than going downstairs and going out back
staying all night at the tobacco barn
using the gourd dippers at the springs on the farm


I hope you enjoyed Lewis’s memories as much as I did.


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  • Reply
    Kathy Poteet Dubree
    July 30, 2019 at 1:01 am

    My Daddy grew up in Murphy, NC he told me about doing most of those things. The only thing he didn’t do was grow tobacco they grew corn and other vegetables.

  • Reply
    July 7, 2018 at 10:45 pm

    I have done almost all of them. I love and miss those memories and i wouldn’t trade them for nothing. Makes my mind go back a ( few ) years. God Bless!

    • Reply
      Carol Sturgill Osborne
      July 30, 2019 at 8:18 pm

      I remember most of those things I do remember stacking the hay. Big Sunday lunch after church. All us kids stayed outside and played until the grownups were finished. I grew up in Ashe County in the Creston area a place called Roundabout Road. Gods Country

  • Reply
    Annette Hensley
    July 7, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    Thanks for the memories. Enjoyed revisiting them. When our “elderly” generation is gone, most of these things won’t even be memories. Such a shame!

  • Reply
    July 7, 2018 at 12:57 pm

    I certainly can relate to quite a few of these memories.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    July 7, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    I enjoyed Mr. Lewis’s recall of when he was little. I laughed when I read Ed’s comment and memories, rustin’ the screen and such.

    I remember a man, Daniel Boone Holloway, coming to our Revival at Topton. He was dog drunk and at the invocation the church sung “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood”. Ole Daniel was about a sentence behind everyone else, but he could really be heard. When he left, he hollered “Younce Come”. …Ken

  • Reply
    July 7, 2018 at 11:54 am

    May I ask Lewis a few questions?

    Were you born in Surry County?
    Is William your first name and is Lewis your mother’s maiden name?
    Do you have a degree in Forestry from Mississippi State?
    Was your father an engineer? Worked for the VA?
    Have you worked in Franklin, NC and Cleveland, TN?

    Just curious!

  • Reply
    July 7, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Similar memories in the mountains of West Virginia in the 40’s and early50’s. We rode in the back of my uncle’s red truck with slatted boards on the side. Nothing fancy there, but some of the best memories ever with the wind in your hair and a truckload of cousins. The best cornbread I have ever tasted was baked in a cast iron skillet in the oven of a wood cooking stove. Our entire social life was extended family, funerals, and church. I especially liked baptizings.

    I have often thought back to those days, and I realized Uncle Sam only thought he was in charge by taxing and making laws. It was a world within a world with still a lot of bartering they called trading. No tax on the chickens, eggs, huge gardens, milk cows, and hogs which provided all the food one could want. Everybody’s neighbor was a back yard mechanic, and most men worked on their own equipment. We didn’t even have a phone in those days. Contrary to the image sometimes portrayed, most men who were neighbors or family worked full time jobs. Women rarely worked, and most stayed home with their busy hands finding plenty to do. Children minded and were taught to respect their elders. It was a good life in those days. It taught us so much more than a cell phone can.

    • Reply
      Lewis Kearney
      August 28, 2019 at 6:54 am

      Yes to all.

  • Reply
    July 7, 2018 at 11:18 am

    I so enjoyed reading the memories of Lewis as it all resonated with me. I either saw some of the same things or were told about them from my daddy and mother – they grew up in N.E. MS. I’m not so sure about the smelly Aunts though (lol), as my parents seemed to have revered their uncles and aunts and I did the same for mine. And thank the good Lord even though I remember my grandmother’s chicken pen, I never had to get the eggs. If I had touched a snake back then, I would have fell over dead. I sure remember a lot of sitting on the porch breaking beans or shelling peas and just a swinging on a porch swing.

  • Reply
    July 7, 2018 at 10:48 am

    My childhood parallels Lewis’s except for these minor differences:

    Most of Grammaws flowers were in “lunchroom buckets” i.e. #10 tin cans
    We rode on the side walls and tailgate of my uncle’s pickup.
    We called it “lamp oil” or “careseen”
    I never got ahold of a snake in a hen nest but saw one that had swallowed an egg and got stuck trying to crawl back out the hole he came in. We did a c-section on the snake and rescued the egg.
    It was a “dope” and a moonpie for me.
    My father salted down the meat. Both my grandfathers died before I was born.
    We never baled hay. We mowed and stacked it by hand.
    My uncle Jesse had a tractor but he didn’t let me drive it. In the ensuing years I have driven all manner of machinery but never a farm tractor.
    We even went to church barefooted.
    I still catch a whiff of an old lady in a store which reminds of my childhood. They smell like a sweet bubbie bush. Not a pleasant smell to me.
    I shot a crow “on the wing” one time. Two three of us had been deer hunting with no luck. Instead of unloading the 30.06 I pointed the gun in the general direction of a flock of crows without aiming. One flew into my bullet I guess. I yelled “got him” as if I intended to shoot him.
    My mother and grandmother made the butter. Mommy molded it and sold some. We kept Jerseys so we always had more that enough cream and butter.
    Once again no grandfathers, so no rides on his horse. Daddy bought an “old Kate” we could ride. She would sense us falling off, stop dead still and wait for us to climb back on.
    We never had an upstairs but I peed out the back window many times. Daddy wondered why the screen rusted out.
    One year my mother stripped and graded tobacco in the room where Harold and I slept. Daddy took out the big window so she could toss the stalks out through it. He chopped up the stalks with an axe and put them back on the fields.

    Other that that, we could be brothers!

    • Reply
      July 7, 2018 at 11:00 am

      Old Kate was a big horse and we were little kids so we had sidle her up to something just to climb on. One time we hammered together a step ladder of sorts purpose built for boarding our magnificent steed. We made a saddle out of a tow sack stuffed with hay but it kept slipping around sideways and we would find ourselves looking up at the belly of this huge beast and hoping she didn’t step on us. She never did! She never ever hurt a soul!

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    July 7, 2018 at 10:39 am

    We had an elderly lady everyone called Aunt Idy. I don’t think she was actually a relative. Anyway, Aunt Idy smelled pretty strongly and I had heard the adults talking about it. Next time I saw Aunt Idy, I told her she stunk. Didn’t get punished except got shamed for hurting an old lady’s feelings.

    I enjoyed all the memories–my childhood was much like Lewis’s.

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    July 7, 2018 at 10:31 am

    I think I did about 35 of those things. Girls weren’t allowed to drive the tractor or bail hay. I was allowed to ride the horse as he walked back and forth to life hay bales into the loft in the barn.

    My grandma cooked with corn cobs in summer. I never saw my mother use the cook stove, but grandma and I did. I especially loved the cookies, pies, and cakes we made. Cakes were made rarely, but pies were made at least every Saturday “in case somebody dropped by.”

    I never slept in the tobacco barn, but I did “top” tobacco plants. BTW, the low-ceiling tobacco barn did double duty as the home of baby chicks in the spring. The baby chicks came in the mail.

    Then there was the “putting up” of food for the winter and making kraut. Sometimes we combined a hollyhock bud and a flower to make a little doll.

    One other thing I loved to do was sew on grandma’s treadle sewing machine. I put the needle through a fingernail, but only once Also I loved to read. Some of the books were over 100 years old.

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    July 7, 2018 at 9:21 am

    I really enjoyed this post! My Dad talked about many of these things.

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    July 7, 2018 at 9:10 am

    Lewis’ memories evoked a lot of similar memories from the late 49’s and early 50’s here in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. One vivid memory always surfaces in hot weather. My granny lived across the road. She lived in the same house whetre she was born June 16, 1882. Air Conditioning was unknown in homes in this area. Granny’s house was made of huge hewn logs with white clapboard outside. There is a big sleeping loft overhead. The doors were shorter the windows tall. It was nice and cool in there in the hot summer afternoons such as we are having now. I would slip off to grannys house and crawl under the bed on the cool linoleum floor and escape the heat and many times take a nap. As Archibald Rutledge would say “Those Were The Days”. Larry Proffitt.

  • Reply
    July 7, 2018 at 8:57 am

    I enjoyed reading about Lewis’s memories, many of which are similar to my own. Daddy almost always owned a truck. If we ever got to go anywhere, we had to ride in the back. Makes me nervous to even think about it now. Mom would load up the salt shaker and a sharp knife as we headed out to a wide spot along the road to eat our watermelon. We called those outings a picnic. All those memories are precious. The smelly aunt memory is funny. I bet Lewis kept that thought to himself as a child to avoid a good switching. I know I would have.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    July 7, 2018 at 8:33 am

    Tipper–I wish Lewis had indicated where he grew up in WNC but I suspect most of his shared “precious memories” are common to many of your more seasoned (I refuse to say older, because in part at least that’s a state of mind). I actually counted, and 25 of his memories are ones in my experience as well. Most of those outside my personal experience involve cattle or horses, although I now realize, three score and more years after the fact, that I missed a grand opportunity by not tinkling out the upstairs window..

    This was really enjoyable, at virtually every one of those memories constitutes subject matter for a full newspaper column or one of your blogs.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 7, 2018 at 8:13 am

    Lewis got most of those country memories. Pretty much describes my childhood except he left out hunting and fishing and hoeing.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    July 7, 2018 at 7:02 am

    Thanks. That post made me go back and remember my early years.
    They are different memories from his but still happy ones.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 7, 2018 at 6:54 am

    Wow, that’s quite a list to ponder and very different from kids today with computers and cell phones. We seem to be heading farther and farther from working with our hands and faster and faster toward working solely with our brains. I’m wondering what the world will look like when the Pressely Girls have children and grand children!
    Thanks, Lewis for the memories and thank Tipper for that picture. The ‘boy’ in the middle of your collage is my Dad and his two younger brothers. See those bibbed overalls? It was a different world then.
    My dad learned to make biscuits standing in a chair at the counter because he was to little to reach the counter from the floor. His mother was working in the garden and milking the cows while her husband was working in the paper mill.
    Not a cell phone or ipad in sight!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    July 7, 2018 at 6:31 am

    Great memories to charish and share

  • Reply
    Wesley P Bossman
    July 7, 2018 at 6:24 am

    I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed that! Thank you very much!

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