Category Archives: Western North Carolina

Cornbread and Milk

Sometimes Facebook conversations turn into blog posts.  Recently, it was the anniversary of my dad’s death, and soon after that, I saw an article about Cornbread and Milk: It’s A Mountain Thing”, written by Kim Holloway Stalcup in “Appalachian Magazine.”

I shared the article and wrote the following:

This definitely reminds me of my dad. He loved his cornbread and milk on the occasions my mom made cornbread, and would even bring home leftover cornbread from dinner at a restaurant to have later as a snack in a glass of milk. Interestingly, the woman who wrote this article is from Cherokee County, NC, for a few generations, which is where my dad was born and raised. I think my dad grew up having cornbread every day and they certainly had milk every day, living on a farm. My grandmother never threw food away, so even the tiniest piece of cornbread got saved. I guess to a little boy growing up with nine siblings, and he was next to the youngest, that seemed like a wonderful snack. He might have been lucky to get it lol. Both my parents loved milk, though my mom didn’t do the cornbread thing. But they would each have a glass of frozen milk at night sometimes, chopping and chinking away at it, just plain milk, which is when I knew for sure I was in a weird family lol. I didn’t know any other people who did that, so it definitely seemed strange to me. A lot of work for little reward. For some reason, though, I always hated milk.

Interestingly, that share got more comments than anything I’ve posted on Facebook lately.  People love hearing about folksy, homegrown things like this.  People shared their own memories of cornbread and milk, white bread and milk, warm bread, brown sugar added, and as for the frozen milk, I agree with a friend who said it needed sugar, chocolate, something.  And in regard to buttermilk, which people seem to either love or hate, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground there, one friend shared her suggestion for using it to clean out your septic tank!  While I like cornbread, I never ate the cornbread and milk because I only drank milk if I absolutely had to, like at school or my grandma’s house (unless I could get to the fresh grape juice first).  I never did become an expert cornbread baker either, though I’ve made my share through the years, but not like my grandma would have made it.  I have eaten quite a variety, liking it best very hot, slathered with butter, and maybe a side of beans and chow chow (by the way, I now use Earth Balance for the buttery component).

Cherokee County, North Carolina, includes Murphy and Tomotla and my grandparents’ farm, divided among their many children after their deaths, part of it sold now and developed with new houses.  But the last time I rode over that way, the house was still there, barely, and overgrown in weeds and brush, with a family who were friends of one of my uncles still living there.  They lived with him during the last years of his life at the old home place.  Thinking of trips to Murphy when I was much younger, they had to include a stop for a chili bun (hot dog with all the fixings but without the dog even back then) at Nabers Drive-In in Bryson City, a ride through the Nantahala Gorge, sometimes accompanied by a little carsickness (did you ever see the Andy Griffith Show where his date, Lydia, had to hang her head out the window “like a dog”)?  That was me on more than one occasion.  I’m reminded of taking a walk on the property when we’d visit, swinging on the porch swing, drinking cold water out of a long-handled dipper, helping gather eggs when I was a little girl, chickens all over us when we got out of the  car (which my mom hated, but I thought was kind of cool), walking across the old swinging bridge with a cousin over the Valley River down the road apiece, the route my dad would walk to school as a little boy, an old out-of-tune piano I’d try to play, with half of the yellowed keys sticking, my uncle strumming the banjo or telling a story, and my grandma showing me how to make those delicious boiled chocolate oatmeal cookies, the ones everyone thinks is a special recipe that only their grandmothers make.  She was a quiet, sweet, but no-nonsense woman.  It’s also where my love affair with cats began when I brought home my first little black and white kitten, Bootsie.  My grandpa died when I was young, and while I do remember him, the memories are few.

We usually just visited for the day, rarely spent the night, but we did eat lunch and sometimes supper, and there was always cornbread and real butter (made in a round mold with the imprinted flower design) and, of course, always green beans and corn, too.  I remember seeing my grandma churning butter a long, long time ago.  After we ate, I’d help clean up, and every little dish with even just a spoonful of corn or three or four green beans got saved in the corner cabinet for the next meal.  My grandparents were hard workers, and with ten children and two adults to feed, they wasted nothing.  The milk came fresh from their cows, and I hated it.  I would drink it down with one gulp, holding my nose.  But I understand where my dad got his love of cornbread and milk.  Yes, it’s probably mostly a southern thing, but from what I’m hearing it’s also a mountain/country thing, not fancy, but something good to fill the bellies of a lot of hungry mouths.  I never gave it a lot of thought, but for my dad, that was probably comfort food that reminded him of long-ago times with his family, his Mama and Daddy, brothers and sisters, growing up on the farm.  It was a hard life in rural North Carolina, in the twenties, thirties, and forties, but my grandparents, like so many others similar to them, originally hard-working tobacco farmers, filled their home with faith, lots of love, good fresh and filling food, laughter, music and games, and some happy memories, and seven of those children went on to graduate from college and become teachers.  Food really is powerful beyond satisfying our physical hunger.  It’s about family and love and connections.  It’s nourishment for the soul and the body.  I was grateful for the reminder of my own sweet family memories from an article about cornbread and milk.

~Sharon

Copyright (c) 2017 by Raindrop Ridge

(I’m hoping to find a couple of photos to scan soon to add to this article)

Looking Glass Rock

I live in a beautiful area.  This is Looking Glass Rock, near Brevard (in Transylvania County) in western North Carolina.  I can give you a few facts.  This picture was taken from the Blue Ridge Parkway on a visit to Pisgah Inn/Mount Pisgah area a few years ago (pisgah in Hebrew means peak).  Technically, this big rock is a pluton monolith with a granite face that reflects the sun, giving it its name.  It’s part of Pisgah National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains.  The national forest was established in 1916.  Hard to believe, but that’s when my grandmother was 6 years old.  She and her parents and siblings and cousins used to take Sunday rides and picnics around the Asheville area, according to what I’ve been told, and I can be pretty sure this was one of their destinations.

But for me, what’s wonderful about the mountains, including this magnificent rock, aren’t the facts, the scientific composition, though I’m glad those things are important to a lot of people, it’s the emotions that well up in me when I see a view like this or when I walk in the woods, along the rivers and creeks.  I was born and have lived in these mountains almost all my life.   In the big scheme of things, I haven’t spent a lot of days and nights away from them, and even when I have done so, or may in the future, they’re still always a part of me, my heritage, my ancestors, my very being.  The Appalachian mountains, the Balsams, the Parkway, the Smokies, and all the other mountain ranges and ridges around here are about relationships, trees and streams, waterfalls  and animals, and ancestors working hard on the land, many as farmers.  They’re about my own memories of hiking and canoeing in mountain lakes, watching the changing seasons, love and romance and heartbreak, having children here, always mindful of the mountains I live in and the distant ones I see every time I venture away from home or outside my front door.  They’re about births, but also deaths, and steep cemeteries, one separated by a flimsy fence from some friendly and curious cows, beloved parents and grandparents and even great-grandparents, laid to rest with their own memories and lives, much of which I’ll never know, but some related to me by my parents.  There are memories of being afraid, too, on a hike up a steep hillside running away from a mysterious-sounding creature, still unknown.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared.  Of Sunday drives and crossing through creeks that ran across the road, of watching for deer at dusk and being excited to spot a little family, climbing a fire tower and walking across a swinging bridge at the top of the world, watching falcons take off and hang gliders, too, camping and sometimes just sitting quietly shoulder to shoulder watching the sun set in glorious color.  Many of these people are gone from my life now, but in a sense they never really are gone, and the mountains tie so much of my life together.  They help define who we are, how we live, and how we feel, why we’re still here, why some of us never leave.  They’re our protectors, watching over us, full of mystery and light and darkness and teeming with life, often unseen, our comfort and our healing.  I’m walking in the steps of so many who came before me, which feels me with awe and respect, and those who will follow, and I hope they won’t simply settle for living in the mountains, for a job or even because it’s pretty, but instead let the mountains work their way into their hearts and live inside of them until they can’t ever really let them go, no matter where they may end up down the road, because I honestly believe they’ll be the better for it.

I look at these pictures of Looking Glass Rock and the surrounding mountains and remember the day I took them.   It was summer, but a storm blew up in the afternoon, and it was windy and chilly up there.  A friend of mine had ridden with me to Pisgah Inn to have lunch with a group of people we didn’t know but I had helped organize, Pantheists who wanted to get together and explore our area and share our pantheistic ideas and viewpoints.  The group carried on for several more months with fewer numbers and we had some nice times.   My friend and I eventually went our separate ways and he later died much too young from the debilitation of Parkinson’s disease.  So many bittersweet memories, and yet life goes on as these mountains, remaining ever big and strong and beautiful, remind us daily.

~Sharon

Copyright (c) 2017 by Raindrop Ridge Press

My Irish Name

Today is St. Patrick’s Day.  I have Irish roots on my mom’s side and am hungry to learn more about them and the place they came from.  My great-great-great grandparents and one or two of their young children settled in North Carolina directly from Ireland.  As best as I can tell from my searches online and looking at census information and ship manifests, they came from Ballymoney in what is now Northern Ireland.  A couple of their children, including my great-great grandfather, were born over here.  He became a shoemaker and owned a store in Asheville around 1900, his ad stating, “Custom Shoes Made……Fine Shoes a Specialty.” Even before I knew these things about my family, I was drawn to things Celtic/Irish, almost a visceral feeling, maybe some of that DNA and family history passed down genetically through the generations and just a part of me, and now I’m fascinated by this man, my great-great grandfather, Thomas, and his parents.  His daughter, Anna, was my great-grandmother.  She died when I was 6 years old, and I do have a few sweet memories of her.

A few years back, I was in AODA briefly (Ancient Order of Druids in America). The head of AODA at the time, John Michael Greer, who has written books about Druidry and still has a blog called The Archdruid report, suggested we take druid names. I gave him the meaning of the name I wanted, and then he gave me the name.

This is a long roundabout way of saying what my Irish name is: “Merch y Mynyddoedd” and what it means: “Daughter of the Mountains.”  It’s perfect for me, as I love these mountains of North Carolina I live in, they’ll always be part of me, and I also love my Irish roots.

~Sharon
Merch y Mynyddoedd (Daughter of the Mountains)

Copyright (c) 2017 by Raindrop Ridge Press

National Parks

I recently read and enjoyed an article in Pantheist Vision* about someone’s experiences in two of our national parks, Mount Rainier and Big Bend.  I haven’t been fortunate enough to travel a lot and visit our parks, except for one.  I have lived most of my life in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, living just a few miles from the entrance on the North Carolina side.  So over the years I’ve done hiking, picnics, day rides, camping, leaf looking, and even tubing once upon a time in the Smokies, and I feel they’re always watching over me and protecting me.  In fact, they have protected us from severe weather on occasion.  I’ve seen bears and deer and watched the elk that have been fairly recently introduced here, gazed at mountain vistas for miles, listened to the music of creeks and rivers, and seen old historic buildings from long-ago lives, from the Cherokee Indian reservation (Qualla Boundary) up to Clingman’s Dome and over to Gatlinburg and Cades Cove in Tennessee.  There are a lot of memories in the Smokies.

(Elk in the Smokies)

I love these mountains (we have quite a few national forests and also I’m just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway), such a beautiful place for a nature lover to live! I’ve never taken the park for granted, and I think most people around here feel the same way.  It’s a wonderful and special place to us and I never get tired of the mountain views, the trees and flowers, streams, waterfalls, and all the critters that call it home.  I don’t do so much hiking as I used to, don’t have the time right now, but maybe in the future I’ll be able to again.  Regardless, even if I move away to be nearer to children and grandchildren, I know these mountains, including the Smokies, will always be a part of me.  It’s one of those things that’s hard to explain, but the feeling is real, that feeling of connection, that goes so deep, that oneness with nature, with all of life. This talk of privatizing and selling off some of these lands and using them for development or drilling/fracking makes me both worried and incredibly sad.  I can’t imagine western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee without the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the history of it, and having children growing up without knowing the beauty and specialness of such a place that we’re fortunate enough to live close to and so many people come to visit.  Hopefully, that will never happen and it will be here for many, many years to come just like it is now.

https://i2.wp.com/api.ning.com/files/jPkKNYv*PqTjhx8817R1Loot3WXckgkKl48zzeUD2Fyj3N4TV0fCwxq7gMI08NnOr36Thxyou*6qUEnir1yTQ7RTyCc0wUcD/oconalufteeriver.jpg

(Oconaluftee River)

~Sharon

Copyright (c) 2017 by Raindrop Ridge Press

*Pantheist Vision is the publication by the Universal Pantheist Society.  Please consider joining this organization, the oldest pantheist group in the world, around since 1975, as they provide a place for pans to gather, as well as to share information about Pantheism in general.

Tuesdays…..and apples

Thankful for a couple of things today.  First, Tuesdays!  I have a long work-free afternoon that’s all mine to do whatever I want to (before I go back to work this evening).  I love my Tuesday afternoons to be productive or to do nothing at all but watch Elementary or Law and Order.  It’s kind of like Saturday mornings for me, full of expectation and promise, and I get to decide how it goes.

apples

And then there are apples.  Western North Carolina is apple-growing country, and autumn is apple time.  I just now heard on the local news channel that North Carolina is the 7th largest apple-producing state in the country.  I’m not sure why it took me so many years to discover the healthy and delicious snack of fresh Gala apple slices dipped in peanut butter.  Simple and good, and right now I’m cutting back on wheat (gluten) products to see if that makes me feel better, being a little suspicious I might have a gluten sensitivity (non-celiac), so needed a new afternoon snack.  I understand from some reading I’ve been doing that that’s the fad of the moment, gluten sensitivity, but I have a lot of chemical intolerances and sensitivities that most people don’t have to deal with, and sometimes they’re downright debilitating, so it’s worth a shot.   I always feel better knowing I’m doing something good for myself like eating a little healthier, especially with heart disease also running in my family.  I’ve written about apples before in Orchard Time and Singing the Praises of Apples.  Enjoy this beautiful autumn day!  #gratitude

~Sharon

Copyright (c) 2016 by Raindrop Ridge Press

East Laporte

East Laporte

This photo was taken recently at the park in East Laporte, one of a handful of communities that make up the larger unincorporated community of Tuckasegee, North Carolina (near Cullowhee, home of Western Carolina University).   I’ve lived in this area most of my life and I know it’s a beautiful place.  Even as a child, I felt these mountains were a part of me, kind of mysterious, yet comforting, too, and now I really realize the river, creeks, and streams are part of me, too.   East Laporte is where Caney Fork Creek empties into the Tuckasegee River (alternate spelling Tuckaseigee).  The Tuckasegee River pretty much runs the length of Jackson County and eventually ends up in Fontana Lake.  Sometimes it’s just known as “The Tuck.”  If you saw “The Fugitive” with Harrison Ford, then you saw the Tuckasegee River.  East Laporte now has an area where you can get in the river to play and splash around (or throw rocks like my little granddaughter does), go tubing, have a picnic, sunbathe, fish, or just sit on the riverbank and take in the natural beauty.  The Tuck is a popular place for these activities up and down its length, and no matter where we go from Cullowhee to Sylva to Dillsboro and a little ways beyond, our river isn’t ever far away.  But I just learned something new about East Laporte community.   There was once a logging town there, a school, and its own post office.  Funny how sometimes you drive to and by places close to home and never really know their history; seems like we’re more interested in learning about places far away than what’s in our own backyard.  I had classmates from East Laporte and rode through there many times, but never gave it much thought.  Sometimes we don’t take the time to learn more about what we see every day, and maybe especially if that’s not where our family roots really are.  It’s not where my parents and grandparents came from originally; it’s not where I was born.  I realize now how silly that is.  This is where my children were born, where my parents met, where a lot of my family has been educated, and where some of us still live our everyday lives right now.   A lot of life, some beautiful, some messy, has happened here for me.   It may not be the county of my birth, but it’s home.  Our hearts are big enough to embrace lots of “home places” tied to memories, to family, to who we are, and to how these places make us feel inside.  So, no matter where I may end up down the road, this little corner of western North Carolina will always be a big part of who I am and of my deep appreciation for nature, the river, the streams, the lakes, and, of course, the mountains.  It will always be home, and I’m thankful for that.

~Sharon

copyright (c) 2016 by Raindrop Ridge Press

Strawberry Shortcake

I don’t cook like a lot of Southern mountain women I’ve known and loved, with fatback in green beans and bacon grease on lettuce, lots of salt and butter in everything, but I DO like sugar on my fresh strawberries, enough to make a nice sweet syrup when mixed with the fruit juice after sitting for a little bit of time.  And the best shortcake, when I’m in the mood for more than just “fruit” is a sweet biscuit, not really cake at all (the texture of the biscuit just sops up that fruit juice in a different and tasty way, and you can make a good one with Bisquick if you want to take a little bit of a shortcut), topped with some whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (I believe the word is dollop), just because.  Heck, I’ve actually been known to crumble up a lemon Fiber One bar when I don’t have a biscuit of any sort in the house, like about 15 minutes ago!  I remember years ago picking my own strawberries at the old Brinkley Farm up past Cullowhee.  There’s something to be said for making dessert as nearly from scratch as possible, though I now buy the berries, sometimes from the nearby Darnell Farms down Bryson City way that sets up shop out of the back of a pickup truck on the side of the road when the fresh berries are in season, or the local produce stand, or even the grocery store, although local is always better, for lots of reasons.  I’m not the biggest fruit eater ever, but there’s something real special about a bowlful of ripe, red, sweet, juicy strawberries.  Food purists probably shake their head in dismay at messing up a perfect strawberry with sugar, and I get that, but I guess some of the old cooking ways have just stayed with me.

~Sharon

copyright (c) 2016 by Raindrop Ridge Press