The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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

A Traditional Farm

By John Hassell Yeatts © 1984

Issue: November, 1984

a traditional farmTwin sisters, Alley Burgess (left) and Mallie Ratliff (right).Traditions die hard in the South. And some, perhaps, never do. Mrs. Cabell (Mallie) Ratliff of Rt. 1, Floyd, is no exception. She is following in her father's footsteps in raising some of the finest sheep in this part of the country. "They keep me company and they're fun to have around," said the attractive widow of 6 years recently as she attempted to allay the fear of her prize Hampshire ewes as the photographer crept closer for a shot.

After the sheep were photographed, Mallie and her twin sister Alley Burgess, also a recent widow, sat and chatted with the photographer and this scribbler about better and happier days on the 165 acre family farm when their parents were alive and before the old home that was constructed in 1911 burned a few years back. "It was a happy place and an exciting place," they both agreed, telling about their father, the late Henry Simmons who wasn't only a farmer, but miller, tanner and blacksmith as well. They explained how their father's sheep assisted him in keeping down the brush and briars and helped to make the rolling place looking almost more like a golf course than a farm. They talked about the grain mill, tannery and blacksmith shop which were provided as much for community service as for profit. They recalled, too, about how their father used to market his wool at the Dunn Woolen Mill some 12 to 15 miles away.

a traditional farm 2Sheep still graze on the old Simmons farm.Then back to the sheep, Mallie related with obvious pride how her lambs were "top Pen" lambs at the Christiansburg market, meaning that they brought some of the best prices in the sale. She explained that she now markets her wool through the Blacksburg Cooperative.

Her ewes looked clean and healthy and were along towards growing back their winter coats a New Zealander had removed from their backs this spring. Mallie said that it only took him less than 5 minutes per sheep and "a show worth watching," she called it.

It was a peaceful place, the old Simmons farm. And a pretty Blue Ridge place too. And somehow the twin sisters sharing their memories and the bleating of the sheep seemed to make it a place where one would wish to linger longer. So Mallie invited us to come back during lambing time. "That's the time when nature really lifts your spirits," she added.