The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Mrs. Clara Marshall's Mountain Memories

By Mrs. Clara Marshall © 1983

Issue: June, 1983

(The following is Mrs. Clara Marshall’s story of her tragic first marriage, told in her own words, from a taped interview with her.)

“I’ll be 90, July 25. I was born in 1893. Did you ever hear about my first marriage? I was married to my first cousin. (Her mother’s brother and his family lived in West Virginia and worked in the coal mines for a living. Young Ray was visiting his relatives here at Mayberry at that time.)

We had to send through the mail to get a license from this store. (Mayberry Trading Post today.) This was the place where we got our mail. We’s having to keep it a secret because of my parents. They didn’t want to let me go, so I had to sign Mammy’s name to the papers myself. I know’d she wasn’t going to give me up to go and get married. Well, we sent the papers and he came to the store and got it. He said, ‘Look here what I got! It’s our license.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘Well you better keep this straight now and not tell anybody for I won’t get to go. How are we going to manage this?’ My sister-in-law, she knew, so she made my dress and nobody know’d that. So I says, ‘I tell you, we’ll go horsebacking over to Mr. Barnard’s.’ My brother had horses.

“We went out that evening and he got the horses and saddled them. We came on out toward Lottie’s, and Wolf, her daddy, came out. He says, ‘Now where you all going? That looks suspicious.’ Well, I said, ‘I don’t hardly know. What do you think?’ He says, ‘I don’t know him (Ray) like I do you, but I can tell you one thing, I think I know, and you’re getting one of the best girls there is in Patrick.’ Ray said, ‘Well, I think so too, anyway, that’s the way I feel about her.’

“That was the way then we went on and got married over here at Lasser Barnard’s. Naturally, they know’d me. Johnny and Alice had gone to bed upstairs when we got there. We went to the door and Ray said, ‘We come to get married.’ Mr. Barnard looked at me and looked at him. He didn’t know Ray. He said, ‘All right. Just hold on a minute. I just married a couple and I’m fixing the license out. I’ll be in the other room.’ He was off in the kitchen, a little room back over here facing the main house. We went over there and he called to his wife, ‘We got to have witnesses.’ Johnny and Alice heard what he said and downstairs they came, saying, ‘You mean you getting married, Clara?’ And I said, ‘It seems that way. That’s the only way I can ever get away from home!’ She just laughed and said, ‘I couldn’t miss this! I got to see this wedding.’ They come on and said they would witness this wedding. He married us and we went back home on those horses.

“I was 19 then and he was a year younger. I said, ‘What are we going to do now?’ Mammy was sick in bed. She knew he had come for a visit but she hadn’t took to him. I knew that would never do.

“In a few days, Ray says, ‘We’re leaving now.’ Mammy said, ‘What do you mean we?’ He said, ‘Me and Clara’s got married.’ Mammy said, ‘What are you talking about? Clara’s not going anywhere.’ He says, ‘Well, I’ve got to go and what do you mean she ain’t going?’ ‘She’s not fixed to go nowhere and I didn’t know about this. I didn’t know you all’s getting married. Are you really married?’ He said, ‘Yeah, we really married.’ She said, ‘Well, I might let her go when we get her ready but she’s not ready to leave yet.’ It was her brother’s son and she was talking pretty straight to him. ‘All right then,’ he says, ‘I got to go to keep my job. Done been here a week and I got to go back. When can I come back after her?’ Mammy was really sticking to him. She wanted me to fix some quilts and she just didn’t want me to leave then. So, I got everything ready and he came back in November, Thanksgiving, for me. He come to Stuart and I met him there. We went on to West Virginia. I had a big old trunk, had a ham in there, and I don’t know what all, packed in that trunk. We went on a train, you know.

He had the mumps when he came after me in Stuart and it was about a week after that before he could go back to work. The morning he started back I knew he wasn’t able to go because he had been so sick, couldn’t eat nothing. Me and his mother begged him not to go. His daddy and his brother had got laid off that day and he said somebody had to work.

I just had a funny feeling because that night and two nights before, he had woke me up crying. I said, ‘What’s the matter, you sick?’ He said, ‘You ain’t asleep either? I just had a bad feeling something’s going to happen.’ He had a dream before we left home and he wouldn’t tell me. He said, ‘Something is going to happen to us. Me, not you.’

He’d had a dream we wouldn’t be together. The Sunday before that, his boyfriends had come to see him and wanted him to go to another city, a little place where they all went out together and he said, ‘No, I can’t go cause I ain’t going to leave Clara.’ They said, ‘You hen-pecked like that?’ He said, ‘No, not at all but I won’t be with her long and I’m really going to stay with her while I’m with her.’ They didn’t know what to make of it but that’s what he told them.

When he came back in the house that very Sunday, he said, ‘Clara, I want to tell you something.’ He was sitting on the couch and I sat down and he laid his head over in my lap. He said, ‘Something is going to happen to me now and I want to tell you what to do.’ I said, ‘Happen to you what?’ He said, ‘I’m not going to live long. I want that new suit put on me and that tie you bought me when we’s married.’ I said, ‘Hush! Ray, don’t talk like that.’ He said, ‘I’m trying to tell you what I want done and I want you to take me back home.’ I said, ‘I wish you wouldn’t talk like this nor tell me anymore.’ He said, ‘Will you promise me?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ I could hardly talk to him cause he’s talking so empty.

His sister, Eunice, came in. She’s a little thing, but grown too. He said, ‘Come here, Eunice. I want to tell you something. I told Clara but she’s not promised me and I want you to promise me.’ When he told her she just said, ‘Well,’ and went out crying. She didn’t tell her mother, nor I didn’t either, but I knew that dream, and that was what he was still thinking about. He told me he wouldn’t tell me until after we got in West Virginia what it was about. I reminded him that he said he would tell me and he said, ‘I’m still not going to tell exactly, except, we won’t be together only just a little while and that’s the reason I’m staying with you.” I thought it strange he wouldn’t tell me but he said he didn’t want to, couldn’t stand it, but he wanted it to be here. So, sure enough he was killed in less than two weeks.

He went to work that morning with both me and his mother begging him not to go, just getting over the mumps. He was a brakeman and another man was a fireman or something on something like a train that brought the coal out of the mines. They were running a car that had been condemned and the other boy said if that was all they had for him to do he was quitting so they gave his job to Ray. It wasn’t his job and he didn’t know how to do it and he was killed on the first run. Another boy saw what was going to happen and ran and switched it but it didn’t help. He didn’t even know he was going to run into something.

The mines people offered to build me a house there, but I came home to Virginia. Later, they wrote me and told me they would give me $200, but I was so hurt that they would offer so little that I wrote back and told them just to keep it, Ray’s life meant a lot more to me than that. Lot’s of people yet think I drawed off him, but not a dime.

Ray’s life meant a lot more to me than that…….”