The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Granny Lester Stories

By Laverne Lester © 1992

Issue: January, 1992

One evening a group of us were standing around the stove in the Floyd Farm Service store talking and swapping stories. Some of The Mountain Laurel staff were present and it was suggested to me and my husband, Ward Lester, to write down and send in some of the Granny Lester stories. After giving it some thought, I became very excited by the idea of putting down on paper some of these old stories handed down by word of mouth from as far back as the Civil War! Perhaps they have never been written down before by anyone! Thanks to The Mountain Laurel for allowing us to share them with you. We hope you will enjoy these simple mountain anecdotes.

Ward was born and raised in the Alum Ridge district of Floyd County, Virginia, as were all his people. When he was a small boy, his Granny Lester would sometimes spend the night with his family. After supper, when they were sitting around, he would crawl up on her lap and say to her, "Talk Granny," and she would say, "About what?" And he would reply, "About a long time ago." Here are a few of her stories that have stuck in his mind throughout his sixty-four years.

Granny well remembered when she was four or five years old and the home guards killed her father and threw his dead body on the porch of their house. A man called out to his wife and children, "Here's your damn dirty dog!"

You see, it was during the Civil War and her father, as a lot of other men in the neighborhood, felt it wasn't their fight, so they hid out to keep from having to go to war. The home guard was made up of local men and they hunted these men down. They found Granny's father and he came to this tragic end. Alum Ridge had some caves in a rocky bluff called the Buzzard Rock, where some of the men hid out. Their wives would sneak food to them after dark.

Years later, a wayfarer stopped at Grandpa and Granny's house seeking shelter for the night. As was the custom, they took him in and fed him, gave him a place to sleep and stabled his horse. The next morning when he came down for breakfast Granny inquired of him if he had spent a restful night. His reply was, "No, I didn't. I was tormented by dreams of fighting and killing all night long." Granny thought it to be strange that he dreamed such dreams under her roof for she knew him to be the man that had thrown her dead father on their porch so long ago. She took him in and treated him with kindness anyway, never letting him know she knew who he was!

Grandpa Lester's father, Lewis Lester, was one of the men who did go off to the Civil War. One day he came dragging in home and got in an out building far from the house, for he was very ill with smallpox and had come home to die. He would not allow any of the family to come near him because smallpox was very contagious and most always fatal. He died leaving his wife and three young sons, Ira (Ward's grandpa), Gordon and Jim. He was taken to a far hill to be buried because the family cemetery was too near the house. This was the start of a new Lester Cemetery where people to this day are still being buried.

Grandpa was a very spirited young man! One night at a revival meeting at Pleasant Valley Church, some young fellows from Chestnut Ridge came out of their territory into Alum Ridge. They were just asking for trouble for the young men protected their own territory and all the girls in it! Grandpa and some more Alum Ridge boys waylaid the Chestnut Ridge boys just outside the church door and beat them up. Grandpa said they had it "comin' to 'em" because they thought they were smart - they were wearing spurs and didn't even have any horses!

Granny Lester, whose name was Emmoline Reed, had a hard life at home after her father's death, so she went to live with her grandmother. As Granny said, when she had just turned fourteen and Grandpa was seventeen, they got married. They carried everything they owned in a sack to the tiny one-room log house that was their first home. It had no windows, only a small door to open and let the light in. She carried water from the spring in a frying pan! Through the years, though, they prospered and became land owners and had a good log house. They raised three sons and a daughter. Grandpa was a carpenter and a farmer.

It was not long after they got married until one day they got into a fuss. When Grandpa came in from the fields at mid-day for his dinner, Granny had his food on the table, but she was sitting in the corner with her print bonnet on. She had the long brim pulled out over her face and was snubbing and crying way back in her bonnet. This made Grandpa so angry, he didn't say a word. He just walked over to the table and kicked it right upside down and walked out. Granny would end this story by throwing her head back and giving one of her hardy laughs and say, "I tell you, I never did that again."

One day a neighbor child came after Granny to come quick for his mother had fainted. Grandpa was at the house so she left the baby in his charge and rushed off. Now, he was no nursemaid and wanted no part of tending to babies! When Granny came back, she found the baby out in the yard laying on a board where Grandpa had put him after he messed his diaper!

Granny Lester was not one to give her children whippings. She had given her oldest son only one whipping and she said he didn't deserve that. He had walked his new shoes into a mud puddle after she told him not to and it had made her mad. She never gave her next two children a single whipping, but when her youngest son came along, she said she made up for it on him. He was a very mischievous boy! The Lester family was on the "outs" with a near by neighbor, at the time, who had a fish pond. The children were forbidden to go on these folks land. One evening at the supper table the youngest boy was telling about this big fish he had seen that day. Granny asked him where he had seen it and he said, "It was crawling along in the road!"

Grandpa and Granny had gone in halves on a sausage mill with another family in the neighborhood. This was a prized possession! Of course, ever time they needed it, it was at the neighbor's house. When they would go after it, the neighbor would take it out of the foot of the bed where they put it for safe keeping!

One morning at 3 a.m. Grandpa woke up hungry. He got Granny up and told her he wanted fried ham and eggs, biscuits and gravy and coffee. She kindled a fire in the cook stove and set about cooking. Grandpa got all the children up to eat too!

Grandpa was well known for being out-spoken. He was building a house for a Dunkard preacher and his family and the preacher's wife usually fixed Grandpa some dinner. He could not tolerate her weak coffee, so one day he told her, "If I'm going to drink water, I want it clean!"

Grandpa's sons were hard working and had a lot of respect for him. It was a Monday and the boys wanted to go to Floyd Courthouse as the town of Floyd was sometimes called, the next day to Court Day. Grandpa said they were behind in their work and could not go. The rest of the corn had to be cut and shocked the next day. It was a full moon that night, and a clear sky. The boys waited until everyone was asleep to sneak out of the house. They worked all night in the moonlight to get all of the corn cut and shocked. When Grandpa got up the next morning and looked out upon the hill, he could hardly believe his eyes! All the corn was in the shock. Needless to say, everyone went to Court Day! How's that for moonlighting?

Granny's middle son, John was Ward's father. He was a strong young man and took pride in how much weight he could lift and how fast he could cradle wheat. To cradle wheat was to cut it by hand with a cradle scythe. He was put in a field with an older man who had been the fastest cradler in the county for a long time - but young John outdid him!

I never met Granny Lester, but through her stories told over and over, I feel as if I know her.

She liked to smoke her pipe. After her oldest son, Sebert and his family moved to White Rock to take care of his mother-in-law, Granny would go stay with them some. On returning home one time she said, "Lawdy me, Miz Alley and me sent up to Phillips Store after us some tobacco and we had the best time sitting and smoking our pipes." When the men "fixed up" a little and went to family gatherings on a holiday or a Sunday, they sometimes smoked ready-made cigarettes instead of the roll-your-own kind. Granny, at such times, would enjoy a cigarette with them.

As Granny Lester was sitting and quietly smoking her pipe late in the day and thinking of times past, maybe she remembered Grandpa and her two sons, Sebert and John, for she out-lived them by many years. Maybe too she gave a thought to her youngest grandchild, Ward who was only three years old when his father died, and how much he enjoyed her talk of "a long time ago." She taught him much about his Grandpa and his Dad that he would not have ever known otherwise.

As Granny would tell you with pride, she was an Iron-Side Baptist believer. I would like to think her faith in what-is-to-be-will-be brought her a measure of peace and comfort as did those quiet times with her Pipe.