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.


Shirley Stewart Burns, Ph.D. said...

Attie and Alfred's story is tragic, but a beautiful testimony to true love. It has always resonated with me.

City Mouse said...

That is an incredible story - your family is so lucky to have it detailed and written down. Alfred and Attie sound like really amazing people. Very touching and very wonderful.

Janet said...

what a wonderful story. It is good that you know so much about their lives. My gr grandparents graves were unmarked too. They only put head and foot stones back then at the cemetery. My Aunt Gracie (now deceased) used to decorate their graves, so we took her to the cemetery quite a few years back to see if she could remember where they were buried. Well I guess you could say we made an educated guess and put funeral home markers on where we thought they were. People always think someone will remember where the graves are, but they don't.

Nance said...

I grew up on West Virginia stories as my ancestors lived in the hills of Wood county. I so enjoyed this story of your Attie and Alfred. The generations to follow will be so thankful you had the heart and foresight to record these stories . . . and Shirley's songs.

kilecarr said...

I am from Pendleton County, grew up in Upper Tract. My maiden name is also Kile, so I am sure that we are related. It has been a joy to read your story of your great-grandparents. The story is well written and full of heart and love. Thank you for writing it.

Karen Kile-Carr

kilecarr said...

The story of your great-great grandparents is a true inspiration. I grew up in Pendleton County, in Upper Tract. More so, my maiden name is Kile, so I am sure that there is a relation between us. Thank you for writing this heart warming and amazing story!