Heritage Profiles of Mountain People

Memories Of Winter Months Spent In Appalachia

wanda stalcup
Wanda Stalcup

In the old days the long winter months following Christmas and New Years were a time to catch up on housework, 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-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).

Recently Wanda Stalcup, Director of the Cherokee County Historical Museum, and Native Appalachian, talked with me about her memories of winter months spent as a child. Three yearly occurrences stood out to her as she looked back through the years.

The first:

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.

The second:

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 (guess some things never change), but each child treasured the Valentines they did receive. Wanda remembers taking hers out all through the year and marveling over the lovely creations.

The third:

Ground Hog Day! Wanda’s family was isolated from the outside world-the only influence being the radio-which didn’t forecast the weather. Her family anxiously awaited the Ground Hog’s appearance and his revelation about spring. The results could bring hopes for a warm moist spring to help the plants get a head start or the drudgery and work of getting more firewood to make it till a late spring.

The Blind Pig family uses the late winter months for crafting, painting, cooking, reading, and planning our garden for the coming summer. What do use them for?


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  • Reply
    Paul Webb
    February 14, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Winter in Appalachia is so special to me. I have taught school for 30 years now, and when it snows, that means, no school, while my wife makes sausage gravy & biscuits. My two sons ages 29 & 23 still get way excited about snow, caught that feeling from their parents. My wife is librarian and I am Principal at Cosby High School. We have a wonderful school, economic hardships abound, but with only 482 students, we know them all. We feed them breakfast, lunch, and for those that need it and will stay after shool for tutoring we feed them supper. Tis a good life. My wife and I are blessed and have a good time meeting the needs of good ole’ country kids, some of whom are suffering from major traumus in their life. In a small school you know everyone, I am so old I taught most of their parents, and we do face check each morning, and we soon find out who is down, and we try to help them. God bless the mountains and the people who live in them.

  • Reply
    February 2, 2009 at 3:48 am

    Wow! Always a good read!

  • Reply
    February 1, 2009 at 10:13 am

    We do some cleaning, reading, crafts, garden and farm planning and seed starting (inside).
    We also start planting this month (Feb); taters, onions and garlic.

  • Reply
    February 1, 2009 at 10:07 am

    We do some cleaning, reading, crafts, garden and farm planning and seed starting (inside).
    We also start planting this month (Feb); taters, onions and garlic.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Such charming stories! I loved making Valentine’s in grade school.
    My winter is the same as my summer–just a different kind of busy. Summer is actually calmer for us because school so disturbs our lives!

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    January 30, 2009 at 9:38 am

    It’s a gather up, gather in time for us. Taking care of little things in the house,researching and working on stories, catching up with friends and family, spending evenings by the fire. And enjoying the rest!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 30, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Well usually in the winter I stay busy doing pictures, house stuff and I like to take classes in the winter. This winter, however, has been a little different. I have done the most of nothing I have ever done in my life!
    Mayhap spring will correct that!

  • Reply
    Joan J
    January 30, 2009 at 8:21 am

    Winter here in southwestern Ohio has been about extra reading, sewing and baking time. But now that we have some snow(!) it’s about teaching a 3 yr old grandchild how to have fun — build a snowman, blow the dust off the flying saucer, make snow angels and more! I’d forgotten how much fun you can have outside, even in the cold!

  • Reply
    January 29, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    Guess I am repeating a lot of other peoples comments, but I too clean closets. I get rid of clothing that hasn’t been wore in a long time. I love to sew during the cold winter days. Something I don’t get to do enough of when grass cutting comes around.

  • Reply
    Brenda S. 'Okie in Colorado'
    January 29, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Wish I could pay down my credit line…I have been spending my time this winter reading, baking, very little decluttering, and snuggling with my wiener dogs.
    TIPPER, Congrats on the Hoochie Mama prize! We all want to see you strut your stuff now!
    Thanks again for your daily dose of “smiles” you give me.

  • Reply
    January 29, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    We do alot of inside remodeling during the winter…all work and no play makes a grumpy girl.

  • Reply
    January 29, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Well, here in Florida, we don’t really have a winter. This is the time we usually get ready for our end of year testing for homeschool. Two or three months we make sure we have covered everything we need.
    I tried to remember what we did when I lived up north, but I can’t remember, except that we played a lot out in the snow.

  • Reply
    Helen G.
    January 29, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Hi, Tipper. I’m pretty much like everyone else, doing fix-its around the house, cleaning out my closet and such. I’m getting primed to paint my bedroom and closet and to put up a shelf in the laundry room and paint in there, too.
    I hope you are ready to do some struttin’ this Valentine’s day… if only around the house. Your name was picked for the Hoochie MaMa Wahoo necklace and earrings for my give-away. I so hope you enjoy them. Send me your address again, please, so I can get them in the mail to you.
    Thanks for sharing in my fun.

  • Reply
    January 29, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Tipper, loved the visit to the snowy mountains today. We are finally thawing out from the ice storm that started on Monday, hopefully you all are ok. Prayers out to those w/o elec. I have been knitting, crocheting, drooling over seed catalogs and trying to convince my daughter that we NEED some goats and chickens in the backyard! (All together now, “Good Luck with that,Terry!) LOL.

  • Reply
    January 29, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    I’ve been staring at a half-done wallpaper stripping job waiting for me in my dining room. I wonder if I stare at it long enough, will it just start falling off the walls? I’ve also been transferring a lot of pictures from frames into scrapbooks. Not fancy scrapbooking, just putting them in there. I don’t have room for all the frames anymore. And I spend waaay too much time reading blogs. But it’s soooo hard to tear myself away, especially when they’re as good as yours.

  • Reply
    Nancy Simpson
    January 29, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    I enjoyed reading about Wanda Stalcup and her memories of mountain winters in the past.

  • Reply
    January 29, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    We use our winter months about the same as you do. I’ve still got a lot of projects to catch up on~seems there’s never enough time. I’m also learning to knit–I’m a slow learner!!
    Hope you are staying warm and enjoying your winter crafts!

  • Reply
    The Texican
    January 29, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Well down here on the border, we get out our winter shorts (darker colors) and wear lace up shoes and socks rather than flip flops. We trim up the palms around the swimming pool and make sure the air conditioner is serviced. On some days we are forced to wear long sleeved shirts. Great post Tipper. I always enjoy you reminders of the “good old days” when times were bad. 🙂 Pappy

  • Reply
    January 29, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Oh I love that Valentines story. What a great teacher. I remember making Valentines boxes in school, and Valentines. It is one of my favorite holidays. (Now)
    I too do crafts and clean up during the winter months.

  • Reply
    January 29, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    I seem to want to “nest” in the winter. I clean out cabinets and closets, make quilts, do simple home makeovers – moving furniture and pictures (can you hear my husband groaning?). blessings, marlene

  • Reply
    The Appalachianist
    January 29, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    I use these months to burn fire wood up, brood over the fall, read, clean up the place on a pretty day, brood some more…I tromp the woods some getting to know them better. Sleep in a morning or two.

  • Reply
    Cousin malcolm
    January 29, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Here where I have retired in Thailand we don’t really have a winter , but I have lots of winter memories of when we were growing up in the Carolinas. One is the chore of bring in coal, morning before school, and evening before bed ,for the one small fireplace we had to heat the whole house.I remember when it snowed and froze trying to get that old coal loose with our little cold hands,while crying we were freezing to death . Mother putting bricks close to the hearth to get hot to put in our beds to keep our little cold feet warm during thr night.Fond memories of winter growing up . Malcolm

  • Reply
    January 29, 2009 at 9:56 am

    We use the winter months pretty much the same way you do! Hope it is warm for you… I hear there is an ice storm that way? Enjoyed reading your post today. blessings, Kathleen

  • Reply
    January 29, 2009 at 8:57 am

    I catch up on sleep and movies a little. I also seem to get into home repair stuff. We work outside all summer and our inside stuff never gets done during the summer. It’s not so much a clearing of the ledger as it is a building of the shelves for us

  • Reply
    January 29, 2009 at 8:13 am

    well so far its just been eating and getting fat! lol!

  • Reply
    noble pig
    January 29, 2009 at 2:31 am

    I loved that winter scene picture.

  • Reply
    January 29, 2009 at 12:26 am

    My January is about organizing and home improvements – like cleaning out cupboards, and de-junking. This winter I’m turning my daughter’s old room (she got married last year) into my very own home office, something I’ve never had before!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    I always clean my closets and get rid of old papers and such. I read, bake, sew and cross stitch when I have time but mostly I play and read to my grandchildren. I just wish I had more time at home instead of work.

  • Reply
    Carolyn A.
    January 28, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    I use these days to crochet and look up new recipes for things to make out of what’s stored on my little pantry/bookcase. We had snow flurries and ice yesterday, so I took the day off. Didn’t want to get hurt trying to make it into work walking on all that ice. I am also trying to decide where is the best place to set up a craft table. SP’s Mom gave me her old dining room table. I think I can actually set up the sewing machine, cutting boards and tools I’ll need to start crafting again. xxoo

  • Reply
    January 28, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    I usually sew in the winter and look forward to spring. Can’t wait until spring, I’m tired of the snow, ice and cold.

  • Reply
    January 28, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Usually I’m motivated to finish up all those projects that have been hanging on from the last year. This year I need motivation!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    I enjoyed the memories. Groundhog Day was a big day when I was growing up on the farm in the 50s. We did have radio and the odd newspaper, but Grandpa planted and harvested his crops by the moon and other signs from nature.
    During the long winter days, I write, do a bit of needlework, read and try to stay cozy and warm. Staying warm has been difficult this year when going into the Great Outdoors. We’ve experiences some frigid temperatures and again tonight it is to be minus 28 with the windchill factor.
    February 2nd is Groundhog’s Day and six weeks after that, approximately, spring will arrive.
    Enjoyed the post.

  • Reply
    January 28, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    These events still punctuate the winter–paying down the bills, preparing for Valentine’s Day, and looking for the end of the Winter Road. This post inspires me to make cards with my daughter this year. I hope she is as enthusiastic as I am.

  • Reply
    January 28, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Still pruning, will flip the compost so I can add manure from the barn clean out from winter, starting seeds, drinking chocolate, bringing tender perennials out of dormancy, having special teas in the afternoon, dusting what seems like four times a day because the sun really comes straight through the window highlighting ever piece of lint, dust and hair at this time of year.
    Telling stories, putting my project room back together, dreaming of all the things I could accomplish by next fall.
    So pretty much, like everyone else.

  • Reply
    Kim Campbell
    January 28, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    regardless if i ever win, i love your blog. my husband’s family is from pennsylvania, near hollidaysburg. i love the mountains and that area.

  • Reply
    January 28, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    Well presently, I’m trying to get rid of this stinkin’ cold. But I will be planning my garden and flowers. And chomping at the bit by the time it gets here!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Hi Tipper,
    we have always liked getting in the kitchen and baking up a storm! Lately, I’ve come to enjoy sitting at my sewing machine when the weather is cold and dreary.

  • Reply
    Patty Hall
    January 28, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    I’ve been thinking of a garden-but no where to put one.
    Other things-reading, baking,waiting for springtime. But–a good snow first.

  • Reply
    Amy @ parkcitygirl
    January 28, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    We do much the same as you 🙂 And I do send the girls out to play in the snow – they have too much energy!

  • Reply
    teresa atkinson
    January 28, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    The maggiegrace crew stills gets out and about too much – but I find myself snuggling in and resting more at this time of the year. crochet on the big blankets. and cooking much more soup and stew.

  • Reply
    City Mouse
    January 28, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    What wonderful and interesting memories. We did similar when I was a kid with the Valentines, but I think I remember that we did one for each class member (!) and then someone might get a special one as a bonus. Honestly, it was more like “Everybody Gets a Greeting Card” day.
    We do much the same around here nowadays – Feb and March are for planning and anticipating.

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