Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Ballad of Alfred & Attie

Today I am reminded of my great-great grandparents, Alfred and Attie Kile. They were the parents of my sainted and oft-mentioned Grandmaw Mary. I have no picture of Alfred or Attie but I know that at least two photos exist of them; I just have never been able to track them down. Several of my family have seen them, though.

Theirs truly was a story of love and loss, and I rank them at the top of people whom I wish I could meet.

Grandpaw Alfred was a poor man all his life. His father, Thomas Kile, had been hurt in a farming accident when Alfred was just a child, so Alfred and his siblings were “farmed out” to neighboring families. Basically, this was just a way for the children to be fed and the neighboring families to have free labor. Alfred grew up working, and working hard, too. He soon grew into a very large man. My Grandmaw Mary says her father was at least 6 and a half feet tall, wore a size 15 EEE shoe and used a mule shoe as a heel tap. Grandpaw Alfred also was a large man, and is widely contributed for giving all of us our size. He had raging red hair and a full beard.

Grandmaw Attie was, by all accounts, one of the most beautiful women in Germany Valley. She was courted by men of the most prominent families, and she came from a respected family as well. As the story goes, one summer afternoon, Attie went visiting some neighbors with her step-mother and on the way there the wheel on the wagon she was riding in somehow messed up. It just so happened that about that same time, my Grandpaw Alfred came along on the same road, returning from Riverton with a load of feed for the farmer he was working for at the time. Of course, seeing two ladies in distress, Grandpaw Alfred stopped to see if he could help. Soon, Alfred had repaired the wheel well enough to get Attie and her step-mother to the farm, where it could be further repaired. My grandmaw Mary said that Attie fell in love with Alfred right there along that road and thought there was no other man that could even compare with him.

Remnants of Fiddler's Green, home of Alfred & Attie.

In the weeks following the wagon wheel incident, Grandmaw Attie refused to see any of the suitors who came to court her; and when asked why, she told her father that she was in love with Alfred Kile. Well, Grandpaw Cullom just about had a fit. Alfred was a hired man, for God’s sake, and didn’t have two nickels to rub against each other, let alone have any land. Attie remained adamant in this, and after some time had passed, Grandpaw Cullom allowed Alfred to court Attie.

The two fell deeply in love. Attie thought she had the most wonderful man that ever drew a breath, and Alfred was still in shock that such a beautiful and well-bred girl would even look his way. They were soon married, but all was not well. You see, the jealous, rejected suitors got together and devised a plan to put Alfred in his place. On their wedding night, just as Grandpaw Alfred and Grandmaw Attie were going to their marital bed, the raucous sounds of a Shivaree were heard. Knowing this to be the custom, Alfred and Attie were not alarmed; however, instead of just pulling Alfred out of bed and tying him to a greased rail as was typical, these men forcibly tied Alfred’s hands behind his back and talked amongst themselves about hanging him. They did too. They took Grandpaw Alfred to the old oak tree out from the house and tried to hang him. However, Grandpaw Alfred was such a large man that the rope stretched although Alfred was scarred by the rope burns around his neck for the rest of his life. Somehow, Alfred got his hands freed and fought off the men. After warning those men that they’d better never bother him or his wife ever again, Alfred returned to the house and his bride, whom had been bolted inside during the melee.

The men didn’t physically attack Alfred again, but they did put the word out to all the neighboring farms that they were not to hire Alfred to work for them. So, the newlyweds were faced with the dilemma of not having money, work or a place to live, so they decided all they could do was leave Germany Valley. They moved to Rockingham County, Virginia, for a few years and Alfred sharecropped some land over there, but it soon became obvious that they couldn’t make a living doing that, and Attie was so far from her family, so they moved back to Pendleton County, only this time on the Smith Creek section of the county.

Uncle Vern Kile, son of Alfred & Attie.

By this time, Alfred and Attie were blessed with my Grandmaw Mary and my Uncle Okey. They lived and worked on Smith Creek for several years, and several more children were born, but they were never able to afford a place of their own. Word came from across the mountain that Grandpaw Cullom had died and had left Attie a small cabin locally known as “Fiddler’s Green”. Well, they knew well the trouble that faced them back in Germany Valley but not being able to pass up a home of their own, Alfred and Attie moved back to Germany Valley.

They found that times had changed, and there were even a few families now that would hire Grandpaw Alfred to work for them because he was known all over the county as a very hard worker and an extremely strong man. In fact, Grandpaw Alfred had become somewhat of a local legend for his strength after he saw a mean bull charging a woman and her three kids. Alfred knew he had to do something of else the woman and/or the kids would likely be killed, so he picked up a slab of wood and chased alongside of the bull, and hit the bull across the neck and killed the charging bull just as it was almost on the woman and kids. The woman’s husband was so grateful, that he paid the farmer for the bull and spread the tale of Alfred’s great strength countywide. Then a few months later, Grandpaw Alfred was working in the stock pen and another mean bull had pinned a man against the fence and was killing him, the man was screaming for help and several men had ropes around the bull and was trying to pull the bull away. Grandpaw Alfred again came to the rescue by walking up and hitting the mad bull with his fist and knocking it unconscious, and the man was saved! Nobody had ever heard of that happening before.

Fiddler's Green

So now, Grandpaw Alfred and Grandmaw Attie were back home in Germany Valley and all seemed to be going good for them. Even some of the old, jealous suitors had let go of some of the animosity towards Alfred and even hired him for some odd jobs. Then, one bad winter, Grandpaw Alfred came down with pneumonia. Then it was even more dangerous than now, but somehow Grandpaw Alfred beat it, and was able to go back to work. But, the thing about pneumonia is that once you’ve had it, you can catch it again really easy. It seemed that every winter after that, Grandpaw Alfred caught pneumonia. There were many outbreaks of flu after the Great Flu of 1918. One of these bouts occurred in 1922. Alfred and Attie’s son Okey died that year. He was only 19 years old. He was Alfred’s pride and joy and they say that Alfred lost a little piece of himself when Okey succumbed to the pneumonia that set in after a bout of the flu. By this time, there were several other children who depended on Alfred, so he carried his grief around with him and went back to work, they say he worked twice as hard and was known to be able to cut a field of corn by hand in just one afternoon. This was supposed to be work for several men but Alfred done it alone.

My grandmaw Mary, daughter of Alfred & Attie.

A few years later, Grandpaw Alfred seemed to be returning to his old self, and my Grandmaw Mary (Alfred’s daughter) got married to Don Burns and had children of her own. At this time, my Granddaddy Don was a timberman and he worked out in Cass at Pocahontas County. He would send Grandmaw Mary money every now and then, but certainly not on a regular basis. During this time, my Grandmaw Mary moved in with her parents, Alfred and Attie. The arrangement worked well, Grandmaw Mary was the oldest child and some said she was Alfred’s favorite after Okey died. This worked a couple of years until 1931 when Grandpaw Alfred caught pneumonia again. This time, he forced himself to work in inclement weather knowing it would be bad on him but also knowing that his grandchildren relied on him to provide for them. This went on a few weeks until Grandpaw Alfred was too weak to work and then he was forced to stay at home. With no work, there was no money coming in so the family was running out of food, and Grandpaw Alfred went so far as to refuse his helpings and insisted that the grandchildren eat before he did to make sure they had enough. After a week or so, Alfred was so weak he couldn’t even get out of bed, and by this time, he was unable to eat much of anything. He died on February 13, 1931 at the age of 54 years. The community news in the local newspaper read:

“Alfred Kile was buried Saturday. He died of pneumonia. Not being able to get any work, he and his family suffered for lack of food. He was a strong man. On account of not getting enough nourishment his body was weakened and he wasn’t able to stand an attack of pneumonia.”

After Grandpaw Alfred’s death, my Granddaddy Don felt so guilty over his part in this that he returned home and built a house for Grandmaw Mary and his children. Grandmaw Attie did what she had to do to provide for her family, she was too proud to move in with her daughter, so she sold “Fiddler’s Green” and moved to Circleville and got a job at the new switchboard for the telephone company. She worked there for a couple of years, until she got an infection of some sort and the local doctor told her she should consult the new hospital that had been built down in Petersburg. She did and they gave her a shot of penicillin. Grandmaw Attie had never before been to a hospital or even knew what penicillin was, all she knew was the doctor said it would clear up the infection. Sadly, she died from an allergic reaction to the penicillin shot that night after returning home. Grandmaw Attie was buried beside of Grandpaw Alfred in the old family cemetery near where their honeymoon cabin was located.

Little cemetery where Alfred & Attie are buried.

A few years later, Alfred & Attie's daughter Eva planted a snowball bush at the heads of their graves, but it has long since been removed, and there were no tombstones. Those who knew of the locations of their graves have all passed, so in death as in life, it appears that Alfred and Attie are being slighted. I firmly believe this is not the case, I can just see Alfred and Attie looking over their own prosperous farm with all of their family around them. As the scriptures say, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions….” I feel certain that Grandpaw Alfred and Grandmaw Attie are now living in one of them.

My wife Shirley, upon hearing the story of Alfred and Attie, wrote a song about their lives titled, "The Ballad of Alfred & Attie". You can find it on her upcoming release, "Been to the Mountaintop". I will post more about the CD once it is released.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

First Frost

Well Folks, Just a quick post to let you know the old saying still hold true. After you hear the first fall cricket, it will be Six weeks until the first frost.

As you can see in my post from August 13, 2008 that was titled "Fall Crickets"
that using my Grandmaw Mary's time-honored tradition of utilizing fall crickets to determine weather, I estimated the first frost on the mountain to be September 24, 2008 (give or take a few days). Well, this morning the prophecy was fulfilled when it frosted. Today is the 27th of September, so it is still within the margin of error.

Sure, the frost was wimpy, and it was light, but it was the first frost none-the-less. It was also unexpected, since it has been raining for the past day or so, and last night was really foggy. Apparently, the fog lifted just long enough for it to frost. It was a balmy 29 degrees early this morning, and the smell of wood smoke from morning fires to keep the dampness at bay still hangs in the air.

My Grandmaw Mary sure knew her stuff.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Eva Lena, This Here is My House!

For some reason, today I was reminded of a story about my Dad’s childhood that he still talks about. It starts when he was about 6 years old and lived with Grandmaw and Granddad Thompson in Bennett Gap near Riverton. Dad lived with them until Granddad died in 1966, at which time, Dad moved up on the mountain with Grandmaw Mary and Grandaddy Don. You see, Dad was the oldest grandson, and it is a family custom for the oldest grandson to live with his grandparents.

Dad, Age 6

Anyway, when Dad started to school, he went to the Old Dixie Schoolhouse in Riverton. It was an old school that had served the area since right after the War. Sadly the school was destroyed in the Great Flood of 1985. One day Dad’s older sister, Barb, was put in charge of getting him off to school, and Dad was being cantankerous. Well, when they got to school, Dad was wearing one of Barb’s dresses! Of course, Dad was always raw-boned and much larger than the other boys, so he didn’t get picked on about it!

Dad and Barb in Bennett Gap.

Thinking back on Dad’s stories, he tells of how he and Barb played in the holler road going up Bennett Gap. He said they used to love to go out on hot summer day and let the road tar squish up between their toes. Also, he said that they used to chew the road tar and pretend it was bubble gum.

Dad also tells of a giant grapevine that hung over the holler that the kids used to swing from one side or the other. It was a big drop and was between two cliffs. Well, it come to be Dad’s turn to swing and he was a little afraid, so Barb hollered “Grab ahold” and give him a big shove. Dad said he was trying for all he had to cling to the grapevine but sure enough, he lost his grip and fell. All the kids were sure he was dead and took off running for home. Dad said he took to cussing them and calling them “chickenshits” for running off like that. They then knew he was okay and came back to play, but as they got closer they could see that Dads arm was badly broken. Dad said that was the only broken bone he had in all his years, and he still says that Barb caused it.

Barb standing in the road in Bennett Gap.

Dad also tells of his first swimming lesson, which happened when he lived up Bennett Gap. He said someone hollered, “Let’s Go Swimming” and they all took off for Bland Hole, which was the deepest nearby swimming hole. This was before the big Flood and you could dive off the river cliffs into the water, after the flood, it is still deep enough to swim in but not deep enough to dive off the cliffs, which are now around 20 feet above the water. Well, at this time, Dad couldn’t swim at all, and he was planning on just wading around in the water to cool off. That is until his Uncle Dave grabbed him and threw him off the cliff into the water, and hollered “Swim or Drown”. This may sound cruel, but that is the way most kids learned to swim. Interestingly enough, Dad didn’t swim, he flailed around in the water and after a while, started to go under. It was quite apparent he chose the latter of the “Swim or Drown” scenario. Well, his uncle saw this and dived in to save him. After they pulled Dad out of the river, they couldn’t get him even close to the river after that. It wasn’t until Jason and I were in our early teens that we were able to convince Dad to get back in the water. He still won’t venture in over about chest deep, and never puts his head under the water.

Dad and Barb after being in the road tar!

I think the one of the best stories of Dads childhood was when he and Grandmaw Eva (pronounced Ehv-uh) were gathering eggs one morning. Grandmaw Eva’s full name was Evalena. Well, that morning just as they got to the chickenhouse, the great big ole rooster jumped up on the roost and crowed. This wasn’t an ordinary crowing though, Dad says to this day that the rooster talked as clear as anything. He said the rooster looked at Grandmaw Eva and said, “Eva Lena, this here is my house.” Nothing or nobody can convince Dad otherwise, he knows that that rooster talked that morning.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Growing up a wild youngin’ in the hills of West Virginia, I was no stranger to getting war wounds. My granny used to call them that, although most of you all would call them cuts, scrapes or bruises. Some of these left permanent scars, which still remind me of the bygone days of my youth.

One of the scars is on the index finger of my right hand, this one came from an accident I had when I was around 4 years old. I remember we had just got back from Moorefield, where we had gotten groceries. Well it was about 9 O’clock at night and I wanted to try out a bag of English walnuts that we had just gotten. Mom and Dad told me it was past my bedtime and I had to wait until morning to get my some walnuts. Well, as soon as their backs were turned, I snuck (yes, I am aware that I said snuck) out to the kitchen and grabbed me a knife to crack me open a few English Walnuts. After all, I had watched mom and dad do it this way many times…how hard could it be. Well, I didn’t know that the time that you typically don’t use a butcher knife for cracking English walnuts, so I gave it a whirl. I actually cracked open one of them and was starting on the second one when the knife slipped and I cut my finger pretty bad. I set out to squalling and everyone came running. Mom immediately saw what I had been doing, and took a cold warsh rag and wiped the blood off my hand. She saw that it needed stitches, so she wrapped the cold rag around my hand and we all took off for the hospital in Elkins, which was 60 miles away and the location of the nearest doctor. Well, we got to Elkins around midnight, and they sewed me up, I remember having 3 stitches in my little finger. Everyone was about ready to kill me because of course, the trip to the hospital was a family affair so everyone was there with me, missing out on sleep, all because of my wanting an English walnut. Mom's diplomacy prevented them from straight-out murdering me by telling everyone she’d stop at the all-night donut store and buy everyone some donuts if they’d be good, so yet again, I lived to tell the tale. After that, I recall having my own personal nut cracker though. Even today, I have the reminder of that scar on my finger. Funny how a scar grows with the finger, it is still about an inch long.

Me and Jason, about the time of the walnut incident.

On the same hand, I have another scar. This one from a burn I received compliments of a wood stove and melted crayons. It seemed that me and Jason were the damnedest kids to want to create art by laying a piece of paper on the cage of the wood stove, and then drawing on the paper. The heat from the stove melted the crayons into the design of the stove cage, which was covered with little mesh holes. Well, one time the crayon I was using melted away to a nub and I dropped it on the stove top and it started smoking really bad, so I reached down to pick it off the stove. Well, I hit the top of my hand on the inside cast iron of the stove and burnt my hand. Luckily, Mom always kept prescription strength burn medication on hand because all of us kids were constantly burning our butt cheeks by getting too close to the stove when we tried to warm up on cold mornings, so my hand got good treatment. But I still have a 2 inch circular burn on the back of my hand.

Me and my brother, playing with our dog in the snow.

On the back of my right leg I have a bad scar from wrecking my bicycle when I was shot down while playing cowboys and Indians with the other kids. I was riding through the gauntlet, and the goldenrod arrow caught in my spokes just right and threw me over the handlebars of my bicycle. The bike landed on top of me and the chain guard cut my leg. This time, I refused to go to the doctor, and doctors it myself. Looking at the scar, I probably needed stitches. I remember at the time I had about a two inch size chunk of meat hanging off my leg. I don’t remember how I ever hid it from mom… my guess is a lot of band-aids!

Looking for more scars, I notice my index finger on my right hand (yes, right above the “walnut” scar). It is shaped a little funny. This one came from getting it smashed in my granddad’s tailgate. I remember, we were hauling firewood one summer evening, and we had just got done unloading the wood. The one hinge on the tailgate didn’t work right so you had to hold it in just so to get the tailgate to latch. Well I did this but should have oooh’d when I ahhh’d, and got my finger smashed. I remember I lost my fingernail over that one.

Then, on my forehead, you will notice a scar. This one came compliments of dear old mother. When I was 15 years old, my brother gave me chickenpox. Well, unbeknownst to mother, I was coming down with chickenpox but she just thought I had a pimple on my forehead. She told me to hold still and she squeezed it. Well, it wasn’t a pimple, it was my first chickpock, and it left a scar. It was amazing that somehow my brother and I managed to escape getting chickenpox all through our childhood years, just to be afflicted with them as teenagers. Oh well, it just so happened that my brother had got them right before I did, only it was during his Spanish Club trip to Mexico. They quarantined him in the hotel! At least I got to suffer at home with mine. Oh, and in case you are wondering, I had them all over my body but didn’t get too sick from them, as many people who get them later in life have experienced.

I could go on for hours about all my war wounds, some of which I display proudly, but all of which will bring back a memory of bygone days. So, what memories of a “war wound” do you have?

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Independent State of Webster

Today, I thought I'd share with my readers a little of the colorful history of Webster County, WV. When I think of Webster County, several things come to mind...to name a few...the largest hardwood tree in West Virginia (and perhaps the world), Custard Stand Hotdog Chili, the site of the last buffalo killed in WV, the excellent quality of potatoes grown there, and of course, The Independent State of Webster.

This post is dedicated to the Independent State of Webster, an oft-forgotten segment of West Virginia history.

Be sure that you read the county court records at the end of the article, it has been said that the truth is stranger than fiction and in this case...it is the stuff that legends are made of.

Printed in the Parkersburg News, April 1902
"Webster County and the Foreign Press. The Independent State of Webster"
by H. Coleman Thurmond.

"Webster county was formed in 1859 by an act of the legislature of Virginia, but there was no county organization until about 1864, as the Civil War came on and delayed the organization. But long before that date the section called Webster was and is now known as "The Independent State", and even before it was formed it had a Governor and other officers of its own, who recognized no superiors and paid tribute to no other authority.

The Independent State was then almost an unbroken forest, with a few settlersalong the rivers, without roads of any kind, except mere bridle or cattle paths, over which the natives transported their seng, pelts and other produce to Charleston or Clarksburg, and brought back coffee, calico and such articles on horseback, attached to a pack saddle.

At that time this was indeed a hunter's paradise, as deer, bear and all kinds of game were abundant, and every family could, if they desired, have venison for breakfast by simply going out in their yard or "patch", and shooting such game as they wished. The country was indeed flowing with "milk and honey", and even now no other section of this state equals it for pure, nice white honey.

Such grain as the settlers wanted was raised and in the littlemills, so common now, along the streams, each man who had a grist could go in and grind it himself, which he always did, as there was no such thing as a miller, and "toll" the grist, putting the toll into a barrel or box and taking his meal or buckwheat home to his family.

The Independent State of Webster at that time was not taxed, and had no representation, but the people cared little for that matter, as it was immaterial to them who was President or Secretary or whether slavery was abolished or not, as there were no Negroes here to be freed. Long before the War the Independent State was organized.

George M. Sawyers was Governor and had under him a full set of State officials down to constable, and ruled the land to theentire satisfaction of all concerned, with none to molest or make afraid, as the roads were such that not even soldiers of an army could invade the Independent State, and the people enjoyed their freedom, as well as buckwheat cakes, honey, and moonshine.Such things as these were good enough for any king and it is no wonder that many of the Governor's subjects lived to be over 100 years of age and deaths were few and far between.

It is said that when the county court of Nicholas heard that the Independent State had chosen a governor and officers that "the court doth appoint Pat Duffy as ambassador to the Independent State to make a treaty of peace and friendship and to arrange for our people to go inthere and buy 'seng and to hunt in the fall of the year", and Pat came and was so overjoyed at this reception that he decided to stay, and did stay, reporting to his court as follows:

"I came, I saw, but they conquered, and I am now one of the natives, having been chosen sheriff. Their venison, buckwheat, honey, tree molasses and moonshine cannot be excelled on earth. The governor extends a hearty welcome to the court and all people, languages and tongues to come here and live, hunt, fish, dig ramps, and trade among the natives".

On receipt of this report the court acknowledged the independence of the Independent State, and this action was followed by the county courts of the adjoining counties.

A few items from the proceedings of the county court of the Independent State may be of interest, which are about as follows:

"Ordered that hereafter the price of seng and pelts shall be this: One pound of dry seng for one pound of coffee; one deer or wolf pelt for one pound of coffee, or a yard of jeans or calico; bear pelts, one dollar, or four pounds of coffee; and further, that taxes may be paid in seng, pelts or coffee."

"Ordered that slavery be abolished in this State."

"Ordered that the license on moonshine shall be one-eighth of the 'juice'."

"The court expresses its sympathy of Kelly Ben Hamrick as he fell out of his tater patch into the river and hurt his back."

"Ordered that Dave Lilly be admitted to practice law in this court, and be licensed to preach and celebrate matrimony."

"This day came the parties in the case of Benny Cogar vs. Silas Clifton, and the jury rendered the following verdict:

'We the jury find that the mule sued for had only one eye and was hip-shot, ring-boned and clumsy, and not worth much of any thing, so we fix its value at one pound of green coffee, one bear pelt and two pounds of seng, which said Clifton can pay said Cogar next fall or winter'

"Ordered that Tunis McElwain, Bob Clevinger and Andy Shanks be and they are appointed a committee to go and locate the grave of Moses, and also to locate the landing place of the Ark, and report to this court next summer."

"This day came the parties in the case of Pat Carr vs. Pat Duffy, sheriff, and the jury rendered the following verdict:

'We the jury find that Pat Duffy did imprison said Carr and big old sow in the same cell of the county jail, and that said Carr being full of moonshine did wake up in the night and beat the old sow nearly to death, but that said Duffy did not know the old sow was in the jail when he put said Carr therein, and as the said old sow is still alive and said Carr was turned out as soon as the noise of the old sow awakened Duffy and he could get there, we find a verdict in favor of said Duffy.'"

It being reported that the Yankees are coming, it is ordered that court do now adjourn."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

On The Greenbrier

The Greenbrier River in Pocahontas County, WV. Photo courtesy of www.eightrivers.com

From the book, Have-A-Look Poems, by B. Wees, published in 1946 in Elkins, WV

On The Greenbrier
We’ve been restin’ from our labors.
Visitin’ our friends and neighbors,
Takin' what we’ll call a little “auto tramp,”
Down in Pocahontas County,
And partakin’ of their bounty,
On the Greenbrier where the Wilmoth’s have their camp.

There are “paw” and “Maw” and Frances,
And Lorain who loves nice dances,
And Em’ly who delights to swim and tramp,
All on deck but “Peesly”—Russell,
Who will soon get out and hustle,
To the Greenbrier where the Wilmoth’s have their camp.

When the sun shines hot and “blazy”,
Feller gits so all-fired lazy,
Hasn’t energy enough to lick a stamp,
He jes’ slides into the water
Like a muskrat or an otter
In the Greenbrier—where the Wilmoth’s have their camp.

‘Lon jes’ delights and glories
In a tellin’ big fish stories—
Whoppers that “out-whop” Aladdin and his lamp—
Why, the fish that swollered Joney
Wasn’t nothin’ like as tony
As the ones he ketches there at Wilmoth camp.

When the thunder rolled and rumbled,
And the black clouds whirled and tumbled,
And spilled some rain that seemed uncommon damp,
Don asks: “Tell me what we will do?”
Frances sez: “We’ll rust and mill-dew”—
On the Greenbrier where the Wilmoth’s have their camp.

When the katydid and cricket
Start their music in the thicket,
And the lightnin’ bug hangs out his tiny lamp,
The folks gather laughin’ lightly
‘Round the camp-fire burnin’ brightly,
On the Greenbrier where the Wilmoth’s have their camp.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Times they are a-changin'!

The Pendleton Times, 17 December 1943
North Fork News

A tower has been erected on the Nige Rocks on North Mountain. The soldier boys constructed a phone line to the tower. This gives a panorama view of Monkey Town, Spruce Knob, Allegheny Mountain, North Mountain and different other places.

W.A. Judy has been appointed to teach Hunting Ground school vacated by Luke Crossland. Rev. Ray Hinkle has been placed in the high school to a place vacated by Mrs. Cornelia Dyhre.

A human skull was found along route 33 on the east side of North Mountain and it was sent to the office of Dr. J.L. Lambert. On examination he pronounced it to be a girl’s skull about sixteen years old.

Okey Day is loud in his praise of the Democratic Party for giving him a pension in his declining days.

Everything is quiet in the peaceful little village of Circleville. Large chicken houses have been erected by Mr. Parker from South Carolina, C.A. Warner, Forrest G. Lantz and Doll Lantz. Saw Mills must have been erected on the edge of the village. Martin W. Nelson is building a hotel. Every thing points for a boom for that town in the near future.

The cry of the terrible Snoligaster as it seemed to be at the moment sent the dogs scurrying to safety. A mournful howl filled the air and sent chills up the backs of the inhabitants. On investigation it was found to be a false alarm. It was the good women of the neighborhood moving in a slow procession with filled chaffticks from the writer’s straw stack. This procession reminded one of the covered wagons in by gone days.

Blessed are the peacemakers. A convoy went all night Friday night. These boys are fighting for our freedom. We respect them and should do our part in making their lives pleasant.

We don’t know whether it is right to mutilate and destroy women, mothers and little children. The great teacher took little children in His arms and blessed them.

We have no great feasts to mention. We are living on bacon, beans, cornbread and mush. Now and then a pound cake for which we are thankful.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Festival Find

My last post about the Treasure Mountain Festival got me to thinking about the best thing I ever got there at the festival. It was in 1988, and what I got there that day seemed destined to be, or so I like to think. My best item from the festival was my dog and childhood companion, Speck. Speck was my best friend and we sure spent countless hours together traipsing over the hills and hollows of North Mountain.

Me, Speck and our cat, Milo, at the holler rock.

Prior to getting Speck, my brother and I had been pestering mom for several months about how we wanted a dog, and we had actually even went to see about getting a couple of them, but none of them “spoke” to us. They were either too big, too little, too wimpy, or something always seemed to be keeping us from getting a dog. Mom said what we needed was a “waller” dog, you know, a dog that you could play with and waller around with. Well, we certainly wasn’t thinking about a dog when we attended the festival that year, but one of the first things my eyes peeled upon getting out of the car, was a sign that said “Free Puppies”. I grabbed Jason by the arm and we made a bee-line for the stand.

My brother Jason, our dog Brutus, Me, Speck and our cat, Mouse.

Unfortunately when we got there, all the puppies were gone, but the lady told us to come back before we left the festival because sometimes people bring puppies back after they realize that they just can’t handle one. Well, our hearts sank but we did mull around the crowd and had a fairly decent time. When we got ready to leave, we stopped by the “Free Puppies” stand again, and the woman told us that a little boy had brought back a puppy after learning that his mother said he couldn’t have it and that she had saved it just for us. She then proceeded to lift this little black and white speckled puppy out of a cardboard box and handed him to me. My first look at that puppy was like an epiphany to me, he was just perfect. When I took him from the lady, the first thing he did was lick my face, and my brother reached over to petted him, and it licked his arm. I know now that we were destined to grow up with each other, and that is why it took us so long to settle on a dog.

A group of friends..Speck, Jason, Tippy, Matthew & Brutus.

Well our puppy was certainly a “waller” dog, he loved to play and he loved to eat, and we decided before we ever left Franklin that his name would be Speck. Those first few weeks, he grew like a weed, no doubt because of all the food we fed him. His little belly was tight like a drum. Mom let us keep him inside until he got big enough to be put outdoors under one condition, we had to give him a bath every other day. She claimed to have read that if you wash a puppy in Woolite that it wouldn’t dry out their skin, so Jason and I religiously gave Speck his allotted bath so we could keep him inside with us for as long as we could. I remember that first night when we went to bed, we took Speck into our bedroom with us, and he was supposed to sleep in his box, but halfway through the night Speck somehow managed to cajole his way into sleeping in my bed, and we got to playing in the wee hours of the morning and he fell off the bed. Well, I let out a howl, I was sure that Speck was dead, but when Jason and I managed to get him out from under the bed, he was just fine. In fact, he licked Jason’s face and tried to climb up the cover to get back up on my bed. We just knew we had us a prize dog right then and there.

Me and my baby, Speck.

By the time November came along, Speck had already grown enough to be able to stay on our front porch. We had built him a little doghouse and decorated it with old clothes and a soft pillow. He had him a doggy mansion. Then, later in the month when deer season rolled around, Speck feasted on countless deer bones. I remember one in particular he made his favorite and carried it with him everywhere he went. He still had that thing the following spring! I don’t know that he ever ate it.

Well as time passed, it became apparent that Speck was my dog more so than he was Jason's because he seemed to follow me everywhere. The next summer, when I’d climb the apple tree, Speck would even try to climb it too. He’d make it up about 3 or 4 branches, and then just sit and wait for me to come back down. Nobody had ever seen a dog climb a tree before, but Speck could. Speck used to love playing basketball with us too, the only problem was, he liked to roll the basketball around in the yard like he was rounding it up. He could steal it away from you mid-dribble! He was good at stealing the ball.

Speck, the best dog ever!

I remember one time my Uncle Tom ran over Speck with his Volkswagon, and just luckily, the only damage it did to Speck was give him a little cut him across the nose. Uncle Tom still says he remembers seeing me crying, and giving Speck bath in an old metal washtub. I wanted to make sure he was alright and I needed to clean his wounds. They say the tears were just dripping off my face and down into the bathwater. Everyone says that Speck getting ran over hurt me far worse than it hurt Speck. There was a lasting scar on Speck from his getting ran over…he had a giant scar in the shape of an “M” right across his nose. Everyone said that was just to mark his as my dog, since that is the first initial of my name.

As we grew older, Speck grew older with us. He was our loyal protector and loved us as much as we loved him. Every time we were outside, he would be by our side and ready for our next adventure. One of the hardest things about going off to college was leaving Speck. When I’d call home, Speck would be waiting at the front door for me to come outside and play, he just couldn’t understand why I never came outside. So when I’d call, Mom or Dad would hold the phone down to him and I’d talk to him a little bit. They always said that really cheered him up and that he would be okay for a day or so, but mostly they said he would just lay around and pine away for his playmates to rejoin him for another adventure. I remember how happy he’d get when I’d come home for weekends, he’d be so happy that our little team was reunited again, even if only for a short while, that he'd pee all over himself.

Me & Speck, Spring 1995.

Speck came up missing right before Christmas of my freshman year of college. People said he had just lost his will to live, and they all figured he just went up on the mountain and died, as dogs will sometimes do. When I came home for the Christmas holiday, I looked all over that mountain but never did find him, and even to this day I find myself wishing to see my old friend just one more time.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Festival & Lard Scalding

This coming weekend, September 19-22, my home county of Pendleton will hold the annual Treasure Mountain Festival. Growing up, my family always got together and went to the Festival, and we usually just milled around in the crowd and ate a lot of food. You see, there’s not much to do at the Festival besides see old friends and eat. I always liked to use the festival as an excuse to put on my “winter coat”, an old mountain term referring the need to get fattened up for the winter months.

Me at the TMF 2006. Yes, those bags are full of food!

The Festival is always held on the 3rd weekend of September and this year it will commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Burning of Fort Seybert.

Every year following the parade, the Burning of Fort Seybert is re-enacted on the site of the original fort.

The Treasure Mountain Festival story begins shortly after the attack in 1758 when a band of Shawnee Indians under the leadership of the Delaware chief, Killbuck, attacked and burned Fort Seybert & Fort Upper Tract. The only remaining fort left standing in Pendleton County was Hinkle’s Fort, which was built by my 7-great grandfather Johann Justice Hinkle.

My brother Jason and the 7-great-granddaughter of Chief Killbuck. She attends the Treasure Mountain Festival every year.

After leaving the site of Fort Seybert, the Indians along with their prisoners crossed the mountains through Greenawalt Gap, a natural and well-known crossing through the rugged mountains. From there they travelled through Germany Valley and westward to the Little Kanawha River in present-day Upshur County, which in turn, further took them to the Ohio River and the Shawnee town of Chillicothe.

Pendleton Natives, Brud & Ardella make their annual pilgrimage through the TMF Parade. Brud always fires off a few rounds from his muzzleloader to delight the crowds.

The few settlers who escaped the massacre told of what happened and they recounted a story of how the valuable possessions and treasures belonging to the settlers were collected in an iron kettle and a wooden pole was stuck through the bale and two Indians carried the treasure. As they were climbing up the eastern slope of South Fork Mountain, the terrain became steeper and the two Indians fell behind the larger group. Fear of pursuit made the two Indians abandon the kettle full of treasures, and when they rejoined the larger group they were empty-handed. They said they had hidden the treasure somewhere on the mountain along the trail near a giant hollow tree, and that they would return to claim the treasure at a later time. It is doubtful that the Indians returned , as this was their last known visit to the area.

Over the years since that fateful autumn day in 1758, many locals have so strongly believed in the existence of the treasure that they searched the still-visible mountain trail in hopes of locating it.

While no one has succeeded in uncovering this ancient "pot of gold", the legend lives on and is celebrated every year at the Treasure Mountain Festival.

I have a family story that tells of this Shawnee raid in Pendleton County. On their way up the South Branch of the Potomac River, the Indians passed my Grandmother Rebecca Skidmore’s cabin. All the menfolk were away hunting up in the mountains. According to the story passed down through the generations, Grandmaw saw the Indians coming up the river but didn’t run away, she said she was too old to run anyway, and besides, her grandmother was a Shawnee woman named Sowetha, so she figured she had no real reason to fear and expected the Indians just wanted to trade as they usually did when they were in this part of the country. As they neared, my grandmaw said she saw that this was a raiding party and she knew she was in trouble but there wasn’t anything she could do about it, so she just went about her business, which just happened to be rendering lard. Well, the Indians pulled up their canoes and started up to the Skidmore cabin, and she just acted like she wasn’t afraid. She said the Indians went into the cabin and stole her coffee and sugar and came out and that she could tell they were deciding what to do with her. She said she knew a couple of Shawnee words and said them, and tried to tell them that she was part Shawnee, and they just grunted and talked among themselves. She said then one big Indian pulled out his knife and started toward her and she knew she had to do something right then, so she instinctively threw a big dipper of rendering hog fat in his face and he took to digging at his eyes and scalded face. The other Indians thought this was just too funny and roared in laughter, and then restrained the man from revenge. She said they then went back in the house and took her butcher knife and a hatchet and nodded to her as they went back towards the river, still laughing about what she had done. The story further tells how Grandmaw Skidmore was rather shocked that they left without killing her. Years later, when Killbuck was asked about this, he talked of how the raiding party had encountered an old white woman that fought like a Shawnee, and for her bravery, they had let her live.

The Giant Pendleton Pumpkin Contest 2007.

So, if anyone is in the area this coming weekend, be sure and stop by the Treasure Mountain Festival, there's sure to be something that will interest you there.

Monday, September 15, 2008

An Alternate View

The nights are cold, the days hot.
A sign of things to come
Granny always said she hated this time of year.
She said it was the season of dying and death,
Pretty flowers would bloom no more
until the sun returned with life anew,
The mountains obligated to be desolate
after the Mother demands tribute.
Some might say the mountains afire is a thing of beauty,
Granny said that’s just like somebody saying
how good a corpse looks, or how pretty a coffin is,
and there’s nothing pretty about it.

It’s nothing but death, pure and simple.
A sure sign of things to some.

How's the Weather?

Folks, there’s a chill in the air today. This reminds me that it sure as heck is mid-September and fall is here and winter is just around the corner. I’d thought I’d devote this post to the many ways to determine the timing and severity of winter according to folklore. Here’s a list of the ways I can think of, do you know of any more?

• If the wooly worm is solid black, there will be an early fall, bad winter and late spring.

• If the hornets build nests high in the grass or in trees, there will be a lot of snow that winter.

• After you hear the first fall cricket, it will be 6 weeks until frost.

• If the bark on hickory trees is really thick, it will be a colder than normal winter, conversely, if the bark is thin, it will be a warm winter.

• If squirrels gather nuts after sundown in October, it will be a hard winter.

• If the deer are dark in color, it is an indication of a bad winter to come.

• If buzzards congregate, it is a sign of a change in the weather.

• The first three days of each new quarter will determine the weather for that quarter. For example, the first three days of January will indicate the weather for January, February and March. The first three days of April will determine the weather in April, May and June. The first three days of July will determine July, August and September, and the first three days of October determines the weather for October, November and December. A quarter starts on the first day of the month following a solstice.

• If ant hills are high in July, winter will be snowy.

• If the first week in August is uncommonly hot, the coming winter will be snowy and long.

• For every fog in August, there will be a snowfall in winter.

• If a cold August follows a hot July, it foretells a cold and dry winter.

• A lot of rain in October means a lot of wind in December.

• A warm October foretells a cold February.

• If the first frost hasn’t occurred before the full moon in October, then there won’t be a frost until the full moon in November.

• Flowers bloomin’ in late fall is a sure sign of a bad winter for all.

• A warm November means a bad December.

• Thunder in the fall foretells a cold Winter.

• If onion skins are thick and tough, Old Man Winter’s gonna be rough.

• A green Christmas means a white Easter.

• A hard winter is in the making if corn husks are thick and tight.

• Expect a cold winter if apple peelings are tougher than average.

• It will be an early winter if the birds migrate early.

• It will be an unusually cold winter if a squirrel’s tail is very bushy.

• Expect a long, hard winter if berries and nuts are plentiful.

• If the first snowfall lands on unfrozen ground, the winter will be mild.

• Snowfall won’t amount to anything until the rivers are running full.

• If wood smoke hovers near the ground, a bad storm is coming.

• If you see a ring around the moon, and it has stars inside the ring, that will tell you how many days until there is a big storm.

• March will borrow from April, and April will always collect its debt.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pigs: A Tale of Youth!

I remember one time when we lived on the farm we bought a pig, and while I know this in and of itself is not newsworthy, the manner in which we transported it home is. As I recall, when we bought the pig the vehicle we had with us was a Ford Pinto. Yes, a Ford Pinto. Not wanting to go back home and get the truck to haul it, we improvised by sticking the pig in a burlap sack and laying the sack in the back of the Pinto. My brother and I were so excited to have a pig, we petted the sack and talked to the pig, and would poke our hands into the air holes in the sack in order to pet the pig. I’m sure we scared it to death. Every once in a while the pig would let out a squeal, I’m sure out of fear and from being pestered, but Jason and I took it as a sign that he needed more attention. That poor pig. Mom and Dad told us to stop aggravating the pig, but it was to no avail, we were just sure that the pig needed us!

As we neared home, the pig began to cut a conniption fit, the likes of which had never before been borne. Well, this was the sign Jason and I needed to lay the back seat down so we could get back there and hug up to the sack in an effort to comfort the pig. Needless to say, it didn’t work and luckily we got home soon thereafter, or else I don’t know the pig would have survived the trip.

It seemed like we always had hogs when I was growing up. I recall that at one time we had upwards to 80 hogs and pigs. I loved having the pigs. We kept them in a big hog lot near my granddads house. For the most part, I remember best the hogs that we had the longest time. We built on to the old chicken house and made it into a 5-stall hog house, with each stall opening into a one acre lot.

I remember the first stall belonged to Snowball, a Middle White/Berkshire sow, who was ill-tempered but always had the fattest pigs. Snowball's piglets always brought the highest amount at market because they were as fat as little butterballs. She was sometimes a mean old sow though, and you never knew if she was having a good day or a bad day.

The second stall was for Spot, a Spots sow, who consistently gave birth to more piglets than she had teats. Spot would try to feed all the piglets and would be “pulled down” so much from the piglets that I’m pretty sure a strong wind would have blown her over.

The Third stall was for Bertha, a gigantic Hampshire sow. Bertha was special to us kids because she was so gentle, she’d let us ride on her and let us play with her piglets. Bertha was so fat, it was like riding on a walking mound of Jello.

Next to Bertha, in the 4th stall, was Junior, a mixed-breed boar that we bought at the stock sale for $1. Junior was so cheap because he was ruptured. We originally bought him to butcher (a hog for $1, you can’t beat that with a stick). Junior was gentle and us kids just loved him. The adults told us not to get attached to him because he was to be butchered, but we figured if we made a pet out of him, he’d be safe. Well, on this assumption, we were wrong. Come Thanksgiving Day, Junior was butchered. I remember trying to hold out loyalty for Junior by refusing to eat the heaping platter of pork chops that he had become, but my resolve must not have been too awfully strong. Junior tasted good!

In the last stall, we kept the hogs we were going to sell, or used to keep the boar when we borrowed one. We never kept a boar hog, to us it was a waste since we could just as easily borrow one as to keep one and feed it all year long.

A farm in Germany Valley near Slack Hands place.

We always borrowed a boar off of a man named Slack Hand, named that because he never would strike a lick at work. Slack Hand had a farm left to him by his father and he lived off of that. He never did take good care of his stock, and we’d always have to feed the boar a few weeks before it could "perform" for our sows. I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself, but old Slack Hand’s hogs would eat rocks! Yes, I saw them do this! Slack Hand’s daddy was a first cousin to my granddaddy Don, so we was related to him, and Slack Hand was only too happy to lend us a boar hog for a few weeks because when we’d return the boar to him, he’d always immediately take it to the stock sale in Moorefield and sell it while it still had some weight on it! I remember I found it hilarious at the time, but now that I think on it, it really wasn’t funny, but Slack Hand never had a loading chute for getting his hogs on a truck. Instead, he just put down the tailgate of the truck and hogs would come from everywhere trying to jump up into the back of the truck. I know now that those hogs were trying to get the heck off of that farm and to somewhere where they’d be fed. The hardest part of getting a boar from old Slack Hand was getting the other hogs back off the truck since all we needed was a boar hog! They’d be packed in the back of the truck like sausage in a casing.

Some hogs near Slack Hands farm.

I remember my favorite pig of all time was a little piglet named Skunk. His mother was Gertrude. Skunk was my pig from the time he was born. I babied him and carried him around like a puppy. I always knew that we weren’t going to keep him and that he was to be sold when he got older, but I loved him anyway. I couldn’t bear to think that the slaughter house would buy him, so Mom assured me that if Crites Slaughterhouse bid on him at the stock sale, she’d say “No Sale” and bring him back home. Jason and I went with them to the stock sale the day that Skunk and his cohorts were to be sold (my brother also had a pig in this lot), and when Skunk and the other pigs were brought out for bid, you’d have thought we were at a ballgame or something. My brother and I stood up and yelled, “Hi Skunk, Hi. Wooooo. Wooooo. Skunk, we’re up here. Skunk!” We were sure yelling and cheering them on. I know we also named off the other piglets too, and tried to get them to recognize us in the crowd, but I can’t remember their names. We were so loud that the fellows that worked the stock sale came over and told us we’d have to calm down that we were scaring the animals!! Well, an old woman named Mattie, who had a huge dairy farm in Durgin, WV (near Baker’s Rock between Petersburg & Moorefield), thought it was cute that we were selling our pigs even though we obviously loved them, so she bought them all. After the sale, she came over to me and Jason and told us we could come and visit them any time we wanted to, and she said they’d be safe at her farm and she would feed them the leftover milk from her dairy operation.

Although we never did go see Skunk after we sold him, I do remember sitting with Mattie and asking her about Skunk when I’d go to the stock sale after that. She’d always tell me he was as big as a hog! I also remember she’d always tell me she was hungry and invite me to go with her to the cafeteria there at the stock sale. Mom knew her so it was okay. Mom always said Mattie was a nice old woman, and though you wouldn’t know it, she was probably the richest person in the South Branch Valley. Anyway, I remember Mattie always ordered us a hot ham sandwich and a piece of lemon meringue pie. They made the best stuff there at the stock sale cafeteria, all of it was homemade and it was run by farm women who really knew how to cook. Mom and Granddad used to pick on me after that by telling me that Mattie was the woman for me, she loved to eat as much as I did, and she could afford to feed me!

We sure had some good times at the stock sale and raising pigs.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Nothing Changes but the Seasons

Thought y'all might find this old newspaper clipping of interest. The Pendleton Times is still in publication and still has news items like this in it. I find these old ones amusing.

Bland Hills 1930's, about the time of this was written.

The Pendleton Times
10 February 1933
North Fork News

Mr. and Mrs. Arlie Simmons and Brooks Calhoun made a business trip to Crabbottom selling radios, Delco-lights, punch boards, etc.

Born last week to Mr. and Mrs. Forrest G. Lantz a six pound daughter.

David Cunningham, of Job, is visiting friends in Circleville. Mr. Cunningham and Okey Day were discussing the trend of the times, Mr. Cunningham claiming they were growing worse. Mr. Day argued to the contrary. To prove his point he exhibited one of Stark's Golden Delicious apples, but the wheels of depression had bruised and mangled it and it didn't look natural.

The Ladies Aid of Circleville was at Harman Saturday night and gave a play. This society works harmoniously together and is doing good work among the citizens of Circleville.

Frank Nelson, a man of ninety-three years, died at the home of his daughter, Mrs. P.H. Kisamore, near Riverton, Monday. He could read without using glasses. Jacob Harman, an aged man of the same neighborhood, died Saturday.

Born to Mr. and Mrs. Kenny Warner last week, twin daughters. They lived only a few hours.

A negro member of the convict gang working on Elk Mountain road was killed by a flying stone last week when a large blast was set-off. Also, the blacksmith went mad and was preparing to kill some of the workers. The boss felled him with a blow and handcuffed him and sent him back to the penitentary at Moundsville.

Sunday was the worst day we have had this winter. The mercury was down to zero. The wind blew a gale that tore down trees, toppled over haystacks and unroofed houses.

Jenifer Mullenax and Boyd Harper took a load of cattle to the Baltimore market Monday.

Luther Hammer has returned from Baltimore and reports the market low on stock. Fairly good cows sell $8 a head. At a sheriffs sale in Bath County, VA good cows averaged $9 a head and good yearling cattle were sold at $3.50 a head.

"Buzz" Warner, of Hunting Ground, caught a large catamount and brought it to Circleville alive. He sold it to C.A. Warner to put in his menagerie. He had twelve coons and nine police dogs in his collection.

We believe President Allen of Davis and Elkins College was right in saying there are too many teachers in West Virginia. The wise man Solomon said that of the making of books there was no end and too much study was a weariness to the flesh. This wise man knew what he was talking about.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I remember when I was growing up, every year about the last part of August, we’d all load up in the back of the truck and go down to Romney and get several bushels of peaches. We’d go right to the orchard and get them, and let me tell you, you ain’t lived until you’ve ate a fresh peach right off the tree. Those peaches were so sweet and sticky they practically tasted like candy to us.

The whole bunch of us. I'm the baby.

I remember how one time when I was about 8 years old, we went for peaches and the day before we had used the truck for hauling sawdust to put down in the hog pen. Well, the truck bed still had some loose sawdust in it and when we started down the road the wind picked up the loose sawdust and blowed it all over us kids riding in the truck bed. You couldn’t keep your eyes open for getting sawdust in them. I recall that was one trip in which all of us kids stayed up towards the truck cab where the flying sawdust wasn’t so bad.

It was a pretty uneventful trip except for crossing the big bridge between Petersburg and Moorefield. I always hated that bridge and to me at that age, it was about as big a bridge as there ever was in the whole world. It crossed the South Branch of the Potomac and the water was green underneath, a sure sign that it was deep. I’d always try to close my eyes or hide face down in the truck bed because as we all know if you can’t see something it won’t bother you. Well, this time was especially traumatic for me since it was just after the Great Flood of 1985 which had washed away the huge concrete bridge there, and it was temporarily replaced with an old metal National Guard bridge. That rickety thing creaked and moaned, and made such a racket, I was just sure we were falling into the river below. Of course, all the other kids knew my fear, and of course, gave me a dose of my own medicine by picking on me incessantly before and during the crossing of the bridge. I guess I was always afraid of that bridge and that deep water because when I was little, me, Dad, Jason and the 8th husband of the woman who gave birth to my mother (note I did NOT say grandmother), all went there ice fishing one winter. His name was Skinner and he loved to hunt and fish. He was from around that area, and I remember him talking about how deep the water was, and how that several men had tried to swim to the bottom of the river one time and couldn’t touch the bottom. I’m sure he was just preying on my wild-eyed fears then, especially considering how I was tip-toeing around on the crackling ice. Never the less, I was scarred for life and remained afraid of that stretch of water for years.

This is the place where went went ice fishing with skinner. The bridge is maybe 500 yards upriver from here.

Anyway, after making the harrowing crossing of the river, we headed on to Romney. The rest of the trip down was typical for us, and we soon arrived at the orchards. Mom had grew up down that way and she knew all of the places and most of the people, so she knew who to deal with and who gave the best deals. We soon found prices that we could live with and got our allotted 5 bushels of peaches and we also got several bushels of apples. Since we were at the orchard, the men there let us kids eat our fill of bruised and damaged peaches because they couldn’t be sold and would ruin anyway in the heat. To us kids, you’d have thought we had died and went to heaven. We gorged ourselves on peaches, and had the sticky nectar dripping all down our faces and off the ends of our elbows. I’m pretty sure we even had the sticky peach juice in our hair. Oh, God they were good.

About the age I was in this story.

After an hour or so, we all loaded back in the crammed truck bed and started up the road. Well, that’s when the real fun began. Remember I was telling you about the loose sawdust flying around, well now that we were all sticky with peach juice, that sawdust started to stick to us. We were a sight! Practically every inch of our bodies was covered with matted-on sawdust. On our way back through Moorefield, Mom stopped at Heck’s Store and told us to stay in the truck that she just needed to quickly pick up something, so we just stayed there in the truck bed. Then the yellow jackets found us. I’ve no doubt now why the Moorefield High School mascot is the yellow jacket because that place must be over-run with them. Undoubtedly, all that sticky, sawdust-laden peachiness on us kids had attracted entire swarms of yellowjackets because we were soon dodging and swerving from the little buggers! To save us, our granddad who was driving the truck, told us to calm down and he drove around the parking lot to keep the yellow jackets off of us. I wonder what those people in the parking lot must have thought was wrong with that bunch of swarping kids in the back of that truck who were all covered with sawdust and swatting at the air! I’m sure they thought the whole lot of us was touched!

It wasn’t long before Mom came back out of the store with a small bag of stuff. None of us asked what was in the bag and we soon started on up the road. Soon, we neared the big bridge again, and once again the picking on me started, and I just let the derision slide off of me like water off a duck’s back, and remembered the ring leaders for later tormenting once the tables had turned! Well we crossed the bridge and granddad pulled the truck off in a wide spot just above the bridge. Mom hopped out and said, “Okay kids, here’s some shampoo and towels, now go swimming and warsh that mess off of you”. That's what she had bought in Heck's! Well most of the kids took off running for the river but I about freaked. This was the deep water near that bridge I was afraid of, as a matter of fact, you could even see that bridge from where we were at, and I was just sure that the whole lot of us was going to drown. Mom assured me that the water here wasn’t all that deep and that I should just stay near the river bank if I was scared. She then tried to point out to all of us the Fox and the Ox that were supposedly visible in the sandstone cliffs above the river and she told us that this was one of the best swimming holes in the area. Well, hesitantly I entered the water, and washed off real good and noticed the older kids swimming out in the middle of the river. They all seemed to be okay and no water monster or nothing had violently arose from the deep to devour them. Instead, there was only a trail of soapsuds slowly floating down the river away from them.

It felt good to get that itchy sawdust and sticky peach juice off of us and I kind of relaxed a little. We stayed there for a while and played in the water, and though I never did venture far from the riverbank, it did help me overcome some of my fear of that deep, dark and foreboding stretch of river. Soon, after we had dried off, we were loaded back in the truck bed beside the apples and peaches, only this time the flying sawdust didn’t stick to us, and we headed back up the mountain road that led to home.

Here is a link to a You-Tube video about The Fox and Ox Rocks, it has information and a photo of them at the end of it. The video is 1 minute long.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Never to Leave the Holler!

A few days ago, I received from a distant cousin a photo of my great-great-great grandfather and my great-great aunt, Solomon Hedrick & Mahala Teter. I had never before seen this photograph and seeing it reminded me of their story.

Solomon & Mahala (Teter) Hedrick about 1900.

The story begins with Mahala's parents, Samuel and Sidney (Wimer) Teter. When Mahala was 10 years old, her father Samuel died in a farming accident. A few years later, the widow Sidney gave birth to a daughter, which she named Sidney Teter. No matter how you look at it, there is no way possible that the baby belonged to Samuel Teter. Word got around, and it turned out that the widow Sidney had been laying with Solomon Hedrick and that the baby belonged to him. With the secret out, Solomon and the widow Sidney made their relationship known and Solomon acknowledged the child as his own, but here is where it gets colorful.

About this time a man named Cornelius Ketterman, whom the widow Sidney had grown close to in the months following her husbands death came back into the scenario. According to stories, Cornelius was really in love with the widow Sidney and promised to marry her after some time had passed (she was in mourning) and when the War was over (in those days, men thought the War of Northern Aggression would only last a few months).

Well, when ole Cornelius came back into the picture, the widow Sidney cut it off with Solomon Hedrick and took up again with Cornelius. It wasn't long until she and Cornelius had a son together, and soon thereafter Cornelius went back into the Confederate Service where he was captured and sent to the Yankee Prison Camp in Camp Chase, OH. He died there. The widow Sidney was once again left alone, only this time with two young children to raise.

In the meantime, a new romance was budding, this one between Solomon Hedrick and Mahala Teter. I guess Grandpaw Solomon thought if he couldn't have the mother, then by golly, he'd have the daughter. Mahala and Solomon were no relation, per se, since she was the daughter of the widow Sidney's first marriage. As time passed, Mahala and Solomon were married, and the widow Sidney moved in with them with her two children, a girl by Solomon and the boy by Cornelius. By all accounts, the widow Sidney approved of the marriage between her daughter and her former suitor, and always held Solomon in high regard because he was a good provider.

The daughter of the widow Sidney and Solomon Hedrick that was named Sidney Teter, soon took on her father's surname as well, and became Sidney Teter Hedrick. She was my great-great grandmother. I wonder how she really felt about her sister being her step-mother? About her father being her brother-in-law? She didn't get married until she was 19 years old, which in those days was a little long in the tooth, so I can only guess that she must have been comfortable with the whole situation.

When the daughter Sidney Teter Hedrick married Miles Thompson, they built a house next door to Solomon, Mahala and the widow Sidney, and lived there the rest of her life.

I know there has to be more to the story than what I've been able to collect from family stories and historical records and such. I'd say there is a very interesting story here somewhere...lost in the recesses of time. My how tongues must have wagged!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Johnny Junk

A few days ago I read a wonderful blog post by Tipper over at The Blind Pig & The Acorn blog, and I just can’t seem to stop thinking about it. The blog post is about “Spreading the Love” where she thanks all those who shared comments on her blog in the month of August, and eventually the post gets to talking about yardsales. Tipper asks if anyone has ever had any yard sale experiences, so I’m gonna take it upon myself to throw my hand in the air and yell, “Me, Me”. Evidently, her post triggered a story in my soul that just needs to be told.

When I was young it seemed like every summer we’d have several yardsales, always on the first weekend of the month because that’s when old people and those on assistance got their government checks. Mom always said we really didn’t get rid of anything, or make any money from the yardsales, it was simply a way to trade junk around from one family to another. You see, it always seemed that the same people would come to your yardsales and buy things, and conversely you’d go to their yardsales and buy back things. So really, I suppose you could say that we just leased the junk from each other!

One time when we were little, my brother and I struck upon a great notion. We’d sell grab bags for $1 each. We didn’t tell mom what we had in the bags either, and she just reckoned we had various toys and such in them. Instead, my brother and I just put rocks and dirt and broke up sticks in them. I recall we sold several bags of this and nobody ever returned any of the bags to us for a refund. Mom about had a conniption when she found out we were selling dirt grab bags!

Me and my brother Jason. I think he's getting a little too much joy out of choking me here.

Probably the most memorable event was a yardsale we had when I was about 7 years old or so. We were set up at the junction of Route 33 and 28, there in Judy Gap, West Virginia. That way we’d get more traffic, and thus more customers. As I recall, there were two people selling there that day, us and Johnny Junk. Johnny Junk was an old man who, I believe, lived in his truck, and on which he had a camper that he sold work pants and blankets and pretty much whatever would sell out of the back of it. I never gave it a thought then, but nobody I know ever knew what his real name was, but everyone in the county knew Johnny Junk when you mentioned him. Funny how someone gets a name like that, and that persona overshadows your whole existence. Mom always warned us that he was a dirty old man and she would never let the girls get around him. I don’t know of anything untoward that Johnny Junk ever did, but you know how people talk and us kids gave him a wide berth. I don’t know whatever happened to Johnny Junk, maybe he went to that great yardsale in the sky, or perhaps just loaded up and drove into the sunset looking for another junction from which to peddle his wares.

Getting back to my story, at this yardsale, Mom had for sale two end tables that were kind of shaped like a barrel, only the sides were simply slats with about a 4 inch opening in between each slat. It was getting late in the afternoon and I was tired and wanted to go to the store to get me some hot sausages (yes, I really was obsessed with hot sausages when I was a kid), and I got to playing around the stand tables. Somehow, I got the bright idea that I could climb inside of these end tables and could pretend that I was locked in a cage. Well, I started to squirm my way into the table but could only get my head in so figuring I’d give it up for a bad idea, I started to go find something else to do only to find my head was stuck between the slats of the end table! I contorted and twisted but nothing would free me of this trap, so I did what any distraught child would do, I started to scream for mom! As luck would have it, just about that same time we got a customer and he was interested in the end tables. Undoubtedly, he would have bought them, except there was a mouthy, little urchin stuck halfway inside of one of them. Mom tried and tried to free me from the table but all there was to it was that I was stuck. People are always saying that the Burns’ have abnormally large heads so apparently my head chose that very afternoon to pull a “grinch” and grow three times it size. Well, the man who was going to buy the tables saw me and just about cracked up. Had I not been so worried that they were going to cut my head off, as my brother suggested, I’d probably have given him a good cussing.

Luckily, it was old Johnny Junk who saved the day, he saw the commotion and dug around in his bulging truck camper and produced a ball-peen hammer and pecked the table apart and freed me from my prison. Well, of course, the man who was interested in the tables didn’t want them now that they had been torn apart to free me, and mom didn’t want to take them back home so Johnny Junk offered to take them. He then added those gems to his massive roadside treasure trove.

I was so upset over the whole incident that it took a whole jar of hot sausages to get me calmed down, and thanks to Johnny Junk, I still had my head. And to this day, my brother wonders why I still pick on him about getting stuck in the shitpot. But that’s another story for another day, and probably one that I’d meet my demise if I ever told it!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Granddaddy Don

I remember well my Granddaddy Don. He was married to my sainted Grandmaw Mary. They lived in the house that is now beside my parents, as a matter of fact Granddaddy Don built both houses.

I was about 9 years old when Granddaddy Don died, and his passing signaled the end of an era for the whole family. You see, Granddaddy Don ruled the family with an iron fist, and he was a cantankerous old feller. I was always told that he was the way he was because he was the only boy among his siblings, and that his parents petted on him something fierce, so nothing was ever too good for Granddaddy Don, and he expected this to continue throughout his life.

Charley, Jennie and Don Burns (center) about 1902.

That’s not to say Granddaddy Don wasn’t a hard worker or that he felt like he was entitled to something, quite the opposite was true, Granddaddy worked extremely hard, he just wanted things to be his way.

When thinking of Granddaddy Don, I am always reminded of how he pinched pennies. In the summers, his grandkids would always like to visit for a few weeks. Granddaddy had in his head a set amount of food that each kid would eat, and if the kid ate more than Granddaddy thought he should, Granddaddy would send a bill for the remainder of the food to their parents. Granddaddy also did all of the grocery shopping, he said Grandmaw always spent too much money, and wouldn’t even shop around for better deals. Granddaddy was known to travel several miles out of his way to save a nickel! He was also honest, just as if you owed him money, he expected it paid in full, and if he owed you money, you always got paid in full as well. One time, my dad said he borrowed $10 off of Granddaddy to go out on when he was a teenager, and for the bill Granddaddy told him to just buy him two bags of grain for the milk cow. Dad bought the grain the next weekend when he got paid, and the grain bill was $10.03. Dad put the grain in the grainhouse and told Granddaddy that would make them even, and gave him the receipt. “Hell,” Granddaddy said, “I owe you 3 cents hunky, you’ll never get ahead in this life if you don’t collect what’s owed you.” It was widely known that my Dad was Granddaddy Don’s favorite grandchild, and Dad even lived with Granddaddy and Grandmaw when he was in elementary school.

The steam shovel wreck on North Mountain during the building of Route 33. Granddaddy Don was 3rd from the right in the back row ( in the toboggan). About 1930.

Later on in years when I knew him, Granddaddy was really crotchety! Like I said, he had his ways of doing things, and one time he told my uncle Wood to get him “about that much soft drink”, measuring off on his index finger how much pop he wanted. Well, Uncle Wood always was one to cut up and have a good time (people tell me I’m a lot like him) so he measured up his finger on the outside of the glass and got Granddaddy just a small amount of pop in his glass and gave it to Granddaddy. To this Granddaddy said, “Hell boy, you’re a might stingy with your soft drink ain’t you?” Then turned to my Grandmaw and said, “Mary, I believe the polio has done affected his brain.”

Grandmaw Mary and Granddaddy Don, about 1950.

I remember I’d visit with Granddaddy and Grandmaw a lot when I was a kid, you just had to give Granddaddy a wide berth because you never knew what for mood he’d be in. And for the love of God, you never wanted to speak when he was watching the evening news. He sure loved Dan Rather, and every time Dan Rather would sign off the air by saying, “Good Night, America”. Granddaddy would say, “Goodnight, Dan”. And then you were allowed to talk without fear of him scraping his knuckles across your head and telling you to shut-up. That was his favorite way of silencing a child, “peeling the bark off the old sky-pate” as he called it.

Granddaddy Don in his favorite chair.

One time while I was visiting, Granddaddy was having his favorite snack, pudding and vanilla wafers. I noticed that after every bite, he would say, “Nam, Nam”. I thought this was pretty funny, but I didn’t dare laugh. Then he took a bite and didn’t say anything and I couldn’t help myself, so I piped up and said, “You forgot to say Nam, Nam”. Wooo, that got him, and he nearly came unglued, he grabbed my pudding and cookies from me and said, “Just for that little boy, you’ll get nothing more”. I soon headed out to Grandmaw where I’d be safe, and she said, “That crazy old man”, and gave me back my pudding and cookies, and told me to just stay away from him for a while. The next day, I went back over to see them again, and Granddaddy mistook me for another grandkid, and said, “Hell boy, I believe you have some birthday money coming don’t you” and he gave me a dollar. I gladly took it, thanked him and left. My grandmaw just smiled, she knew it wasn’t my birthday but I couldn’t disagree with Granddaddy or he’d get belligerent. Later that day, my cousin whose birthday it was came by for his birthday money, and Granddaddy said, “Hell, I done give you your birthday, you’ll get nothing more out of me.” You know, I probably should have given the money to my cousin, but I never did like him that well, so instead I spent it on hot sausages!

I have lots more stories about Granddaddy Don that I will share in coming posts, but I can see this one is getting a might long. If I were to make this post longer you might say, “Hell, I believe polio affected his brain.”

The Old Homeplace

The remnants of the Old Burns Family Homeplace

The Old Homeplace

I remain.
A stoic representation of the past
Forged out of the wilderness
Delivered from nothingness to provide.

As generations came and went
the larder of abundance overflowed,
The symbiotic ties strengthened and bound us as one.

Though I kept you, and you me,
It was not enough to keep you here
When hard times knocked and a new way beckoned.

Now hopes and dreams have all gone away
Fallen by the wayside
Passed by on the way to progress.

Nothing left here of anyone
Who remembers the good life
In this Eden hewn out of the wild mountains.

Though I’m still here and I still remember,
My fields now lay fallow,
And I watch as the cedars reclaim my pastures.

I am but a memory,
Instilled in the flesh of my flesh.
With each passing season I slip back into nothingness.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Fair Affair

This past weekend, I spent a few days with my brother, Jason, up in Morgantown, WV. We had a good time, and I had a chance to look through the old family photo albums, and I was reminded of several new stories. One of these was of my family’s trip to the county fair in Circleville.
My Grandmaw and Grandad at the Thompson Reunion 1967.

It was late August 1967, I know this because my Aunt Tam was just a baby. My granddad, grandmaw and the rest of the family went up to the Pendleton County Fair to enjoy the evening out and to watch the grand parade. Grand here is the operative word, the “Circleville” fair grand parade has long been known to be pathetic, with little more than a horse and a fire truck, but still, hundreds of people line the streets to take part in the annual event.
My grandparents about 1980.

Well this time, my granddad just got a new car (well…it was new to him but it would be a wreck by most standards), and after the parade, he loaded up the family and drove down the parade route, revving the engine and showing off his new prized possession to anyone who would look. Grandmaw was embarrassed by his goings-on, but didn’t say anything since at least she got an evening out of the house. At the end of the parade route, there is a sharp corner and my granddad never was one to be rational so amid the crowd of people, he honked the horn and cleared the way and then revved the engine, and tore out through the opening, squealing the wheels, and planning on practically sliding around the corner before heading for home. This would have been played out except for one thing, as he rounded the sharp corner, the passenger side door flew open. My grandmaw was holding my Aunt Tam in her arms, and refusing to let loose of her 6 month old baby to hold herself in the car, tried her best to steady herself. But with my granddad speeding around that corner the way he was, she couldn’t hold herself and started to slide out the open door of the car.

Seeing her starting to slide away, my granddad did what any husband would do in that situation, he reached over and grabbed ahold of grandmaw, but instead of getting a good grip on her, all he got was a handful of her cotton dress. Well, Grandmaw was a large woman and when gravity, a large woman and a flimsy cotton dress meet, you know the cotton dress is gonna be the first thing to give, and give it did. In fact, it tore completely off of grandmaw. My granddad was left holding the remnants of a cotton dress, and my grandmaw went rolling out through the gasping crowd in nothing but her bra and panties, all the while holding her 6-month old baby in her arms. Luckily, grandmaw rolled with it, and Aunt Tam was not hurt. Grandmaw’s arms were skinned up pretty bad, but she was well enough to give her idiot husband an earful when he came back to pick her up. Needless to say, that was the last trip to the Circleville Fair for my grandmaw, and my granddad never did hear the end of that one. I don’t know whatever kept grandmaw from killing him!

Grandmaw "Henry" about 1953.

The people at the fair thought it was remarkable that my grandmaw was able to keep her baby safe, and they looked on my granddad in disdain for years afterwards for putting grandmaw into such a predicament.