I asked Granny Lou if robbing the meal wagon was a sin

Posted by | July 5, 2011

Please welcome guest author Barbara Taylor Woodall, whose family memoir It’s Not My Mountain Anymore has just been published by Ammons Sisters Publishing/Catch the Spirit of Appalachia imprint. Woodall was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains of North Georgia. She graduated from Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in 1973 and is a ‘Foxfire’ veteran. It’s Not My Mountain Anymore is jaunty, cocky, funny, loving and moving, and touches in almost equal measure on all stages of her life. Barbara lives within sight of her homeplace with husband Larry, and has no plans to leave.

Here’s an excerpt from “It’s Not My Mountain Anymore”:

Barbara Taylor Woodall

Barbara Taylor Woodall

Granny Lou’s own grandparents lived in White County, GA, during the Civil War years. Her grandpa, Frank Parker, was a veteran of the War. Granny Lou told me war stories passed down through generations:

“Grandpa Frank was about thirty years old when he and all other men that were worth account in White County joined the 65th Regiment to fight in the Civil War. There was nothing civil about it. My mother was about five years old when he left for Service, but remembered the hard times. The Yankees stopped all supply routes, so women and children had to attend the fields and do all the hunting for survival. Imagine scraping dirt off smoke house floors to boil for salt, or using parched rye or corn for coffee substitutes.”

The Confederate government started monthly rationing. Wagons loaded with cornmeal arrived to lines of women and children waiting for food. Granny Lou proudly spoke of two aunts who could not wait for designated days because the children were starving.

Granny Lou

Granny Lou

They armed themselves with wooden mauls to meet the meal man. He was unwilling to allow them an early portion. Aunt Sally drew her heavy maul, daring him to move, while Aunt Nancy knocked the lock off the wagon door, swung inside, measured out only their portion, and left.

I asked Granny Lou if robbing the meal wagon was a sin. She said, “Not much of one; it would have been a greater wrong if they let the children die while keeping the law.” She was proud to be named after Aunt Nancy.

Grandpa Frank wrote a few letters home, telling that his company was falling out like flies from scarlet fever and diphtheria. Winters were hard and the men slept on cold ground or in the wet mud. Food was scarce. He wrote that a buddy got his brains blew out on the battlefield. They splattered onto Grandpa’s cornbread. He had no choice but to clean it up and eat it—that or starve to death. He wrote that his breeches (pants) were stiff with blood and could stand up by themselves. He saw heaps of dead men stacked like butchered hogs. Rotting flesh tainted the air as their pocket watches ticked time.

During the Civil War days, the family cabin was burned to the ground in White County by a mob of mean boys. Aunt Nancy saw from a distance the boys roping and tying the schoolteacher. He had returned from the war. They said he mistreated them before leaving for battle. Aunt Nancy approached the gang and heard their intention to hang him. She tried to talk them out of the evil deed, but they had blood in their eyes. She was far outnumbered by the raging gang.

When the teacher became missing, the community started asking questions. Aunt Nancy told what she saw. The boys invaded her home to kick, stomp and threaten her. It was nearly dark when she ran through the cornfield to escape their attack. She could hear approaching boots searching each row for her. They came so close the dust they kicked up stung her eyes, but she escaped.

Frank Parker headstone

Frank Parker headstone

“Their misconduct started with stealing eggs,” she said. “When neighbors reported one boy to his mother for correction, she took him in a back room where she kept an old black trunk. She told the boy to jump up and down screaming, as she beat that old trunk. That would appease the listening crowd outside.

“Well, later he was caught and convicted of the teacher’s murder. Now at the gallows, he said, ‘Mother, if you had beat me instead of that old trunk, I might not be here today.’ That’s the plumb truth.”

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