The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Our Little Farm In The Virginia Woods

By Lelia W. Lovell © 1986

Issue: August, 1986

Editor's Note... The story was submitted by Mrs. J.M. Wimmer, Sr. of Narrows, Virginia. It was written by her Mother, Lelia W. Lovell, in 1929.

April 18, 1899, was the brightest of days. The shining of the sun was ideal - birds were singing, flowers were blooming; orchards were beginning to send forth their fragrance, making the farmers appreciate their efforts in growing orchards, as they could enjoy the sweet odors wafted to them in adjoining fields, where they were plowing to raise more corn, to fatten more hogs, to get more money to invest in more fruit trees.

On this memorable day, all nature seemed to be enjoying more life; and two prospective farmers, my husband to be and I, on that lovely spring day began a new life by making it our wedding day.

Happy in our choice, we started from Montgomery County, Virginia to the rugged picturesque County of Giles, arriving at our destination with the paltry sum of eighty-five cents. On investigation, we found a fifty-cent piece dated 1833, which I have to this day, so we had only thirty-five cents as a beginning.

Previous to this eventful day, my husband had bought forty-six acres of this rough mountain land, making a small payment of fifty dollars, and on the plot had built a log cabin. In this we were happy, hopeful, and ambitious, making future plans for clearing this woodland, setting an orchard, having green meadows, instead of bare woods, with cattle feeding thereon.

Later we built our hopes on a better house and other improvements, with the viewpoint of making our little mountain home so attractive that even buyers would come around, and we would realize our hopes of selling at a price which would enable us to buy a smoother country, more adapted to farming. A tough proposition you say; but we were brave as we had already had many struggles with poverty and other difficulties in gaining our educations. Many times I had prepared my school lessons by firelight. We both were teachers in our native counties, Pulaski and Montgomery, but we both were lovers of nature and enjoyed farm life, and this is why we began our farm struggle.

On these forty-six acres, a few acres had been cultivated, although they still resembled woods as just the smaller trees and underbrush had been cleared, plowing around all the large trees.

Our second year found us planting the beginning of an orchard, first twenty-five trees. I taught a school of five months with only a salary of twenty-five dollars per month; and at intervals when my companion could steal a few days from the farm he would work at his trade of plastering. Thus we acquired a few dollars with which to get some cattle, grass seed, hardware and other farm supplies. I kept a flock of chickens, and these with the surplus butter paid our grocery bills.

In a few years we added more trees to our orchard, and by the year 1907 we had eight acres of orchard. Most of the land was cleared, grass was growing, and in the haying season you could hear the mowing machine with its musical rhythm. There was other music on the farm now - the prattle of childish voices. All this time we had realized that HOME meant more than just the four walls, and we were happy in our log cabin and had for our slogan one of Lincoln's mottos, "Must keep pegging away."

Yet, to complete another of our plans, we had to build, and in the year 1909 we built a six room house. At first furniture came slowly as the proceeds from our little mountain farm were not enough to supply the wants of six and furnish all our house at once; but we knew that "all that is good and great is done by just patient trying." Our vocabulary was not so large, yet we never added to the word, fail. The man that succeeds is the man that thinks he can. "Success comes in can, failures in can'ts." No one succeeds in all his plans, we didn't.

In the beginning of these struggles an only cow, then a horse died. We kept in mind Solomon's saying, "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong," and stuck to the farm. Failure in part of our plans only caused up to put forth more energy and effort, and we found that some failures only made a trial balance of our efforts. Our experience was that failure only stimulated us. In fact, we believed that if we properly utilized our failures they were a more wholesome stimulant than anything existent prior to the eighteenth amendment.

By this continued "pegging away" we added thirty-six acres to the original forty-six making eighty-two. By this time we were reaping some profit from the orchard, had added more farming equipment, and a few more cattle dotted the hills.

By the year 1912 six children had come to bless our home, the oldest a boy and then five girls. Now we were planning for their education but in November of 1912 my husband sickened and died. Alas! for our plans.

This was a great shock to me from which I have never fully recovered, yet I comprehend what a great responsibility and sacrifice were before me. So I began the struggle alone; and truly the old saying adage, "Prosperity makes friends but adversity tries them," was verified in my case. Many unjust criticisms as to how I managed the farm I received. When we added the last acres, fortunately for my widowhood, a fairly good house was on the place. In this I put a tenant. Of course, mistakes on account of my inexperience; but I kept "pegging away." To get money to pay the hired hand, I boarded the teacher during the winter; furnished wood for the school to pay my taxes; wrote items for the county paper for my subscription; and practiced economy in every conceivable way, determined to send my fatherless children to school.

Many times I have heard the clock toll the hour of midnight while I was still mending or remodeling a garment or mending shoes to be worn to school the next day. Not only did butter, eggs, chickens and turkeys pay my grocery, dry good and numerous other bills, but they furnished money to buy school books, tablets, pencils and so forth.

Much to my regret my son and oldest daughter received no High School education. My son at the age of 15 quit the seventh grade and began the management of the farm, which he continues very successfully. He now owns town property, but still sticks to the farm and makes wonderful strides in its improvements. The oldest daughter began teaching school at an early age, making a success of herself, and liberally aided me. The next two daughters have had two years in High School, normal training and now are successful teachers. The two younger daughters, aged twelve and fifteen will complete the first year of High School this session.

Our plans have been completed only in part, yet, I can truthfully say I have done my best. The interest on our thirty-five cents of 1899 has been compounded until I, as well as my six children have a bank account. We are giving the credit to "grit" exercised on the "Farm in the Woods" and all of us join in the chorus of the 'ole anthem, "Down on the Farm."