By Virginia R. Manuel
First off, let me tell you how proud I am to have grown up in an era where neighbors helped neighbors, you never saw a stranger (unless they were a reven-noor). If a car came up the road with an out-of-county or out-of-state plate you knew exactly who they were and where they were going. You didn't worry about locking your doors
Back in the hills of Tennessee when I grew up my parents and grandparents were hard scrabble farmers. We made a living on the land. Almost everything we ate came from our own hard work. We had corn and tobacco crops for cash and raised a big garden for food. We also had chickens, a cow, a horse, and a couple of pigs.
In the spring, summer and fall months a lot of our time was spent on the front porch. Early in the morning we would go to the garden and pick whatever there was ready to pick. The basic preparing was done by the whole family while settin' on the porch. If it was peas, we would be shellin', if it was beans, we would be stringing' and breakin', if it was corn you might catch us shuckin', or apples we'd be a-peelin'. You might find us shelling corn to take to mill to have it ground into cornmeal so there would be bread on the table.
A lot of visiting was also done on the front porch. One of the neighbors might be walking or driving by and come up on the porch to “set a spell.” My aunt and uncle would come from Elizabethton every week to visit and have supper with us. Other relatives occasionally stopped in for a visit especially on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes we would have a great big family dinner when lots of folks stopped by. When the preacher came you could count on having chicken for dinner.
Some relatives would pack their bags and come stay a week or two. Some we were glad to see come, others we were glad to see go.
In the cool of the evening you would find us settin' there just resting. A gentle breeze would be blowing and the smells of the honeysuckle and other flowers would waft across the porch. We kids loved to play games, sometimes it was a game of Whoopee Hide. One person was it and had to hide his eyes and count to a specific number. The rest of us would hide in the shadows. When it got to the designated number he would try to find us before we got safely back to the porch. The person who was caught or the last person on the porch was it for the next game.
Summertime always found us catching lightning bugs (fireflies). As evening came we would find a glass jar of some kind, poke a couple holes in the top, and off to the corn patch we would go looking for lightning bugs. We would catch them when they lit up and put them in the jar. You had to be careful not to squash them because you would end up with “glow” on your hand. After we had tired of catching the bugs we would set the jar up until it was time to go to bed. We would then sneak them into our bed and under the covers so we wouldn't get caught with them.
I remember one time we had hid the jar in behind the bed and when everyone had gotten in bed one of us reached behind the bed to get the jar. Well, the hand that was reaching missed the target and tipped the jar over and it rolled out into the middle of the floor – lightning bugs just a-blinking. We got in trouble that night and none of us ever owned up to how that jar got under the bed.
“Back on its golden hinges the gate of memory swings, and my heart goes into the garden and walks with the olden things.” ~Ella Wheeler Wilcox
By Virginia R. Manuel