Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In Search of Rose Conelly

The ballad Rose Conolly follows the “murdered sweetheart” pattern of ballads. Folk songs of this type are commonly found in England, Ireland and the Appalachian region of America. Some similar songs are “Little Omie Wise”, “The Wexford Girl”, “The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter” and “The Old Oak Tree”.

Most folks credit Ireland as the place of origin for Rose Conolly, and the Bunting Collection says it was collected in Coleraine in 1811. But in fact, the lyrics and tune are entirely different between the Bunting version and all later versions. In 1979, folklorist D.K. Wilgus searched for Rose Conolly in the archives of the folklore department of University College in Dublin, widely credited as being the repository for the most complete collection of Irish folklore. In my opinion, Wilgus research is the best available for tracking down the origins of Rose Conolly. He could find no exact match, but he did however, locate the following folksong that was collected in Galway in 1929, it is obviously akin to the Appalachian version of Rose Conolly.

Rosey O’Connell

It was on a Saturday morning
My true love and I did meet
Yonder a soddely garden
Our sorrows we did relate.

A bottle of poison I brought her
Of which she did not know
Which made me murder my darling
All under the banks below.

Rosey O’Connell she loved me
As dear as she loved her life
It was my whole intention
To make her my loving wife.

When it was the devil’s temptation
That soon entangled me
Which made my murder my darling
All under the ivy tree.

My mother she reared me tenderly
For seven long years and more
But seldom she ever thought of
That the gallows would be my store

My father often told me
That money would set me free
But now I am found in this country
And its hung I’ll surely be

I live in a castle of comfort
A little beyond the fair
Grief it is my comfort
And sorrow is my care.

My bolsted feathers are dingling
The whole length of day
I have but the cold floor to walk on
To pass the time away.

My father stood at the hall-door
With a watery eye
Looking at his only dear son
Hanging on the gallows so high

I leave it written on my tombstone
To read as they pass it by
That my name is James Mullrooney
That murdered Rosey O’Connell.

Since this version of the song was collected in 1929, it isn’t exactly safe to say that it is the precursor to the Appalachian version of Rose Conolly, especially since there are documented versions of the song here in America that are dated before 1929. Added to this is the flow of folks songs at the time from America to Ireland, as was the case of “The Boston Burglar”, “The Last Fierce Charge” and “Twenty One Years”. This reverse osmosis of folksongs from American to Ireland is largely attributed one of two things, either to Irish immigrants returning home from America after finding that the streets here weren’t paved with gold; or with former soldiers of the Civil War who went to Ireland to lead the Fenian Rebellion. So we are left with the question, did the ballad come from Ireland to America, or did the ballad originate in America and make its way back to Ireland?

In fact, the earliest documented report of Rose Conolly in the United States was found in the oil fields of Wetzel County, West Virginia, in 1895. American folklorists subsequently found the same song with little variation in Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and even as far west as Wisconsin. The Wisconsin link is attributed to lumber men who left Kentucky to work the timber camps in the Great Lakes region.

Interestingly, if you read the original lyrics to Rose Conolly that were gathered in Wetzel County, WV, you can get another clue as to where the song began. There is the line:

“I had a bottle of burgaloo wine,
My love she could not know,
That I would murder my darlin’
Down on the banks below”.

Later versions of the song called it “burgundy wine”, or “burglar’s wine” but the earliest mention is “burgaloo wine”. What is burgaloo wine? It is a type of pear wine that was commonly made in central Virginia in the late 1700’s into the early 1800’s. If you follow migration patterns of people of that day, many families came from central Virginia, into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and then into north-central West Virginia. This was typically within one or two generations. There were earlier migrations as well, for example, the Whetzel family for which Wetzel County, WV was named, was in the area by the middle of the 18th century, and they hailed from the Lost River Valley in what is now Hardy County ,WV (Lost River valley is adjacent to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia). So this would place some aspect of the origins of the song in central Virginia between 1760-1830, but probably leaning toward the earlier portion of that timeframe. As time went on, many people could no longer relate to “burgaloo wine” so they renamed it something they could relate to, and today most versions use the term “burgundy wine”.

The ballad “Rose Conolly” was first recorded in Virginia is October 1928, it was recorded again in North Carolina in August 1937, but perhaps the most famous recording of the song was by Charlie Monroe in March of 1947, and he changed the title to “Down in the Willow Garden”.

My wife Shirley recorded “Rose Conelly” in July 2008, and I’ll include a Youtube video of her version of the song. Shirley said her Daddy taught her this song, and he got the song from his Granddaddy who said he had heard the song for years and years, so that would put the song in southern West Virginia during the late 1800’s.

Click here to hear Shirley sing “Rose Conelly”.

I will also post the “new” lyrics to the version of “Rose Conelly” that Shirley recorded, and you can compare them to the version collected in Galway, Ireland in 1929. Certainly, the two songs are akin, but who knows which is the parent and which is the child. Here are the lyrics Shirley uses:

Rose Conelly”, traditional, with variations by Shirley Stewart Burns.

Down in the Willow Garden
My love and I did meet
And there we went a-courtin’
My love fell fast asleep

I had a bottle of burgaloo wine
My love she could not know
That I would murder my darlin’
Down on the banks below

I drew a saber through her
It was a dreadful knife
I threw her in the river
Which was a bloody sight

My father had often told me
That money would set me free
If I would murder that dear little girl
who carried my baby

Now he sits at his cabin door
Wiping his tear-brimmed eyes
For his only son is hangin’
Upon the scaffold high

My race is run beneath the sun
Hells gates lay open for me
For I did murder that dear little girl
Whose name is Rose Conelly.

Copyright, Shirley Stewart Burns 2008.

Click here to hear Shirley sing "Rose Conelly"

So perhaps Rose Conolly does hail from Ireland, but just as likely she hails from somewhere in Appalachia. As do the people here, our music comes from just as many points of origin. One thing is for sure, she is uniquely Appalachian now.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Doc & Killdare

Growing up I spent a lot of time in the old hardware store in Riverton. It was one of those old community gathering places that you hear so much about these days. I remember there were benches on the porch for people to sit in and there were a few chairs inside near the cash counter. There always seemed to be a bunch of old men gathered around there telling lies about their lives and trying to pass it all of as the gospel truth.

On a typical summer day, old man Doc would be sitting out on the bench on the porch, he was some kin to us and my Granddad always talked to him and asked if he needed a ride home. You see, Doc didn’t have a car and he either walked or hitched a ride from his house to the hardware store every day. Doc would always take him up on the offer for a ride home, which to me at the time was pure torture. Old man Doc was notorious for not being able to control his bowels and as often as not, we’d end up having to clean off the truck seat after dropping Doc off at his house. But of course, it couldn’t be cleaned immediately, no siree-bob, we had to wait until we were up the road a ways so Doc wouldn’t know that we were having to clean up after him. Doc was always a pleasant enough old man to talk to, it was just having to clean up after him that was the bad part. I never knew my Granddad to ever not offer a ride to Doc if he needed one though.

Another familiar face at the hardware store was old Slack Hand. You can read about Slack Hand by clicking here. Old Slack Hand would always be sitting in an old split-bottom chair with what looked like the bottom nearly hanging down to the floor. I imagine it was his immense girth that led the chair to have the sagging bottom in it, and it was an on-going joke among many people that if the straining buttons on his shirt ever broke loose, they would likely injure somebody really bad. I remember it always seemed that his chair would be in the way of getting to the pop cooler. You could neither get to it from the front of him, nor by going all the way around the store to reach it from behind him, somehow he always managed to position himself just so he’d completely block access to the pop cooler. I know now that this was because if you asked him to move for a second so you could get into the pop, he’d inquire “So, are you gonna buy me a pop?” As often as not, someone would say, “Give him a sody so he’ll shut up.” and so Slack Hand would wrangle a free pop out of the deal.

Another common face at the store was a man called Killdare. He was the pseudo-hunter of the group and was always telling about his exploits of hunting in the mountains. I remember several of his far-fetched tales, and I’ll share with you the two most memorable stories of his. The first was about the time he was hunting out on the Huckleberry Plains. It was mid-summer and it was a warm day when he left with his plott hound, Sam. Killdare and Sam were in search of grouse which would be feeding on the ripening huckleberries. Well ole Killdare said him and Sam were several miles out on the plains when a big black cloud came approaching from the west, and he figured it was a thunderstorm and decided to seek cover. When the storm finally reached them, it brought with it a snowstorm.

Killdare said that in a matter of minutes, the ground was covered with snow, and it was still snowing so hard that he couldn’t tell which way was up and which way was down. He said it snowed for several more hours during which time he made a lean-to between two boulders and set up camp. He said it soon grew dark, and seeing that there was already over a foot of snow on the ground, he settled in for the night and bedded down.

In the middle of the night he said he was awakened by some sort of bellowing, the likes of which he had never heard in these mountains. The sound kept coming closer and he was increasingly puzzled as to what it was. After a few more minutes, he said that a great shaggy head poked around the corner of his lean-to and he was face to face with a giant moose. Well, Killdare, being always at the ready for such a chance encounter with big game, up and shot the moose and killed it dead right then and there. He said he got up out of bed and dressed out the moose, and cut him off a big hunk of the meat and roasted it over the fire. He went on the say that was the best tasting meat he’d ever had. Well, his telling of the story at this point would always lead somebody to ask, “How did a moose get all the way onto the huckleberry plains of West Virginia?” to which Killdare would respond that he reckoned the moose got lost in the snowstorm and he figured it was thinking it was headed towards the Rocky Mountains instead of the huckleberry plains. Of course, nobody believed his story and they would try to trip him up in it by inquiring how come nobody had ever seen the moose head that he had killed, (Killdare was notorious for collecting mounted animal heads), and he’d answer them, “Well the next morning, it stopped snowing and it got hot, real hot, and all of the melted like that (he’d snap his fingers) and it caused a big flood right up on the huckleberry plains. He said the floodwaters washed away the entire carcass over the moose except for the hunk of meat he had roasted over his fire, and it was all he could do to save himself and ole Sam. Then someone would ask him how come nobody living down the valley from the huckleberry plains had reported any flooding, and Killdare would say the flood waters all ran towards the low end of the huckleberry plains and it all dropped down into a big cave, and from there he doesn’t know where the water ended up. He said he reckoned the unexpected summer snowstorms and the ensuing floodwaters were the reason why there wasn’t any trees that grew out on the huckleberry plains.

The other hunting tale told by Killdare involved his hunting wild turkeys in Germany Valley. He said he was walking up Dolly Ridge and came upon a big downed tree and it was plum covered with turkeys. He said he had never seen a sight like that in all of his days, and he decided to count them all to see how many there were. He said he counted exactly 100 turkeys, and as he was finished counting them he noticed that they were all lined up in a perfectly straight line from where he stood, so the idea came to him that perhaps he could shoot more than a couple of them with only one shot. He said he drawed up and took careful aim and fired, he said there was a great rustling noise and he seen turkeys flopping everywhere but he only noticed one turkey gobbler flying away. He assessed the situation (that was a favorite saying of his “assessed the situation”) and he seen that his one shot had killed 99 of the 100 turkeys. Of course, nobody believe his great hunting prowess and someone would always ask him, “Why didn’t you just say that you killed all one hundred of them turkeys with just one shot, why did you have to say that one got away?” to which Killdare would incredulously report, “I’ll be damned if I’ll tell a lie over just one turkey!”

There were many other colorful people who came into the store and who I got to know during our frequent trips there, people like Mabel Mack and Wild Indian Turnip, and Waltaddie and his daughter Hoghead, but those are stories best saved for another day.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Ballad of Fisherman's Holler

For today's post, I thought I'd share with you a song from my wife Shirley's upcoming a capella CD titled "Been to the Mountaintop". The song is titled, "The Ballad of Fisherman's Holler", and Shirley said when she wrote it, the song was given to her while she was sleeping. It woke her up and needed to be written. She had everything but the ending of the ballad when she started, and she tried to change the outcome of the song, but as she puts it, "the song had other plans".

Shirley and I both wonder if this is a true story that we just haven't heard about. The names and events are pretty specific. Anyone know?

Here are the lyrics to the ballad, you will have to click here to go to Youtube to hear Shirley sing it.

The Ballad of Fisherman’s Hollow

Verse I
I had but one love, Charming Luther.
I loved him like no other man.
He held me close and swore he loved me
and we’d be married come the Spring.

He became my one obsession.
His honeyed words they doused my ears.
His warm embrace, his sweet caresses
could not ebb my lingering fears.

I followed him one night after he left me.
I followed him to the riverbed
for I had seen him with pretty Jane Price
who I thought was my dear friend

I’m going down to Fisherman’s Hollow.
I’m going to see my next of kin.
For the place where I am going, I never shall see them again.

Verse 2
From his pocket, he withdrew a box
and from the box a wedding band.
As she held it in her fingers,
I shot them both ‘til they were dead.

I approached the lifeless bodies,
jerked the ring from her lovely limb.
I looked down and saw the paper
clutched tightly in her other hand.

I stood over the bodies trembling
Could not believe my mortal sin.
for it was my ring she was admiring.
It was my surprise of which they spoke


Verse 3
I pushed the bodies into the river
With rocks tied to their feet and hands.
In two wee hours, it would be sunlight
I bid farewell to life as it had been

I only pray that God will forgive me
for two lives are gone at my hand.
I’m too frightened to face a jury.
I am a coward to take the stand.

So I’ll steal away and they’ll not find me.
I’ll go away to some distant shore.
Where I will linger in my misery
until I die to knock on Hell’s vast door.


© 2000 Shirley Louise Stewart

Click here to hear Shirley sing this song.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Recollections of Slack Hand

Throughout my childhood I continually met interesting people. When I say interesting, I’m not implying good or bad, just interesting. One of these people was a man known as Slack Hand. I was told that Slack Hand was distantly related to us, and I was also told not to tell anyone about it.

I asked my Granddad one time why the man was called Slack Hand, and I was told he'd been given that name because he wouldn’t strike a lick at work of any kind. Granddad went on to say that Slack Hand had better be glad that his daddy had given him his farm, otherwise he would have starved to death a long time ago. Granddad said ole Slack Hand was too lazy to work and too on’ry to steal, to which he added “he’s lazier than a cut dog.”

I first came to know Slack Hand when we were in the hog business. At one time we had upwards to 80 hogs and pigs in our ever-growing pens. For a few years we raised and sold hogs until new USDA standards made it impossible to turn a profit. We always had healthy stock but we couldn’t afford to get all the new shots that were mandated or to have the weekly inspections from an accredited inspector. This was coupled with plummeting pork prices, I recall that the last batch of hogs we sold, we only got 11 cents a pound for them, and it was costing us an average of 35 cents a pound to raise them. If we had gotten the USDA inspections and additional shots, the average price would have been more like 90 cents a pound to raise the pork. I think it was just a way to put the small family farmer out of business, we were too small to qualify for government subsidies, but too large not to have the new rules applied to us. But that’s another story for another day.

Like I mentioned, I first came to know Slack Hand during the “hog years”. We didn’t keep a boar hog on our property so we’d “rent” one off of Slack Hand. I say rent because Slack Hand would pick out a boar hog for us to use, a boar that coincided with a boar he meant to sell at the stock market within a few weeks. Since Slack Hand didn’t care for his stock at all, he liked for us to take the boar so we’d fatten it up for him so it’d weigh more when he sold it. I remember we’d have to feed the boar for a couple of weeks before it’d even have enough energy to court the ladies! This arrangement worked out for both parties though, it kept us from having the expense of keeping a boar hog year round, and it helped Slack Hand get the weight of his boar up so he’d fetch a bigger price out of it at market. By using a different boar hog every year, it also kept our stock from becoming inbred.

The most memorable thing about going to Slack Hand’s farm to pick up the boar was that when a truck would pull up, all of the different stock animals would come running toward the truck. Slack Hand didn’t have a loading chute on his place, all you had to do was open your tailgate and a bunch of hogs would jump up into the truck. Then you had to force all of the other hogs except for the boar out of the truck. I remember also how the cows would lick the tires and fenders of our truck, I guess they were trying to get at the road salt that was on the truck.

Also, at Slack Hand’s farm was the first (and only) time I have ever seen hogs eat rocks. I suppose having rocks in your belly would be better than nothing. I remember my Granddad would always complain about how Slack Hand’s stock was treated, and he said that Slack Hand was no farmer because a farmer wouldn’t treat his animals like that.

Slack Hand went out of the hog business at the same time we did, he couldn’t afford the new USDA rules either, and this was the case with most other small farmers in the region. Of course, this led to a huge glut of hogs at the market, which depressed the prices even further.

I remember after all of his hogs were sold, Slack Hand had an auction at his place. Old Slack Hand had come from a good family so there were a lot of people there, even though most of them didn’t care too much for him personally. I remember folks talking about how Slack Hand had got an auctioneer to do the auction by saying that he was in a real hard place and that if the auctioneer could help him out, he could only afford to pay him $500. Usually an auctioneer got 10 percent of the total sales for doing an auction. Well, of course the auctioneer felt sorry for old Slack Hand and told him that he’d do the auction if Slack Hand would help him out by carrying the items up to be auctioned off. That way the auctioneer wouldn’t have to pay two or three men for their help. He told Slack Hand that if the labor could be provided, then he’d do the auction as a favor to Slack Hand since he was between a rock and a hard place. The auction was advertised at all of the local stores and in the regional papers and it seemed like everyone showed up to the auction. When the time came to start, the auctioneer told Slack Hand to carry up the first lot of stuff to be sold, and Slack Hand grumbled a little bit and said his back was killing him, and he doubted he’d be able to be of much use in helping out. A few of the farmers who showed up for the sale offered to pitch in to help, and ole Slack Hand bragged on them and said they'd be a big help to the auctioneer.

After conning some men to work for free, Ole Slack Hand hollered for his wife to carry him out his easy chair to sit on during the sale. So directly here come his wife, struggling out through the yard carrying Slack Hands easy chair on her back, and he instructed her to set it right near the little stage area. And there Slack Hand sat all day long watching his neighbors carry his stuff up to the auctioneer where it was sold to the highest bidder. I remember my Granddad telling me not to stand too close to where Slack Hand sat or else I’d likely lose an eye if the straining buttons broke loose from Slack Hands shirt. I looked at his shirt and they were stretched to the max.

I remember after the auction, Old Slack Hand got out of his chair and marched over to where the cashier was stationed, and he instructed them to give him $500, they did and Slack Hand took it over to the auctioneer and settled up with him. No sooner than he done this, Slack Hand started berating the auctioneer how he should’ve got better prices out of some of his stuff. The auctioneer just shook his head in disbelief and just walked off. Slack Hand then went back to the cash stand, and asked how much they made, and someone said “so far, a little over twenty thousand”, and Slack Hand grabbed his hat, started slapping it against his sides and started dancing right there in front of the crowd that was milling around and waiting to settle up their bill. Slack Hand then hollered for his wife to carry his easy chair back into the house, and to hurry up, they was headed for town. He then cornered a neighbor and told him that they had to go to the bank, and asked if the neighbor could stick around until everyone had left and make sure that everything went okay. Slack Hand and his wife then loaded up into his truck and they took off down the road. Slack Hand had a way of getting people to do things for him, and this time was no different, everybody knew that the bank was closed this late in the evening. People talked about that for months after the sale!

The next year, Slack Hand decided to plant sweet corn and sell it at a roadside stand. He had a neighbor to plow up a field for him near the main road (again using his “I’m in a real hard place, could you help me out, argument). I remember all through the early summer we’d drive by Slack Hand’s corn patch and we’d see Slack Hand sitting in the back of his truck…in his easychair…while his wife would be hoeing in the corn! People all up the valley talked about how lazy Slack Hand was and how he worked his wife like a dog. They’d say “you know he even has her to load up his easy chair so he can sit and watch her work.”

Later that summer, Slack Hand and his wife did sell corn at their roadside stand, she would wait on customers and run back into the field to pick the corn whenever it was needed, and ole Slack Hand would sit there and talk to the people about how bad he had it and how hard he worked growing the corn. And yes, all the while he’d be sitting in his easy chair.

The following winter Slack Hand’s wife hurt her back real bad, people joked that she hurt it when hefting his easychair in and out of the truck bed. After she hurt her back she wasn’t able to stoop over and work the cornfield like she had before. So Slack Hand came up with a solution the their problem. He’d plant and sell potatoes instead of corn since potatoes took less work! He talked a neighbor into plowing the field and planting the potatoes for him, this time playing up how they were really in a hard place now that his wife couldn’t “help out” with things. Well the taters were growing good but when it came time to hill them up, ole Slack Hand couldn’t talk anyone into helping him out by doing it all for him. Everyone he asked would come up with an excuse as to why they couldn’t do it, so the news spread like wildfire up the valley when Slack Hand took to hilling up the potatoes all by himself. I remember people would drive by his potato patch just to see him doing something. He became sort of a local tourist attraction. The funniest part was that Slack Hand hoed them up while sitting in one of those little plastic chairs. He’d sit in it and hoe away. It was slow going, but every 10 minutes or so, Slack Hand would stand up and his wife would move the chair a little further up the row, Slack Hand would sit back down and continue hoeing. People at the local store would talk and say that folks ought to take a picture of him working because it was the first time that anyone ever knew him to do it. They all figured it was an unwritten sign of the apocolypse.

That was the last year Old Slack Hand ever planted anything.

A couple of months later, word reached us that Slack Hand was killed in an automobile accident. It seems he fell asleep at the wheel and ran over the hill, oddly enough, the site of his wreck was right in the old potato patch. What stuck with people, aside from hearing of Slack Hand’s death, was that his easychair was in the back of his truck at the time of his wreck, and it was thrown from the truck and had landed upright in the middle of the old potato patch. Of course, after the initial shock of the accident wore off, people told tales that they reckoned that the ghost of Old Slack Hand had sat the chair upright so he could sit in his tater patch and watch people work. People told this so much that nobody ever moved the Slack Hand’s easychair from the tater patch beside the road, and it sat there for years until it rotted to pieces.

After Slack Hand’s death, his widow sold the farm and moved to Petersburg, where she eventually remarried and lives to this day.

Friday, March 20, 2009

West Virginia, Oh My Home.

Today I thought I'd post about what amounts to a love song that details the feelings that many West Virginians share with the land and people we love so much. This song was penned by none other than Grammy award winning singer/songwriter Hazel Dickens (and distant cousin of my wife Shirley), and in my opinion, this song is THE best song out there about West Virginia. It sums up why we stay here, and why we return. The song lyrics are posted amidst photo's of various generations of Shirley's family.

West Virginia, My Home
by Hazel Dickens.

West Virginia, Oh my home
West Virginia's where I belong

In the dead of the night
In the still and the quiet
I slip away like a bird in flight
Back to those hills, the place that I call home.

It's been years now since I left there
And this city life's about got the best of me

I can't remember why I left so free
What I wanted to do or what I wanted to see
But I can sure remember where I come from.

West Virginia, Oh my home
West Virginia's where I belong

In the dead of the night
In the still and the quiet
I slip away like a bird in flight
Back to those hills, the place that I call home.

Well I paid the price for the leavin'
And this life I have ain't the one I thought I'd find
Just let me live, love, let me cry
And when I go, just let me die
Among the friends who'll remember when I'm gone

West Virginia, Oh my home
West Virginia's where I belong
In the dead of the night
In the still and the quiet
I slip away like a bird in flight
Back to those hills, the place that I call home.

Home, home, home.

I can see it so clearly in my mind.

Home, home, home.

I can almost smell the honeysuckle vines.

In the dead of the night
In the still and the quiet
I slip away like a bird in flight

Back to those hills, the place that I call home.

Click here to go to Youtube and hear a version of West Virginia, My Home.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Wreck of the Dry Fork #4

The Wreck of the Dry Fork #4, as found in Don Teter's book, "Goin' Up Gandy".

I was recently reading the absolutely fabulous book, Goin' Up Gandy by Don Teter. the book discusses the History of the Dry Fork region of Randolph County, WV. I had many ancestors who worked and lived in these logging camps and I am intimately familiar with all of the places mentioned in this book. However, it was Teter's brief mention of the wreck of the Dry Fork #4 train that really stuck with me. I remember my Granddad telling stories about this wreck, which were told to him by his father, which were in turn told to him by his father, who lived in the area around Jenningston, WV, the site of the train wreck.

People in the area still talk about this wreck, and many will point you to the exact location, even though it has been many decades since the last logging train departed from these mountains. So I was inspired to write down the story of The Wreck of the Dry Fork #4, incorporating some of the information provided by Don Teter but mostly based on the stories given to me by my Grandfather. It was a story that evidently needed to be told.

I'm still not sure if it is a poem or the beginnings of a ballad, but this is the way this story was given to me. I hope you enjoy it. After reading it, you may wonder what happened to the widow Booker? I surely do, but that part of the story was not given to me. For me to write something, I have to be given the story out of the blue and if I force it, it just seems to come out all wrong. Oh well, perhaps her story is best saved for a later date.

The Wreck of the Dry Fork #4
by Matthew Burns, 16 March 2009

Come gather around and I’ll tell you
Of the logging days of yore,
And of the day of that dreadful wreck
Of the Dry Fork #4.

The engine was brought in from the flatlands,
Where it pulled the passenger trains.
But it was no match for the twists and turns
Of the mountainous Dry Fork grade.

On the evening of the 20th of June,
In the year of 19 and aught one.
The time was nigh and the signal given,
For the Dry Fork #4’s final run.

Tales of the wreck became legend,
Up and down the Dry Fork line
Of Superintendent Booker’s orders
And his obsession with making up time.

He was running late for supper,
Or so the story is told,
Many miles yet to travel and
He’d be damned if he’d eat it cold.

Ordering Engineer Cromwell
To make all due haste
The Dry Fork #4 did hug the tracks
And was well upon its way.

Halfway home to supper,
They came to Jenningston grade,
Up and over the mountain they went
But the bridge they could not make.

They weight of the rushing engine
Snapped the railroad bridge.
The engine rested in the river,
The cars stayed on the ridge.

Three were killed in the madness,
That came from hunger and greed,
Booker, Cromwell and a man named Spillman,
Were all trapped underneath.

The work crew on the ridge above,
Riding in the cars that escaped
Shook their heads in dismay
At the wreckage and the watery grave.

They talked of Booker’s reckless ways,
And how he laid to waste,
The Dry Fork #4 and two good men,
At the foot of Jenningston grade.

The bodies were freed of the wreckage,
And taken to “the gateway of Hell”
Where the families of the three men
Began to weep and wail.

Except for one well-dressed woman
Who was Booker’s widowed wife,
Not a tear for her fallen husband and
On her face an almost smile.

Tales were told thereafter,
About her deceitful plans,
Of how she had plotted for many months
To be shed of her beastly man.

They told of how he came home every evening,
Full of hunger, anger and rage,
And took his frustrations out on her,
That read on her bruised up face.

She played the part of a loving wife,
Doing what she was told.
She cooked him his favorite meals,
Knowing it would rush him home.

It wasn’t just Booker nor his reckless ways,
That laid waste to the Dry Fork line.
It was deception, greed and a love turned cold,
That ruined so many good lives.

So, what did you think of the story? Is it a poem or a ballad? Any idea's on what happened to the widow? I want to know the rest of the story.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Springtime with Grandmaw

Twenty years have passed since my Grandmaw Mary walked these hills. It is hard for me to believe it has been that long. It seems to me that I was always at Grandmaw’s side, walking our land and learning her ways. I remember about those days about this time every year. We’d walk across the holler and up the adjacent hill to her garden. She’d scoop down and grab a handful of dark earth, and she squeeze it. If it formed a ball, she’d tell me “Nope, still too wet to plant.” She’d explain that the soil should crumble in her hand it if was ready. Grandmaw would tell me, “If you plant when the ground is wet, your dirt will be as hard as the hubs of Hell.” All of these years later, I still haven’t been able to figure out where that saying came from. Does Hell have hubs? They must be hard if it does.

After checking out the garden, I remember we’d always proceed to stroll through her plum orchard. She loved her Green Gage Plums. I don’t know why but one year I noticed that there was something on the tree bark, and to me in my world, it looked exactly like chickenshit. I asked Grandmaw Mary why her plum trees had chickenshit all over them, and she laughed at me and looked at bark and told me it was black knot. She said to remind her to get some lime sulfur to put on them, she said that is the only thing that can get rid of black knot. Shortly after this time, Grandmaw started getting sick and nobody thought to apply the lime sulfur, so the trees languished a few more years but eventually died. I have wished many times over the years that I had put the lime sulfur on her Green Gage plum trees, but I was just a kid at the time.

Grandmaw Mary was a firm believer in planting by the signs. She always said to plant corn in the sign of the Crab. And you had to plant potatoes in either the sign of the Thighs or the sign of the Feet, but always in the dark of the moon. In addition, Grandmaw always liked to plant potatoes on Good Friday. I remember some of the old signs and what to plant in them, but not as many as I would like to have remembered. Grandmaw always had a good garden.

Maw & Big Six at Maw's garden.

I also remember every year at school we’d buy Grandmaw flowers. She loved purple petunia’s. At school, the high school vo-ag ran a greenhouse. All of the elementary students would get the opportunity to go every day and buy single flowers for 25 cents each or $2.00 a dozen (our school was kindergarten through 12th grade). It was always a big deal for us to save our snack money and go buy Grandmaw Mary some petunia’s. She’s keep them on her back porch and they’d get really big. Everytime you’d visit Grandmaw Mary, she’d take you out and show you the flowers that you bought her. She had several grandkids but she always remembered which kid had bought which flowers.

And of course, Grandmaw Mary loved her lilacs. I wrote an entire story about Grandmaw’s love for lilacs. Read it by clicking here.

Grandmaw Mary's Lilac Bush.

Grandmaw knew what plants or home remedies to use for common ailments. She taught me that milkweed would heal most skin conditions, including warts. She taught me that chewing a willow twig would cure a headache. She taught me that chewing birch cured an upset stomach. She taught me that tobacco spit would take the pain out of a bee sting. She taught me how to remove the heat from a burn, or to stop bleeding just by saying a certain Bible verse over it. She called it “takin’ the far out” or “stoppin’ up blood”. Nowadays people would call that faith healing. I don’t know if you all believe in that, but I sure do. I have complete faith in anything that Grandmaw Mary taught me.

Grandmaw Mary in her kitchen.

So you can see why this time of year reminds me of Grandmaw, planting the soil and all that she has taught me. I’ve always found it humorous that even though Grandmaw Mary taught me all of these things, that one time she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Well, without even having to think about it, I told her “I want to be a farmer.” Grandmaw Mary just looked at me and shook her head, and said, “Honey, you might as well find something else that you want to be. Only a rich man can be a farmer these days. My daddy was a farmer and he was a poor man all of his life. A poor boy like you ain’t got a chance at farming these days.” (read about Grandmaw’s Mary’s parents by clicking here). All of these years later, I see the wisdom in Grandmaw’s advice even though I’ve always wanted to be, and continue to want to be, a farmer when I grow up!!

Obligatory scenery shot. Pendleton County barn in Spring.

But for now, I get by on getting’ by, living on just the “concept” of being a farmer. I suppose you could say I am a farmer without a farm. But there is one thing that I have come to realize, though Grandmaw Mary has been gone for the past twenty years, she continues to walk this land with me everytime I step outside.

Generations of Spring

My world abounds with life anew.
An anxiously awaited spring welcomes
A new beginning.

And the fat robins strut about with their red breasts shining,
They remind me of home and childhood,
“Little Robin Redbreast sat upon a tree…”

The cool earth has changed its scent,
The now pungent aroma permeates my senses,
And it beckons me to scoop it up to partake of the gifts.

The warm light shines upon my shoulders
Lifting my spirits. My mind turns to retrospection,
And to the generations that walked this land before me.

The present becomes the past
And the future becomes the present.
Promises are made, promises are kept.

Life continues. The Earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Life & Times of Fairlane

As I have oftentimes mentioned on this blog, when I was growing up my family didn’t have running water (except when it rained), so in turn, we didn’t have many of the amenities that most people take for granted. One of these was an automatic washing machine. Janet, over at Writing in the Blackberry Patch, had a post the other day about old washing utensils, and that inspired me to write this post. You all ought to go read Janet’s post, just click here to do so.

When I was little, Mom carried water from the “crick”, hauling it up the hill to our house in 2-gallon buckets. The creek water was used to bath in and to wash clothes. This water was alos used to wash dishes. Mom always boiled the water before she done dishes and she had two metal dish pans that she washed them in. We got our drinking water from a spring further down in the holler. It was an ingenious set-up, someone had dug the spring out a little and had inserted a length of 1-inch pipe in it, so the cold, mountain spring water ran all the time. That water was always so cold that it’d hurt your teeth, and it tasted like water should. I don’t think I’ve ever had water so pure since those days. To aide in obtaining water for warshday, we had a big barrel under every drip to catch water from when it rained. It was a lot easier getting rainwater out of the barrel than hauling it all the way from the creek. But that’s another story for another day, so back to talking about “warsh day”.

Manys the time I’ve seen my mother wash clothes using the old wash board or “warshboard” as we called it. She’d scrub them and bang her hands on the old washboard so many times that her fingers and knuckles would bleed. She even referred to her washboard as “the old knucklebuster”. Mom would use a big galvanized tub to wash in, and it would sit on our back porch. This was the same tub that we’d bathe in.

Using a washboard. Photo courtesy of Ryan Greenberg.

While Mom knew how to make soap, she rarely did. Perhaps it was a sign of the times or maybe just good marketing, but Mom always insisted on using Tide soap powders and Downy softener. She said that babies liked Downy, and we were babies. Mom still is a Tide & Downy person.

I am also reminded that Mom used the old type mangles to wring out clothes, but they were really more of a nuisance than a help, so she’d usually solicit the help of one of the older kids to help her wring the clothes out by hand. Mom still jokes on occasion about why they were called mangles, she said if you didn’t know how to properly use them, they would mangle you up. After wringing them out, she’d sop them down and around in the tub of rinse water, and then wring them out again. Then they were ready to hang on the clothesline.

While using the warshboard was considered behind the times even when I was a kid, Moms expertise with it sure paid off during the aftermath of the Great Flood of 1985 when she once again was seen using the old warshboard and tub method of laundry.

When we moved up on the mountain, we had a well but it wasn’t deep enough to run an automatic washer but at least it kept us from having to haul water. Then Mom got a little apartment sized automatic washing machine with a spinner on it. It worked good enough, but we could still only do around 1 load of laundry a day, and you really had to space out showers and such, to the tune of about 3 hours apart.

So you can see why it was a really big deal when Mom and Dad got a wringer washing machine. It was a 1932 model, it was used of course, this was the late 1980’s, but it worked like a dream. We kept in the backyard, and covered it with a tarp when it wasn’t in use. We used it for so long that the wheels rusted off of the legs and then the legs started slowing rusting off. So, we done what was required to keep our buddy in working order, we put it up on blocks. It worked for years like that. Of course, since it was up on blocks, it got a name and everyone settled on “Fairlane”. After all it was a sign of affluence to have a Fairlane up on blocks in the backyard.

Fairlane done a great job of washing clothes although the wringer was heck on zippers in blue jeans. It would bust them out, bend them, break them, as often as it wouldn’t. I took to complaining about it so usually we’d wring the jeans up to the zipper, then back them out of the wringer, and wring the rest by hand. Then hang them on the line. It may have been more work, but it sure saved zippers!

One thing that stands out in my mind is the almost thrill of when laundry was done and the washer was drained. You had to remove the daddler to rinse under it, and after this was done, you usually found the lost coins from all of the pants pockets that had passed through the washer. In my family, whoever rinsed out the tub of the wringer washer, got to keep this change. It usually averaged around a dollar, certainly nothing to snivel at, especially for a kid.

In the summer months, even Fairlane required more water than our little well could supply, so we hand-dug a little well in a wet place against the hill. This was only a few feet from where we kept Fairlane. We dug it down about 8 feet deep but a gigantic rock prevented us from digging it deeper. Regardless, the little hand dug well was always full of water, and it really helped provide water for both Fairlane and the vegetable gardens, especially in the dry months.

The old hand-dug well.

Mom even to this day likes to hang her laundry on the clothesline. And Mom is one of those people who can’t abide having any dirty laundry in the house so she’d do laundry every day, leading to our clothesline bearing the appearance of being in a perpetual state of drying. This was summer or winter. I recall many mornings where I’d have to go out before getting ready for school to get a pair of jeans off of the clothesline. They’d be frozen stiff, so I’d bring them in, and lay them over the wood stove, turning them frequently. They’d thaw out and be only slightly damp, you know, to the point where they’d dry after a few minutes of putting them on. When I got into my teen years, I made sure I’d get a pair of jeans off the clothesline in the evening and hang them somewhere in the living room overnight so I’d have completely dry jeans for school. I’d usually always have a clean, dry pair to wear but just in case I forgot to put my clothes in the laundry basket, that’s what I done. Like I said, Mom washed nearly every day so it was sometimes hard to keep up with her.

Ahhh, Mother's clothesline.

As the old saying goes, “All good things must come to an end”, and that was the case with Fairlane. For all of the years that we had him, he never so much as needed anything more than a daddler, but one day after years of service, his motor gave out. Since his wringer was also beginning to pop apart when wringing out clothes, we decided it best to just let him go to that big laundromat in the sky. After Fairlane’s demise, we had other wringer washing machines to come and live with us, but none of them lasted as long nor had as much character as Fairlane.

In closing, a few years ago Mom and Dad had a big well drilled and it produces around 5 gallons a minute, which is more than enough to run a full-sized automatic washing machine. Since then, Mom and Dad have never been without an automatic washer, but Mom frequently asks Dad if they can get another wringer washing machine. She says she prefers them to automatic washers! Go figure. And she still insists on hanging her clothes out on the clothesline!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Appalachian Diamante

I've been playing around with a new (well, new to me) type of poetry, it is called Diamante poetry. I think it is pretty neat. Here is my first attempt at it.

Green, majestic
towering, welcoming, providing
graceful, alive, barren, desolate
lacking, wanting, polluting
dead, forsaken

It is harder than it looks, here are the instructions in case you want to try it.

Line 1: Noun or subject
Line 2: Two Adjectives describing the first noun/subject
Line 3: Three -ing words describing the first noun/subject
Line 4: Four words: two about the first noun/subject, two about the antonym/synonym
Line 5: Three -ing words about the antonym/synonym
Line 6: Two adjectives describing the antonym/synonym
Line 7: Antonym/synonym for the subject.

I'd enjoy seeing any Diamante poems that you all can come up with. If you'd like to email them to me, kwahaddi@gmail.com , I'd be happy to include your Diamante poem (with your name) to this post.

A Wish List?

Today I thought I'd post the appraisal bill for the estate of my 5th-great grandfather Joseph Bennett. For many of us, the items on this appraisal will read like a wish list. Do any of you see anything that you would like to have from this appraisal?

While these prices look good by today's standard, keep in mind that it would take approximately $18.06 in today's money to equal One dollar in 1810, according to Measuring Worth website.

Pendleton County Will Book 3, page 104
Praise Bill of Joseph Bennett Deceased Estate
August the 30th 1810

  • Pewter and Tin Ware and ladles-$10.00
  • One tea kettle, thirteen coolers and two buckets-$4.25
  • Two ovens, one skillet, one watering pot, one flat iron, one pot, one box iron-$6.00
  • One set fire dogs, two pot trammels on shovel and tongs and bellows-$4.00
  • One pair Steely and four sifters-$2.50
  • One Daepser-$2.50
  • One pepper mill and Ten ware-$2.16
  • One corner cupboard-$9.00
  • Twenty four pounds woolen yarn-$10.00
  • Two Spinning wheels and four spools-$2.00
  • Two Tables-$2.75
  • Eight Chairs-$2.00
  • Fifteen forks and six knives two bones-$1.00
  • One Looking Glass-$2.50
  • Six Books-$1.66
  • Two pieces Sole Leather and two of upper Leather-$4.00
  • Two hackles, three boxes shoemakers tools and sawdries-$3.00
  • Five planes, one window sash and Brimstone-$1.75
  • One Bed and Bed Stead-$12.00
  • One ditto-ditto-$13.00
  • Ditto-ditto-$7.00
  • One Trunk and Chest-$2.00
  • One wool wheel and reel, two pair of wool cards-$2.00
  • Two chairs and one basket-$0.50
  • Seven Gums and two tubs-$2.00
  • Loom and utensils belonging to it-$14.00
  • One set smith tools, bucket and cooler-$30.00
  • Three Grind Stones and hand mill-$4.50
  • Three kettles and one oven and lid-$14.00
  • Three Churns-$1.50
  • Three Kegs-$1.00
  • Three barrels and a tub and one can-$5.00
  • One bucket and two pickling pots-$2.75
  • One spinning wheel and spool-$1.50
  • One frying pan-$1.25
  • One pot, shovel and Jointer-$3.25
  • Carpenter tools of different kinds-$8.00
  • Two narrow axes, one broad axe, one iron wedge-$2.00
  • One saddle and saddle bags, two half bushels, one drawing knife and one conch shell-$4.00
  • One set of gears and three bridles and one curry comb-$6.50
  • Two tubs, one grubbing hoe, two weeding hoes and one bell-$2.75
  • One side saddle-$3.00
  • One plough and singletrees, two pair plough irons, one coal rake and a sithe-$10.50
  • Shovel plough, log chain and sled-$6.16
  • One waggon and hay lathers-$40.00
  • One iron tooth harrow-$4.75
  • Ten bee stands-$9.00
  • One Still and cap and worm-$80.00
  • One Still and cap and worm and stove plate-$25.00
  • Thirteen Still Tubs, three kegs and a barrel-$15.25
  • Two pigons, one hammer and trowel-$0.75
  • Apple Mill and Cider Press-$2.75
  • One Wolf Trap-$3.50
  • Sixteen head of hogs-$19.50
  • Twenty two geese-$9.16
  • Eleven head of sheep-$21.00
  • One Sorrel Horse-$12.00
  • One black colt with white feet-$10.00
  • One brown two year old colt-$25.00
  • One bay mare and colt-$40.00
  • One old brown horse-$25.00
  • Three heifers and two steers-$24.00
  • Two calves with mottled faces-$3.00
  • One Wind Mill-$16.67
  • Three Cows-$34.00
  • Two pied steers-$24.00
  • Two pied cows-$19.00
  • Four heifers, two black ones and two red & white ones-$23.50
  • Two bottles, one wheat Riddle & one Sickle, three bags, one gum, one pair sheep shears-$4.00
  • One hundred weight of broke flax, two sheep skins, one hog skin-$7.00
  • Two Bells & Collars and Sun dial-$1.25
Total $724.01 (this would be $13,077.31 in todays money).

We assert this within praisement bill to be a true bill & Inventory of Joseph Bennett, deceased, Estate. August the 31st 1810
Signed. Johnson Phares, Henry Bland, Geo. Henkle
At a court held for Pendleton County the 4th day of September 1810 This Inventory and appraisement of the estate of Joseph Bennett. Dec, was returned to court and ordered to be recorded.Teste, L. Dyer C.P.C.
So tell the truth, just how much of this stuff do you wish you had? I want it all!