The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Mettle Of Myrtle

By John Hassell Yeatts © 1985

Issue: January, 1985

the mettle of myrtleMyrtle Reynolds and one of her Star Top quilt designs she does to perfection.John F. Kennedy once wrote an interesting and best-selling book called "Profiles In Courage." Unfortunately it was limited to political figures and space would not allow it to profile any of the everyday heroes who really keep the economy and moral strength of our nation moving. If such a book is ever written, it should certainly contain a page or two about Myrtle Stanley Harrell Reynolds, a Willis, Virginia widow who recently celebrated her 80th birthday and refuses to "move in" with any of her sons and daughters.

Myrtle was reared near Mayberry and says that she learned early that there were few free lunches along the way and that it is a "root pig or die" philosophy that gets a body through. Her life began, probably, on a happier note and when she was a dancing teenager and considered one of the best flat-foot dancers in the Heart of the Blue Ridge. Revelers in the Bell Spur, Banks Town, Mayberry triad would stop their circling to watch her fancy foot work as they celebrated weddings, holidays, etc. Before long Myrtle danced herself right into the arms and heart of Everette Harrell, one of Mayberry's most handsome and popular young men. Soon they were off to Rising Sun, Maryland and a lucrative job in the timber industry. A few years later they returned to Mayberry with two cute sons and the biggest automobile ever seen parked in front of Mayberry store. People gazed and marveled. But luck ran out. The depression came a creeping into Mayberry too. Their family grew, but Everette (known as Every) was able to find enough work in timber to keep away the "wolf" until the unthinkable happened and Myrtle was left a widow at 29 with five small children.

There were few jobs for men in the area and none for a 120 pound woman. But she would turn her grief into energy and somehow find a way. She did. Her pride would not allow her to beg or borrow. There was no public assistance. Only the county farm. She'd not look or think in that direction, so she became both mother and father. She donned a pair of white coveralls and she climbed tall ladders to caulk and paint for those who could afford the luxury. She changed into blue denim overalls and with a shared team, she plowed and seeded the rented hillsides. She kept pork growing on the hoof and a milk cow at the gate. When there were no hillsides left to rent, she tackled the man-killing job of grubbing and clearing new ground. If there was ever any complaining to the neighbors, it was muted by her laughter. She was a likeable and welcomed visitor. A good neighbor.

Then a streak of luck for both of them, she met and fell in love with a wild, intelligent and hard working young man who came to Mayberry, Cardwell Reynolds. Money was like sand to Cardwell, and fun more important than responsibility. But he accepted the responsibility of a marriage and a growing family with an attitude few of his friends thought him capable of. He wasn't afraid of anything, least of all hard work. He learned to become a first-rate carpenter and stone mason. He learned the skills of restoring old log cabins. Samples of his handicraft can be spotted on several hilltops around Mayberry and in Floyd County. They bought and tilled their own farm. Three children were added to their marriage.

In the early fifties, a fire destroyed their home in Willis. They hardly waited for the ashes to cool. With those two there had to be a way. Myrtle took a job at a garment factory in Floyd and bought the building materials while Cardwell assembled them. A new and even better house soon rose on the site of the destroyed one.

Then in 1978, a first-time heart attack struck Cardwell and she was again a widow. This time too old to plow. Too tired for factory work. But this time there was social security and that made a difference. However, she expanded her needle work and found a ready market for her skills. She sewed and she sewed and she punished her tired eyes, day in, night out. And when her friends might suggest that it was time to put away her needles and thimbles, she'd just sorta giggle and take another stitch.

So that's it. That's Myrtle. Grit, determination, tenacity, courage, skill and lots and lots of energy, lots and lots of character. So if you're ever passing her way, stop and chat awhile. Chances are she'll have you laughing before you leave.