Mountain people have developed a rich lore of winter weather prognostication. They compare the black and brown bands on woolly worms, which are supposed to portend the length and severity of winter. They observe how plentiful the summer’s yield of pine cones, how shaggy their horses’ winter coats, and how much foliage tops their root crops such as sweet potatoes. In each case, mountaineers take their cue from how generously Nature prepares for the winter ahead. If a cold, snowy winter appears to be coming, they can more vegetables for the pantry and split more wood for the hearth.
My dad used to keep count of the number of foggy mornings in the month of August, because “the old people” had told him each fog predicted a snowfall of a foot or more in the following winter. I don’t know whether that pattern was supposed to hold true in other parts of the country or only in Appalachia, but Indiana had a lot of foggy mornings this year. (Perhaps I’d better stock our pantry a bit more generously!)
Contrary to popular belief, the Old Farmer’s Almanac does not use nature signs on earth to predict the coming seasons, but rather a “secret formula” devised by their publisher in 1792, based on the sunspot cycle. Mountain folk have kept an eye on the Almanac for more than two hundred years, but they lay more store (literally) by what they observe in the world around them.
Reading bouquet cards beside my mother’s casket, I was reminded again of how resourceful she had been. One basket of flowers from The Posy Shop honored “Our Former Employee’; so did one from a retirement center. After my parents divorced more than forty years ago, Mom worked a variety of part-time jobs to support herself and my two sisters who were still at home. She was a maid at the local Holiday Inn; she cleaned passenger cabins of planes at the airport; she loaded thread on looms at a textile mill. She did whatever she could in order to survive.
Eventually, Mom remarried and became “just” a homemaker again, but that fierce determination would reemerge whenever she felt threatened.
It’s a familiar trait of mountain people, especially women, who are portrayed in Southern literature. A recent example is Jennifer Niven’s heroine, Velva Jean. Without family, without home, and without prospects for marriage, feisty Velva Jean makes a life for herself in the hardscrabble years of the Great Depression. Her indomitable faith is rooted in the Appalachian folk religion of tent revival meetings with evangelists “on the take.” Often naive but always resilient, Velva Jean learns to drive her own life, as well as sporty cars and supercharged pick-up trucks.
Mom was just as tenacious and confident of her ability to learn whatever she needed to bounce back when life threw her down. She cracked jokes even when she was crying, an art that all four of us children have learned. Alzheimer’s disease finally took control of her body, but not her spirit.
Yes, Mom was resourceful. Mountain women usually are.