Tennessee Mountain Stories

Aprons - fashion and utility

Apron Collection.jpg

It wasn’t too many years ago that every woman doing any kind of domestic work wore an apron.  Clothes were scarce, laundry difficult and household chores were often quite messy.  Aprons were such a practical part of femininity that grandma’s apron was just a part of her – no one questioned it.  They wore them until they were threadbare, adding patches to places that gave way to a burn or constant rubbing – whether on tables or the wash board.  And they were beautiful.  Aprons were made from sack cloth or leftovers – although I’ve rarely seen one made out of patchwork except the modern versions.

A Modern Apron Creation - quilted patchwork

A Modern Apron Creation - quilted patchwork

We don’t wear aprons too much anymore.  Of course we don’t cook quite as much as previous generations did either, do we?  And we have so many modern conveniences that maybe we are able to be a little neater in the kitchen (well I’m sure you are all neater in the kitchen, can’t really claim that myself!).  And, I suppose that the ease with which we launder clothes, and the number of outfits we have hanging in our closets make us a little less concerned with spills and spots.  But can you imagine how valuable the scrap of fabric tied around your waist would have been to previous generations?

In Replacing Ann I opened with Winnie in tears because she’d torn her only decent dress – and it was a pitifully faded rag.  This is the very kind of garment you’d want swathe in a protective layer.  

We’ve often talked in our stories about how rare and precious pictures were to earlier generations so women would usually have on their best clothes and certainly not their working apron when they posed for a photographer.  Therefore it’s sometimes hard for me to get a good image of the aprons.  But some of them got handed down – and mothers made aprons for daughters both while they were at home and when they moved to their own homes.  So some of those aprons have survived – and what treasures they are now.

Recently my 102-year-old Great Aunt Willie gave me a little apron she’d made – and used – many years ago.  As she did she said, “Grandmother Livesay always wore an apron.”  Willie may have forgotten how often I saw HER in an apron.  And when my little Ruthie wrapped up in this one it made reminded me that this humble accessory needed to be documented.

Apron on Roberta.jpg

My Aunt Roberta kind of collects aprons and it was her collection that supplied the pictures for today’s article.  She has old aprons, “Mom may have made this one,” she noted as we looked through the stack.  And she has aprons she’s made recently which of course she shares her with all of us.  And so the tradition continues I suppose.


Pass the Word

Today if you need to send a message to a friend, neighbor or business, you have a wide range of tools at your disposal.  From social media to a simple telephone call your thoughts can be received within moments.  But that’s not always been the case – in fact it hasn’t been that way for very long at all.


Do you remember when long distance phone calls were expensive and letter writing was downright common?  I know y’uns won’t remember when letter writing also costly but it’s not too hard to document that postage, and even paper and ink were often hard to come by.  In those cases, passing the word along seems like a really logical plan, doesn’t it?

Now I’m not necessarily a fan of it – mainly because I always seem to miss the message somehow – but on the mountain we’ve been passing the word for generations and there’s still a fair amount of it.  Whenever there’s a meetin’ or event we’re always asked to let everyone know.  In fact, more formal notifications are rare. 

This concept reaches far beyond our mountain plateau.  In the Bible, Paul’s letters (now what we call the book of Romans, etc…) were probably passed around and read several times. He wrote knowing that lots of people would read his letters and others who were around him sent their greetings in the same note rather than write their own.  Some of this is probably courtesy but there’s a very practical aspect as well since Rome’s postal service was limited to military or governmental use so any messages had to be delivered by merchants or servants.  Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was probably sent via Tychicus as he mentions in Ephesians 6;21-22 that he’s sent Tychicus to them to let them know all the details of his affairs.  While Paul directs the letter in Ephesians 1:1 “to the saints which are at Ephesus”, many scholars believe it was written in such a way as to be beneficial to all the churches in Asia – as though Paul fully expected them to pass it around.  In fact, in Colossians 4:16, Paul actually directs the letter he’s written to the church in Colosse to be passed on to the folks in Laodicea and tells the Colossians to be sure and read the Laodicean letter as well.

Peter does the same thing, even addressing the letter we now call First Peter, which was delivered by Sylvanus, to “strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). 

Wasn’t this a tradition that continued really until we got personal email and phones and we stopped writing letters.  Whenever a letter arrived from far off family, in my family we all read it.  It was like a mini-visit with a friend.  In fact, people who could write a letter and make you feel like you’d seen them were greatly admired for the skill.

I hope you won’t find it heretical, but I first began thinking about this tradition of passing the word around when I shared the letter from Lottie Todd here a few weeks ago.  Wasn’t Lottie’s ministry a little like the Apostle Paul when he was imprisoned and continued to minister to the various churches via letter-writing?  Lottie too lived in a type of prison as she was confined to her bed.  Instead of allowing the illness that restricted her to constrain her influence, she wrote her thoughts and when her letters were received they were passed from one to another just like the churches had passed around those early epistles. 

Not all of the messages were ever written down, often we send word by mouth alone.  And while those messages might get a little warped from time to time, it’s an age-old practice that still works in our modern era.

Shared Space

Houseful of Kids!

Houseful of Kids!

If you’ve been reading The Stories for very long you will know that we often have visitors in our home who hail from far and distant lands.  This week we’ve had the distinct honor of hosting two families from Miami who were seeking refuge from hurricane Irma. 

It seems out of the ordinary to have thirteen people in a home in this day and age – but of course this was an extraordinary weather event and it put people in usual situations.  Yet, as I research my ancestry I’m often faced with census records showing three or even four generations living together.  A single individual will often be listed as a boarder, yet I know that person to be a niece or nephew.  There were children taken in when parents weren’t able to feed them and aging grandparents were sheltered when they could no longer manage on their own. 

We mountain people are used to helping out whenever help was needed and that’s a part of our culture that I long to perpetuate.  My guests this week were originally from Israel (and one son-in-law from Brazil but we might have to talk about him later).  So their traditions are different than ours and my children didn’t understand everything.  They do not cut little boys’ hair until they turn three and my children kept calling them “her”.  They eat different food than us and they were very gracious as I blundered along trying to honor that.  Maybe they saw a bit of Tennessee Mountain culture too as I introduced them to fried okra and made big fluffy biscuits for breakfast.

As people left the mountain looking for work in the 1940’s and 1950’s, they regularly stayed a few days or a few months with kin that had already relocated to the big city.  Surely it was a comfort to be in a strange place and have someone familiar around them.  Imagine leaving your home unsure whether you’d have a home to go back to in just a few days.  Imagine heading north to a place you’d never visited and the home of strangers. 

Well, the folks in my home were strangers last week but they are friends now.  A dear friend of mine was a cousin of theirs and she was our only link.  I pride myself to think I’m a little like my grandmother whose home was often filled to overflowing – in fact when my friend asked how many people I could house I said it depended on how desperate they were.  Grandma would often have people scattered on the floor on pallets – I wonder what guests would say to that today?

Hidden Treasures

Photo used by permission of The Columbus Dispatch

Photo used by permission of The Columbus Dispatch

I ran across this news article from Columbus, Ohio about a couple who discovered a log home hiding behind a modern facade.  While Ohio is a little off the track that Tennessee Mountain Stories usually follows, the story hit home and I wanted to share it with you.

You may remember a couple of articles I’ve shared about a very historic log home near Cleveland, Tennessee that had suffered a fire and was being torn down rather than repaired.  Then in our architecture series we visited the The Taylor Place which is believed to be the oldest home in the Clarkrange, Tennessee area.

I was certainly thinking of both of these homes, as well as other examples of log homes that were added onto and sided and loved for many, many years.  In fact, the log construction that was so common in America may be hiding behind more houses than we realize.  Remember current resident in The Taylor Place didn’t really know the home was log until hebegan running cable inside the walls which have long since been covered on the outside by modern siding and on the interior with wallboard. 

Now I’m not advocating anyone tearing into your walls, but it is a little tempting, isn’t it?

I hope you enjoy this article.

Couple renovating Dublin home discover it’s a 19th-century cabin

By Jim Weiker
The Columbus Dispatch


Posted Aug 24, 2017 at 5:58 AM Updated Aug 24, 2017 at 5:58 AM


Home renovations can yield surprises.

But few are as big as the one that Kevin Kemp and Jennifer Alexander discovered.

The couple were planning to raze a home that they bought recently on Riverside Drive in Dublin, to build a new house on the property, when Kemp and a friend, Larry Daniels, decided to remove some paneling for reuse.

“We pulled off one of the pieces of paneling and I said, ‘Larry, that’s a log,’” Kemp recalled. “We pulled off another and I said, ‘My god, this is a log cabin.’”

Behind the knotty-pine paneling and drywall were walnut and beech logs, some more than 16 inches wide and 30 feet long. More deconstruction revealed the prize: a perfectly preserved two-story log cabin, probably built between 1820 and 1840.

Experts say it’s one of the largest and best-preserved log cabins discovered in central Ohio.

>> Join the conversation at Facebook.com/columbusdispatch and connect with us on Twitter @DispatchAlerts

The remarkable find prompted Kemp and Alexander to halt their planned demolition and contact the city of Dublin.

“I think history is really important,” said Kemp, a chiropractor who now lives in Gahanna. “This doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the city.”

Dublin saw an opportunity to preserve a piece of its past.

“I was just amazed when I walked in and saw the cabin,” Assistant City Manager Michelle Crandall said. “I knew when I walked in we had to find a way to salvage it.”


A letter from "Just Mom"


You have all met my great-great grandmother here previously.  She spent the last years of her life abed and kept diaries and scrapbooks the whole time.  Today these are a wealth of information for me.  I am captivated by letters that have survived and Grandma Todd was a prolific letter-writer.  And her letters were undoubtedly a blessing to family and friends alike.  I wanted to share this one from 1946 with you.  Even if you don’t know the people – and I sure don’t know them all – I think you can still see the beauty of her story.  I’ve left her spelling as-is since that part adds color all its own!

May 6, 1946, Monday morning,

Dear Cecil, Ruth and everybody,

How are you all – well I hope.  I am as usual.  Dad grunted with his head all last week but he is o.k. now.  Delsie is all-right.  She has breakfast about ready.  Dad is eating.  We are getting on just fine.  Beula is in the hospitle.   I had a letter from Wavealen she sayd Beula had an operation, she is in Green Cross hospitle.  Wave sayd her Grandma Trout was staying with them awhile.  Beula was in hospitle but she sayd her and Dewane done most of the work as her Grandma was not very strong.  Floyd is worried, the Dr. told Floyd that Beula could go home in about 8 days.  Anyhow it is bad to be in the hospitle, don’t you imagine.  Stocia, Emma J. and Ruby are excited too?  I sent Beula a card to her home address.  I didn’t know how to address it to the hospitle.  I knew Floyd would take it to her.  Ida sent her a card too.

Did you hear about Rev. Holden’s accident?  You know there was a conference at Montrey well Friday Apr 26.  Rev. Holden and his wife came to see me in the afternoon as they were at Montrey conference.  Well Rev. Holden was promoted to be a conference preacher.  He talked church like he always did.  They were so nice and sweet, he has a darling wife and I love them.  We had a lot of fun.  He sayd he got my letter and was keeping it always.  Yes, Virgina sayd Wesley had that letter in his book and would preach from it too.  Ha.  Wasn’t that quite a compliment?  I just can’t see why people talk so about all my letters.  I don’t even write interesting or spell correct.  Well as I was saying, on their way back home Friday night a drunk man staggered in front of their car and it proved fatal.  It happened close there to Montrey  and this drunk was laoded in whiskie.  I haven’t got the full details yet.  Anyhow it is awfl for a drunk man to get killed an meet a just God.  Awfl.  Rev. Holden and his wife boath wrote me about it.  Poor kids, they knew I would understand.  So I wrote them a letter yesterdayAbout the hardest letter I ever wrote in my life.  I realy prayd for wisdom to write to them.  Keeps me worried about Donald.  He is out a lot with his car and you can never tell when a drunk man will run into you.  Well, Clyde Whiticor is home, he got a discharge so Donald took Ida and Lois to Stacie’s Saturday to see Clyde.  Dewey and family and Sam Dodson left for Dayton, Ohio Friday May 3rd.  We had a good letter from Mary, they were all well.  I got a top card from Evelyn and Hollis.  It is so cute.

Well I recon your Dad has the prize garden so far.  The salad peas are higher than the palings and blooming, the bunch peas in full bloom.  Cabbage are cupping in to head.  Tomato plants fine.  He just pats himself on the sholder.  Ha.  He tells one how fine his garden is.  I told him he was like his mother, she could just walk through a garden and it would grow, so I think he has his mother’s touch when it comes to garden work.  My mother’s day tree is growing fine.  I ask about it often.  Say Verna Whiticor, Stacie’s mother-in-law, sent me a big bunch of American Beauty roses.  They are gorgeous.  Mrs. Sam Taylor sent me a big bunch of iris and roses so I always have flowers even if I am emumed. Ha ha.  Well today is mail day again, I had a real good letter from Ova and she sent me a dollar too.  She seemed to write more like herself.  We had a letter from Beecher last week and one from Willie.  They were boath well but homesick.  Well I have some more writing to do so I will say by for now.

Just Mom to all

Can’t you envision a whole book about this woman – I think I can…