The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Sherman and Velma Sutphin - A Lifetime Together

By Bob Heafner © 1984-2012

Issue: February, 1984

sherman and velma sutphin 2George Moles and Velma Bolt Sutphin. (See article for information about this photograph.)Driving north from Meadows of Dan, Virginia, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, past the turn of the century water mill known as Mabry Mill, I turned left onto state road 758 and headed toward Buffalo Mountain. Old chestnut rail fences, naturally weathered buildings and rusty antique farm implements give you the feeling of driving through an outdoor museum. To the right, majestic Buffalo Mountain stands as a silent witness and monument to the spirit of those brave, determined souls who first ventured here in search of “home.”

The first of them have long been gone, but the legacy they left to their offspring survives the wrath of time and storms of change of the last two hundred years. Here in the shadow of the “Buffalo,” hard work and determination along with a spirit of self-reliance are still a part of everyday life. Like the majestic Buffalo, old fashioned values have withstood the test of time here without noticeable change.

Turning to the right, the Buffalo behind me, I travel over a small winding gravel road. At the crest of the first hill, I am treated to the rare sight of perhaps thirty wild turkeys in the road before me. They quickly scatter into the surrounding woods as I pass. Over several more hills, past an old homeplace and several sharp curves, I finally reach my destination, the home of Sherman McKinley Sutphin and his wife, Velma Bolt Sutphin.

Sherman was born on September 27, 1897 and Velma, on May 1, 1898. They were married on the 14th day of May, 1919 and their love, like the Buffalo, has endured the test of time. They were born within two miles of each other and were childhood sweethearts. Sherman first proposed to his future bride when they were 15 years old but didn’t tie the knot until they were in their early twenties. They were classmates at the old Brammer School, which was named for its first teacher, Bell Brammer, many years before.

Sherman recalls helping his uncle shuck corn for 25 cents a day, in order to buy his first “reader” and spelling book which he had to travel several miles to Laurel Fork, Virginia to buy.

sherman and velma sutphin 1Young Sherman Sutphin.Sherman left home and worked in West Virginia before they were married and it was on a visit home that he learned photographs were being made that day at the school which Velma still attended. He headed for the school hoping to catch Velma, but she had already had her photograph taken with George Moles, the teacher. George was sweet on Velma and when Sherman overtook them on the road home, he asked Velma, “You reckon I can beat his time?” Velma said she’d do whatever her sister Nancy recommended and lucky for Sherman, Nancy said, “if it was her, she’d take Sherman and run.” As you can see in the photograph accompanying this accounting, George got the photo but Sherman got the girl. They were married by Preacher Matt Mayberry, the same minister who married both of their parents. With a twinkle in his eye, Sherman now says of their 64 years together, “That’s a long time to work under one boss, ain’t it?” The matter is, however, that they have worked together to raise their three daughters and one son in the shadow of the Buffalo.

They moved into their present home on January 1, 1930 and the old hand crank telephone still hangs where it did when they moved in. Sherman’s father had bought the place in 1919 and when he died in the early 1920’s, Sherman’s brother bought it. He sold it to Sherman and Velma in late 1929. They paid $1,400.00 for the house and 91 acres. There was a $700.00 mortgage which they took over but Sherman was still several hundred dollars short of having the purchase price so he went to the bank at Willis, Virginia and asked them to extend him another $300.00 credit, which would have made his mortgage $1,000.00. The banker refused saying, “Sherman, there’s no way you’d ever get up that much money to pay back.” Not one to give up easily, Sherman managed to make it without the bank’s help and there’s still a pride in his voice when he tells of paying the bank its $700.00 note off before it came due. Obviously the banker didn’t reckon with Sherman and Velma’s hard working spirits.

Velma recalls once working for a dollar a week for four weeks in order to buy a pair of 16 inch, high top, kid leather shoes. (She has them on in the photograph taken with George Moles.) Even today, she and Sherman “put up” over 100 cans of garden vegetables each year.

For eight and a half years, during the fire season, Sherman would get up before daylight and milk as many as ten cows, then walk across country two miles up the almost vertical slopes of the Buffalo to man the fire tower. He was employed by the state Forestry Service and was paid for nine hours each day. He was only required to man the tower for 8 hours but was allowed one hour “walking time.” He recalls it was an hour and a half walk up to the tower but only an hour walk back down. By the time he returned home each evening, it would be dark and he would help milk before his day was through. He was in his late 50’s and early 60’s during this time.

Sherman told of working at logging camps in Elk River and Check Mountain, West Virginia. Today there is a resort there known as Snowshoe, West Virginia. He told of trading “script” instead of money at local stores during the time when money was hard if not impossible to come by.

When I asked what they did for entertainment when they were young, Sherman replied, “We had gatherings.” At these gatherings, he explained, young and old alike would socialize while shucking corn, stringing beans to dry, or some other task that became fun when friends and neighbors joined in.

Most of their trading was done at Harve Cundiff’s Store in Willis, where they bought only the necessary items such as salt, sugar, coffee and occasionally, shoes which sold for 98 cents a pair.

Sherman’s grandfather, Lloyd Sutphin, built the chimney in their home. Velma polished the rocks with buttermilk and lime to produce a rich white sheen to them. Her wood cookstove still burns warm on cold winter days and she says, “That stove is as fast as I am,” and prefers it to her electric range.

Sherman’s father, Columbus Emmett Sutphin, once looked after the “Buffalo” for its owner, Bob Logan. He and another man once contracted to build, “About a mile” of rail fence along one boundary for Mr. Logan for a penny a rail. They had to cut the trees and split the rails to build a “short panel” fence. This kind of rail fence consisted of alternating sections of ten foot and five foot long rails. Sherman said his dad “came out” on the deal because of the short sections which were twice as fast to split.

Sherman and Velma still attend the Little Flock Primitive Baptist Church where they attended as children. Now-a-days services are held every third Sunday. Their lives reflect the spirit that made America great. The individual determination and strength that comes from a self-sufficient lifestyle and hard work, of setting a goal then working to attain it, then setting a little bit higher goal and working a little bit harder.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the experiences and lives of folks like Sherman and Velma Sutphin, not the least of which is that hard work and determination do pay off. Here in the shadow of “the Buffalo” they’ve lived and worked most of their lives and today you can rest assured that all the old values are alive and well. Here, tucked into a hollow where a small stream with native trout passes through the front yard, live two old friends who are patiently awaiting tomorrow and enjoying today. Hand in hand, as they have been for over 60 years, they exemplify all that is great of the legacy left by their forebears so many years ago - A legacy that at times today seems almost lost. Isn’t it good to know that they are there?