Posts Tagged With: folk tails

A 1800’s Living History Christmas at Fort New Salem

A visit to Fort New Salem  is a trip back in time. The Living History Museum and Cultural Center in North Central West Virginia is a collection of over 18 historic cabins and buildings that are arranged as a pioneer settlement. The New Fort Salem Foundation of Salem West Virginia has public events all year to encourage the public to come and learn about what life was like in the 1800’s. It celebrates and educates about the traditions and folk-ways of the settlers of this area. The nationally recognized event ” The Spirit of Christmas in the Mountains” is the year-end gathering and a great place to spend the day with the kids for fun and learning.

The Village at Fort New Salem with woman in period clothing

The Village at Fort New Salem with woman in period clothing

I was lucky to have my whole family along on this afternoon trip to see  the Christmas in the mountain program. It rained most of the day we visited, making it feel a little cool and damp out side but the fires in each  tiny cabin warmed us. We started our visit with the two cabins that had candle making and a small kitchen that served hot chocolate, ginger bread men, pumpkin muffins and Wassel. The kids hand dipped candles for about 10 or fifteen minutes going from wax dipper to water and back again, over and over… The candle maker said to get a modern stick candle you would have to dip 50 coats of wax on a cotton wick to get one that size. Christopher dropped out fast only dipping about 15 times and Paige made it to about 25 dips before the repetition made her ready to find something more to do. The candle maker explained that most woman would make about 8 candles at a time instead of one at a time and a family would need about three candles a day to light their cabins at night. Making candles a very important necessity for settlers.

Paige dipping her candle in a bucket of cold water before adding another coat of wax at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginia

Paige dipping her candle in a bucket of cold water before adding another coat of wax at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginia

Christopher dipping candles at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginia

Christopher dipping candles at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginia

We then took the little ones to make their own ginger bread men and I got to have a cup of Wassail. (Wassail/Wassel  is an apple cider punch served warm and the above link has a traditional recipe that my family used).  I have not had the spicy cider in years, it tasted wonderful heated in a kettle in the fire-place. We all enjoyed the cookies and music playing while we ate. Christopher could not make up his mind if he wanted to keep the cookie or take it home, in the end it tasted really good and cooked perfectly to eat.

getting some decorating help at the kitchen at Fort New Salem

getting some decorating help at the kitchen at Fort New Salem

music played while we ate

music played while we ate

We then took the kids around to the blacksmith shop and tin shop where we all enjoyed watching things being made. The blacksmiths were making ornament holders and a fireplace set for the cabins. The Tin Smith at another cabin spent a lot of time with us explaining how tin things were made and used. The kids got to make tin ornaments for the tree as a gift from the foundation.

Blacksmith making a fireplace poker at Fort New Salem

Blacksmith making a fireplace poker at Fort New Salem

Tom helping Christopher and Paige make tin orniments

Tom helping Christopher and Paige make tin ornaments

We also went to the apothecary and honey houses. I bought some home-made Vick’s Vapor rub made with bee’s wax and lanolin and the kids got honey sticks to suck on. The day was almost over when we took a few minutes to  play with some traditional mountain musical instruments. We played with two different kinds of dulcimers and a cigar box banjo. The first instrument was a lap dulcimer that Christopher and Paige played along with using a home-made dance toys that made a rapping sound when it hit the wood plank. The other was my favorite instrument the hammer dulcimer. If a person is really good with the hammers they can play with 4 hammers at one time. This man was using two at a time, one in each hand.

Christopher playing in rhythm to a lap dulcimer

Christopher playing in rhythm to a lap dulcimer

Man playing a hammer Dulcimer at Fort New Salem

Man playing a hammer Dulcimer at Fort New Salem

In the same room with the dulcimers were a couple of banjos this one made from a cigar box  had  only 4 strings. Paige could not resist trying it out.

Paige playing the cigar box banjo

Paige playing the cigar box banjo

Even Tom was curious enough to see what the banjo sounded like and if he could play a few notes.

Tom playing a cigar box banjo at Fort New Salem

Tom playing a cigar box banjo at Fort New Salem

Then I took some time to talk with some of the volunteers who made the afternoon so exciting.The one I enjoyed talking to the most was Sarah who at the age of 70 came to play her bagpipes at the settlement. She had a remarkable story to tell me about her learning to play the pipes at 53 and that she had just recovered from a brain tumor  surgery 6 weeks earlier to come and play at this event. She love to play her pipes to remind everyone that many of the settlers of north central West Virginia were of Scotch-Irish decent and many of them were able to bring with them a form of the pipes called a chanter.

Music was  a large part of how the people of this area spend their time in the settlements and still is today.It makes the day so festive to hear so much music in the air. We even let the little ones buy whistles to make music with, which I later regretted on the hour car ride home!

Bagpiper at the Christmas Fair of Fort New Salem

Bagpiper at the Christmas Fair of Fort New Salem

The final event of the day is the annual tree lighting at the Fort. The Luminaries are lit and the candles on the tree begin their nightly glow and the sound of Christmas carols are heard ringing off the roof tops. The costumed volunteers walk and sing around the village shaking jingle bells and holding burning candles . It is a beautiful way to end a great afternoon of learning and shopping for crafts at the village store.

Christmas tree at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginia

Christmas tree at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginia

Tree lighting at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginai... photo by Murphey

Tree lighting at Fort New Salem, Salem West Virginia … photo by Jaime Murphy Fort New Salem FB page

This is what we brought home with us on this trip to the Fort. These things remind me of all the work that the settlers put into everyday living and how lucky we are today. It was a hard, cold, life and it really is amazing the so many of them survived and went on to make better lives for all us Mountaineers. A visit to the Fort is well worth the 5$ for each adult visitor and they encourage you to bring your children under 12 by not charging any admission for them. My family learned and enjoyed a lot this day and I am sure we will be back during the next year. Now if I can just get time to make a kettle Wassail for myself before the holidays are over!

a collection of crafts and gifts from Fort New Salem

a collection of crafts and gifts from Fort New Salem

 

 

Categories: cabins, Christmas, Country life, education, Fairs and Festivals, Fort New Salem, history, Homestead, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Shotgun VS. The Water Snake and other stories.

copperhead close up and personal

Copperhead close up and personal

    It is almost spring in the mountain state and with the warmth of the woods and spring flowers comes reminders from the old folks that it’s about snake time again. As a child who really never had a “bad” experience with snakes, I never really listened to the warnings. But after the last twenty years of life I have gained a respect for where and when to watch out for snakes. I have even had a couple of encounters that were shocking to say the least.I have found that snakes in spring and summer are a basic topic of conversation in these hills and everyone has a story to tell. Some are lucky enough to have photos of the serpents and others only long arm recollections of the animal. But  so far I have not met a farmer who does not have a snake store of some kind.

    Some of the stories that get passed around are as old as the hills and are full of insight into the fear of having snakes appear in places that they do not belong… like  inside your house, car or barn.They also add the mythical quality to the stories and make snakes something to fear no matter their role in nature.Then others are newer stories about the general surprise caused by actually seeing,touching or stepping on a snake. These tails don’t usually end with the death of the snake just a jolly laugh about how they scared you and your friends that day.

   So here is some of the folk-lore that I have found in my area about snakes. Frist and foremost… don’t harass a snake during “Dog Days”. Ok, for those of you who are unfamiliar the term, “Dog Days” it is an astrological event that lines up the Dog star and constellation close to the horizon in the last of Aug. There are visible changes to the environment during this time of the year like the covering of water with a thick bubbly, slimy film, hot humid days and snakes beginning to shed their skin. It is widely believed that at this time of year snakes can not see well and the will bite randomly if bothered or harassed.The shedding skin is believed to thick and opaque for them to see through. I am pretty sure that this is not true but I am not going to hunt out a snake and harass it to see if the prediction is true or not.

   My personal favorite, “never burn a snake”. I am not actually sure where this one comes from but I am a believer in it. The saying goes that if you take a dead snake and burn it the next year you will see twice as many snakes on your property. My husband killed several black snakes one year in the barn. He dragged  them out to the burn pile and set the serpents a flame.My son and I warned him that was not the best idea but he continued his plan.The following summer was the frist time I got a close up look at a Copperhead as I walked my sons pony across the yard. I also found snakes in every out building on the farm, not a fun summer at all.

cooper head in the woods

cooper head in the woods

  Some of the other stories are about finding snakes eating things that seem impossible for a person to understand. People talk of snakes eating full-grown rabbits and chickens. But my favorite one is about how to catch at egg eating snake. We had chickens and at some point had a problem with a black snake eating our eggs. I started asking questions  about how to stop the invader with our neighbors and this is what I learned from Eugene Hicks the farmer next door. Eugene began with his thick southern accent,”place a glass egg at the entry hole where you think the snake is getting into the coop…and place another inside,on the other side of the hole and wait”. He went on to explain,”the snake seeing the outdoor egg will eat it swallowering it whole…as snakes do, he will then slither through the hole and find the second glass egg inside.He’ll then swallower the inside egg and with them deep in his belly will get stuck because neither egg with be crushed. He’s trapped by his own love of eating eggs and you can kill him at feeding time. He isn’t going far”. I never tried this to see if it actually worked,but we did let the dogs out to see if they could find the snake. The battle was over in few minutes as my dogs found and shuck the snake to death.

Don’t get me wrong I am not a snake hater, I find them fascinating and useful. Even my husband who used to  kill every snake that crossed his path is getting a bit more tolerant of the creatures. Mostly because the funniest snake story I know is all about him. I have relentlessly teased him into giving snakes a chance to fill their role after a hot summer day when a green water snake won the battle against him.

The property we lived on at the time was Seven acres of “L” shaped land in the rolling hill part of West Virgina. The “L” shape is divided almost into equal thirds by a creek and a run off  that would dry out in the late summer.One afternoon my husband walked from the middle of the property where the main house sat down the road to the lower right corner of the property.About half way down the road  he had to cross a culvert that housed our creek. The creek is only a couple of feet wide and at its deepest is around two feet deep. The little creek floods at times  and trash and debris float down the creek after a good storm. Well this day there was a shiny sliver tin pan in our creek a few feet from the culvert opening and on the pan was a very small delicate green snake sunning himself. Tom saw the snake from on top of the culvert and resigned himself to go back to the house and retrieve his shotgun to kill the beast before it  caused any serious damage to anyone.  He returned several minutes later with a fully loaded 12 gage shotgun and a pocket full of shells.

  I watched  him walking towards the culvert from his sisters front porch. We lived only a 50 yards apart on the farm. We could see  him slowly loading the shotgun and both of us wondered what in the world he was up to. Blam, went the first shot as Kathy and I  moved to the banister of the porch… Blam, went the second shot into the creek. Now we were really wondering what  he was killing  in the creek, then with in a half a second BLAM>>BLAM>>>BLAM…. something came flying back up out of the creek and landed within inches of my husbands feet. He jumped up and down, shooting the gravel road until the gun was out of shells. Finally he stopped shooting and started shaking out his shirt and twirling around in the road. By this time I was well on my way up the road to see what the hell was going on.

When I approached I found my husband with his eyes cast at the ground,confused and sweaty. I calmly looked at the bee bee pierce tin pan on the ground and asked what had happened. Thinking to myself,”a  tin pan was not really scary enough to shoot three times at close range”. He replied that” he had seen a water snake in the creek and went to shoot it so it would not bite the kids. Then… the damn thing had flipped up and landed on the road”. I took a moment to look for the dead snake and I began to laugh uncontrollably. Not only had he  missed the 5 inch green snake in the creek, he had scared himself so bad with the tin pan flying up from the creek, that he actually shot it three more times to make sure it was dead. Their was no sign of the little water snake anywhere, no blood, no guts, no green skin. Just a tin pan sitting alone on a gravel road full of holes. Tom was still visually shaken when I started to laugh,he really didn’t see the humor in the situation,  he was still sure that some how that damn snake had landed on him or near him. As my laughter grew I asked him, “was that little green snake was worth 5 shots and not killing it”. That was when he also saw the humor in what had happened and we talked the rest of the day of just leaving snakes where you find them, alive and safely away from him and his shotgun.

black racer hidding in the grass

black racer hidden in the grass

 I have also had my own frightened moments  from hidden snakes. In our barn they were constant visitors in the hay bales.So you learn to live with them, but I  have a problem if those same snakes wanting to go back to the house and hang over my front door.I am not accustom to having 6 foot snakes at or around the house.  This big boy was just lucky that I let him live the day I found him on our porch.

black snake at the barn

black snake at the barn

    This happened just about  3 years ago and I had already quit  my day job to stay home with my little Christopher who was about 2 at the time. I was preparing our lunch one afternoon and I saw something moving around on our front porch. Through the dinning room window I saw a black skinny thing waving around. That was nothing new, as I had placed an old water damaged buffet on the porch for my plants to sit on and a large bowl of cat food for my  black and white farm cat.I just thought it was the cat’s tail wiggling on the buffet while she eat. But something more caught my attention the tail was sliding up the window. ” Holy Crap”, was the frist words out of my mouth and Christopher wanted to know what was wrong. I made something up and continued to get him seated at the table to eat as I watched the big black snakes head disappear up over the top of the window and its body dangle below the frame somewhere on the buffet. As calm as I could, I told Chris that I needed to go out back for just one second and slipped out the door, around the back to the front porch. To my horror the snake had slithered across the top of the window frame across to our front door jamb and stopped to rest with about a foot of length hanging down the window frame. At this point I realised that he was around 6 feet long and about 5 inches around  the middle and didn’t seem likely to move. My heart was racing in my chest. I didn’t want Christopher to see this and was not going to remove it with him on the porch. I went inside to telephone my sister-in-law, who as you  already know lived across from me, on the farm. Her husband answered the phone and I asked him if he could help me remove the snake while I watched Christopher.In responce they were both out the door, down the road and up the drive in a matter of minutes.

 John carried a hoe up the drive and I put cartoons on the TV for Christopher and headed out the back again. The snake had moved some and was now hanging across the door like a wet noodle. The head hanging over a foot and tail hanging down the back about the same. John asked me from the ground in front of the porch” why haven’t you reached out grabbed that one” ( I have been known to pick up baby snakes) and I replied “that one is not a tame snake and I think I would just piss him off”. John stepped up on the porch with his hoe and I followed to “Help”. He reach out and tried to push the snake off the door frame. It just opened its huge white mouth and hissed at us… freaking me out, I stepped back to the edge of the porch. John reach up again, this time more aggressively twisted the hoe and hooked the snake, pulled him off the wall. The big black thing hit the porch with a thud of a 5 lb weight.The snake curled its self up lied still as we all leaped off the porch. I found this too funny, grown men and woman jumping off a porch away from a non-poisonous snake. As we talked and laughed on the stoop the snake hid himself away behind my wicker furniture. Before I could get back on the porch and open the front door to see Christopher sitting quietly on the floor watching cartoons the snake was gone. He lived around our house for several years taking up residence in our cellar house. We would see him and his shed skins off and on. I was glad when he finally found better hunting grounds and left, but I still have vivid memories of him.

Categories: Folk tails, snakes | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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