Appalachia In The Winter

Winter in Appalachia

During the winter months following Christmas I start thinking about the coming garden: What will I plant? Will I move things around or keep the same set-up I had last summer? What is the exact day I should plant my seedlings? Should we get a load of compost?

As you can see most of my activities start centering around getting ready for the coming growing season. But I also remind myself to soak up the remaining days of winter-doing the cold weather things I love like: Cuddling up under a blanket with a good book; Soaking up the heat from the heater (me and the girls fight over who gets to sit closest); Cooking up a storm in the kitchen while the windows steam over from the heat.

In the old days the long winter months following Christmas and New Years in Appalachia were a time to catch up on: sewing, quilting, barn work, hardware repair, and planning for spring and planting time. Certainly folks still had work to do-feeding/caring for the animals, and making sure the wood supply would make it till spring made for a full time job-but the weather conditions forced the late winter months to also be a time of rest compared to the long work days of spring, summer, and fall.

A few years ago, Wanda Stalcup-Director of the Cherokee County Museum, shared her memories of winter months spent as a child in Appalachia with me.

Her family’s primary cash crop was tobacco. Wanda recalled payment for the previous summer’s crop generally came around Christmas time. The money was used to pay off lines of credit at local stores, paying tithes to church, and having the fields turned and readied for spring planting. To be able to “clear the ledgers” brought a welcome relief to her family.

Wanda’s first grade teacher, Mrs. Axely helped make Valentines Day special for the entire school. Mrs. Axely was a beloved fixture of the school, her birthday fell on Valentines Day.

In those days most children couldn’t afford to purchase Valentines or even buy supplies to make them. Mrs. Axely provided materials for the children to make Valentines. Some years she helped them make a “mail box” to place the cards in-on the special day Mrs. Axely would hand out the Valentines one by one. Political correctness was unheard of at that time-and children were left to choose who got a Valentine and who didn’t. Wanda recalls the popular kids got the most, but each child treasured the Valentines they did receive. Wanda remembers taking hers out all through the year and marveling over the lovely creations.



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  • Reply
    January 29, 2013 at 12:48 am

    I have memories of Valentine’s Days back in the 50s. Political correctness was unheard of, but I clearly remember our mother wouldn’t hear of me omitting some children back then; I sent to all, or I sent to none. Period!!! I don’t know where she got that from, but I’m glad she made me do it. It taught me to be kind to the less fortunate, a lesson I carry through to today in my travels through our little town and in my part-time work at the store, and I KNOW that it’s appreciated.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    January 27, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Icy here and I’ve been cooking and sewing and looking at seed catalogs — and that new downtime activity — catching up on blog visiting. maybe I’ll make some valentines…

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    January 25, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    Hey Tipper,
    Whew…missed alot of the freezing rain..could’ve been a lot worse here. We still have icicles hanging from the shrubs and trees. The grass crunches when you walk on it…”Fluffy” our spoiled rotten cat, did the “should I go out, or should I stay in thang” while I held the door open,’til he caught on that I wasn’t going to stand there forever. Our days are filled with joyous winter interludes, from watching him watch the shadows of the birds thru the blinds, to watching the rabbits hop in the front yard.
    I always love Valentine’s Day…Of course, another excuse to craft…Huge paper doilies, red and white paper, and crepe paper streaming across the room.
    Even in the fourties I believe I remember making Valentines for everyone in the room…We made our holders some years out of old shoe boxes, covered in paper. Sometimes, we just made a big envelope out of construction paper, with My Valentines written across the front with our name on it. It was usually a special day with koolaid and cookies…I don’t remember cupcakes too much back then…Sometimes a teacher would give out those heart candies with verses on them like
    I luv you..or Be mine…that was my favorite thing to get…Sometimes one would bring the heart shaped cinnamon red hots…Goodness, I’d love to have a bag of red-hots…LOL
    Great Post….Stay Warm you’all
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    January 25, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    There was a girl I hoped would claim me. I hoped somehow I would get a Valentine from her. I got very few Valentines; those I did were without intention.
    We moved a lot. Maybe I was always new. I know all I had was Salvation Army second-hand clothes and a bowl-shaped haircut. I don’t think she noticed, one way or the other.
    I watched her at recess. She did look over her shoulder at me once.
    I sent her a Valentine.
    Well, anyway, we moved away then.

  • Reply
    January 25, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I have been dealing with a quarter
    inch of ice at my house, finally
    got onto the highway. But it’s
    Winter, supposed to be this way!
    I love it! Now that me and Whisky
    have made it to the shop, we’re
    going to bake awhile.
    Just had a conversation with a
    lady who knew Mrs. Axley…Ken

  • Reply
    January 25, 2013 at 11:46 am

    I sure wish I had some of those old valentine cards I got that were romantic looking even to a little girl. Remember the ones decorated with glitter that said ‘Be Mine’ and didn’t have Scooby or Dora on them?
    The seed catalogs that start arriving in January help me keep my sanity until I can get outside again.

  • Reply
    January 25, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Oh how blessed we are to live in 4 season country! Just when I thought I would get a bit of rest in the winter, time is spent carrying in wood and scraping and shoveling snow. It is a wonderful time to bake, and I use these cold days to bake up all those things I missed out on in the Summer. I may bake some valentine shaped cakes.
    I remember the way Valentine’s day once was, and can remember winning the big box teacher decorated for the valentines. I was thrilled. What a wonderful time we had in grade school, as those wonderful teachers would come up with so many ways to teach and entertain kids. We made and painted clay bowls, listened to a chapter a day of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and picked up Beechnuts at recess. Also we were taught early love of country, and that is still ingrained in my generation.

  • Reply
    January 25, 2013 at 11:26 am

    I mostly detest winter. We’ve had temps in the teens and single digits for a week and 4 – 6″ of snow in the works today, makes a body lose their sense of humor! But you are right Tipper, winter does have a few charms and some slow, cozy moments that make it tolerable, thanks for the timely reminder! It’s thoughts like that and the seed catalogs that get me through till spring!
    Fortunately I grew up in a very small town (it’s getting too big now) where everybody knew everybody and you would not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. No one ever went without valentines in our school.

  • Reply
    January 25, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Enjoyed this post so much. I’ve noticed in genealogy that Christmas Day was a popular wedding date back in the late 1800s and I figure it was because the farming was ‘slow’ during that time and it gave them more time to spend together.
    Loved the Valentine story. I remember the little sacks we decorated with our names on it and the teacher tacked them to the bottom of the bulletin board for us to drop our valentines into.

  • Reply
    rick kratzke
    January 25, 2013 at 10:27 am

    It is so important to keep body and mind busy during the late cold winter months so you don’t go kinda crazy. I to have started thinking of spring and when trout season opens up and things I would like to accomplish during the summer.

  • Reply
    Gary Powell
    January 25, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Ice on the roads here in Kentucky. I made it in to work alright, but there were several accidents in the entrances to the parking lot where people turning in slid into the ones waiting to get out.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    January 25, 2013 at 9:00 am

    I have the best Valentine — her name is Leslie! She was a surprise (albeit joyful) in many ways — she was a month early and she was to be “Mark”.

  • Reply
    January 25, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Unfortunately, employers don’t give you snow days like schools do. When I was in school I thought snow days were the best part of the year… except for summer vacation! Me and my Dad would spend the day beside the Warm Morning stove looking through seed catalogs and of course my Mom would be in the kitchen cooking up all sorts of good stuff.

  • Reply
    January 25, 2013 at 8:42 am

    Your post about mrs Axley and home Valentines reminded me of a person I once knew! He was once an art teacher at a middle school. He told this story of something that happened years ago.
    At his school the Beta club each valentine’s day would make valentines for students that wanted to send them to someone special. They would use red construction paper with white on the inside. They would then use a calligraphy pen to make it look good. They would charge a quarter for this. Well, the kids would always have one made for someone if the had a quarter.
    This teacher told me this story that one day when the bell rang to end class all the kids left except three little boys kept standing around. These little boys were a little ragged but hey were spotless clean. The teacher said ,”Boys you are gonna be late if you don’t go on.” One of them stepped forward in a shy way and said “Jones, (this teacher wouldn’t force the kids to call him Mr. if they didn’t want to) we wanted to get get you a valentine today but (and his little head dropped) we couldn’t get up a quarter but if we could we sure would have got you one.” The teacher told them that that was positively the best valentine card he never got. I never forgot his story.

  • Reply
    January 25, 2013 at 8:35 am

    I remember making valentines when I was in school. Yes, we choose who we wanted to give one to and it wasn’t everyone. We always treasured the ones we received and as I went through some childhood memories many, many years ago, I remember finding one from second grade. It was a boy who I thought was so handsome. It’s interesting that we can still have some humorous memories of things like that. Good memory booster from times gone by.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 25, 2013 at 8:34 am

    There was no political correctness when I was growing up. At school we made Valentines and as far as I can remember we gave them to everyone. All teachers had to worry about was teaching children to read and write. They didn’t have all the burdens and obstacles teachers face now…but that a rant I don’t need to start now. LOL God bless the teachers!
    I don’t work or garden and don’t have a lot of planning to do for spring. For me this time of year is very introspective. Internal inventory and clearing out. My mind does a lot of processing of information I’ve gathered all year. All kinds of things pop up when I give it free rein.
    My grandmother used to make quilt tops in the cold winter months as well as bonnets and aprons. They went to bed at dark and got up at daylight and they worked hard all day. The winter months brought a little rest but not a lot.
    Physically life was harder then now life is mentally and spiritually harder. Life is and always was a challenge to live well.

  • Reply
    Barbara Woodall
    January 25, 2013 at 7:50 am

    Sleet is falling. The mountains are shrouded in a sparkling gown that glisten like diamonds in the early light. Ice cycles hang from age old rocks, looking like giant clothespins frozen in time.
    Nature has turned off the heat. The Fisher stove fire crackles and pops. Think I’ll decorate it with a pot of soup-beans.
    LOVE the snow picture!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 25, 2013 at 7:42 am

    It’s starting to sleet and snow here and I have to head out for work in a few minutes. Wish me luck!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Ormond Paul
    January 25, 2013 at 6:34 am

    Up until I was i the 4th grade I can remember making valentines for my parents and classmates. Not politically correct here either.

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