Monday, April 27, 2009


Since it is the spring of the year and this seems to be a very popular time of year for weddings and such, I thought I’d tell you all about a custom we have in the mountains known as chivaree.

A chivaree was a noisy celebration of friends and family that took place on the wedding night of a loved one. The celebration was usually headed up the by brothers of the bride, or another close male relative. It was kept secret from the happy couple, but it was done to nearly every couple so I don’t know how much of a secret it was. I’m sure many happy couples hoped against hope that everyone had forgotten about honoring them with a chivaree.

After the wedding reception and after the newlyweds retire for the night, all of their kinfolk and friends would get together and surprise the couple with a noisy and raucous welcome into married life. The best time to start a chivaree was after the newlyweds turned out the lights, usually around midnight or a little later and kind of got settled. Then, all of a sudden the boisterous crowd gathered outside the house where the newlyweds were spending their wedding night. On cue, the crowd started hollering at the top of their lungs, banging on pots and pans, setting off firecrackers, beating on windows and doors, and hollering out the names of the newlyweds and yelling “chivaree”. This usually scared both of the newlyweds half to death, especially if one or the other had never heard of chivaree before. It really depended on the crowd, but sometimes they’d force the door open and gather up the bridegroom and rough him up a little.

I remember when my cousin Sal got married to her husband Kingfisher, they were given a pretty lively chivaree. The thing of it was, Kingfisher wasn’t from the mountain and he had never heard of such a thing as a chivaree, and Sal had neglected to tell him anything about it (she probably didn’t want to scare him off). After they had settled into their honeymoon house on their wedding night, and when their minds were occupied with other thoughts, the chivaree commenced.

A crowd of about 50 people surrounded the honeymoon house and were hollering out the names of Sal and Kingfisher. It liked to scare Kingfisher to death, he thought a horde of hillbillies were out to get him, and I'm sure it did look that way. Sal tried to reassure him that they’d stick around for awhile and it was just their way to honoring the marriage, but Kingfisher panicked and couldn’t understand why this crowd was gathered all around their house, hollering and screaming, banging on the windows and doors…and some of them were even carrying lit torches!

Then Sal’s brothers, who were really proud because of their sister’s wedding, decided they would really welcome Kingfisher to the mountain, so they decided to give Sal a chivaree like they had in the old days. First, they sent someone to fetch a rail from a nearby rail fence, and they then greased it up with lard. Then they got a bunch of men together and forced open the door to the house, and dragged Kingfisher out of the house kicking and screaming, and he was wearing nothing but his underwear! They told him to hold on, and they hoisted him up on the greased rail and paraded him all around the community, fully thinking that they were honoring their sister’s choice of husband by doing this. Of course, Kingfisher kept falling off the rail but the brothers would just hoist him back up on it and continue along the way. I’m sure Kingfisher had no idea what was to become of him.

Jubilant cheers of chivaree echoed all over the mountain that night. After the rounds were made, they brought Kingfisher back to Sal and expected to get asked in for some drinks and such, as was the custom. By this time, Kingfisher was fit to be tied, and was really angry at everyone, and started hollering at everyone to leave them alone and to leave. Well, that just offended Sal’s brothers, who really had thought that they had honored Kingfisher by riding him around the community on a greased rail, so they figured they cool him off a little. They grabbed Kingfisher again, and this time tied his arms and legs, and grabbing the greased rail again they tied him to it, they carried him to the water trough that was used for the stock. They dipped Kingfisher into the trough a few times, and each time they’d pull him up out of the water, they’d holler, “Chivaree…Chivaree”. Well, Kingfisher caught on pretty quick and told the boys, “Let’s go back to the house and have a drink.” They did, at which time Sal hastily explained to Kingfisher what a chivaree meant, and this time he listened intently, so as not to again offend the family he had just married into. He didn’t make that mistake again, and resigned himself to celebrating the marriage with his newly acquired family. An hour or so later, everyone left the honeymoon house flaming torches and lanterns in hand, some of them still beating on their pots and pans, and hollering out the names of the newlyweds and “chivaree’. The commotion soon faded into the distance and all was again quiet at the honeymoon house. Kingfisher had been welcomed into the family, and amazingly enough, he’s still a part of it!

These days, the festivities of a chivaree are nearly forgotten on the mountain, but everyone remembers the one that took place after Sal and Kingfisher’s wedding. After that whenever one of Sal’s sisters were married, immediately following their wedding reception they drove into Franklin to stay at the hotel there. I guess they didn’t want to take a chance on their brother’s honoring them with a chivaree.

Do any readers out there remember the chivaree? If so, what kind of things happened during the festivities? Anyone know where this custom came from?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

My Heart's in the Highlands

My Heart's in the Highlands
by Robert Burns

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer
A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North
The birth place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

Farewell to the mountains high cover'd with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forrests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer
Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
My heart's in the Highlands, whereever I go.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Guardian Angels

Today I'd thought I'd post the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, "Guardian Angels", and include some of my old family photo's to go along with the lyrics.

Guardian Angels
Written by Naomi Judd, John Jarvis & Donald Schlitz Jr.

A hundred year old photograph
Stares out from a frame
And if you look real close you'll see
Our eyes are just the same,

My great-great grandparents Charley & Jennie (Cunningham) Burns & their son, my gr-granddaddy Don.

I never met them face to face
But I still know them well,
From the stories my dear grandma tells.

My great-grandparents, Don & Mary (Kile) Burns.

Elijah was a farmer.
He knew how to make things grow.
And Fannie vowed she'd follow him
Wherever he would go.

My gr-gr-gr-grandparents, George & Phoebe Jane (Bennett) Cunningham

As things turned out they never left
Their small Kentucky farm.
But he kept her fed,
And she kept him warm.

My gr-gr-grandparents, Fon & Rosie (Nelson) Lawrence.

They're my guardian angels,
And I know they can see
Every step I take
They are watching over me
I might not know where I'm goin'
But I'm sure where I come from.
They're my guardian angels
And I'm their special one.

My grandparents, Richard H. & Virginia (Thompson) Burns.

Sometimes when I'm tired
I feel Elijah take my arm
He says, "keep a-goin, hard work
never did a body harm."
And when I'm really troubled
And I dont know what to do
Fannie whispers, "Just do your best,
were awful proud of you".

My gr-gr-gr-grandparents, Anderson & Dianna (Lantz) Lawrence.

They're my guardian angels
And I know they can see
Every step I take
They are watching over me
I might not know where I'm goin'
But I'm sure of where I come from
They're my guardian angels
And I'm their special one.

My gr-gr-gr-grandmother, Phoebe Jane Cunningham.

A hundred year old photograph
Stares out from a frame
And if you look real close you'll see
Our eyes are just the same.

My gr-gr-gr-gr-grandparents, Joseph & Catherine (Andrews) Lantz.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I remember while growing up I always heard stories about the gypsies visiting the mountains of home. In fact, during times when I was especially annoying, people would threaten me that they were going to sell me to the gypsies. Lucky for me, by the time I came to be the days of the gypsies coming through were long past. People still talked about them though. It is their stories that I will relate to you.

The gypsies travelled in a wagon train, and it was said you could hear them coming from miles away. I remember hearing people talk about how the squeaky wheels of the wagons would echo up every holler along the way, and this was how people would know that the gypsies were back. It was said that the gypsies never greased their wagon wheels. I’m sure this was a sort of calling card of the gypsies.

The gypsies were led by a gypsy king. It was said that the gypsy king was from down around Romney but nobody ever knew for sure. The gypsy king ruled the camp and his word was law. He kept everyone in order. When there was a problem in the community, he would deal with it. He was respected both in the gypsy camp and in the greater community. While gypsies had the reputation of being thieves, nobody could ever point out any instance to verify this. Now they would haggle when trading and try to get the best possible deal, but that can’t really be considered stealing.

They said that the gypsies would come about every other year and would set up camp along the river in an empty field. The gypsies were never invited to your house, but it seemed that everyone went to visit the gypsy camps. The gypsy camps were favorite area’s to trade for horses, and pretty much anything else you could think of. My granny always bragged on a pot that she bought off of the "wandering gypsies", as she referred to them. The gypsies especially liked to trade for medicinal herbs and roots and such when they were in our neck of the woods. I reckon they got those things in the mountains, made medicine out of them and traded it back down in the more populated areas. They always seemed to have money.

Local people really looked forward to the return of the gypsies, and many local farmers would vie for the title of having the gypsies to camp on their land for the summer. The gypsies brought news from all over, and had items to trade that were hard to come by in the mountains. If the gypsies camped on your property, you’d get better deals and the first pick of the trading. I was told that one time the gypsies camped on Burns property. While our place was up on the mountain, there is a creek there to supply plenty of water, and the gypsies set up camp in the flat part of the property. My granddaddy Burns supposedly got a team of good horses to allow them to camp there, and people came from all around to trade that summer. The local store merchant loved it too because his business was boosted to an all time high.

The last time people remember the gypsies coming through was in the early 1940’s. People remembered that on this last trip, the gypsy camp was really small and times were very hard for them. The gypsies couldn’t offer as many good deals as they had in the past, and they were going hungry quite a bit. Their clothes were old and worn out, and gone were the flashy jewels that they wore. The gypsy king was very old and was sick, and many of their wagons were in bad repair and it was pretty evident that this would be the last time the gypsies would come through. Everyone reckoned it was the automobile and the better roads that allowed people to travel further away from the mountains to shop had rendered the time of the gypsies obsolete.

It was said that of all the places the gypsies went, the gypsy king liked the mountains of Pendleton County the best and he said that it was here that people treated his people with kindness and fairness. In fact, on that last trip of the gypsies, the gypsy king married off his daughter to a local man. She was not an attractive girl, but she was very skilled in making medicines and reading fortunes, and she was his pride and joy. When I was a little boy, I remember the gypsy kings daughter, who by this time was an old woman. The most memorable thing about her was the silky, shiny scarf she wore around her head, and the clothes that she wore were not the same type of clothes that everyone else wore. Her clothes were really bright colors and were made out of shiny cloth of some sort, and she wore a big green bauble around her neck. People referred to her as “Old Hog Face”, well, because she really did have a face like a hog. Her given name was Belle but I don’t recall anyone ever calling her by that name.

I remember one time when my brother was a boy, he got poison ivy really bad, and people were afraid it was going to swell his eyes shut he had it so bad. Mom said that if his eye’s started swelling up, she was going to have to take him to the doctor. Word got around about my brothers condition and Old Hog Face sent word to my Mom to put white shoe polish on the poison ivy, and Mom did, figuring that Old Hog Face used to be a gypsy and she might know what she was talking about. The next day, my brothers poison ivy was nearly all dried up, that shoe polish sure did the trick. I do remember people would come from miles around to ask for medical advice from Old Hog Face, and while she was kind of an outcast, people did seem to respect her, although there were some people who called her a witch.

It was said that when the old gypsy king died, the remaining gypsies brought his body to Old Hog Face. He is reportedly buried somewhere along the river near Cherry Grove. After his death, the gypsy camp broke up and scattered to the winds, and nobody ever heard from any of them again.

I’ve often thought about the gypsies that came through the mountains, camping for a season and then moving on. Where did these gypsies come from? Where all did they travel? Do any of you all have any stories about the gypsies?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Old Seneca stands as a Sentinel.

Seneca Rocks
by Grace Yoke White from "Unhoarded Gold"

Old Seneca stands like a great gray hall,
With steeples and turrets and gables of granite;
It stands majestic, gigantic and tall
In the snows of winter and the breezes of spring.

Seneca Rocks was the home of the giants old
Who carved the peaks of Old Spruce Knob;
They lived and wrought on their fortress bold;
Now their spirit keeps watch at the twilight hour.

I heard the Spirit in the rustle of leaves
As the sunset gilded the tallest turret;
The Spirit whispered through the summer breeze,
"I still stand guard for my mountain people."

What a heritage to dwell where Old Seneca stands
And towers aloft to the rock-ribbed heights;
It stands to guard from all alien hands
The verdant hills and the peaceful vales.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Adventures in the Mountains

This past Monday, my new travelling buddy Larry and I braved the elements to go rampin' in the mountains. The mountain where we went is called the Birthplace of Rivers, because it contains the headwaters of the Potomac, Cheat, James, Tygart & the Monongahela Rivers. What this sign doesn't tell you, if you walk due east about 1,000 yards, take a left and go another 1,000 yards, then take another left and walk 1,000 yards, and finally take yet another left and go another 1,000 yards, you will come upon the headwaters of even more rivers...the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Yellow, and the North Fork of the Possum Branch of the Nile. This mountain truly is the Birthplace of Rivers.

The temperatures hovered around freezing and we were bombarded with a mixture of rain, and snow, and sleet, and refrigerators...all amid warnings of giant bears that rip out tree stumps just for fun. We were even shown one of these stumps at one point, a stump that would have taken ten men to reach around. We were concerned but nothing could dissaude us from our goal of digging ramps.

On our way to my secret rampin' spot in the mountains, we found none other than my mother sitting alongside the road in a warm vehicle. I wasn't having none of that, especially for MY mother, so we dragged her along with us kicking and screaming. After all, we needed someone to carry the ramp bag (and when I say "ramp bag" I am referring to the sack that carried the ramps and not my mother).

Lucky for me, Maw doesn't read this blog!!!!

After finding the ramps were not up very much on the highest point in West Virginia, Larry and I dug just enough for a good mess for each of us, but let it be known far and wide that our shortened trip had nothing to do with us being "skeert" of the gigantic, megafaunal bears that rip out tree stumps just for fun. And finding that big pile of steaming bear crap in the ramp patch had nothing to do with our hasty retreat to the warm and steel reinforced car. We just figured we had plenty of ramps! And we were a might cold.

Luckily, Granny Sue who doubles as Larry's wife in the evening hours, packed us two warm quilts soaked in kerosene to wrap up in. She was so nice to do this so we wouldn't get too very cold. I think she might have had an ulterior motive, she wanted us to take photo's for her and she couldn't have either of us losing a finger to frostbite because then we wouldn't be able to shutter the camera.

After we got thoroughly warm from Granny Sue's carcinogenic quilts, we proceeded off the mountain with ramps in tow and away from the gigantic, stump-eating bears. We then hit upon the idea of doing a little fishing up on the mountain. We checked the signs and determined that it was the right time of year for the Salmon to be spawning, and sure enough, we caught a peck or three of fresh mountain salmon and even two wayward halibut. Sorry, but we didn't take and photographs since we didn't have a government stamp on our fishing licenses, and we didn't want any photographic evidence of our crime. But here is the stream in case any of you all want try your luck with the West Virginia salmon run.

We were now loaded down with ramps, salmon and the two wayward halibut, and we were making good progress off the mountain, and we knew we had to do something to preserve the fish or else they'd go bad on us, and there ain't nothing worse than a passel of gun toting fish that rob banks and cause mayhem. We'd always heard that one bad fish will ruin the barrel, so this was of special concern for both Larry and me because we had two wayward halibut in the mess. I had heard tales of a Fort nearby so we decided to go there and get some salt to preserve our fish. On the way to the fort, we passed another warm and welcoming vehicle that now offered a cold and hostile interior so I dropped my mother off at it so she could drive up another mountain to home. Larry and I proceeded on to the fort. We drove down the valley and tried to follow the rising smoke of the settlement, but finding none we figured that the Fort had probably passed some no smoking legislation so we just followed the road signs. After we arrived at the fort, we noticed that they were apparently still closed for the winter so we couldn't get the supplies to preserve our salmon. Just our luck! I know we were at the right place, too, because the fort still had their shingle sitting out by the road.

We were then left with a carload of rapidly decomposing fish, so we decided to go ask my Granny if she had any idea's on what to do with the salmon or at least the two wayward halibut. We drove up to Granny's house, and I remembered that it had been awhile since I last visited Granny. In fact, I couldn't remember the last time I had stopped by. The house looked abandoned and it appeared that the big bad wolf had succeeded in blowing the house down.

I knew that Granny would be safe and I wasn't a bit worried about her, she liked nothing better than warm wolf stew, and I knew she knew her way around a wolf, but we were in a hurry so we didn't scout around to find Granny to get the advice on preserving the fish. Anyhow, I figured she was probably up on the mountain hunting fur seals in the salt-petre caves. Nothings warmer than a fur seal cape. After all, it was that time of year.

After leaving Granny's cabin, we drove back into Riverton, and was surprised to find a monument commemorating the Battle of Riverton, from back in the days when the North invaded America.

We stopped and took some pictures and I was reminded of a legend about buried treasure that was supposed to be located nearby. I also recalled a method of "dowsing" out water and other treasures by weaving together fish bones and making a divining rod of sorts. I mentioned this to Larry and we were soon neck deep in fish guts and bones, and were swatting away the seagulls, pelicans and California condors. After a few hours of this work, we had completed our homemade, fishbone divining rod, and set out to finding the buried treasure of Riverton. Well no sooner did I start "treasure witching" that divining rod took to spinning around in my hands like a whirlygig and danged if it didn't twist out of my grip and it commenced to drilling down through solid sandstone.

After a few minutes of drilling and grinding, all of a sudden the noice stopped. Larry and I were puzzled about this and wondered what could have happened. Then it come to Larry that the fish bone divining rod probably hit upon a piece of gut that we missed while cleaning off the bones. He said that little piece of fish gut had probably acted like a spot of grease and most likely it had made the drilling fishbone divining rod change course. Larry said that it was his experience that while cleaning fish guts off of salmon bones is extremely hard to get them impeccably clean if the salmon haven't been taking their shark cartilidge supplements. He said he should have thought of that before, but in our haste to make waste, he had forgotten about how hard cleaning nutrient deficient salmon bones can be.

Oh well, at least we were now rid of the peck of decomposing wild, wonderful West Virginia mountain salmon, but we still had the two halibut and the bag of ramps. We decided that it would probably be best if we just called it a day and headed back westward into the sunset. We did this and had crossed the Eastern Continental Divide out of West Virginia into Randolph County and lo and behold if we didn't come upon two mountain lions sitting alongside the road. Evidently the recession had hit the mountain lions the same as it has the rest of America because those two big cats were just sitting there, each holding a large placard that read, "Brother, could you spare a dime?". Well, Larry always did have a soft spot in his heart for catamount's and barricuda's, so he jerked the car off the road and gave each of the two mountain lions a twenty dollar gold piece, a Daniel Webster cigar and the two halibut. They were very grateful for his generousity, and lamented to him that they were in dire straights since the National Forest had laid off 80% of the deer population, and how they had been surviving solely on porcupine and beenie weenies ever since December. They said Santy Claws had even forgot to stop by at Christmastime, because they reasoned, he probably got wind that they were planning on ambushing the reindeer. The two mountain lions, who we came to know as Nelly and Mart thanked us even more when Larry told them about the stimulus funds that was pouring into the area, and how the mountain loins were supposed to get 40-acres and a sheep out of the deal.

I would like to say that after leaving those now jubliant mountain lions on the mountain, that we had a relatively uneventful trip back to the Kanawha Valley, but in fact, it wasn't. We got attacked by a giant chicken in Elkins, and we had to eat that sucker in order to get past him. The only thing was, that giant chicken wouldn't give up the ghost until I dressed up in a white suit and put on a fake beard and offered him a package of 11 herbs and spices. No sooner than I did that, he up and ran clucking into the deep fryer, and we soon filled our gullets. I reckon it is true that the Colonel has his way with chickens.

I would continue recounting the events of Matthew and Larry's great adventure but I have a feeling you all wouldn't believe some of the more outrageous things that happened to us that day. That is why I only told the things that were the most believable to you today, I wouldn't want you all to think I was stretching the truth. I reckon I'll have to write a fiction story about the other things sometime.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Spring Came Last Night

A native of Lewis County, West Virginia, author Grace Yoke White wrote the book, "Unhoarded Gold: A Book of Poems" in 1953 . I am proud to include one of these poems, titled "Spring Came Last Night" in this post.

Spring Came Last Night

The sky is clear,
Spring birds are near;
I hear their calls
On low stone walls.

The winter left with lagging feet;
With summer warmth our pulses beat;
The snow is gone, the sun is bright,
The flowers are here-spring came last night.

The sky is blue;
All hearts are true.
Sorrow slipt away;
Joy's here today.