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A lot of knowledge can be gained from ‘old-timers’

By Virginia Manuel
It’s no secret I love talking to the “old timers”.  Lately most of the talk has been about the weather and how cold it has been and the inch or two of snow we got.  The schools and some businesses have been closed but in times past it wasn’t like that at all. The old timers tell me it was a lot colder, lasted longer and there was a lot more snow. It would start snowing in November and wouldn’t quit until March.  Sometimes we wouldn’t see the ground until spring. 
One fellow told me he had to walk to the old Doe Valley School and it was uphill both ways.  Another person told me about walking about a mile down the creek to the Ackerson Creek School. There were no buses in those days. In the school there were eight grades, one room, one teacher, and a potbellied stove. The snow would be as high as the fence posts. They would skate on the frozen creek all the way to school and another told me about her brother carrying her on his back to school through the deep snow.
We talked about the big snow in the early sixties; school was out the whole month of January. It just kept snowing and snowing until the snow was so deep you couldn’t see the fence posts.  A gentleman told me over on Dry Hill the wind blew so hard there were forty to fifty foot snowdrifts and it got so cold the snow froze so hard he and his brother walked across the fields on the frozen snow to the general store.
I remember that winter also; the snow was so deep even the mailman couldn’t get up our holler. He left the important mail with the lady near the highway. After about a week or so the man next door put an old blade on his tractor and tried to blade the road. When he got to the highway he picked up the mail and delivered it up the holler. It was a roundabout way of getting mail but the mail did go through.  Mail delivery like that would never happen today.
One man told me he had just been to the grocery store to buy bread and milk. He remembered talking to his uncle when he was just a boy, the uncle told him “Mark my words, son, one of these days you will be paying a dollar for a loaf of bread.” He said he thought of that when a loaf of bread that day cost him $3.50.  His uncle also said he would pay upwards of $100 for a good pair of shoes.  Today you can’t buy a pair of tennis shoes for $100.
One “old timer” said his dad told him in 1917 Beaverdam Creek in Shady Valley froze so hard you could drive a team of horses and a sled all the way up it.  In the spring when it started to thaw the ice floating down the creek washed out all the railroad trestles between Shady Valley and Damascus Virginia.
When I asked about food, a lady told me “My mother always kept vegetables in a hole in the ground.  When it came a fair day she would go out and dig in the hole for potatoes, cabbage, and turnips and we would have a fine meal.”  She told they always had hogs to kill and there was hog meat to eat.  Her dad would sell the hams to get money to buy sugar and coffee and to pay property taxes.  “Sometimes we would get down to eating just side meat and the way Mama fried it, well, it just tasted plum good,” she said.
Another of the “old timers” told me a story about a man and his mule he called “Old Kate” but that is a story for another time.  Talking to the old timers brings back many memories and warms up these snowy cold days as we sit and wait for the January thaw.