Tennessee Mountain Stories

The Preacher and the Old Woman that was a-livin’ in the Dark

Callie Melton includes in “Pon My Honor” a section she calls ‘One for the Road’ and this story falls into that section.

Up here there’s always a whole passel of jokes and tales going around about preachers.  But they are always good-natured jokes and tales, for we are very careful to tell them on our own denomination.  This is done for two mighty good reasons.  First, we just don’t joke with anybody or about anything that we don’t think a right smart of.  Then, too, we all hold mighty strong with what we was brought up with.  Why, it’s just like family.  You can say anything you want to about your own blood and kin, but you just d-double dare anybody else to open his mouth about anybody that’s a-kin to you, no matter how far off it may be.

So, since I was once a member of that church, and still have mighty strong leanings in that direction, I’ll tell this one on the Campbellites.

Picture courtesy of Jane Ashburn

Picture courtesy of Jane Ashburn

One time there was this here Campbellite preacher who went away back up in the mountain to Walker Holler.  Now don’t ask me where Walker Holler was, for if I told you, you still wouldn’t know… so let me get on with my story.  He was wanting to hold a protracted meetin’ up there if he could find enough people and a good place.  From what he’d heard about Walker Holler, them poor people didn’t get much gospel up there.

So, one day he’d just put his Bible and his song book in his saddlebags and had started out.  He rode, and he rode, and he rode till finally he’d gone about as far as he could go when he come to this house.

He hollered the house, and this old woman come to the door.  He told the old woman that he was a stranger in them parts, and he asked her for a drink of water.  She told him to get down and come in.  So he got down, hitched up his mule and went in to get his drink and to visit awhile.

Him and the old woman talked about the weather and the crops, and then the Preacher told her that he was trying to find out if there was any Campbellite in them parts.

“Why, I don’t know,” she told him.  “My old man hunts a powerful lot, so you kin go out to the smokehouse and look amongst his hides.  You jest might find one o’ them varmints.”

The Preacher just set there and looked at her for a minute with his mouth open.  He was might nigh dumbfounded at what she’d said.
Then he asked her, “My good woman, don’t you know that you are  a-living in the dark?”

Picture courtesy of Jane Ashburn

Picture courtesy of Jane Ashburn

“Oh! I shore do,” she said, “and I’ve been a-tryin’ fer quite a spell to git the ol’ man to cut us out a winder.  But you know he holds that it’s bad luck to cut out an openin’ atter the house is done built.”

The Preacher was plumb flabbergasted at this, so he just said, “But don’t you know that there’s a Judgement Day a-comin’?  Don’t you want to go?”

The old woman fingered her apron for a minute, then she said, “I hadn’t heerd about hit, but I wouldn’t git to go anyhow.  Hit’ud be too fur to walk.  And you know we don’t have but one ol’ mule and the ol’ man alllers has to ride him.”

Now the old woman just about had the Preacher up a gum stump for something else to say.  Finally he asked her, “But don’t you know that Jesus died fer you?”

“Oh! Mercy no!” she said.  “Why, I didn’t even know that the pore feller was ailin’.”

At this the Preacher just got up and went out and got on his mule and took off home.  When somebody asked him later how he made out up in Walker Holler, he shook his head and went on mumbling to himself, “I wouldn’t a-believed hit iffen I hadn’t a-heard hit with my own years.”

When God and The Devil Divided up the Dead


In ‘Pon my Honor, Carrie Melton attributes this story to the Knoxville News-Sentinel but gives no further citation.  I tried to search their website for it without success.

As I said in last week’s post I’m not prone to telling stories of haints but your response to The Logston Tide was overwhelming so I thought I’d share another of Mrs. Melton’s stories from the section “I Wouldn’t A-Believed Hit if I Hadn’t Seen Hit Myself”

Once there was this here old man who was all crippled up with rheumatism.  Fact is, he hadn’t hardly walked a step in years, and the only way he had of getting around was having his boy carry him.  The boy wasn’t grown yet, but he could get his pa up on his back and tote him around the place anywhere the old man wanted to go.  The old man was an ornery old cuss, just as cross and crabby with his old woman and the young’uns as he could be.  His old woman would get so put out with him sometimes that she’s just out and tell him that he was so mean that when he died God wouldn’t have him and the devil wouldn’t want him even if he did have to take him.

Come one fall and it was powerful hot weather…hot and dry.  The old man got mighty tired of just setting in his chair all day long, doing nothing but sweating and cussing the flies and the heat.  So, he got in the habit of having his boy tote him to different places around about in the cool of the evening.

Now, not far from where he lived there was a graveyard.  It was off down in the woods like, and a lonesome place even in broad daylight.  The boy didn’t much fancy taking his pa there after dark, but for pure devilment on these hot, dry days the old man would make the boy tote him down to the graveyard might nigh ever evening.

It was powerful hot one day…much hotter than usual.  The old man could hardly wait for dusky-dark to come and the air to cool off.  It did seem like the graveyard was the coolest place to be found in such weather.  And, too, it did pleasure the old man a sight to go set among the graves of his friends and kinfolks and to watch the starts and the lightning bugs come out.  So, this time as soon as the old woman got supper on the table, the old man rushed the boy through eating so he could pack his pappy out to the graveyard.  Much against his wishes, the boy got his pappy on his back and started off down the road to the graveyard.  They had to go down the big road a-piece, then off to the right in the scope of woods.

It just happened that two of the neighbor boys had been pawpaw hunting that evening, and had stayed out later than they meant to, so dark had caught them on the way home.  They decided to set down and divide their pawpaws there at the graveyard, for the road forked just beyond, and one went one way and the other went the other way.


As they went in the graveyard one boy was carrying the sack of pawpaws and the other one had his pockets full.  Just to be a-doin’, the boy with his pockets full stopped and laid a pawpaw on each gate post as he went in.  Then the two boys walked on down in the graveyard a-piece and set down by two headstones that were close together.  Then they started to divide up the pawpaws.

Now, the boy had toted his pa down to the graveyard gate, and since it was a right smart piece and the boy was tired, they stopped to rest.  The boy set the old man down by one gate post while he leaned up against the other one.  It was while they were resting that they heard talking coming from the graveyard.  They were all ears, and this is what they heard.

“You take this ‘un, and I’ll take that ‘un.  You take this ‘un, and I’ll that that ‘un.”  Then another voice said out loud and as plain as day, “Yes, and there’s two down by the gate posts.  You take one, and I’ll take the othern.”

At this the boy started over to pick up his pa and get out of there quick, but the old man beat him to it.  He jumped up, shoved the boy out of his way and said, “Iffen you can’t run, move over and let somebody run that can.”  And with that he took off down the road so fast that his shirt-tail fairly stood out in the wind behind him.  He beat the boy home by a long shot, and purt night scared his old woman to death.  She hadn’t seen her old man walk a step in years, let alone run!

“Lord-a-mercy! What’s the matter?” she yelled, thinking that the world was coming to an end.

“Hide me! Hide me quick, old woman,” begged the old man.  “We’ve just been down to the graveyard, and we heard God and the devil down there dividing up the dead.  I plain as day heard the devil say that there was two down by the gate posts, and that he’d take one and God could have the othern.  And, old woman, you know…good and well which one the devil was atter!”

Cord and the Mutton

Following is another of Callie Melton’s stories from her book ‘Pon my Honor

As usual, this is presented just as she published it.


Grandpa purely loved to tell about the jokes he’d played on people.  He was as full of fun as a dog is of fleas, and he was always ready for a prank of some kind or another.  His pranks were always good natured, but also always good for a laugh.  The tale us young’un liked the best was the one about the time he got Cord Hull to eat the mutton.

When Grandpa and Grandma were first married, they lived for awhile on Uncle Will Hull’s place.  Now he really wasn’t Uncle Will, but Cousin Will, but, being a lot older than Grandpa and Grandma, they just called him Uncle.

Uncle Will had five boys.  The middle one was Cord, and he was the one who was always sent out to work with Grandpa.  They two older boys, Ress and Nade, logged with Uncle Will, and they two younger ones, Wyoming and Roy, were kept at home to help their ma around the house.

Mutton 3.jpg

One time Grandpa and Cord got the job of farming that year, so Uncle Will and the two other boys could go on with their logging and rafting.  Cord was just about half-grown, but he was a good worker, so the two set about putting in the crops.

On the days that they worked the fields nighest Uncle Will’s house, Miz. Hull would get dinner for them.  And on the days that they worked near Grandpa’s house, Grandma cooked for them.  Grandma was a good cook, and Cord like to eat at Grandpa’s.  He’d say that Lar could cook the best sallet and hoecake that he ever put in his mouth.

Now, at this particular time Grandpa had just killed a sheep.  Grandpa rally knew how to butcher a sheep, so his mutton was always good.  Grandpa also knew, as did everbody else, that mutton was the one thing that Cord Hull would not eat.  But, being Grandpa, he laid plans to feed Cord some of that mutton!

One morning at breakfast Grandpa told Grandma that him and Cord would be eating with her that day, and to be sure and cook plenty of mutton.  “Cord purely hates the stuff,” he told her, “but don’t you say a word about mutton at dinner.  I’m going to make him eat some of it and like it.”

Grandma was scandalized, but what could she do with Grandpa!  So she just tried to outdo herself on her meal that day, and when Cord and Grandpa came in at dinner time she had the vittles on the table waiting for them.

While she poured the sassafras tea, Grandpa and Cord sat down at the table and started eating.  The first thing Grandpa did was to pick up the big platter of mutton, pass it to Cord and say, “Cord, I’ve just killed a calf… have some.”

Cord forked him a nice big piece of mutton and started in on it.  Before he had hardly swallowed the last bite of that piece, Grandpa was passing the platter and urging him to have some more.  “Make out your dinner, boy,” he said, “for we’ve got some mighty hard work ahead of us this evening.”

“Alex, this is the best beef I ever tasted,” Cord said, and forked him another big piece of mutton.

Grandma was so taken back that she was afraid to open her mouth for fear she’d say the wrong thing.  But not Grandpa!  He eat, and talked, and passed Cord the beef.  And Cord eat like there wasn’t going to never be another meal.  But, finally they finished eating, pushed back their chairs, and got ready to go back to the field.

Cord thanked Grandma for the good meal, and started out the door.  Grandpa stopped him and said, “Cord, didn’t you tell me that you couldn’t eat mutton?”

“Alex,” he said, “I just can’t swallow that stuff.  It tastes just like wool to me, and the longer I chew a bite the bigger it gets.”

“Well, you sure eat a dog’s bait today,” Grandpa told him.

Cord couldn’t believe it!  HE couldn’t believe that he had eat mutton until Grandma assured him that he had.  Grandpa said that all the rest of that day Cord kept shaking his head and saying that he couldn’t believe that he’d really eat that mutton.

Of course Grandpa had to tell what he’d done all over the settlement.  And poor old Cord!  He had to take an awful lot of joshing about Alex’s poor little young’uns having to go hungry because he had eat up all of the mutton!

Soap Makin’ per Callie Melton

The following is from an article written by Callie Melton for the Standing Stone Dispatch in the early 1980’s.  I present it verbatim.

Soap making was a full day’s work and it just didn’t start on any day you up and thought about making it.  You had to look ahead and figure out the next time the moon would full… then you set the day, for if you made the soap on the waning of the moon it would all dry up to nothing.  All winter the meat scraps had been carefully saved in a big oak box in the smokehouse.  It is true that we used all of the pig but the squeal… soap making proved that. 

The night before you were going to make soap, bucket after bucket of water had to be carried from the rain barrel and poured in the ash hopper to leach out the lye.  Then, the next morning right after breakfast, the big was kettle was set up and filled with water also from the rain barrel… you had to have soft water to make good soap and leech out lye.

A fire was put under the kettle, and while the water was getting hot, the women were busy getting the meat scraps ready.  When the water was boiling, the lye was put in.  You kept adding the lye until you could swish a feather from a chicken’s wing through the water two or three times, and then when you pulled it through your fingers it would slip… slipping meant that all the feather part would slip off from the shaft.  Now that the lye water was strong enough, you began putting the meat scraps in.

You put in a handful at a time, stirring all the time with the soap stick…the soap stick was a stout stick made from a limb of a sassafras bush.  The sap from the Sassafras made your soap smell good.   When you stirred, you always stirred clock-wise, for if you didn’t stir your soap right it wouldn’t set… and a woman was judged not only by the way her young’uns acted, but also by the kind of soap she made.  You added the meat scraps a handful at a time until the lye would not eat up anymore.  Then you stirred your soap carefully and cooked it slowly until it began to get thick.  Now the fire had to be raked out from under the kettle, and the soap let cool.  When the soap was cod, you covered the kettle with wide boards to keep out the dew or rain until morning.  The next morning you cut the soap out in blocks, and put it on wide planks in the smokehouse to cure.  Good soap was hard and creamy smooth when it was cured, with not bits or pieces of uneaten meat, and it lathered up good when you washed with it… Soap you took a bath with was made from butter or lard and was whiter and finer and you always stirred it with a fresh sassafras stick. 


The Stories Online


Have you ever Googled your own name made the shocking revelation that most of us have some web-presence these days?  Publishers tell us authors we must have such a presence and we are always working to build our audience – after all if you’ve got a story to tell you want to tell a whole bunch of people don’t you?

While chatting with a friend recently some subject came up and I said, “Hey I wrote a blog about that”.  So I whip out my handy-dandy smart phone and search “Tennessee Mountain Stories” plus the subject of the moment.  What popped up was an “Interview with Beth Durham”. 

Huh?  What interview?

Well, I’m always talking about Tennessee Mountain Stories to pretty much anyone that will listen – and quite a few folks that tune me out.  And here was someone who not only listened but took notes!

You see homework can now be found on the World Wide Web and I had in fact answered some questions for my communications-major-niece.

It’s kind of fun to read through someone else’s summary of your work and I thought you good readers might enjoy this piece as well.  You can click here to see Anna Grace’s article.