Tennessee Mountain Stories

Puttin’ Up Beans


Did someone teach you to put up beans?  I don’t know that I ever remember lessons per se, but I certainly remember breaking beans with Grandma.  And I watched both my Grandmothers canning all matter of things.  Well through nothing but Christian charity I found myself with 4 or 5 bags of beans so I turned in to get them canned.  And my Ruthie was very excited to help – in fact, she said she was “super excited.” 


Well, it’s a process… she couldn’t get the ends off the beans (I was thanking the Good Lord that they weren’t very stringy beans) and she really would only break them in half.  I’m afraid we lost a good bit to the scrap bowl because she would throw the broken beans into the wrong place.  And by the time I was finished she was sitting in the bowl. 

Canning beans isn’t a difficult task – sitting and breaking can get a little monotonous I suppose.  And I have to look up the pressure cooker settings every single time.  So what did I learn at my Grandma’s feet?  A love for preserving; a desire to prepare for the coming winter, a refusal to waste… there were so many lessons there!  And these are lessons I feel bound to pass along to my own children.  There will be more baskets of beans to break and as they get older I’ll be requiring them to participate.  Ruthie helped scoop beans into the scalded jars, she watched as I poured boiling water on top and tightened down lids.  I explained the pressure cooker gauge even though I know we’ll have that same discussion the next time we have some beans. 


I wonder how many times Grandma explained it all to me?  I wonder how many rust spots and worm holes she picked out of the pan after I’d helped her so much?  I wonder if she knew what a gift she gave me in her teaching?


The Boy and The Big White Haint


Well I’ve kind of gotten on a roll with the ghost stories – and I think this is one you’ll really appreciate since it’s a good reminder how we can let our imagination, or our fear, get the best of us.

From Callie Melton’s “Pon My Honor”:

Another favorite haint tale Grandpa told us was the one about the time Old Man Phillips sent one of his boys to the cotton gin.

When Grandpa and Grandma lived in the little settlement called Stockton’s Valley, everybody raised a cotton patch …not only for making bats for quilts, but for making other cotton things like mmeal sacks and summer clothes.  Every family seeded their cotton by hand, but that was a slow, hard way.  Finally, somebody set up a little one-horse, home-made gin nearby, and people started taking their cotton there to be ginned.


One time Miz. Phillips was in a hurry for some cotton for spinning and weaving, so old man Phillips sent one of the younger boys to the gin with a big sheet full of cotton.  Like the miller, the ginner didn’t work every day, so on the days he did work, there would be several folks with cotton, so each one had to take his turn.

The Phillips boy had got to the gin late, so he was the last one to get his cotton ginned.  When he was ready to start back home, it was getting dusky-dark.

The road home was through the woods, and to tell the truth, the boy was about half-way afraid to be out by himself after dark.  So, when he got a little ways form the gin, he started to run his horse.  He had raced down the road for a good piece, when something made him look back.  The boy almost fell off his horse, for there in the road right behind him was something big and white.

Horse and rider.jpg

This really scared the boy, so he hammered his heels in the old horse’s ribs, and off they went faster than ever.  Again the boy looked back…and this time there were two big white things following in the road behind him.

This time he doubled his speed as he went tearing down the road, and every time he’d look back he’d se a big white thing or two coming right on down the road behind him.

When he got close to home, he started yelling as loud as he could.  When he rode up to the house the whole family was standing outside waiting to see what in tarnation was the matter.  The boy just fell off his horse, and when he could talk he told his pa that there were haints trying to catch him… that they were big and white, and was following him right smack in the middle of the big road.

Old man Phillips didn’t exactly believe in haints, but he could see that something had just about scared the daylights out of his boy.  So he got on his horse and started down the road to see about this here haint business.

Sure enough, he hadn’t got very far when just ahead of him he could see something big and white right smack dab in the middle of the big road.  His hair about stood on end, but he kept on going, and when he got close enough he could see that the thing wasn’t moving… it was just waiting there in the middle of the big road.  His horse started to snort and cut up, so it took all the courage he had, but he got down and lead the horse, and he just walked right up to the thing.  When he got up close to it… he saw what it was… a big pile of fresh ginned cotton!

The old man got back on his horse and rode on down the road, and soon he saw another big white pile of cotton in the middle of the road.  Then he knew just what had happened!  When the boy was riding so hard, one corner of the sheet had come loose and a wad of cotton had tumbled out and landed in the middle of the road… then, the faster he rode, the more cotton had tumbled out.

Old man Phillips gathered up all the cotton he could and went on back home.  When he got there, the family were all setting in the house trying to comfort the scared boy.  But, out by the gate where the boy had stopped, lay the empty sheet.  He put the cotton he had brought in the sheet, tied it up, and took it in the house.

“Here, son, is your haint,” he said as he pitched the sheet of cotton down at the boy’s feet.

How Work Brickle are You?

A Work Brickle Generation:  My Grandfather, Henry Livesay at the center  in the late 1940's.

A Work Brickle Generation:  My Grandfather, Henry Livesay at the center  in the late 1940's.

When we think about other people it’s easy to kind of categorize them – this one is brilliant in math, that one can talk a blue streak while another is kind of quiet but always ready to help a neighbor.  But  have you ever heard tell that they’re “work brickle”?

Now in my on-going education of our mountain vernacular, you know I often ask people if they know this word or that term.  I haven’t found anyone off the mountain that is familiar with the term “work brickle”.  I was about to decide it was just something my own family made up – then I Googled it!

Imagine my surprise when I found several references to the term – albeit all as Southern Appalachian terminology.   The Word Dectective defines it in the opposite of the way we use it – describing what a lazy person isn’t Another blogger hailing from Louisiana and Texas documented the term as a familiar colloquialism – so it ranges far from the Appalachians.  Even the New York Times included the term among a list from Volume V of the Dictionary of American Regional English.  And finally, Jamestown, Tennessee author, Carl R. Cooper documented work brickle  in his Upper Cumberland “Jargon” (Jimtown Publications, 2013) between wore out  and wore to a frazzle.

However, Etymologyonline.com did not include it and that’s my best source for dating terminology so I still don’t know how long it’s been in use.

Lester and Mary Key working in the fields.  It's not hard to find examples of work-brickle among this generation.

Lester and Mary Key working in the fields.  It's not hard to find examples of work-brickle among this generation.

I began to think about this term when I asked my children to help carry in firewood.  I commented that my little boy wasn’t exactly work brickle – and my husband said I just made that word up.  Ha! Someone made it up long before me.