Generations of Memories
Heart of the Blue Ridge
By Olyer W. Turner © 1984
Issue: April, 1984
I was born on March 28, 1909, in a little log cabin in the mountains. The waters of Philpott Dam now cover the land where the cabin once set, very near where the boats go in the water at Runnett Bag. In the summer of 1982, I took a boat ride all over the places where I played with my friends when we were children. Where we wadded and once played in the river, and where I had driven my horse and buggy so many times were under the lake.
Oh, what wonderful memories of the fun we had in our early teens on Sunday afternoons. I wasn’t raised up there. I was put in a foster home when I was about four and a half years old, but my mother still lived there as well as my foster mother’s sister, Emeline Hall and her son Marshall, his wife Sis and their boys and girls. Many that read this may remember little Mary Hall. Her house still stands.
A widow lady, Abigail Young was my foster mother. When I went there, she had a son at home, a teenager I think. Anyway, he died not very long after I went there. I only remember him being there one Christmas, so I think he must have died in 1914. Then there was just Granny and me. I always called her Granny. She had a big farm and a house for share croppers. Her older son and family lived in the house at that time. They had two boys and a girl older than me, and several younger. From the day I came, Lewis had taught me to turn a grindstone, to sharpen mowing blades, axes, knives, wheat cradle blades, etc. I carried in stove wood, picked up chips, pumped water, etc. When he died, Harvey took over so I still had my jobs to do, and more to learn.
When I was six, he took me to the field with his children and taught me how to cover corn with a hoe and chop weeds. Little by little, I became a farmer.
When I was about eight, Harvey decided to move to West Virginia and work in the coal mines. His boys had many rabbit traps all over the place. They gave them all to me and took me around several times to show me where they were. They taught me how to hold the rabbit and hit it on the head to kill them quick. Then they taught me how to skin them whole and dry the hides. I most always got one, two or three. I hung the hides up on the side of the smoke house. When they were real dry, I carried them to the store and bought my pencils and paper with them for school. Pencils were one cent each. Tablets were five cents each. I think I got two or three cents for rabbit hides, so I always had a little extra money.
I walked one mile each way to school. I carried my lunch in a Karo Syrup bucket or a lard bucket. My school mates all did the same.
After Harvey moved, another family moved in. They had a boy and a girl older than me, but they didn’t know much about farm work and were not very anxious to learn so, I learned to pull one end of a crosscut saw to get our winter's wood together. We had three fireplaces and a wood cook stove, but except for when we had company, we only used one fireplace, an iron tea kettle, an iron pot and a skillet and a lid. We seldom went in the kitchen in very cold weather.
I had to keep the lamp wicks trimmed, the globes clean and the lamps filled with oil. There was no electricity, no telephone, no TV, no radio, but we missed no school days due to weather. We went through the snow and rain and zero weather. But many pretty days, I had to miss, as things had to be done on the farm. The pasture fence posts got rotten, wire rusted and was easily broken. We hunted and chased cows and horses and patched wires and posts until finally, Granny said, “We will just put a whole new fence up.” We got saws and axes, went to the woods (the whole family always went along). They chopped a few limbs and pulled them out of the way, but Jim and myself did the sawing. I don’t know how many posts we sawed, but enough to go around several acres of land. Then we borrowed another hole digger and we dug the holes, planted the posts and tamped them tight. Then to the stretching and stapling wire. We took turns at that. Stretching barbed wire is no easy job, as many of you older folks will know. But when we got through, the horses and cows stayed where we put them. They learned fast that new posts don’t fall over and new wire doesn’t break and the barbs were very sharp so they left them alone.
Well, I never had time to get lonely. There are no idle moments on a farm. I learned to crochet when I was seven. I learned to sew and make quilts a little later. I made my own dresses by the time I was ten.
We went to the old Union Church a lot and really had fun swinging on the swinging bridge we had to cross to get to church. Now the bridge is long gone, so are most of the people that lived in the community at that time. I am very happy that a few my age and some older are still around and we can meet each year on the second Sunday in September at Jamison’s Mill Picnic Grounds for our reunion. This happens to be where some of my friends lived and the yard I played in many times. The old house is many years gone but the memories are still there.
Were those the good old days? Yes, indeed. I was young, healthy, and strong and could do most any work on the farm. I loved animals and we had our share - horses, cows, hogs, pigs, chickens, dogs and cats. The horses were my real pets. I had them so spoilt they didn’t like to work for anyone but me. Yes, those were the good old days, but long gone.
Well, one morning, without warning, our share croppers were gone. They moved out in the night. We knew not why or where. The house was empty. Before springtime, an old black couple with two daughters rented part of the farm as they were not able to tend it all. They owned their home so did not need the house. Then came along this old fellow with no home and not able to work full time. Granny let him live in the house and tend the garden. He plowed our garden, and we had a large garden. Granny paid him to help me saw wood and we made boards and covered the big barn.
The news came around that they were going to put a telephone line through and everybody that wanted and could afford one would get a phone and they were buying locust pins at Ferrum to put on the posts. Well, we got the details, got the saw and ax and headed for the locust grove. I guess we had as large and as tall and as many locust trees as any one in the county. We would saw down and limb-up several at a time. We measured our blocks either 12 or 18 inches. (I forget which it was.) Anyway, each pin must be two inches square. We measured and marked as many two inch squares as we could get out of one block and then took a froe and sledge hammer and split them into two inch squares. The bark and all wood under two inches was stove wood. I worked on them a lot between my other jobs. When we got as many as we could piled on the two horse wagon, Mr. Pugh would haul them to Ferrum and get our money. I can remember so well what a huge pile it was where so many people had unloaded them. I wish I had kept in count all that I made, but I didn’t. We made them as long as they bought them. We didn’t get rich, but then, who did in those days? Everything was cheap and a dollar went a long way. But not anymore.
In 1926, at age seventeen, my childhood days ended. I got married. Mr. Pugh died in the poor house a few years later. Granny sold out and went to live with her children and died a few years later. The house I was raised in is long gone. The fields I worked corn in, gathered beans, pumpkins, black-eyed peas, bundled and shocked wheat in, picked blackberries and dewberries in are all grown up in woods now. The big barn we covered is long gone also. I love to stop every time I pass and remember how it looked in the long, long ago. This is a short story of my childhood days.