Life on Sand Mountain
My family lived in Jackson County Alabama, on Sand Mountain, near Pisgah, in the Blow Gourd Community, in Frank Shaver’s old Home Place, when a big snow came on Valentines night of 1958.
I got up on the day after Valentine’s day and it was a Saturday. The world had turned white. Everything outside was covered up with a blanket of snow. It was breath taking to see so much white. I was eleven and I had seen a couple of snows, but nothing like that. The official depth of the snow was 18 inches, but I bet that measurement was made in Scottsboro, in the valley, because that snow came up between my knees and my waist.
The night that the big snow came, there were a total of 5 adults and 13 kids in our little house. There was Mama and Daddy, me, and two brothers and two sisters, and my Aunt Sue and her 5 kids, and Aunt Grace and her 3 kids and Uncle Shorty. Aunt Grace’s husband managed to get from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to our house somehow that weekend and carried them home that day.
I remember having a wonderful time during that big snow. I would take Mama’s big dish pan outside and fill it up with clean snow and Mama would add eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla flavoring to the snow and make snow cream.
Oddly, we had electricity when the big snow came, but what was even more odd, it stayed on, and we never lost power.
The road that ran in front of our house was a dirt road. Only a few cars would pass any day of the year and hardly none at all while the snow was on the road. The snow would melt a little in the day time and freeze and form ice on the road at night. A couple of evening, Mama let us kids go out in the road and slide on the ice. She went out there with us one evening and played with us on the ice. I’ll never forget how much fun we all had that evening.
It was during that big snow that I was told how to hunt rabbits. My dad and Uncle Shorty Hall told me that the rabbits had to hop through the snow and couldn’t run fast. And if I saw one, all I had to do was hit it on the head with a stick. I saw lots of rabbit tracks in the snow, but I never was able to catch one. May seem cruel now, but let me tell you something, that rabbit would have made some good stew for that house full of people and every drop of it would have been eaten.
My step-grandfather owned an old milk cow. He was an old grouchy, hateful, stingy man, but he loved us kids and was good to us. He gave us the milk that he got from the old cow. He was an old bachelor and wasn’t the cleanest person around. When we got a gallon of milk from him, Mama always washed his milk jugs before sending them back to him. But many times the full milk jug we received back would have dried milk around the top and in the lid. Mama was kinda hesitant about using the milk in an unwashed jug, but she couldn’t throw a free gallon of milk out, that all the kids loved to drink and needed. We are living proof that a little dried milk in an unwashed jug won’t hurt you.
Normally during the big snow, Mama and Daddy walked down to my step-grandfather’s house and got the milk to bring home. But one evening, daddy walked somewhere and while he was gone he slipped and fell in the snow and hurt his shoulder, and he had to stay in bed with it for several days.
So the next day, Mama put an old army Eisenhower jacket on me, that was way too big for me, and wrapped my feet and legs in some old plastic curtains to keep my pant legs and shoes from getting wet, and put some old cotton gloves on my hands that we used to pull cotton bolls with, and sent me to get some milk.
I don’t remember if I had anything on my head and ears or not, but my guess would be probably not. And she let me walk down to get a gallon of milk. I guess it was more than a half mile, but no more than a mile to the old man’s house. We had a shortcut, to his house, across a field that had been laid by and nothing planted on it for a few years. It had grown up with sage grass and briars, but the snow was so deep you couldn’t see them and the field was just a wide open space as far as you could tell. After I got across the field and onto the road, I had to go down a big hill and not slide down.
When I got to my step-grandpa’s house, I hung around a few minutes to warm up in front of his big fireplace before I took off back home. It was almost dark when I went back up the road and climbed the big hill and got on the shortcut across the field carrying my gallon of milk.
I will never forget that few minutes that it took me to cross those couple of acres in that deep snow. I was carrying a gallon of milk and wading snow almost to my hips and even deeper in low places. My hands and feet were hurting from the cold, because the plastic curtains wasn’t working that well, and the gloves had holes in them. It was getting dark and it was so quiet and eerie out there all alone in that wide open field covered in a white blanket. The only sound I could hear was my own breathing from struggling to walk through the snow, and the crunching of the frozen snow and grass and briars, when I stepped on them.
I would not take any amount of money for that memory. I would give anything to be eleven and the opportunity to cross that field again, in a big snow, with those clothes on. The only thing I would ask for now, would be the words to really explain, the feelings I experienced that evening.