The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Mountain Grandpa and Grandma

By Kathy Robertson © 1985

Issue: November, 1985

As told by John M. and Ruth Elizabeth Robertson.

Mountain Grandpa and Grandma lived at the top of the mountain in Floyd County, Virginia and we lived 14 miles down the mountain in a valley of Franklin County called Callaway.

Mountain Grandpa, Thomas Lutron Robertson, was born on September 22, 1826 in Pizarro, a settlement 6 miles east of the town of Floyd. His parents had come from Rustburg in Campbell County because his mother suffered from asthma and they hoped the mountain air would help her health (it did - she had 4 boys and several girls and lived to be an old person).

Mountain Grandma, Pernetta Underwood, was born on June 14 1832, also in Pizarro.

She was barely seventeen, short, skinny and blonde; he, 21, 5'10", dark skin and dark hair, when they married on September 13, 1849. They bought a farm of about 100 acres in Pizarro (the land almost touches the present Blue Ridge Parkway near Smart View Park) and settled there for most of their life.

They built a square 8 room house with fireplaces. Grandpa was clever with his hands. He rigged a bucket on a pulley from his house, down the hill, across a creek, to a spring, where, by means of a weight, the bucket could be dipped in the spring and then a crank was turned to bring it back up to the porch. He also made yard swings and other outdoor furniture out of the plentiful chestnut saplings that covered the mountains at that time. This work provided extra income for them.

They had three children, spaced four or five years apart; Alberta, John and Waller. Our father was John.

During the Civil War, Grandpa joined the army and was assigned to the Home Guard. Grandma was asked to bake biscuits and bring them outside so that Confederate soldiers on the move could just pick one up and go on. Once, Yankee troops in the area, seeing this source of food, waited until all was quiet, then broke into the house and forced Grandma to cook a ham and make biscuits for them.

It was while he was in the army that Grandpa grew a goatee and felt a call to preach. He had joined the Primitive Baptist Church in October 1859 and on the first Sunday in November 1862, he was ordained. From then on, he preached mostly from the Pine Creek Baptist Church which is still standing. Although not paid, Grandpa held services once a month and afterward he and Grandma would always go to Floyd to eat at one of the church member's homes. During his ministry, he married over 1000 couples. Once a couple was going west and wanted to be married but the creek was flooded so they could not get to Grandpa's house. He stood on the porch and shouted the ceremony across the creek so the couple could go on, married.

He would also go to Primitive Baptist Associations to preach. While at one of these at Pigg River near Callaway, his son, our father, John, met our mother, Ruth Prillaman.

Our parents chose to live on a pretty place snuggled in a valley near Ruth's family. It was from this home that we remember visiting "mountain Grandma and Grandpa".

Our family (7 children) would always go to Pizarro on the second Sunday in May. We would go by foundry wagon, leaving on Saturday and coming back Sunday afternoon. The trip took 4 hours. Once we wanted to get rid of a cat so we dropped it off the wagon half way up the mountain. When we got home the next day, the cat was sitting in its usual spot by the doorway.

Sometimes they would come to Callaway for a summer visit. Grandma would hold Ruth, the baby of the family, on her lap, talking to her in a soft voice and made her feel special. It was here that Ruth remembers her grandparents sitting on the porch in rocking chairs, holding hands, rocking, talking and laughing together. When she would ask her mother why they were laughing, her mother would say, "Oh, Ruth, you'll know when you get older. They are just reminiscing."

When John was 11, in 1903, it was decided that he should spend the winter as a companion to the "old folks." Taken by his father in the wagon, they met many wagon loads of chestnuts coming down the mountain on their way to Pigg River to then be shipped on to Baltimore. Chestnuts were boiled or baked, then eaten, or sometimes Grandma would make chestnut pies.

He and his sister, Mary, remember the house as dark and cold. The grandparents got up at daylight and went to bed when it got dark (even at 5:30 p.m. in the winter). It seemed too quiet and forlorn to John and he missed his brothers and sisters. He did meet other young people when attending the Pizarro school, a four room building, housing around 100 pupils. Miss Kate Proffitt was his teacher and kind to the new student. She boarded with the Bob Harveys, who ran the Pizarro Post Office and general store. Spelling bees were an everyday part of school and John remembers being the last to sit down for two days in a row.

On his way home from school, John passed the Harvey's store and Mrs. Harvey would often come out (without letting Mr. Harvey see her) to give him a piece of hard candy. Although much younger, the Harvey's were good friends of Grandma and Grandpa.

Sometimes John would have to go by the "Silver Leaf" tavern on his way to the High Peak store. Drinking was the major activity there on Saturdays so his older friends would lead his horse past this noisy crowd.

When the winter was over and Grandpa and Grandma seemed able to get wood and water without help, John didn't wait for the folks but came home by himself, on horseback.

That summer, after the May visit, his sister, Mary, was left to stay. She was dreadfully homesick and unlike John, who had met other young people at school, she felt all alone in a dreary place with two stern old people. In later years, she would tell of this time in a humorous way, which delighted her son and nieces and nephews.

In 1905, our grandparents moved into a small house on the nearby farm of their son, Waller. In April of 1918, Grandpa died at 92 and the last day of the next year, Grandma died at 88. They had been married 68.5 years. They are both buried in the Pine Creek Cemetery in Floyd where their tombstones can still be seen.