Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Thinking of the Past

Today has me thinking about my grandfather, Garvin Wallace. He was my mother’s father, and according to her, my brother and I were his pride and joy, but I don’t remember him. He died when I was around 2 years old. I do however, know stories of him, and it is these treasured stories that I’m going to share with you today.

My Grandfather Garvin Wallace.

My Wallace family story begins in Scotland, where they came from. There are tales that we are direct descendants of Scotland’s most famous son, William Wallace, the man who was popularized in the movie, “Braveheart”. While I have never been able to make a connection to “Braveheart” Wallace, William is a very popular name in the family, and was the name of my great-great-grandfather, but William is a very popular name, especially for true sons of Scotland, so I don’t know if this is really any kind of clue. Still, it is a matter of pride for my family. My first known Wallace ancestor was Professor Alexander Wallace who was a professor of Latin at Oxford University. It was Alexander who came to America around the time of the American Revolution, and his son Charles was born in Ohio in the early 1800’s. Many of the Wallace relatives had long been established in the South Branch Valley in what is now West Virginia, and it was these family ties that brought my Ohio Wallace’s to West Virginia.

Back to Charles Wallace, who was born in Ohio. Charles married a woman who is only remembered by the family as Grandmaw Susan. They lived in Fayette County, Ohio. Charles & Susan had a son, which they named William Wallace. It was this William Wallace who sometime in his early years, moved to present-day Hardy County, WV, to be near family, and it was in Hardy County that William married Catharine Miller and lived out their lives on their farm near Moorefield. William & Catherine had a son, which they named Charles, who once reaching adulthood he, like many young men of his day, was lured to the American West to seek his fortune.

Grandpaw Charles wound up in western Louisiana, near the Texas border, where he built a trading post and traded with the Indians. By this time, the Comanche Nation was in decline and they were taken advantage of by many traders and especially at Army outposts. Grandpaw Charles always treated the Comanche honorably and fairly and he gained their trust. It was because of this trust that the Yamparika band of Comanche’s traded almost exclusively at his trading post, and made him a very prosperous man. It was at this trading post that a young Indian maiden named Lily Hightree, caught his eye. They fell in love, and he married Grandmaw Lily in both a Methodist and a Comanche marriage ceremony. A few years later, the Yamparika Comanche were removed to a reservation in Oklahoma, and the army bought the trading post off of Grandpaw Charles and Grandmaw Lily. Rather than go to Oklahoma with the Yamparika’s, they decided to return to West Virginia. Soon after they departed Louisiana, they received word that smallpox laid waste to the Yamparika’s and all of Grandmaw Lily’s family perished in the onslaught. Charles and Lily bought a big farm in Hardy County in the Old Fields area, and lived out their days there. For the rest of her life, Grandmaw Lily talked about her people and made sure her children knew about them.

Charles and Lily had three children, Uncle Brooke, Aunt Lola and my Grandfather Garvin. Aunt Lola and Uncle Brooke never had any children, and my Grandfather Garvin was nearly 50 years old before he fathered my mother. They said that Grandmaw Lily was so ecstatic over finally having a grandchild and would sit and rock my mother in a rocking chair and pet on her and say over and over, “My baby, my baby”. Sadly, Grandmaw Lily died when my mother was only 3 years old.

Grandpaw Garvin was a character. He became a wealthy man, undoubtedly because he was an avid moonshiner. In his younger days, Grandpaw Garvin and Uncle Brooke bought an old hearse and hauled their moonshine all over, selling it to people. One of their biggest clients was a grocery store in Keyser. People still talk about Garvin and Brooke having the old hearse loaded down with ‘shine’ and driving all the way into Keyser. They didn’t fear the local law because the judge, the sheriff and other influential men in Hardy & Mineral Counties bought moonshine off of them. One time, a federal revenuer got wind of Garvin & Brooke’s operation, and made it his duty to catch them. Grandpaw Garvin said that he got really close to finding the ‘still’ one time, so they moved the operation into the basement of Garvin’s house. They hid the ‘still’ by building a secret wall between the ‘still’ room and the rest of the basement, and it was undetectable to the unknowning eye. Mom said that she remembers when she was a young girl, Garvin would take her with him on his “Shine” trips, and he’d drop her off at a store with a friend and then make his deals. She knew what he was doing, but he said that it wasn’t something that a girl ought to be involved in.

My mother.

Mom recalls that there were many old things in Garvin’s house, including several old items brought over from Scotland when the Wallace’s first came to this country. Mom remembers that the kitchen table was several hundred years old. She said that she remembers a kitchen cupboard that had several deerhides in them, undoubtedly inherited from Charles and Lily, and that she would take them out of the cupboard and, using a knife, would cut them up in little pieces so she could make purses and other playthings out of them. The woman that gave birth to my mother, a gold digger of the worst kind, would yell and her and tell Garvin, “She’s ruining those things”. Garvin would simply say, “Leave her alone. She’s learning.”


My mother also remembers there always being several jugs of moonshine always being in the kitchen, kept high up on a shelf. Mom said she’d sometimes climb up to the shelf, and using a tablespoon, would sample the goods. She said that Garvin would have gotten angry if she drank a lot out of each jug, so she was careful to only get a little out of each jug. She also adds that since it wasn’t a big deal to drink moonshine in the house that the mystery was taken away from it so she didn’t really want to drink when she got older.

Garvin, Mom, Aunt Wanda, and the woman who gave birth to my mother.

Sadly, Mom didn’t get to live with Garvin for very long, the woman that gave birth to my mother soon grew bored with Garvin and as usual, moved on to the next man. She threw my mother off at her mother’s house yet again, and Garvin would only get to see my mother on the weekends. Once my mother and father were married, the lived with Garvin for a year or so to take care of Garvin when he was dying, and it was during this time that Garvin got to know me and Jason. We are told that Garvin always said he regretted that he would not being able to see us grow up, and that he hoped that we would know how much he loved us. Thanks to the stories, we did grow up knowing Garvin and the whole Wallace family. That, to me, makes us truly fortunate.

Me & Jason


tipper said...

Matthew-I enjoyed hearing about your Grandfather Garvin.

Jason Burns said...

'Bout time you told the other side of the family.

Janet, said...

That was a very interesting story. It's a good thing they came back to WV instead of staying with Lily's family. One little event in a person's life can change everything.