A Memory From Long Ago, Part 1


Ray Burkhart

Part 1 of 2

A while back, I was riding in a remote area near my home here in Wilmington, N.C., and saw an old, shabby house with a tin roof just off the narrow, two-lane road. Somewhere deep in my hippocampus, a memory came tumbling out. It was of a house, or more like a cabin, I remembered from my youth near Asheville. Although I lived there for only a little over a year, I can clearly recall some details.

It was 1941, at the beginning of WWII. My mom was a divorced mother of two and worked full-time to support the family. I was 6 and my sister, 4 ½. During the week, we were boarded out to live with great-aunt Bonn, her husband and their two kids, a girl, 12, and a boy, 14. On most weekends, mom would get us, and we would stay with her in town.

The “cabin” was on a narrow two-lane, tarred road with Reems Creek meandering on the other side. It had two bedrooms, and an open area with kitchen, eating and living space. It was typical of the homes in this rustic area. There was no electricity, so light was supplied by kerosine lamps. Heating was provided by a wood stove in the kitchen area which was also used for cooking and baking. Water was supplied from a hand pump in the tin sink. Screens on the windows and front door kept most of the insects out and allowed cool air in on those hot and muggy days and nights. Free air conditioning was from the breezes of Mother Nature.

The exterior walls were unpainted, weathered wood, and a tin roof kept most of the rain and snow from coming in. A communal, one-hole outhouse was about 100 ft. behind the cabin. If I had to pee in the middle of the night, I usually would only go as far as the back porch. I was not anxious to deal with any creatures.

My great-aunt Bonn had a reputation as one of the best cooks in the area. Our fire- and-brimstone Southern Baptist preacher and his family especially looked forward to eating with us when it was our turn after church. If I close my eyes and think back, I can almost taste my aunt’s cornbread or biscuits, apple or cherry pies, and her chicken or squirrel dumplings. She deserved her reputation. All cooked  on a wood stove.

She was a real mountain woman. She would get up at the break of dawn, grab a shotgun, tramp into the woods, and be back in a couple of hours with three or four squirrels which she would skin, clean and then parboil for a family dinner. There was a good-sized garden which supplied fresh vegetables and many meals out of glass Ball jars after the growing season. A root cellar stored many cured items, including hams and bacon. The icebox in the kitchen area contained items needing refrigeration. An iceman made a weekly visit. Maybe he had a truck, but it’s possible it was a horse-drawn wagon.