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(2 girls and logger)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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Mollie reflects on her Tarheel ancestry
and eternal laughter and 'Decoration Day
From the Journal's extensive Dowdle collection

By Mollie Dowdle, Skagit Valley Herald, September 1969
(Mr. and Mrs. David Moyer)
Mr. and Mrs. David Moyer

      The Tarheels are eternally and everlastingly people of humor and laughter; that is, the majority of them. They can make fun out of nothing. Nothing is usually tales of back home — things they used to do when they were kids — things that Grandma and Grandpa and Momie and Poppie did and the way they used to live.
      And that's my way, for you see, I'm a Tarheel, too.
      I would have made a first-class old pioneer woman, living in her one-room log cabin with a loft in the mountains of North Carolina, carrying water uphill from a creek, cooking over a hearth in an iron pot and lighting oil lamps at eventide. Truthfully, that is exactly the way I would like to live.
      That's why I'm cooking right now on my mother's woodstove that she used for 41 years. That's why I've been out of hot water for six weeks because I couldn't find coils to hook up the old-fashioned tank. I just didn't want an electric gadget but that one caught up with me and come the first of next week a man is coming to install an electric tank. Of course, it's going to be nice having hot water all the time. But, I hadn't noticed to any extent that I had to heat every drop we used on the stove. It's been sort of fun carrying my clean clothes and towels over to Dorie's or up to Flavia's, my Mexican girlfriend, to tale a bath. It gave me a chance to visit, something I'm selfish in allowing myself to do.
      Modernism has caught up with even the hills back home, as far as the electric lines run anyway. Many of the women turn buttons to cook a meal and everybody has a refrigerator and a TV set. But a great deal of the folks' way of living and worshipping God is still the same as it was a century ago.


'Decoration Day' not just in May
      Yesterday, I was carried away, listening to Jean and her Aunt Nina tell in minute detail of the Decoration Day celebrations back home. I can't possibly tell it in Nina's vernacular and with the interest her stories carry, but I can try. I thought you would enjoy it. Decoration Day isn't just one day as we celebrate it the last of May. Back there, it is every Sunday after nice weather comes. Each locality and its graveyard has its turn. Folks come carrying all kinds of things to eat for the dinner spread along with great bunches of flowers, cut from the yard, planted with just this occasion in mind.
      So, from Jean and Nina (we drop the A and add "er," so she's Niner to us) — she's the one Hollywood missed making a fortune on because her stories are packed with wit and laughter. And you aren't just listening —you're carried back over the miles to the place she tells about.
      "Jean, wouldn't you love to be back home now and go to Decorations? Lord, how well I remember them. Momie would cook for a week ahead, piling up cakes and pies, just like all the other women did. And, Mollie, have you ever seen them old time fluted pie pans? Might nigh every woman had a stack of them.
      "And this is the way they'd make their pies. They'd make their biscuit dough, roll it out as thin as paper and crimp it down in the pan around the flutes. Then they'd bake seven or eight of them good and brown. Then between them they'd spread applesauce or sweetened pumpkin. And law, that pie would be great — high and the crust would soak up the fruit.
      "Then they'd bake cakes and spread them with chocolate frosting that would dribble down over the sides and run off on the table. And the youngsters would get to swipe it up and eat it.
      "And how well I remember wishing all the cooked frosting would run off the cakes so I could run my finger through it and lick it off, That was one of the greatest privileges I had as a child.
      "And then they'd boil great, long ears of corn and bake sweet taters. And if the taters were wrapped goad they'd still be warm at dinner time. And we'd walk to the graveyard, sometimes it was a long ways off. And we'd wear the best clothes we had. And we'd pack these big old boxes of dinner and the flowers. And we'd have wreaths made of cedar limbs with big old zinnias or asters tied onto them with string. And you could tell by the way a body held their arm, just as they was a-packin', and they'd be the awfullest sight of stuff to eat you ever seen — fried chicken, dumplings, green beans — and after dinner and all the graves was decorated, they'd be singing and preaching. And they'd be 20 preachers sometimes.
      "Preachers wasn't educated them days . . . they was called. And every one of them got a chance to say a few words. And between preaching, they'd be singing — people a-standing up around the preacher. And if they was a hand-shaking, some of the women would get happy and they'd shout. Law, what a day that would be! We'd be fixing and a planning on it for weeks.

[Ed. note: Mollie's father, "Gramp," was David Moyer, who married Florence Wood in Hamilton on May 24, 1911. So he was technically her stepfather but he obviously had a strong influence in her life, more than her birth father, whose identity is a mystery. Dave died in 1969 at age 97 and Florence died in 1965 at age 85; both are buried in the Hamilton cemetery. David had three children by his former wife, including Gertrude, Chester and Vinnie, who also lived into her 90s. Dave also moved his family West, from Arkansas, in 1900 and he went to work as a logger for the Lyman Timber Company. Mollie's maternal grandfather, Malcolm Wood, moved Florence and Mollie and other members of his family from Haywood County, North Carolina in 1908 and they settled on land across the river from Hamilton, where a school was also built.
      Many thanks to Carol Bates, for the information from official records and descendant memories in her book, Hamilton 100 years, that helped me sort out the genealogy of this very complicated family tree. Dave's former wife remarried to Irving Cary, a son of another pioneer Hamilton family, and in other Mollie stories linked below you will find many of Mollie's memories about the Carys.]

      "About Friday before Decoration, Momie would pack up us younguns and we'd walk across the mountains to Grandma's. It was a long ways — took us about three hours. And we'd go barefooted. And when we'd get there Momie would sew new clothes for us kids.
      "Grandma had a sewing machine and a spinning wheel. And there was always a little white sand left on her floor from scrubbings. It was put there to cut all the dirt and grease. And Grandma had two beds set up in the front room. And Grandpa would lie down on one of them after dinner, and we'd be quiet so we wouldn't wake him up. And Momie would cut and sew all day and Grandma would card and spin.
      "Sometimes Momie would be a way in the night a-making buttonholes and turning up hems. But, she always seen to it that we had new clothes for Decoration. We'd pack chickens— two, three miles — to meet the chicken man to sell them so that we'd have money to buy cloth. And lots of times them old chickČens would smother to death in the sacks. But no matter, Momie seen to it that come Decoration Day, we had the best."
      And that's the way my ancestors lived. I guess that's why I'm not modern. It takes time for some ways of living to change much more than the years of one generation.


Links, background reading and sources
Other Dowdle stories

Story posted on Oct. 29, 2006 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue 36 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine



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