Saturday, November 22, 2008

Off to the Mountain

Just a quick post to let you all know that there will be no posts for the next week or so. I am off to the mountain tomorrow. I'll be traipsing over the hills of home, tracking down new stories and hunting my muse.

I'll let you all know about my trip when I get back. I wish you all have a great Thanksgiving surrounded by family and friends.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Time to Give Thanks

The cool crisp days of November invariably flood me with memories of childhood on the mountain. Especially clear is the annual event of the first butchering, an occasion that was a family affair.

The Burns Brood, how would you like to butcher with this underfoot?

We always butchered for the first time on Thanksgiving Day, it was always that day for as long as anyone could remember. We chose Thanksgiving Day because we butchered by the signs, and Thanksgiving Day was the first time it was cold enough to butcher that also fell in the right sign. We would butcher several more times throughout the winter, but none of the butcherings were as exciting as the day of the first butchering. On butchering day we would all rise at the break of day and build a huge fire under makeshift cauldrons, which were really just 55-gallon steel drums with one end cut out. When the water in the barrels was boiling, it was time go get started. The cold air made your fingers so cold that you were always huddled around the fire to warm your hands.

We usually reserved the animals that had something wrong with them for butchering. We didn’t want to breed down our stock with inferior animals, nor did we want to butcher our good brood sows. For example, one year we butchered a hog that we kids had named “Junior,” he was a prime candidate for butchering because he was born with a rupture. Junior was a friendly hog and would let us kids ride on his back. We knew that he was going to be butchered, but couldn’t help ourselves from playing with him.

The night before Thanksgiving Day, we always put the hogs to be butchered in the front stall of the hog house so it would be easy to pull out once the animal was shot. My granddad was usually the person to shoot the hog, and that in itself was a time-honored tradition. It is widely believed in my family that if the hog senses that you mean to do it harm, it will get mad and the meat will be strong. So my granddad would always walk into the hog house like we was getting ready to feed. Our hogs were always so tame that they would come right up to him. He would then shoot the hog between the eyes, which nearly always immediately killed the hog. My uncles would drag the hog out of the pen and cut its throat to let it bleed out.

My dad was never allowed to help with shooting the hog. It is said that the hog wouldn’t die as long as someone pitied it. One time when he was young, he pitied the hog. They figured out that it was my dad and sent him in the house. And that is where he was banished every year during the hog shooting. They would holler for him to come and help as soon as the hog died, and he usually was the one that “gutted” the hog. This process hooked the back legs of the hog onto a chain and used a tripod of metal poles with a come-a-long attached in the middle. The hog was gradually hoisted up in the air. The gutting took place then, and the head was cut off.

Gutting the hog was an adventure for all of us kids. We would all gather around to look at the shiny coils of intestine spilling out on the ground, and we waited impatiently for our reward. We were allowed to watch because “you learn from watching,” and one day it would be our duty to butcher the hogs. Our reward for watching was getting the hog bladder. It would be removed from the hog and someone would blow it up and tie off the end of it. It made a really neat, and durable balloon. All the kids would run around and play with the hog bladder. We’d kick it and inevitably play a crude game of baseball with it, using an old board for a bat and the hog bladder for the ball. After about a half hour or so the bladder would start to dry out and would lose air, and then the fun was mostly over.

Yes, that's me in the pink coat! It was a hand-me-down from a girl cousin, but as my mother put's it, "It was a good coat!"

Of course, by that time, the hog carcass had been dipped several times down into the barrel of boiling water so the hair would be loosened. We kids were expected to help in scraping the hair off the hog. We’d use anything that had an edge on it, but usually we used an old butcher knife. Nobody was ever concerned that we’d cut ourselves since we grew up using knives and knew how to handle them. So we’d scrape the hog and scrape the hog some more, and then the adults would again dip the carcass down into the boiling water to further loosen the hair. Slowly but surely the hair was scraped off the carcass.

After the hair was removed, the carcass was cut up. We usually had a large table that the men folk laid the carcass on. They then cut the hog into sections of chops, bacon, ham, sausage meat. Huge mounds of fat were set aside. While the men butchered the hog, the women were in charge of using the fat to make lard and cracklins. Once the fat melted, this oil was used to make cracklins, which are known today as pork rinds. There’s nothing better than a fresh cracklin’. There was usually a passel of kids around the kettle waiting for more to get done. When everyone ate their fill, Mom and the older girls rendered the lard and put it up in canning jars.

As the hog meat was cut up, it was washed in icy cold spring water that we’d carried up the hill that morning and the washed meat was then wrapped in freezer paper. When a pile of it was wrapped, it was carried to the icebox. Some of the fresh pork chops were set-aside for dinner.

Maw's Chickens

About the time the hog was getting cut up and as the job neared completion, someone would eventually holler “grab me a chicken”. Our chickens were allowed to free-range and with all of the commotion in the hog house (which was also the chicken house), all of the chickens were outside. So, we kids and some of the adults would have a grand chase on our hands trying to catch a chicken. We’d eventually catch a few and someone would throw them across the chopping block and after a whack with the axe, they’d let the chicken down. The funny thing about a chicken, it doesn’t die immediately. It will run around for upwards to a minute, so this was a big game for us kids. We’d be yelling and chasing a wild, darting decapitated chicken through the yard, until the chicken would bleed out and just fall over. We’d then retrieve it to my mother who would dip it down in the hot scalding water and start plucking feathers. I still recall the smell of singed feathers, and the acrid stench of the steaming hog guts. It really is a wonder I’m not a vegetarian. When the chicken was completely plucked and cleaned, mom would cut off the chicken feet and give them to us kids. Again, this was great fun for us. If you pull the “leaders” in a chicken foots, it will open and close just like it were alive. We’d continually harass each other with a chicken foot.

Maw's Chicken Coop

In the old days, the older folks said they used the hog intestines to put sausage in. They said there were three layers to the guts -- an outer, a middle and an inner layer. You discarded the outer and inner layers because they were filthy, and you used the middle layer for sausage casing. While the old folks may have used it that way, we didn’t. We made our sausage into patties.

I don't know who these women are, but this photo was in my Grandmaw's papers. I'm guessing this was taken before Women's Lib!

All of these activities took several hours and by the end of it all, we were all plenty tired and hungry, Mom and the older girls would fry up pork chops, and we’d always have roasted turkey because Dad got one from where he worked. Since Thanksgiving Day fell during the first week of deer season, we always had fried deer meat as well. We also had huge mounds of mashed potatoes, pans of stuffing, bowls of green beans, homemade bread, pies, cakes and cookies. Mom tells of how she would peel 10 lbs of potatoes for each meal, that’s how many of us there were. Usually the freshly slaughtered chickens were stuck in the icebox. After everyone had eaten their fill, and then ate some more, most of the men would go hunting, and the girls would clean up. Mom usually said, “I cooked it, so I ain’t cleaning it up”. We kids would head outside to play some more with the chicken feet, and dried hog bladders, and we’d usually end up poking around in the smoldering embers of the dying fires and allow our thoughts to drift toward retrospection…like never name the animals that you are going to eat…and think of all the leftover cakes and pies that sat waiting for us in the warm kitchen.

My Aunt Six and cousin Bub gathering hickory nuts.

Such were the Thanksgiving days of my childhood, and they truly were days and times to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Take 5

Recently I was tagged by Granny Sue to tell six completely random things about me. If I was following the rules (which I never do), I would then tag six other people to complete this. However, most of the blogs I read have already done this so I thought I would complete a similar “quiz” that is making its rounds on email but would work here as well. It is called “Take 5” so here goes…

List 5 Places That You Have Lived:
1. Monkeytown, WV
2. Riverton, WV
3. Keyser, WV
4. Morgantown, WV
5. Charleston, WV

List 5 Places You Would Like To Live:
1. In a Earth House
2. Blowing Rock, NC
3. Lewisburg, WV
4. Granny Sue & Larry’s Farm
5. The Texas Hill Country

List 5 Everyday Things That You Do For Fun:
1. Check Email/Read Blogs
2. Write on my Blog
3. Call my Mother
4. Cook
5. Work on my Family Tree

List 5 Random Things About You:
1. My middle name, Henry, has been in my family for 4 generations.
2. I am a direct descendant of Martin Luther, the Great Protestant Reformer.
3. I like reading and writing poetry.
4. I grew up on a 575 acre farm.
5. I believe in goblins, trolls, wood nymphs, fairies, leprechauns, little people, etc.

List Your 5 Favorite Holidays (In order of preference)
1. The 4th of July
2. Christmas
3. Thanksgiving
4. National Pig Day
5. Halloween

List 5 Things You Want To Do Before You Die:
1. Own a Farm
2. Have Kids
3. Travel the American West
4. Visit Germany
5. Learn to make really good sourdough bread.

List Your 5 Most Favorite Books Of All Time:
1. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
2. Roadkill by Kinky Friedman
3. That Dark and Bloody River by Allan Eckert
4. Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm by Alice & Martin Provensen
5. The Berrybender Narratives (4 books) by Larry McMurtry
6. Bringing Down the Mountains by Shirley Stewart Burns

List 5 People (dead or alive) That You’d Like To Meet:
1. My great-great-grandparents Alfred & Attie Kile
2. Willie Nelson
3. Chief Cornstalk
4. My 3-great grandfather, George Burns
5. Andrew Jackson

List Your 5 Favorite Foods:
1. Chicken Tikki Masala
2. Shahi Paneer Masala
3. Lasagna
4. Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup w/ sourdough bread
5. Fried Beef Chimichanga’s

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Grandmaw Bithey

My Grandmaw “Bithey” was quite a character. Her real name was Tabitha (pronounced Ta-bie-tha), and you would have a fight on your hands if you incorrectly pronounced her name like the little girl on the TV show “Bewitched”. Grandmaw Bithey raised my mother, even though she was my mother’s grandmother. I can’t say anything nice about the woman that gave birth to my mother, so I won’t say anything other than when my mother was born, she took my mother to Grandmaw Bithey, who was doing laundry that day, and threw my mother on a pile of dirty clothes and said “If you want the little bitch to live, you’ll feed her” and then she left. So, for all intents and purposes, Grandmaw Bithey was my mother’s mother-figure. I wrote a poem about this, called “Grandmother’s Quilt”, that you can read on this blog.

Mom (front) and her cousins in Grandmaw Bithey's front yard.

I remember visiting Grandmaw Bithey when I was a kid. She had this huge basement in her house, and I was just fascinated by the shelves and shelves of canned food. The cob webs in the corners just made the whole place seem spooky. I used to love going down in the basement at Grandmaw Bithey’s, she was the only person that I knew who had a basement. Grandmaw also had a huge back porch that was closed in with screen and little windows that would open to allow access to her clothesline which was on pulleys so she wouldn’t have to leave the porch to hang out her laundry. It was a pretty neat set-up. Grandmaw also had a huge back yard that was bordered at the far end by a creek which was full of turtles, and we spent many hours down there trying to catch them.

A recent photo Grandmaw Bithey's house. It has been changed quite a bit.

Grandmaw also had cable TV. Coming from the mountain, where we only had an antenna that pulled in one channel (two when it was raining), we thought we were in heaven. I thought Grandmaw’s house was just like a vacation resort. There was just no place like it to me.

Grandmaw loved potted plants, and they were her pride and joy. She would cut a fit on you if you messed with her plants, but one time when I was little I was playing near the plants and for some reason I pulled up one of her big tree-like plants and carried it out into the kitchen. Mom and Grandmaw were sitting at the kitchen table talking when I came walking in with the plants, complete with dirt dropping off the roots. From the gasps of Mom, I could tell that I was probably in for a good lecture, but instead Grandmaw just said “Well, thank you honey, I’ve been meaning to re-pot that”, and she took it from me and put it in a pot out on her back porch. Mom told me not to bother in the plants anymore. When Grandmaw came back inside, she gave me a handful of little Oyster Crackers, a real treat for me, and told me what a good boy I was. I thought there was just nothing like those little crackers that only Grandmaw had. She always made sure that she had oyster crackers on hand when we were coming for a visit. I didn’t know until years later that you could buy oyster crackers anywhere, I just thought they were something that only Grandmaw had.

Grandmaw Bithey at Christmas, sometime in the 1960's.

Grandmaw loved to cook too, and what a cook she was. Every morning she’d make a big breakfast for us…bacon, sausage links, pancakes and King Syrup. She always had dark King syrup. If you’ve never had it, it is quite different than maple syrup. More like sorghum than maple syrup, but still really good and unique. I remember Grandmaw Bithey made the best pies in the world. Of course, she was able to get money to pay for her house by selling blackberries that she and Granddaddy Bill planted on their bottomland. Grandmaw would bake blackberry pies and sell to people, and by doing this she made enough money to pay the mortgage. People would come from all around to buy Grandmaw’s homemade pies, and she would even barter at the local store by trading her pies for whatever she needed.

Granddad Bill, Grandmaw Bithey and their granddaughter, Katie.

I remember hearing stories about how Grandmaw Bithey came to be married with Granddaddy Bill. Grandmaw Bithey’s daddy, whose name was Hugh, thought she was too young (she was 14) to get married when Granddad Bill first asked for her hand, so Grandmaw and Granddaddy decided to sneak off in the dark of night and get married. So one night, Granddaddy Bill climbed up the trellis into Grandmaw’s bedroom to carry out her suitcase and to help her climb down, and they made it out of the house but it was a dark night and as Granddaddy Bill was loading the wagon, Grandmaw Bithey tripped over the wagon tongue and broke her leg. Well, Granddad Bill had no other choice but to take Grandmaw Bithey back into the house, so he picked her up in his arms and carried her to the front door where he knocked and woke everyone up. Grandpaw Hugh called out to ask who it was, and Grandpaw Bill said, "It's Bill Iman" so Grandpaw Hugh came out of the house swearing vengeance. But finding Grandpaw Bill standing there holding Grandmaw Bithey in his arms and finding out that she had a broken leg, Grandpaw Hugh had a change of heart and told them that if they wanted to get married that bad, then they could go ahead and get married with his blessing.

Granddad Bill, Grandmaw Bithey and two of their grandchildren.

Grandmaw Bithey was also a unique person. She was very traditional in her lifestyle, she was a devout Presbyterian lady and she raised my mother that way. Grandmaw wrote only in black ink because everything else was just “silliness”. She was very prim and proper, and didn’t take to change very well. She valued education and urged her children to get all they could get, and she knew that education was the key to a better life. Her favorite song was “Hey Good Lookin’” by Hank Williams, she was a strong supporter of Equal Rights, and she raised her daughters (and my mother) to be independent women, and to think for themselves. And this was in a time and place when that just wasn’t in vogue.

Grandmaw Bithey was older than her official age. When Grandmaw Bithey passed away in 1989, the age in her obituary said 93. But she was really 106 years old (this isn’t too hard to believe either considering her mother lived to be 114). You can find Grandmaw Bithey on the 1890 census when she was the age of 7. This would have made her born in 1883, which is the year she told her family that she was born. She would have had to have been born in 1896 to only have been 93 when she passed away, and this would have made her younger than her youngest sister, and Grandmaw was the oldest child!! You may wonder how did Grandmaw manage this feat? Well, when the government people came around in the 1930’s getting information for the newly formed Social Security Administration, Grandmaw figured she’d shave a few years off of her age, after all, everyone knows that a real lady never reveals her true age. So she told them what age she wanted to be, and since she looked younger than her years, they took her at her word.

I remember sitting at Grandmaw’s kitchen table one night, and hearing her talk about all of the wonderous things that she has witnessed in her lifetime, such as the first automobile, the first airplane, women getting the right to vote, man walking on the moon, she lived through both World Wars, and watched America transition into the Industrial Revolution. I recall her saying that if she could pick a time in history that she would want to live in, it would be the time that she had lived. She said she loved seeing all of the new things happening, and if you think about it, I suppose she did see her fair share.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sicily Burns Wedding

From Sut Lovingood: Yarns Spun by a "Nat'ral Born Durn'd Fool" (1867)
by George Washington Harris
edited by: Angel Price 11/96

Sicily Burns Wedding

"Hey Ge-orge!" rang among the mountain slopes; and looking up to my left, I saw "Sut," tearing along down a steep point, heading me off, in a long kangaroo lope, holding his flask high above his head, and hat in hand. He brought up near me, banteringly shaking the half-full "tickler," within an inch of my face.

"Whar am yu gwine? take a suck, hoss? This yere truck's ole. I kotch hit myse'f, hot this mornin frum the still wum. Nara durn'd bit ove strike-nine in hit I put that ar piece ove burnt dried peach in myse'f tu gin hit color better nur ole Bullen's plan: he puts in tan ooze, in what he sells, an' when that haint handy, he uses the red warter outen a pon' jis' below his barn; makes a pow'ful natral color, but don't help the taste much. Then he correcks that wif red pepper; hits an orful mixtry, that whisky ole Bullen makes; no wonder he seed 'Hell-sarpints.' He's pisnt ni ontu three quarters ove the b'levin parts ove his congregashun wif hit, an' tuther quarter he's sot intu ruff stealin an' cussin. Ef his still- ous don't burn down, ur he peg out hisse'f, the neighborhood am ruinated a-pas' salvashun. Haint he the durndes sampil ove a passun yu ever seed enyhow?

"Say George, du yu see these yere well-poles what I uses fur laigs? Yu sez yu sees em, dus yu?"


"Very well; I passed 'em a-pas' each usher tuther day, right peart. I put one out a-head jis' so, an' then tuther 'bout nine feet a-head ove hit agin jis' so, an' then kep on a-duin hit. I'll jis' gin yu leave tu go tu the devil hatf hamon, ef I didn't make fewer tracks tu the mile, an' more tu the minis, than wer ever made by eny human man body, since Bark Wilson beat the saw-log frum the top ove the Frog Mountin intu the Oconee River, an' dove, an' dodged hit at las'. I hes allers look'd ontu that performince ove Bark's as onekel'd in histery, allers givin way tu dad's ho'net race, however.

"George, every livin thing hes hits pint, a pint ove sum sort. Ole Bullen's pint is a durn'ed fust rate, three bladed, dubbil barriltd, warter-proof, hypockracy, an' a never-tirein appertite fur bal'-face. Sicily Burns's pint am tu drive men folks plum crazy, an' then bring em too gin. Gin em a rale Orleans fever in five minits, an' then in five minits more, gin them a Floridy ager. Durn her, she's down on her heels flat-footed now. Dad's pint is tu be king ove all durn'd fools, ever since the day ove that feller what cribb'd up so much cotn down in Yegipt, long time ago, (he ran outen his coat yu minds). The Bibil tell us hu wer the stronges' man hu wer the bes' man hu wer the meekis' man, an' hu the wises' man, but leaves yu tu guess hu wer the bigges' fool.

"Well, eny man what cudent guess arter readin that ar scrimmage wif an 'omen 'bout the coat, haint sense enuf tu run intu the hous', ef hit wer rainin deaf cats, that's all. Mam's pint am in kitchen insex, bakin hoe-cake, biling greens, an' runnin bar laiged. My pint am in taking aboard big skeers, an' then beatin enybody's hoss, ur skared dory, a-runnin frum onder em agin. I used tu think my pint an' dad's wer jis' the same, sulky, unmix'd king durn'd fool; but when he acted hoss, an' mistook hossflies fur ho'nets, I los' heart. Never mine' when I gits his 'sperence, I may be king fool, but yet great golly, he gets frum bad tu wus, monstrus fas'.

"Now ef a feller happens tu know what his pint am, he kin allers git along, sumhow, purvided he don't swar away his liberty tu a temprins s'ciety, live tu fur frum a still-hous, and too ni a chu'ch ur a jail. Them's my sentimints on 'pints,' an' yere's my sentimints ontu folks: Men wer made a-purpus jis' tu eat, drink, an' fur stayin awake in the yearly part ove the nites: an' wimen wer made tu cook the vittils, mix the sperits, an' help the men du the stayin awake. That's all, an' nuthin more, onless hits fur the women tu raise the devil atwix meals, an' knit socks atwix drams, an' the men tu play short kerds, swap hosses wif fools, an' fite fur exercise at odd spells.

"George, yu don't onderstan life yet scarcely at all, got a heap tu larn, a heap. But 'bout my swappin my laigs so fas' these yere very par ove laigs. I hed got about a fox squirril skin full ove biled co'n juice packed onder my shut, an' onder my hide too, I mout es well add, an' wer aimin fur Bill Carr's on foot. When I got in sight ove ole man Burns's, I seed ni ontu fifty hosses an' muels hitch'd tu the fence. Durnashun! I jis' then tho't ove hit, 'twer Sicily's wedding day. She married ole Clapshaw, the suckit rider. The very feller hu's faith gin out when he met me sendin sody all over creashun. Suckit-riders am surjestif things tu me. They preaches agin me, an' I hes no chance tu preach back at them. Ef I cud I'd make the institushun behave hitsef better nur hit dus. They hes sum wunderful pints, George.

Thar am two things nobody never seed: wun am a dead muel, an' tuther is a suckit-rider's grave. Kaze why, the he muels all turn intu old field school-masters, an' the she ones intu strong minded wimen, an' then when thar times cums, they dies sorter like usher folks. An' the suckit-riders ride ontil they marry; ef they marrys money, they turns intu store-keepers, swaps hosses, an' stays away ove colleckshun Sundays. Them what marrys, an' by sum orful mistake mlsses the money, jis' turns intu polertishuns, sells 'ile well stock,' and dies sorter in the human way too.

"But 'bout the wedding. Ole Burns hed a big black an' white bull, wif a ring in his snout, an' the rope tied up roun his ho'ns. They rid 'im tu mill, an' sich like wif a saddil made outen two dorgwood forks, an' two clapboards, kivered wif a ole piece ove carpet, rope girth, an' rope stirrups wif a loop in hit fur the foot.

Ole 'Sock,' es they call'd the bull, hed jis' got back frum mill, an' wer turn'd intu the yard, saddil an' all, tu solace hissef a-pickin grass. I wer slungin roun the outside ove the hous', fur they hedn't hed the manners tu ax me in, when they sot down tu dinner. I wer pow'fully hurt 'bout hit, an' happen'd tu think SODY. So I sot in a-watchin fur a chance tu du sumthin. I fus' tho't I'd shave ole Clapshaw's hoss's tail, go tu the stabil an' shave Sicily's mare's tail, an' ketch ole Burns out, an' shave his tail too. While I wer a-studyin 'bout this, ole Sock wer a-rosin 'roun, an' cum up ontu a big baskit what hilt a littil shattered cotn; he dipp'd in his head tu git hit, an' I slipp'd up an' jerked the handil over his ho'ns.

"Now, George, ef yu knows the eater ove a cow brute, they is the durndes' fools amung all the beastes, ('scept the Lovingoods); when they gits intu tribulashun, they knows nuffin but tu shot thar eyes, belier, an' back, an' keep a-backin. Well, when ole Sock raised his head an' foun hissef in darkness, he jis' twisted up his tail, snorted the shatter'd co'n outen the baskit, an' made a tremenjus lunge agin the hous'. I hearn the picters a-hangin agin the wall on the inside a-fal in. He fotch a deep loud rusty belier, mout been hearn a mile, an' then sot intu a onendin sistem ove backin. A big craw-fish wif a hungry coon a-reachin fur him, wer jis' nowhar. Fust agin one thing, then over anuther, an' at las' agin the bee-bainch, knockin hit an' a dozen stan ove bees heads over heels, an' then stompin back'ards thru the mess. Hit haint much: wuf while tu tell what the bees did, ur how soon they sot intu duin hit. They am pow'ful quick-tempered littil critters, enyhow. The air wer dark wif 'em, an' Sock wer kivered all over, frum snout tu tail, so clost yu cudent a-sot down a grain ove wheat fur bees, an' they wer a-fitin one anuther in the air, fur a place on the bull. The hous' stood on sidelin groun, an' the back door wer even wif hit. So Sock happen tu hit hit plum, jis' backed intu the hous' onder 'bout two hundred an' fifty pouns ove steam, bawlin orful, an' every snort he fotch he snorted away a quart ove bees ofen his sweaty snout. He wer the leader ove the bigges' an' the madest army ove bees in the worild. Thar wer at leas' five solid bushels ove 'em. They hed filled the baskit, an' hed lodged ontu his tail, ten deep, ontil hit wer es thick es a waggin tung. He hed hit stuck strait up in the air, an' hit looked adzackly like a dead pine kivered wif ivey. I think he wer the hottes' and wus hurtin bull then livin; his temper, too, seemed tu be pow'fully flustrated.

Ove all the durn'd times an' kerryins on yu ever hearn tell on wer thar an' thar abouts. He cum tail fust agin the old two story Dutch clock, an' fotch hit, bustin hits runnin geer outen hit, the littil wheels a-trundlin over the floor, an' the bees even chasin them. Nex pass, he fotch up agin the foot ove a big dubbil injine bedstead, rarin hit on send, an' punchin one ove the posts thru a glass winder. The nex tail fus' experdishun wer made aginst the caticorner'd cupboard, outen which he maade a perfeck momox. Fus' he upsot hit, smashin in the glass doors, an' then jis' sot in an' stomp'd everything on the shelves intu giblits, a-tryin tu back furder in that direckshun, an' tu git the bees ofen his laics.

"Pickil crocks, perserves jars, vinegar jugs, seed bags, yarb bunches, paragorick bottils, aig baskits, an ' delf war all mix 'd dam permiskusly, an' not worth the sortie, by a duller an' a 'elf. Nex he got a far back across the room agin the board pertishun; he went thru hit like hit hed been paper, takin wif him 'bout six foot squar ove hit in splinters, an' broken boards, intu the nex room, whar they wer eatin dinner, an' rite yere the fitin becum gineral, an' the dancin, squawkin, cussin, an' dodgin begun.

"Clapshaw's ole mam wer es deaf es a dogiron, an sot at the send ove the tabil, nex tu whar ole Sock busted thru the wall; tail fus' he cum agin her cheer, a-histin her an' hit ontu the tabil. Now, the smashin ove delf, an' the mixin ove vittils begun.

They hed sot severil tabils tugether tu make hit long enuf. So he jis' rolled 'em up a-top ove one anuther, an' thar sot ole Missis Clapshaw, a-straddil ove the top ove the pile, a-fitin bees like a mad wind-mill, wif her calliker cap in one hen, fur a wepun, an' a cract frame in tuther, an' a-kickin, an' a-spurrin like she wer ridin a lazy hoss arter the doctor, an' a-screamin rape, fire, an' murder, es fas' es she cud name 'em over.

"Taters, cabbige, meat, soup, beans, sop, dumpling, an' the truck what yu wailers 'em in; milk, plates, pies, pudding, an' every durn fixin yu cud think ove in a week, wer thar, mix'd an' mashed, like hit had been thru a thrashin-meesheen.
Ole Sock still kep a-backin, an' backed the hole pile, ole 'omen an' all, also sum cheers, outen the frunt door, an' down seven steps intu the lane, an' then by golly, turn'd a fifteen hundred poun summerset hissef arter em, lit a-top ove the mix'd up mess, flat ove his back, an' then kicked hissef ontu his feet agin. About the time he ris, ole man Burns yu know how fat, an' stumpy, an' cross-grained he is, enyhow made a vigrus mad snatch at the baskit, an' got a savin holt ontu hit, but cudent let go quick enuf; fur ole Sock jis' snorted, bawled, an' hissed the ole cuss heels fust up intu the air, an' he lit on the bull's back, an' hed the baskit in his hen.

"Jis' es soon es old Blackey got the use ove his eyes, he tore off down the lane tu out-run the bees, so durn'd fas' that ole Burns wer feard tu try tu git off. So he jis' socked his feet intu the rope loops, an' then cummenc'd the durndes' bull-ride ever mortal man ondertuck. Sock run atwix the hitched critters an' the railfence, ole Burns fust fifing him over the head wif the baskit tu stop him, an' then fitin the bees wif hit. I'll jis' be durn'd ef I didn't think he hed four ur five baskits, hit wer in so meny places at onst. Well, Burns, baskit, an' bull, en' bees, skared every durn'd hoss an' muel loose frum that fence bees ontu all ove 'em, bees, by golly, everywhar. Mos' on 'em, too, tuck a fence rail along, fas' tu the bridil reins. Now I'll jis' gin yu leave tu kiss my sister Sall till she squalls, ef ever sich a sight wer seed ur sich nises hearn, es filled up that long lane. A heavy cloud ove dus', like a harycane hed been blowin, hid all the hosses, an' away abuv hit yu cud see tails, an' sends ove fence-rails a-flyin about; now an' then a par ove bright hine shoes wud flash in the sun like two sparks, an' away ahead wer the basket a-sirklin roun an' about at randum. Brayin, nickerin, the bellerin ove the bull, clatterin ove runnin hoofs, an' a mons'ous rushin soun, made up the noise. Lively times in that lane jis' then, warnt thar?

"I swar ole Burns kin beat eny man on top ove the yeath a-fitin bees wif a baskit. Jis' set 'im a-straddil ove a mad bull, an' let thar be bees enuf tu exhite the ole man, an' the man what beats him kin break me. Hosses an' muels wer tuck up all over the county, an' sum wer forever los'. Yu cudent go eny course, in a cirkil ove a mile, an' not find buckils, stirrups, straps, saddil blankits, ur sumthin belongin tu a saddil hoss. Now don't forgit that about that hous' thar wer a good time bein had ginerally. Fellers an' gals loped outen windows, they rolled outen the doors in bunches, they clomb the chimleys, they darted onder the house jis' tu dart out agin, they tuck tu the thicket, they rolled in the wheat field, lay down in the krick, did everything but stan still. Sum made a strait run fur home, an' sum es strait a run frum home; livelyest folks I ever did see. Clapshaw crawled onder a straw pile in the barn, an' sot intu prayin yu cud a-hearn him a mile sumthin 'bout the plagues ove Yegipt, an' the pains ove the secon death. I tell yu now he lumbered.

"Sicily, she squatted in the cold spring, up tu her years, an turn'd a milk crock over her head, while she wer a drownin a mess ove bees onder her coats. I went tu her, an' sez I, 'Yu hes got anuther new sensashun haint yu?' Sez she

"'Shet yer mout, yu cussed fool!'

"Sez I, 'Power'ful sarchin' feelin bees gins a body, don't they?'

" 'Oh, lordy, lordy, Sut, these yere 'bominabil insex is jis' burnin me up!'

" 'Gin 'em a mess ove SODY,' sez I, 'that'll cool 'em off, an' skeer the las' durn'd one ofen the place.'

"She lifted the crock, so she cud flash her eyes at me, an' sea, 'Yu go tu hell!' jis es plain. I thought, takin all things tugether, that p'raps I mout es well put the mountin atwix me an' that plantashun; en' I did hit.

"Thar warnt an' 'oman, ur a gal at that weddin, but what thar frocks, an' stocking wer too tite fur a week. Bees am wus on wimen than men, enyhow. They hev a farer chance at 'em. Nex day I passed ole Hawley's, an' his gal Betts wer sittin in the porch, wif a white hankerchef tied roun her jaws; her face wer es red es a beet, an' her eyebrows hung 'way over heavy. Sez I, 'Hed a fine time at the weddin, didn't yu?' 'Yu mus' be a durn'd fool,' wer every word she sed. I hadent gone a hundred yards, ontil I met Missis Brady, her hans fat, an' her ankils swelled ontil they shined. Sez she,

" 'Whar yu gwine, Sut?'

"'Bee huntin,' sez I.

"'Yu jis' say bees agin, yu infunel gallinipper, an' I'll scab yer head wif a rock.'

"Now haint hit strange how tetchus they am, on the subjick ove bees?

"Ove all the durn'd misfortinit weddins ever since ole Adam married that heifer, what wer so fon' ove talkin tu snaix, an' eatin appils, down ontil now, that one ove Sicily's an' Clapshaw's wer the worst one fur noise, disappintment, skeer, breakin things, hurtin, trubbil, vexashun ove spirrit, an' gineral swellin. Why, George, her an' him cudent sleep tugether fur ni ontu a week, on account ove the doins ove them ar hot- footed, 'vengeful 'bominabil littil insex. They never will gee tugether, got tu bad a start, mine what I tell yu. Yu haint time now tu hear how ole Burns finished his bull-ride, an' how I cum tu du that lofty, topliftical speciment ove fas' runnin. I'll tell yu all that sum uther time. Ef eny ove 'em axes after me, tell 'em that I'm over in Fannin, on my way tu Dahlonega. They is huntin me tu kill me, I is fear'd.

"Hit am an orful thing, George, tu be a natral born durn'd fool. Yu se never 'sperienced hit pussonally, hev yu? Hits made pow'fully agin our famerly, an all owin tu dad. I orter bust my head open agin a bluff ove rocks, an' jis' wud du hit, ef I warns a cussed coward. All my yeathly 'pendence is in these yere laigs d'ye see 'em? Ef they don't fail, I may turn human sum day, that is sorter human, enuf tu be a Squire, ur school cummisiner. Ef I wer jis' es smart es I am mean, an' ornery, I'd be President ove a Wild Cat Bank in less nor a week. Is sperrits plenty over wif yu?"

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Today I thought I'd post a few remnants of various trips from all around West Virginia. One thing I've found to be true while travelling the countryside, you never know what you are going to find right around the bend.

I've also learned several valuable lessons while driving down the lesser known backroads, such as not all roads are listed on a map, and if you are on an unknown road and you see grass growing in the middle of it, well, that is a pretty good sign that you need to turn around and find an alternate route.

Conversely, I have discovered many interesting sites, met many great people and have rediscovered the uniqueness of Appalachia. It truly is an adventure every time I head for the hills.

It never fails that you find the most interesting sights alongside these country roads, such as this sign that we lucked onto near Birch River. Do you rent pigs?

I've saw wonders of the natural world and an outdoorsmans paradise.

And I've found one of the last vestiges of real, honest-to-God wilderness.

I've discovered scenic beauty that will bring tears to your eyes, and make you intensely aware that you are part of something larger than you ever imagined.

I was so impressed that I began to recognize beauty everywhere I turned, even in things that I would typically overlook.

Like this fungi...

And this milkweed...

And amidst a forest of color, I even noticed...

And lastly, I even grew to appreciate the significance of all this crap.

I would highly recommend that you take to the backroads, keep an open mind, and discover yourself in a new land.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Ballad of Eugene Butcher

A few years ago, I remember hearing a true central West Virginia folksong about Eugene Butcher, a brakeman for the railroad. I got to thinking about it a few days ago, and decided to do a little research on it.

I believe our folk hero was born Eugene F. Butcher and that he was the son of Granville & Madura Butcher. Eugene was born in October of 1890 in the Salt Lick District of Braxton County, WV. He married Bessie Beatrice Butcher, daughter of J.N. and Margaret Butcher on July 21, 1909 in Weston, Lewis County, WV. Eugene’s father Granville went mostly by his initials G.S.M. Butcher, and he worked at the lumber company’s planing mill in Weston, so I’m sure Eugene grew up near the lumber industry and the mills, and that he was very capable at his job.

After the horrible accident that claimed Eugene Butcher’s life, there seems to have been several children (both boys and girls) born in that area of West Virginia that were named after Eugene Butcher. I found several instances of boys with the first and middle names of Eugene Butcher, and even several instances of girls with the first name of Eugenia or with their first and middle names being Eugenia Butcher. I even found one instance of a middle name of a girl being Eugene. The births of these children all fell within a 15 month window of Eugene’s death, so I’ve no doubt they were named in his honor.

Here is a link to a recorded version of “The Ballad of Eugene Butcher” that was performed by Georgie Carr of Gilmer County, WV in 1986. The recording comes from the Oral History Collection at Glenville State College in Glenville, WV.

Below I’ve transcribed the words to the Ballad and I’ve done my best to get them correct. I may be off a few words here or there, but I think it is complete.

The Ballad of Eugene Butcher

Eugene Butcher was a brakesman,
Toiling for the B & O,
While enlisted, 33 wrecked,
And threw him far below.

When his comrades found him later
He was fastened ‘neath the rod
“Release me, please,” he pleaded
And in prayer he turned to God.

“Lord, receive my soul in Heaven,
Give to me a home on high,
Where I’ll meet my own dear mother,
God, protect my wife and child.”

Yes, he had a wife and baby,
Toiling for them day by day.
And perhaps for him she is kneeling,
“God have mercy” hear her say.

Someone brings to her the message,
See her kiss her darling babe,
as she reads the fateful story,
“Killed last night on Hawkins Grade”.

In obedience to the engine,
O’er the icy rails he sped,
Twas the first of February,
And he was carried back home dead.

It was the first of February,
In the year of Nineteen and twelve,
It was in the town of Weston
that Eugene he did dwell.

To the home of Melvin Meadows,
he was taken that fatal night,
and there he lived eleven hours,
and as though asleep he died.

And we trust he entered Heaven,
Earnestly, he prayed while here
And we hope sometime to meet him
Up there with our Savior dear.

And it was his brother trainmen,
That greets him as he rushes by,
Though it may be our last greeting
‘til we meet again on high.

The Farmer's Old Wife

Recently I've been looking at folktales, rhymes and ballads from the Old Country where my people came from hundreds of years ago. "Over the Water" is the way my granny referred to the Old Country. I think I have connections to most countries of Europe: Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, France and I'm sure I'm leaving out some of them. For the most part, my people were weathly and from priminent families, but that has since went the way of the weasel in this country. I guess I descend from too many "Seventh Sons of the Seventh Son" to have inherited anything except a pride in my heritage and all of the old stories. Of course, to me, those are worth more than gold. Anyway, for some reason I've been in search of the old stories from over there, and I'm finding many variations of stories that I grew up with on a mountain in Pendleton County, WV. I'll be posting one's that I find of special interest over the next several months. I'll try not to bombard you with these stories, songs, etc, since I don't know how much you all find them of interest. If anyone out there knows of any good books of these stories, songs, ballads, etc, please let me know.

With that said, today I'm going to post an old "whistling song" from Sussex, England titled "The Farmer's Old Wife". It was called a whistling song because all the listeners were expected to whistle between every verse. I can just imagine how much joy this song must have brought to my people over the generations. I remember hearing this one growing up, although it was a slightly different version than this.

The Farmer's Old Wife.

There was an old farmer in Sussex did dwell,

[Chorus of whistlers.]

There was an old farmer in Sussex did dwell,
And he had a bad wife, as many knew well.

[Chorus of whistlers.]

Then Satan came to the old man at the plough, -
‘One of your family I must have now.

‘It is not your eldest son that I crave,
But it is your old wife, and she I will have.’

‘O, welcome! good Satan, with all my heart,
I hope you and she will never more part.’

Now Satan has got the old wife on his back,
And he lugged her along, like a pedlar’s pack.

He trudged away till they came to his hall-gate,
Says he, ‘Here! take in an old Sussex chap’s mate!’

O! then she did kick the young imps about, -
Says one to the other, ‘Let’s try turn her out.’

She spied thirteen imps all dancing in chains,
She up with her pattens, and beat out their brains.

She knocked the old Satan against the wall, -
‘Let’s try turn her out, or she’ll murder us all!’

Now he’s bundled her up on his back amain,
And to her old husband he took her again.

‘I have been a tormenter the whole of my life,
But I ne’er was tormenter till I met with your wife.’

Friday, November 7, 2008

One Fall Day

One Fall Day, I slowed to admire...

The beauty of nature.

All around I looked and all around I felt...

That I belonged to the Ages.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


A few days after the rain stopped, the grown-up’s figured it would be safe to venture down into the valley to witness the damage first hand and to check on some of our friends and give them a hand if they needed it. Since we were on the mountain, we were relatively safe from the floodwaters, only Burns Holler road got washed out and the cow barn got destroyed, and from the reports we heard throughout the valley, we considered ourselves very lucky. It seemed that every community had at least one life lost, and some communities were completely washed away. In all, I believe Pendleton County had 16 people to lose their lives in the flood.

Riverton after the flood.

We heard over the radio that there was a State of Emergency called and that we were not supposed to be out on the roads, but we had no choice in the matter. All of our meat and refrigerated goods were lost and while we had home canned food, there was no electricity in which to run most of the stoves in the neighborhood, and we were out of bottle gas for the gas range, the gas was supposed to be delivered the day the flood hit! It seemed that the community of Monkeytown as a whole migrated to The Salvation Army stand in Riverton to eat. They informed us that we’d likely be without electricity for at least a month and told us under no circumstances to drink the water from our spring until it had time to settle because it was likely contaminated. We knew we could boil it on the wood cookstove and it would be fine, but the sheer amount of water that we would need for use would be a full time job with as many of us as there was. So this really limited our ability to fend for ourselves, no electricity, no water, and no meat. We could have made it if we had to, but there was an easier alternative, and that was The Salvation Army. Luckily, The Salvation Army served hot soups and plenty of coffee and hot chocolate, they really took care of everyone. I don’t know what we’d have done without the Salvation Army people coming in and helping us, and to this day I always give money to the Salvation Army during the holidays.

I don’t want to talk bad about any of the charitable organizations but I feel compelled to tell about one in particular that I still view as particularly repugnant, and that is the American Red Cross. They too were called in and made a big show of it, but didn’t help anyone that I know of. They gave moral support, but to the people who had just lost everything they owned, they needed more than talk. It seems the Red Cross said their resources would be better spent in the more populated area’s, which as we found out, were not in Pendleton County. Luckily, the good people at The Salvation Army pulled through for many people. They fed us, gave out blankets and water, and worked in conjunction with The National Guard to determine who needed help the worst. That is the way everyone thought it should be. We were lucky, we just only lost our road, we still had our homes, so we didn’t expect any help . It was nice that they were feeding us, and they always had plenty and were so nice about making everyone comfortable. Later, after the worst of the flood was mostly cleaned up, the National Guard came and rebuilt our holler road, and we were grateful for that.

Another view of post-flood Riverton.

While we were in Riverton, we (even us kids) pitched in and helped some of the people down there to clean out their homes. I vividly remember the home of our distant cousin Bill Bland, which was packed full of mud and debris. His home and all of his belongings were completely destroyed. He was left with the shell of the house. We all pitched in and helped carry buckets of mud and rocks out of the house and dump them over near the riverbank. The National Guardsmen didn’t help in this area, they were far too busy trying to get the roads open and the bridges secured so help could get in to Pendleton County. I remember the dismay of the Bland Family at finding family photos and such, they were usually just remnants but of course they were trying to salvage everything that they could. It took several days to clean out their home and they were grateful for the help we could give them. We also helped several other families down there, we had to stay in Riverton all day anyway because we had to conserve gasoline to get back and forth from home and there, and Riverton was the only place where food was served and besides, so many people were in need and we were in a position to help

Flood damaged Riverton.

I remember also picking Dad up from work, we’d meet him at the limeplant bridge, he could drive the three miles down the holler from the plant to the bridge, but the bridge had been so badly damaged that you had to cross it on foot and meet someone on the other side to take you on home. I remember seeing the legs of a sheep sticking out of the underside of the bridge, I know that sheep hung there for the better part of six months after the flood. There were dead livestock all along the riverbanks but seeing that sheep squished against that bridge really stuck with me.

The Destruction in Riverton. This is near Bill Bland's home.

After about a week, the road to Franklin was opened back up and we were told there was a huge relief shelter set up where you could get everything from food to couches to clothing to chainsaws. The shelter was a big inflated nylon bubble that was 500 feet long and 300 feet wide. Everyone referred to it as the “Bubble Tent”. We first went to the Bubble Tent when we took some of the people from Riverton over there. These people had lost everything and they were really in need. My family didn’t plan on getting anything from the Bubble Tent because we hadn’t lost like many people, but the folks who ran it told us to please take anything we wanted because there was so much stuff coming in from all over the country that they just didn’t have room for it all. We then didn’t feel at all bad about taking stuff from them. We did get a lot of food. The ladies who worked there told Mom to get us kids some clothes because they knew that she didn’t have any way to wash up our stuff we would at least have clean clothes to wear, so we got a lot of clothes.

The outside of the Bubble Tent.

My Uncle Shell who had lost his home and everything he had, volunteered at the Bubble Tent and he really helped people get the stuff they needed. He knew everyone in the county and gave a lot of stuff out to families who may not have lost stuff in the flood, but were really hard up none-the-less, and he made sure that everyone got all they could haul away. He confirmed that if stuff sat there for a few days, The Salvation Army would tell headquarters that such stuff was no longer needed, and he knew that there was still a great need in Pendleton County. He practically begged people to take anything that they could use, or to get stuff that they could take to a neighbor and such. Many people got new wood stoves, and kerosene heaters, and even furniture. Many people didn’t realize that these things would be needed in the winter months, because there wasn’t going to be any electricity and in many places, even roads to get in and out. I think Uncle Shell was excellent at determining which people needed what items, and he had a knack for looking at the months ahead instead of just looking at immediate needs of people. It was also good that Uncle Shell remembered the elderly and the sickly who weren’t able to get to the Bubble Tent and he would send items to them by way of a neighbor. I don’t think many people knew just how lucky there were to have Uncle Shell looking out for their interests.

The inside of the Bubble Tent.

I also remember the Presbyterian Church over in Franklin opened a donated goods shelter for people to get what they pleased. The Methodist Church did as well, and we went there too, they had lots of food which they insisted that we take because Mom was feeding such a large family, at that time there were 20 mouths to feed. We made many trips to the Bubble Tent, and since it was the only place in the county that was open to shop at, all you had to do was holler “Bubble Tent” and everyone packed into the car.

The Salvation Army, The National Guard and The Bubble Tent helped a lot of people get the household goods, food and clothing that got them back on their feet, and they really did a lot of good. There’s an old mountain saying “when you do a good deed for me and mine, I'll repay the kindness a thousand times”, and it is for this reason I will continue to donate to The Salvation Army every time that I am able. They really done right by Pendleton County in the months following The Great Flood of 1985.

16 Dead, Millions in Damages in Pendleton Flood

The Pendleton Times
November 14, 1985

Flood Leaves 16 Dead in Pendleton, $Hundreds of Millions in Damages
Entire County Pounded by Worst Flood in History

High waters resulting from five days of steady rain roared down the hollows and valleys of Pendleton County November 4 leaving at least 16 persons dead and hundreds homeless in the worst flood to hit this county in history.

Hundreds of homes were washed away and hundreds more were destroyed as walls of raging water struck with unyielding force. Rivers overflowing their banks cut new river channels through farms and skimmed thousands of acres of rich top soil from bottom land leaving mountains of rock and sand in its place.
Property damages will run into hundreds of millions of dollars. Farm machinery, buildings, mobile homes, dead cattle, sheep, hogs and poultry were strewn along the entire length of the county as if this once fertile agricultural valley had been turned into a giant trash dump.

The community of Riverton, a town of approximately 150 persons situated in the North Fork Valley, was particularly hard hit. Some six or eight homes along the North Fork River washed completely away, and practically every other house and business place in the community was either destroyed or extensively damaged.

Much of the Smoke Hole area, nationally known for its rugged beauty and good trout fishing, was gutted. The raging water extended across the narrow valley from mountainside to mountainside sweeping away houses and road and everything in its path, leaving sheer vertical cliffs on each side extending into its path, leaving sheer vertical cliffs on each side extending into the river channel with no semblance of a road to be seen.

Evacuation centers were setup in the Franklin Elementary School where approximately 60 persons spent Monday and Tuesday nights and in the Dixie School at Riverton. However, it was necessary to evacuate the Dixie School Monday night when it was on the verge of collapsing.

The county was isolated from the outside works for three days with 18 bridges washed out and massive slides blocking roads in all sections of the county. Electricity and telephone service were halted with utility poles washed out and trees across lines. The only communication out of the county was provided by ham radio operators who worked 24 hours a day relaying emergency messages.

Communities within the county were isolated from each other making it impossible for local service organizations to render assistance to many areas. The Franklin Fire Department sent teams of members to try to get to isolated areas to assess their needs and try to get emergency supplies to them. Attempts were made to obtain help from the National Guard at Buckhannon and the Elkins Fire Department, but they were unable to get past Harman.

Sanitation and health problems posed a threat until the National Guard came in with helicopters and began airlifting medical supplies to isolated areas. Of particular concern were shortages of insulin and nitroglycerin and a means of distributing the supplies that were available to those who need them.

Water supplies throughout the county either were destroyed or the water was rendered unfit for drinking. All community water systems in the county were knocked out.

The large spring five miles south of Franklin which has been the sources of the town's water supply since the 1930s was filled with rock and gravel and much of the water line leading from the spring to town was washed out. Volunteers and the town maintenance crew working over the weekend laid 5,000 feet of water line through the fields south of Franklin. Town residents hauled water in buckets from a spring at the Fred Mullenax residence west of Franklin until Wednesday when the town water system was placed back into operation.

The community water system at Circleville was ruined, and several thousand feet of water line was washed out in the community water system being installed at Upper Tract. Residents have been boiling their water before using it on the advice of county sanitarian Raymond Harr.

Sewage also has been creating a major health hazard. The lagoon in the Franklin sewer system was washed out, and sewage throughout the county is running directly into streams and rivers.

Electricity was restored in Franklin on Wednesday and long distance telephone service from Franklin was restored Friday, but most of the remainder of the county still was without either electric service or telephone service on Monday of this week.

Two mobile home parks and four trailer camps along the South Branch of the Potomac River near Franklin were washed away or completely destroyed. Completely wiped out were the Trout Rock Trailer Park and Hanging Rock Trailer Park, both south of Franklin, and the trailer park at Meck's Cabins where 63 trailers and cottages washed away, and Thompson's Trailer Camp and Riverside Trailer Park north of Franklin and Cave Country Camping Area south of Franklin.

The swinging bridge spanning the South Branch of the Potomac River in South Franklin, which has survived floods for 45 years, was washed away, and the approach to the bridge a half- mile south of Franklin leading to Propst Gap was washed away.

Pendleton, along with seven other counties, was declared a federal disaster area last Thursday by President Reagan, making it eligible for federal assistance.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Great Flood--Part 2, November 5, 1985

As we awoke on the morning of November 5, 1985, none of us could imagine the changes that were being wrought upon our world. It was still raining and Burns Holler was gone, all that was left was a raging torrent of muddy water. We walked down through the garden and across our neighbor’s property to get to where the creek passed through a large culvert. This was the only way to get from my granddad’s house to our house and Grandmaw Mary’s house. We were all in shock that the old stone cow barn was gone…it had been there longer than even Grandmaw Mary could remember.

The old Dixie Schoolhouse in Riverton, built right after the Civil War. My dad attended elementary school here.

Also on our minds was how Dad fared overnight stranded at the Lime Plant. My Uncle Tom had a motorcycle and decided to try and go down through the Bland Hills and out through Germany Valley to check on Dad. He was gone most of the day, and when he returned that evening, Dad was on the back of his motorcycle. They said that they had to jump several places in the road where the water had washed out the cattle culverts, which were across the road everywhere where the backroads intersected with a creek. Dad said that Uncle Tom about scared him to death jumping over missing sections of road like Evel Knieval. Dad said the lime plant was closed down but planned on operating around the clock when the floodwaters started to recede, and that he would be working about 20 hours a day. The plant was going to process the limestone that would be needed in rebuilding roads. He said he came home to get rested up and wait out the destruction. Dad told of the lime plant bridge that was completely underwater, and how the road was washed out all around the limeplant, and how that Riverton looked completely under water, that he and Tom could only see the tops of a few house roofs.

Remnants of the Riverton Community Building.

Later that day, the rain began to slack up and Dad and Tom rode down off the mountain to Judy Gap to see if the bridge down there was still standing, and to try to get some news from down in the valley, and especially to hear about the little community of Big Run, where my Aunt Pat lived. The Judy Gap bridge somehow survived the massive flood, although all of the land around it was destroyed. While down there, they talked with a few other people who were from all over the valley, and someone from up around Big Run was there and said that several people up that way had been killed in the flood, and they mentioned Patsy Nicholas. This was a huge shock to both Dad and Tom because Pat was their sister. The man said that he heard that Aunt Pat was last seen hanging onto a log in the middle of the river, apparently unconscious and that her 3-year-old daughter was hanging on to her. This, of course, greatly upset Dad and Tom, and they hurried back up the mountain to spread the bad news. They also said that they were going to try to get up to Big Run, and since there was no road in several places, they were going to have to go along the mountainside to get there. They didn’t know how long they would be gone, but everyone of course wanted to know about Aunt Pat.

The road (or what used to be the road) in Circleville.

By the time they got back down to Judy Gap the water had went down enough to where Dad, Tom and my Granddad were able to cross the bridge and get on the old road that went to Circleville. This road would take them to Circleville and would make their trip a lot easier than climbing along the mountainside. They made it to Circleville, and they just so happened to run into my Uncle Jack, Aunt Pat's husband, who was trying to get to Monkeytown to let everyone know that they were all okay. This was of course, a great relief to everyone, and Uncle Jack was flabbergasted that someone would tell such a story like that about Aunt Pat. He said their house was flooded but they were all safe at Hilltop, a little shelter on the mountainside near where they lived. Uncle Jack said that the road was washed out in several places, and most of the houses in Big Run were destroyed. He had never seen anything like it.

Destroyed homes just above my Aunt Pat's house.

After making sure that Aunt Pat’s family was okay, Dad, Tom and Granddad came back down to Judy Gap and then on up the mountain to let everyone know that Aunt Pat was fine, even though they had lost their house to the flood. Uncle Jack also told them that there were a few people up that way who were killed, one was my Granddad’s friend, Delmar Nelson. He was in his truck and got washed away into the river. Delmar had a wooden bed on his truck and the truck floated away while he was trying to get home. Uncle Jack also told of the floodwater surrounding his mom and dad’s house early on in the flooding, and they refused to evacuate. By the time that they realized the situation was serious and unlike anything they had ever experienced before, the floodwaters had surrounded the house and cut them off from escape. Jack’s dad, Punk, was so sure that he was going to die that he said he was going to go out in style, and went outside and got in his new Cadillac. The floodwaters moved the car around in the yard but he, and his home, was otherwise spared.

The road above my Aunt Pat's house.

We were greatly relieved to hear that all of our family survived the Great Flood, and the rain was finally slacking off. Circleville School had been opened as a permanent shelter and word came that the National Guard had been called in and we were going to get some help with our disaster.

All through November 5, 1985, the floodwaters still raged and the rain was still falling in some places. We knew that much of our world was gone, but we also knew that our family was safe. We were somewhat relieved but saddened at all the loss all around us. We had no idea just how much until the floodwaters receded and we could witness the world around us. This flood left an indelible mark upon my family, so much so, that the timeline in our minds was forever changed to “Before the Flood” or “After the Flood”.

Stay tuned to the stories of the aftermath of the Flood. It wasn’t until I viewed the devastation first hand that I realized just how much my world had changed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Great Flood, November 4, 1985

November 4th may just be another day to most of you, but it will forever be imprinted in my psyche as the day that defined my life. It all happened in 1985 and I was in the 3rd grade at Circleville Elementary. It had been raining for a few days, and they tell us that the remnants of a hurricane got caught in our mountains and that’s what caused all the flooding. I remember we all went to school on November 4th just like any other day, it was raining, cold and dreary but otherwise we didn’t think much more about it. My mom and granddad were planning a trip to Elkins that day and they left as soon as we got on the school bus that morning.

Floodwater in Franklin. This was early on Nov.4. This road was destroyed later in the day.

About 10 a.m., word came to the school that some of the hollers were starting to wash out and the river was getting up pretty high. As a precaution, the principal of the school released classes at 11 a.m., we were all tickled about that, of course, at the time we didn’t realize just how much of our lives were going to be changed. By the time the buses arrived at the school, the river was still rising, and the water was licking on the underside of the bridge going out of Circleville.

Big Run during the flood. This is two houses down from my Aunt Pat's house.

Since our bus driver had to come from Franklin, across the mountain, we were the last bus to get out of school that day, and by the time we left, the little bus that was supposed to go up Teter Gap had returned and said the river was already over that bridge and they couldn’t get those kids home. The teachers were frantic by this time, and a few of them decided to open up the school as an unofficial shelter for those kids. Finally, Joe, our bus driver arrived and we hurriedly got on the bus. He told us the water was almost over the road in Friends Run and he didn’t know if he’d be able to make it back home or not. The river was a raging torrent by the time we crossed the bridge, you could see garbage and tree’s floating amid its mighty current. It looked like Pike Gap road was going to be washed out from the looks of the river eating at its banks. As we got on out of Circleville, we could see the river better, it runs adjacent to the road for a few miles, and it was almost even with the road as we were heading home. The river had already flooded all of the giant fields in the valley, and we fully expected to see Noey and his ark go a-floatin' by at any moment. There was a feeling in the air of doom as farmers and residents were hectically scrambling to open ditches and run beds in order to save their homes and property. We finally made it to the Judy Gap junction and started up the mountain, but not before noticing that the water was almost up to the bridge there…the bridge that we knew Mom and Granddad would have to cross in order to get home. Joe then speeded on up the mountain and we all hurried home, and waited and wondered what was happening down in the valley.

What was left of Pike Gap Road in Circleville.

As the morning gave way to afternoon, we still hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Mom and Granddad so we all decided to go to Granddad’s house up on the hill and have lunch. It was then we noticed that the creek was covering the holler road all the way up Burns Holler. The water only covered the road about a foot deep so we decided we could make it anyway and started trudging through the flooded out holler. The bigger kids made it fine, but about halfway up, a big rock slammed into me as it was being forced down the holler in the floodwaters. It caught be right in the shins and I went down. I hollered as I fell and the floodwaters were sweeping me away toward the old culvert. Just as I went under I felt someone grab me by the ankle and pull me up on the creek bank. It was my Aunt Tam and I am convinced that she saved my life that day. After that, we frantically climbed along the hillside, clinging to tree’s and trying to make it up the holler. We did make it to Granddad’s house and noticed that the power had went out. This was relatively common in our neck of the woods, so the older girls cooked us lunch on the wood cookstove. We all dried our clothes and warmed ourselves by the fire.

About 2 O’Clock, my Uncle Tom came home from work, he worked over above Franklin and said it took him a couple of hours to get home because the water was over the road in Friends Run and that it was really bad over there. We were relatively safe and secure high up on the mountain as long as we stayed out of the holler, and the older kids told us to stay inside. Uncle Tom then went down around the hill to check on Grandmaw Mary to tell her what was going on, and for her not to worry about anybody that we were all fine, but in the backs of our minds we were wondering where was Mom and Granddad, if it was as bad as everyone was saying, would they be able to make it home?

Above: The Hammer Farm during the Flood.
Below: The Hammer Farm after the Flood.

About 4 O’Clock word came from the Lime Plant where my Dad worked that he was going to just stay there for the night, the roads were out going in and out of the holler and he was just going to sleep on the bench there at work rather than try to make it home. It was getting dark when we saw Mom and Granddad topping the hill and we all ran out to meet them. They said they had made it to Elkins but people told them it was flooding back in Pendleton County and the schools were letting out early. They said they left Elkins at 10:30 that morning and tried to make it home but the roads were washed out. They got the idea to go along the back roads up on Cheat Mountain, then through Gandy and up over Spruce Knob. They said the road was washed out in several places but they knew they had to get home so they put the truck in 4-wheel drive and took a lot of chances. They said the worst part was the Judy Gap junction bridge. They said the state road had closed the road and there was a State Police man there stopping traffic. They said the river was literally moving the bridge and everyone expected it to get washed out at any moment. They went back down the road to the Riverton bridge and it was washed out already so they speeded back up to the Judy Gap bridge. Mom told Granddad that she had to get home, that us kids were all alone and she didn’t care what they had to do, but they needed to get across that bridge. With the policeman stopping traffic there, that seemed impossible, so as they neared the swaying bridge, they revved the engine and raced by the policeman and the “Road Closed” sign and onto the bridge. Mom said she got a funny feeling in her butt as they were crossing the bridge, and they crossed it as fast as they could in 4-wheel drive since about a foot over water now covered it. They were hoping that all of the bridge was still there. Sure enough it was, and they headed on up the mountain. After they crossed, we were later told that the policeman parked his cruiser long ways across the road to prevent any rogue passersby from crossing. Sure it was a chance, but Mom never was one to let anything to stand in the way of her and her kids.

The Judy Gap bridge after the flood. Water was over top of this bridge.

Later that night, we heard a loud rumbling in the holler and someone went out to the turn to see what the clatter was about, the old stone cow barn had washed away and nothing was left in Burns Holler except the muddy brown floodwater. We all went to sleep that night wondering what all was happening all throughout the North Fork Valley. We didn’t know, uncertainty is a horrible thing, and especially so when it is likely that your whole world has been forever changed.

Part Two of this story will appear in tomorrow’s post. Stay tuned to find out if Sweet Polly Purebred will survive the onslaught of the freight train that is bearing down on her...Is there time to save her????

Monday, November 3, 2008

Puttin' on my Winter Coat

Halloween is over, and that brings me to one of my favorite days of the year.
Forget Black Friday, I’m talking about the day after Halloween when all the Halloween candy goes on sale. I hit WalMart early on Saturday morning, November 1, and the shelves were picked clean. A flock of vultures couldn’t have picked it cleaner. I thought my dreams of chocolate laden goodness were going to be dashed for another year, but then as an afterthought, I figgered I’d try Target. I hit pay dirt there. They had aisles and aisles of discounted confections. I got KitKats, I got Snickers with Almonds, I got Reese’s Cups…all at 50% off! I really stocked up. I even wrestled an elderly lady for the last bag of Twix bars. I did it for her own good, she looked borderline diabetic to me. Okay, that last part wasn’t true but I would’ve if it had come to that. Shirley told me I had a crazed look in my eye!!

I’d like to say I’m going to share this with my friends and family, but if I said that, I’d be lying. I even have to suppress the growls and fang-bearing whenever Shirley asks me for a Heath bar! I know, I’ll make myself sick, but I can’t help it, it is a sickness. Seldom do the elements of life so align themselves with the forces of good, I mean, how often can you get a mountain of candy at discounted prices?

So for the next few days, I’m gonna eat and eat and eat some more, and maybe add to my “winter coat” as they refer to the extra fat that we put on for the upcoming lean winter months. So, don’t you all out there be coveting my candy bars, or I’ll cyber-growl at you.