The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Della Martin

By Ivalien Hylton Belcher © 1985

Issue: September, 1985

Della Martin churning butter.Della Martin churning butter.As you drive along Highway 58 in the Lovers Leap Mountain section of the Blue Ridge in Virginia you might spot a tiny gray cottage by the side of the road. In the summer pretty flowers bloom in the yard and hanging baskets adorn the porch. Many times you will see a spry lady going about her daily chores or sitting on the porch churning butter. One fine day in July, I stopped there for a visit with Mrs. Della Martin. Sitting in her neat living room, she chatted and I took notes.

"I was born at the old Jim Williams place near Stuart, Virginia. My parents were Green and Elsie Hubbard Martin. Later my father bought the Jake Williams place and I lived there until I married. I met my husband, Edgar Martin at a dance in Murray Williams' home. Dances in those days were about the biggest form of fun we had. We had to walk everywhere we went back then, but there were good times. I played the autoharp a lot in my courting days. After I met Edgar, I played especially for him."

"When I was 17 years old, Edgar asked me to marry him. My mother and father wouldn't agree to it, especially my father. Anyway, we just eloped and got Mr. Murrary Williams and his son to carry us to Reidsville, North Carolina in his old Studebaker car to get married. There was a big ice storm and the roads were slick. Finally we made it to Reidsville and Edgar and I were married, January 7, 1929. Coming on back home, that old Studebaker was sliding everywhere. Mr. Williams was a real joking person. He said, 'Why, I believe I have seen that same man walking down the road three times.' That's just about how much that Studebaker was sliding around. I guess we were lucky to get back home alive."

"When we got home, neither Mother or Father were too happy we had eloped, but there wasn't much they could do about it, so finally they did agree to our marriage. So, I was a Martin and married a Martin."

"We started out our married life in the old Joe Lawson house. Then we rented a house down from my old home place. We had to walk a long ways to get places. It was four or five miles to the store. Edgar and I raised a garden, kept a cow most of the time and canned a lot of stuff. I always have churned butter and still do. Of course, I buy milk, but I still churn." (The day I stopped by Mrs. Martin's, she and her daughter-in-law were churning butter in the kitchen. It had been years since I saw anyone doing that. Memories flooded my mind of Granny Dollie churning butter and me licking the dasher. I have a churn, but no dasher. Sure wish I did.)

"I did all my cooking on a wood stove until last summer. It got so hot in the summertime, I finally got an electric stove, but I still miss the old wood stove. It made the kitchen so cozy in the wintertime. I gave birth to 15 children. Two passed away at a young age, but we raised 13. All of the remaining 13 are still living. Most of them live close, except one son lives in Ohio. I guess I mostly raised my children on pinto beans, potatoes and corn bread. My cooking pots were the biggest ones I could find and I had a big cast iron pan for bread. You can bet I done a lot of cooking with 13 children to raise."

"Tragedy struck Edgar when he was 29 years old. He lost his eyesight as the result of a shooting incident. Edgar only got to see three of his 13 children before his blindness. He was good to help me. I had to do the washing on a wash board and it took a lot of carrying water. Edgar would take his cane and go down the mountainside to the spring and carry buckets of water. We have carried a million gallons of water up that hill. Now I have water piped to the house."

"When we hoed out the garden, Edgar would dig the weeds in the center of the row and I would dig near the vegetables. I got along pretty good raising my family and with Edgar being blind. The good Lord was always there with him and me. Of course, we had to work hard. Seems I was always cooking and washing. I never did any sewing, just wasn't enough time. Never worked on any public jobs either. With 13 children to take care of, there wasn't no time for that either."

"I have lived in this little house for neigh onto 45 years. Seven of my children were born here. Edgar and I were married 52 years before he passed away on August 18, 1980. It's lonely without him, but I still try to go on. My youngest son and his wife live with me now. I stay busy. On weekends, this little house is filled with the children and grandchildren. I have 29 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren.

The children still like my cooking. They say I fix the best mountain cabbage ever made. Sweet potato cobbler is one daughter's favorite. Everybody goes for my old timey fried apple pies. The children still like my pinto beans and head for the bean pot when they come home. I still fry big platters of chicken, make gravy and homemade biscuits. Always, I'm busy and on the go."

"My little house has been a haven for many a weary traveler because it's in the middle of the mountain. Just yesterday a truck driver stopped by and asked for water. People need water for their cars. Many times snow causes people to be stranded and they come in here to call on the telephone." [I was stranded in the snow once and this little house was an answer to my prayers. On that particular evening, about 26 people were there.]

"Now I have a telephone and people can use that. I really like helping people. It makes me feel good to help."

Today, Mrs. Della Martin is a very spry little lady. Her steps are light and quick. She plays the autoharp along with a grandson for the patients at the local nursing home. The flowers in her yard thrive under her loving hands. She is a member of the Smith River Church of the Brethren and a faithful church goer.

Della Martin is well educated for her time. Her grammar is very good and a lot of her learning is from actual experience.

If you are ever driving up the Lovers Leap Mountain, look for the little gray cottage. Chances are you will notice a little lady sitting on the porch or going about her chores. In winter time there's a friendly curl of smoke coming from her chimney. This lady is a real mountain mother. She is proud of her heritage and equally proud of her family. It's an inspiration to know a person like Della Martin. There is much that could be learned from this mountain lady.