The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Special Lady - Mrs. Olyer W. Turner

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1988

Issue: April, 1988

Dear Readers,

I would like to tell you about a very special lady. For some of you, this is a first introduction; for others, who have been subscribing a long time, you will probably remember the two moving stories about her life that she wrote and we printed in our April and September 1984 issues of The Mountain Laurel. Her name is Olyer Turner. [Update: for a list of Olyer's stories click here.

Olyer has suffered many hardships in her 78 years, many tragedies a lesser person would not have been able to bear. As a very small child of four and a half years old, she was put into a foster home because her parents were unable to provide for all of their family. She went to live with an older woman whom she called "Granny" who was good to her, but Olyer had to learn hard work at a very young age to be a useful part of farm life and pay her keep. By the time she was eight, and of school age, she was taught how to trap, kill, skin and dress the hides of rabbits to sell at the store to pay for her pencils and paper.

Olyer married at age 17 and it was not long before she had the responsibility of three small children and an errant husband. Although she doesn't dwell on those days, nor goes into what he did, she did say, "And then my husband got himself in very bad trouble," that took him out of his family's lives. She was left with three small children, the youngest being only three weeks old, with winter coming, in an unfinished house with no provisions stored away. Somehow she managed to keep life and limb together and provide the barest of necessities for her children.

Several years later, Olyer remarried and together they ran a small grocery store. They began having children of their own, and Olyer was eventually the mother of eight children, the first of which were already grown and married when the youngest ones came along.

Tragedy struck again in 1960; just as her husband was going to retire. In February some of the biggest snowstorms that have ever hit this area occurred. In some places the snow was as high as the roof tops. Her husband was found dead on Friday and it wasn't until Sunday afternoon that they could get to the funeral home. But Olyer, being the person she is, found the strength and courage to go on. All of her life she has had a deep abiding religious faith that has sustained her when all else let her down.

Her children rallied around her and soon she was established in a small house in Danville, Virginia, close to her daughter's family. Again, being the person she is, she was not content to just sit idle. For as long as she could she worked in a garden, crocheted and still quilts and many other things. Last Christmas she sent me a crocheted book mark in a card. I have never met her in person, but her kindness and thoughtfulness extends to strangers as well as friends and family.

Although her childhood home is now deep under the waters of Philpott Reservoir, there is still a reunion of the persons of the school she attended as a child. She still attends if possible and joyously renews old friendships. Friends are very special to Olyer. She has a personal project which touches many lives through friendship, her newsletter.

In the last several years, Olyer's health has been declining and her eyesight failing, but once a month she painstakingly types out a newsletter. A member of her family has copies of it printed and it is sent to many people - people who are lonely, people who are shut in, people who are troubled, and people like me. One side of the single sheet of white paper is a letter talking of the weather, family and events that have happened in the last month. The other side of the page contains a poem she has written herself and a "Praise and Prayer Request."

I do not know how many letters get sent each month, but I know whatever my own problems, the day her newsletter comes makes my day a little brighter, as it must also do for the others who receive it. Olyer charges nothing for the letter, asks nothing in return. She never fails to thank people each month for sending her stamps to help keep up her correspondence, and the cards and letters sent to her each month.

As I read this month's newsletter, I saw that tragedy has once again struck Olyer. This time her daughter Cassie passed away with cancer in January of this year. I had met Cassie by chance two years ago when I happened to be at Mayberry Trading Post on a sunny Sunday autumn afternoon. When Cassie found out who I was, she bubbled happily talking about her mother. She seemed to be a genuinely warm and friendly person. I can imagine how much her mother misses her. In the newsletter Olyer said, "Thank you that sent me Valentines. I didn't send any. It was kinda sad for me as 28 years ago my husband passed away and the children and me were getting Valentines and sympathy cards all at the same time. This time was my daughter and only me that got both kind of cards same days."

On March 28, 1988, Olyer Turner will be 79 years old. Because of health and circumstances, she is almost a shut in. Her correspondence means so much to her. The story of her strength and courage have meant so much to me; she is an example of the faith, determination and ingenuity of mountain people of her generation to keep going and make a life in this world when faced with the very direst of situations and very little choices and avenues of hope to pursue.

If you would like to send a birthday card to this remarkable lady, her address is:

Olyer Turner
105 Stokesland Ave.
Danville, VA 24541

And, if you happen to have an extra stamp, how about dropping it inside the envelope with the card; Olyer will put those stamps to good use in her monthly personal ministry of shedding a little cheerfulness, light and hope into the world of those who get her newsletter. She starts each letter with "To all my friends, loved ones, pen pals and whosoever reads this letter." In one page she shares her happiness, her grief, her hopes and her fears. She is a person of strong religious faith, a strong sense of family and a sincere belief in friendship. At 79 years of age, she is still touching other lives, still reaching out, still finding a useful purpose for her life. I personally would like to say thank you to Olyer Turner for including me in her circle of friendship and my hope is that all the rest of her birthdays are very happy ones.