The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Lot To Be Thankful For

By Debbie K. Marshall © 1985

Issue: November, 1985

The Spring House - note the black cast iron wash pots turned upside down and the white one filled with flowers.The Spring House - note the black cast iron wash pots turned upside down and the white one filled with flowers.This is a story of two sisters, Nancy and Laura Pendleton, who state, "We haven't much to brag about, but a lot to be thankful for."

Heritage and independence play a big part in the development of a strong character in both these women who grew up and still live on a 186 acre farm in the mountains of Patrick County, Virginia near Meadows of Dan. Laura Ellen Pendleton was born April 1, 1915. Nancy Jane Pendleton was born May 30, 1919. Their parents were the late John H. and Fannie Cock Pendleton who were married on May 31, 1900. Nancy and Laura are the youngest of seven children, and the only ones now living.

In this story these talented and determined sisters relate how they, too, became contributors to the family as they remember incidents of growing up on the family farm and what it's like running that very same farm today.

Laura: "The house we live in was our parent's home. I believe they started building it in 1912 and it was completed in 1915. When they started out here to live, my father loaded all he could on a one-horse wagon and my mother walked through a nearer way with a settin' hen under one arm and a basket of baby chicks on the other one! Our father paid for the house workin' for 25 cents a day. My mother and all of us children worked to help pay for the land. As far as we know, our father was the first farmer on top of the mountain to spread lime. He bought it in barrels, hauling it up from Stuart, Virginia.

Nancy Pendleton doing chores.Nancy Pendleton doing chores.At grain threshing time, we also had grass seed threshed and sold the seed to local stores. Later on Troy made a cleaning machine with different sized screens which cleaned the seed, as this was the law by that time. Then he sent a sample of the seeds through the mail to be tested. Germination had to be high, above a certain percentage, and inert matter below a certain percentage, to be able to sell the seeds. After doing this he would sell them mostly to local merchants. My father made shoes, harnesses, handles for his tools and along with hired help, split rails to fence the farm. He was also a pretty good carpenter and he and my brothers built the poultry houses.

Mother and us girls raised 500-600 chickens each year. She would introduce new blood into the flock by ordering young roosters from Altoona, Pennsylvania. They would come to Stuart on the train in a crate with small tin cups attached containing feed and a note on the crate saying “please water.” The money made from this was exchanged for farmland. No member of the family worked away from home except neighbor helping neighbor. Over 300 acres of land was bought and paid for by hard work on the farm. We had no other income."

Nancy describes herself as always being an "outdoors girl" and working on the farm seems’ to come natural to her, especially when it comes to "her animals."

The Pendleton family home.The Pendleton family home.Nancy: "My father had a lot of sheep and I can remember going with my oldest brother to help with the lambs. I'd be in the bed asleep and he'd call me out to go see about the "mama" and the little lambs. Lots of times he'd say, 'I just can't get them to nurse," so I'd go see what I could do and most times I'd get them to nurse and they'd live, but if I couldn't they'd chill out during the night and die. 'Course I enjoyed it, still do. I love to work with my animals. Laura and myself, as soon as we were old enough, worked. If we couldn't do nothin' but carry half a gallon of water to the chickens, we'd do that."

Laura: "Yeah, I remember, when the hens would go to settin', we would have a special place to put them. Since me and Nancy was so little, we'd go and get two by their wings, and with each step we'd make, the chickens' feet would bounce on the ground and you could see the trail of chickens' feet along in the sand where we'd been tryin' to carry 'em!"

Nancy: "I learned to milk a cow when I was 5 years old. I was so little that I couldn't milk her from one side, I couldn't reach across, so I'd go from the left side, then to the right side and the back in order to get her milked. When I was seven, it was my responsibility to milk seven cows, all by myself. When I got all 7 cows milked and the buckets full, I'd holler for mama to come help me get the milk in 'cause I was too little to carry it by myself."

Nancy Pendleton milking.Nancy Pendleton milking.Nancy and Laura have been managing the farm on their own since about 1970. Prior to that, their oldest brother was there to help them up until the time of his death.

Nancy: "People would come in here and my brothers would be out working in the fields, so my father would ask me to go with him and tell him how the calves were and what I thought they'd weigh and people would ask him, 'Why does she go along?' and he'd say, 'because she's my eyes." (Their father went blind; a condition caused by high blood pressure sometime in the 1950's. He died in 1962.) So that taught me a lot about the livestock and dealing with people, too. I learned a lot about human nature. I recall an incident that happened back then, a man tried to pass a wrong bill to my father. He passed a 20 dollar bill in place of a hundred dollar bill. He tried to take advantage of my father because he was blind, but I caught him.”

“I've run into right many difficulties dealing with the public. To give you an example, once I went to the market and I knew pretty much what my lambs should weigh. I'd weighed 'em before I took 'em, so when the man gave me the weight on them, I knew it wasn't right so I asked to have them weighed again. Well, that pick-up load of Laura Pendleton with another of her paintings.Laura Pendleton with one of her paintings.lambs weighed 100 lbs. more than the first weight they gave me. And I've had to deal with right many incidents like that. I stand up for what I feel is right and don't let anyone take advantage of me if I can help it. I've come up against some things, been hit pretty hard along the way, and sometimes I don't know if I would have made it if I hadn't had Laura behind me. (At this point Laura laughs and says, 'Yeah, she has me behind her, steppin' 'on her heels!'). The farmer, I believe, is the only person in the world who has to take what he can get and give what they ask for. There's too much difference in what the farmer has to pay for what he buys and what he gets for what he sells. The farmer doesn't price his stuff and if he does, he doesn't always get the price he's asking for. But when you go to buy (supplies, etc.), you have to pay what they ask.”

Nancy: "We do most of the work around here. We put up wire and mend our fences, put posts in, and when the sleet comes in the winter time, Laura takes the chainsaw and cuts the limbs off of fences and gates. We cut our own wood for several winters, it was all up around us, all we had to do was saw it up and haul it in. 'Course we get somebody to cut our wood for us now (for winter), but we still get out and saw wood to keep the place cleaned up, especially after a real bad sleet, like we've had in past winters.”

"Now I get somebody to spread my lime and fertilize for me and mow and bail my hay. There's times, in a difficult case, when I need to call a veterinarian, but there's an awful lot where we go along and do, just me and Laura. As the saying is, ‘we tough it out.’ Course there's other things to keep up with, too, like ordering feed and fertilizer and keeping up with the store bills.”

Laura Pendleton and one of her paintings.Laura Pendleton and another of her paintings."And aside from those things, we till and tend to a large garden, do our canning and freezing, mow the lawn and keep up the family cemetery here on our property, and of course there's housework too. All the inside painting, we do that and even a little carpenter work from time to time. And we put up all the paneling in our house, too. Some of our furniture we've built ourselves. We have some end-tables, a few chairs, a what-not shelf, and some other things we've made."

Laura: "I have another hobby, too. I do some paintings. I had an older sister who painted and she was real good. As a child I didn't want her to see any of my paintings because hers were so good and I didn't, think mine were. Anyway, in 1946 I had cancer, so Mama would get up a bunch of rags and cut them in strips and I'd sew them together. I crocheted rag rugs and put them at the doors. It gave me something to do. I'd just be sitting around and I'd look out the window at the birds and the snow and I'd try to draw things like that. Then some years later on my mother was sick. She'd got bedfast and I'd sit with her. (This was sometime during the 1950's.) We had painted the house and had these different colors in oil in different tubes that you mix in the paints to make different colors. So I went to an old birch tree, we call it mahogany, and I got me some sticks off of it, chewed the ends off, flattened them down and started painting pictures, just for past-times while I was sitting with mother. They were pretty crude-lookin', so my sister saw what I was doing. She bought a little kit for me with water and oil colors. Well, they got to puttin' up prizes at the fair so I started takin' my paintings there. The first ones I took looked pretty bad! But I kept practicing. I seldom ever paint a picture now except to take to the art show down in Stuart. I do charcoal, oil, pencil, watercolor, and pastels. I'd rather do that than anything. It don't take as much brainwork. I just take my brush and start and see what comes out. I enjoy doing landscapes and scenery paintings the most. I love to paint water. I think it's so pretty. Water and mountains, they are my favorites. I seldom paint from anything. I just use my imagination and see what I can create."

Nancy Pendleton tending the sheep.Nancy Pendleton tending the sheep."And another thing, my mother and older sister, they did all the sewing for us. We didn't buy any dresses. When I was little, now, I was a tomboy and all the time tearing my clothes. I'd go over fences and get hung, so mama got to making' my clothes out of material that wouldn't tear so easy. After she started doing that, I remember one time I got hung up in a fence and couldn't get loose and they had to come get me down! But whenever I'd tear my dress, I'd slip in and get the needle and thread and whip up the hole. You can imagine what kind of sewing I did, but I was aimin' to keep my clothes repaired. Sometimes I'd get caught because I'd forget to cut the thread and I'd be going along with a spool of thread trailing behind me!"

Nancy: "It made a seamstress out of her, though. She makes all of our clothes now, except our pants. We usually buy them."

Laura: "I've never had a readymade dress. Neither did my oldest sisters nor my mother. I think Nancy's had one or two that someone gave her. My sister, she could make real pretty clothes, and after she passed away, I took on the sewing. And I was so determined to make them look like the dresses that the other girls wore. I wasn't well, not in good health, so I'd take my time and do the best I could to try and make them pretty. I still make our clothes. 'Course I'm not as fast at it as I used to be. When you get out and use chainsaws and split wood, why, your fingers aren't as nimble as they were at one time!"

Both Nancy and Laura remember their parents as being honest, hard-working, industrious people who always strived to make life better for their children. Their parents not only taught them good morals, but also how to be conservative, how to "make do" with what they had until they were able to have better. Nancy and Laura agree that this has helped them through many trying ordeals and taught them not to let their wants and wishes get the best of their financial abilities.

Laura: "Most of the things Nancy and I have are make-shift, but we get along with it. The furniture we've made, now it's nothin' fancy, it's not perfect, but money has come hard, and we're happy with what we have. With all that we've gone through, we don't value new things just so we can say we have something new. We like our clothes to be fashionable, but we don't think very much about keeping things up-to-date, as a lot of people do. Something that we've made ourselves, I appreciate those things. We have things our parents handed down to us, and we cherish those things more than anything we could go out and buy brand new. It's our heritage, and we want to keep it as long as we live. But what most people would throw away, we fix up and make-do with rather than waste what can be used.”

Nancy: "Let me put it this way, if the bottom comes out of a bucket and we can find an old pot lid to fit down in it, I go ahead and use it for a feed bucket. That's just kind of an example of how we try to live. I believe when you work hard for what you have, you appreciate it a lot more than if it was just give to you. We inherited this place from our parents, but it wasn't just gave to us as some people might think because when we were growing up, all of us children worked hard along with our father and mother to help them have what they did. And when they got sick, we tried to take care of them the best we knew how."

One of the questions people ask Nancy and Laura most often is why they never married. Of the seven Pendleton children, only one brother ever married. Recently, someone asked Nancy what was the matter, was she too hard to please, to which she replied, "No, I'm too hard to fool!" Laura simply says she was afraid to when she was young and had better sense after she got older.

A blend - they have so much inherited from their parents; their house, their land and their morals. Yet they have so much they have won for themselves. This blend of heritage and independence is obvious as a piece of furniture these women made with their own hands. Heritage and independence are intertwined like fibers in a rope in these two mountain ladies.