Clara Burton

This interview was conducted by Sarah French (RGHS '98) and her mother, Mary Ann French in the spring of 1997.


Sarah: Where and when were you born?

Clara: I was born in Tazewell County in 1902.

Mary Ann: Where in Tazewell County?

Clara: At Falls Mills Virginia, that's about ten miles east of Tazewell.

Sarah: Who was your mother and father?

Clara: My mother was Nana Leedy and my father was H.M. Henderson Kidd and they were married in 1873.

Sarah: Where were they born and raised?

Clara: Daddy was born over here above Bastian, between Bastian and Suitor and mother was born over on Kimberlin.

Mary Ann: Who was she?

Clara: She was a Leedy, my grandmother was married twice she married a Muncy and then a Leedy. My mother was raised behind Salem Church. My grandmother was a Clark and then she married a Muncey. She had two children by him a girl and a boy. Then my step grandfather was in the Army and was held prisoner somewhere and he died in a prison camp during the Civil War, and he was born in 1807.

Mary Ann: Do you know if he fought for the North or South?

Clara: The South, he was my step-grandfather, Grandfather Leedy was my real grandfather. Muncey was mother's stepfather.

Sarah: What did your parents do for a living?

Clara: Farmed I guess, Daddy had a farm when I was born.

Sarah: Where was it at?

Clara: It was in Bastian. Do you know where Suiter is? It was right there, where Bill Umbarger lives now.

Sarah: What was your father like?

Clara: Daddy had a mustache, brown eyes, tall.

Sarah: What was your mother like?

Clara: She was tall, large.

Sarah: Who were your grandparents?

Clara: Mother daddy's name was Eli Leedy.

Sarah: What was your grandmother's name?

Clara: Mary Ellen Clark

Sarah: Where were they born and raised?

Clara: Over on Kimberlin, up the holler.

Sarah: What did they do for a living?

Clara: I don't know.

Sarah: What were they like?

Clara: Just plain old country people.

Mary Ann: Do you remember anything special about your childhood that you did with your grandparents?

Clara: Grandma Leedy lived with us for years, both grandmothers lived with us for a long time. Grandmother Kidd, daddy's mother, she didn't live with us but four or five years. Her and grandpa and daddy's nephew and sister and grandma's sister lived with us part of the time too.

The Early Years in a Very Old House

Mary Ann: Did you live in a big old log house?

Clara: Oh yea, a huge one. You know where most of them the kitchen was below the house, above the house, whichever, and daddy put a breezeway between the living room into the old kitchen and had a kettle hanging in the fireplace.

Mary Ann: Is the fireplace what you used to cook on?

Clara: Well, some. We always made cornbread on there in the wintertime.

Mary Ann: How did you make it on the fireplace? Did you have to cover the skillet?

Clara: Yea, we had a lid you set down on top over it and you set them down on coals and every once in a while you would rake the coals off the top of it and them you put on more coals that would brown the top of it better.

Mary Ann: Do you remember anything else that you cooked on the fireplace?

Clara: Once in a while when you would boil beans and you had a thing to hang the bucket over the fireplace in the kettle and it had a lid that went over it too. That was back 1906-8.

Sara: Do you know why the kitchen was separate from the house?

Clara: No, I never did ask him. Another thing that is funny about that is during the Civil War they had a trap door under the table, a great big long table. And a lot of times we would go there and hide.

Mary Ann: Was that what it was for, for your family to hide in during the Civil War? Do you know if they had to hide down there any or not?

Clara: Yea, my grandmother did. When mother was real small, they handed her a quilt to throw down there. They had to throw their feather beds and their pillows down in there. But they had a wagon sheet that they usually kept under there all the time and that's where they would throw the things down on. They kept water and food down there on shelves all the time.

Mary Ann: And they had to use it when the Union soldiers went through here?

Clara: Yes.

Mary Ann: Did the Union soldiers steal their livestock?

Clara: Yes, that hill over in Bastian where the rescue squad is now. The hill behind that, all that belonged to my daddy and grandmother. Where it slants down there is a field they would keep the livestock in. Usually someone would come riding through and tell you when the soldiers were coming. One of them would run and put the hogs and cattle and everything back in the woods and the rest of the things would be put in the trap door under the table.

Mary Ann: Is the house still standing?

Clara: No, it burnt down. there was a room between the living room and the kitchen right of the breezeway. There was a big room there with two beds in it and there was a fireplace upstairs and sometimes they let the wood catch on fire and it scorched all over one side of the house and that's how they burned it down.

Mary Ann: Is the fireplace how you heated your house?

Clara: Yea that's the only way they had back then. The fireplace would heat the bedrooms and the living room that's it. The rest the time you froze. But everybody wore wool then. I hated wool clothes and I can't stand it yet.

Mary Ann: But had to wear it to stay warm?

Clara: Yea, you knit your socks and pulled them up to your knees and your pantyhose tucked down in your socks.

Mary Ann: Did you knit your own socks?

Clara: No, I never did learn to knit.

Mary Ann: Maybe you were afraid you would have to knit all those socks.

Clara: Yes. there wasn't but thirteen of us in the family;.

Mary Ann: Were you among the oldest or youngest?

Clara: I was second from the oldest.

Sarah: Who were your brothers and sisters?

Clara: Lets see, they are all dead but me in the family. Earl, Okie, and me, Carl, Grace, Bertis, Loriana, Marvin, Everett, H., Brady, Jack, and E.C. There were nine boys and four girls.

Sarah: Where were you raised?

Clara: Well, I was partly raised in Tazewell County and then we moved when I was about ten years old to Bland County. Where the Childers live there, below the rescue squad, that was our old home place. Until 21 then we went up to grand-daddy Kidd's place, up Suitor.

A China Doll

Sarah: What did you do for fun when you were small?

Clara: Climbed trees and carried wood, and water.

Mary Ann: Did you have any toys?

Clara: We didn't have anything but dolls and they were hand made. they would take wool, like you knit socks and things with, and make hair on their head.

Mary Ann: What did she make the doll out of?

Clara: Just a piece of material cut out and stuffed it with sheep wool, then mother made the dresses for them. Mother's twin brother worked in the coal fields since he was eighteen years old and he was bald. He would bring us dolls and he bought me the prettiest China doll one time, and it was so pretty. My brothers had been playing marbles and I missed my doll one day, I couldn't find it anywhere. I don't know what I was doing behind the loom house, but it had a little fireplace in it and I found my doll thrown over there with the hed beat open. Come to find out, one of my brothers had beat the eyes out to play marbles with. He never did get whipped. but he sure did get a good blessing out.

Mary Ann: Was that the only China doll you ever had?

Clara: No, I had several after that.

Mary Ann: So your brothers played marbles?

Clara: Yes, but they never bothered our dolls anymore.

Sarah: What were your chores around the house?

Clara: Washing dishes, taking care of children, and sweeping the floors, chasing the chickens and gathering eggs, milking the cows, and tending the ducks, watered the horses.

Mary Ann: Did you make your material in the loom house?

Clara: You made your quilts and your blankets and rugs. We had three sizes of looms a big loom, middle sized and a small loom. The little one was used to make rugs. We made the blankets on the big loom. I have a loom that was made in 1820.

Mary Ann: Do you still have it?

Clara: No, I gave it to my nephew, he lives in Galax and he had been wanting t for a long time.


Sarah: Where did you go to school at?

Clara: Well, I went to Shawvers Mill the first winter and I was seven years old. It was nearly three miles to school and I was to little to walk down there. We had an old one room school house and you sat on slabs of wood.

Mary Ann: What did you have for a desk?

Clara: We didn't have desks. I had a friend and sometimes we would sit together and she would pinch me and I would shove her off into the floor. Then we would both get whipped for that and mama said the next time that you get whipped for it you're going to get another whipping when you get home.

Mary Ann: What other school did you go to?

Clara: I went to Hicksville, you know where the old Hicksville station used to be, where the Comptons live in Hicksville. I got sick one time and Mrs. Nannie Davidson was our teacher and she put me on a wagon that was coming from Bluefield and sent me home. I cried all the way. I was afraid he wouldn't let me off at home.

Sarah: What did you study at school?

Clara: Spelling, arithmetic, geography, and stuff like that.

Mary Ann: How far did school go?

Clara: I went to the eighth grade and that was as far as it went. I never heard of a college until I was about twelve years old.

Mary Ann: Where did people around here go to college?

Clara: There was one in Roanoke and that is the only one I knew about.


Sarah: How were your holidays celebrated?

Clara: We had candy and chestnuts by the bushels. We took a wagon load down into Bluefield then we salted them down and put them into a big keg. We had chinkipens and acorns.

Mary Ann: Did you eat the acorns?

Clara: Sometimes, daddy knew how to take them apart so that they wouldn't be poisonous.

Mary Ann: Did you eat all this for Christmas?

Clara: Yes, then we would have muskadine grapes.

Mary Ann: Did Santa Clause come to see you all?

Clara: Oh yes, we couldn't get along without Santa Clause.

Mary Ann: What would he bring usually?

Clara: Oranges or an apple, a different apple than what we had. Stick candy, usually stick candy a couple of pieces.

Mary Ann: No toys?

Clara: No, you had to make your own toys.

Sarah: Do you remember any funny pranks that were played around the holidays?

Clara: No, I know that in 1904 in October we moved from Shalders Mill to Bastian on grandaddy's place. And at Christmas they had a pantomime in the church. Old Mrs. Starks, Dr. Hick's wife, and Mrs. White and Mrs. Arland and my aunt Pearl Grim. They all had white dresses and I remembered it from the very first time we went down there. The creek was up pretty bad and we put boards across the wagon bed and the water ran through the wagon bed. they sang "Jesus Lover of my Soul" and Mrs. Davidson played the piano.


Sarah: How did teenagers court?

Clara: I don't know I didn't do any courting. I forgot to court, didn't have time.

Sarah: Where were you and your husband married?

Clara: Bluefield Virginia.

Sarah: What was the ceremony like?

Clara: We went to the preacher's house and he married us.

Mary Ann: Do you remember who the preacher was?

Clara: Mr. Bradley in Bluefield Va.

Sarah: Did you go on a honeymoon?

Clara: Yes, about two or three years after we were married.

Mary Ann: Where did you go?

Clara: Washington D.C. , went to see a ball game.

Mary Ann: Do you remember who played?

Clara: No, I forgot that. Right next to the White House is where we stayed at the Marriott. I was twenty four years old when I got married.

Mary Ann: Were you just married the one time to Hash?

Clara: No, I was married to a Mustard, Jack Mustard. His name was Orwen Sheffey, he was named after preacher Sheffey when he was four years old.

Mary Ann: So, how long were you married to him?

Clara: Twenty-three years and then he died of a heart attack. Then ten years after that I married Hash.

The Train

Sarah: What was Rocky Gap like when you were growing up?

Clara: They had Honaker store, church, house and another Honaker house and Dr. Davidson.

Mary Ann: The train didn't come through there then?

Clara: Oh no.

Mary Ann: Do you remember them building the train?

Clara: Sure, when they finished up at Suitor, they let us all know that on Saturday the train was going to take everybody that wanted to ride to Suitor but we had to sit on flat tires. They had benches put up on them and we sat on the flat tires on those benches, that was in 1914.

Mary Ann: What year did the train come?

Clara: I think 1914 and then it wasn't long after that that they brought in the coaches.

Sarah: Do you remember any bad snow storms or floods?

Clara: Yes, sometimes it would start in October.

Mary Ann: Did they have bad floods back then?

Clara: Yes, we had it run up under our house and after that the Appalachian Power Company had a double structure on the left side of the creek and the flood washed them down into the creek and it caused the water to flood our house. About eleven o'clock the water was coming up under the porch and daddy said for us to get up and get dressed that if it got any deeper we would have to move out. That was about 1918 or 19. We had too big wheat stacks in the barn lot and a thrashing machine, the rake, the mower. Your neighbors would help you thrash wheat.

Sarah: Did you celebrate Halloween?

Clara: No.

Sarah: What other holidays did you celebrate?

Clara: Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving.

Sarah: Did you celebrate Valentine's Day?

Clara: No.

Sarah: Who is the first President you can remember?

Clara: Woodrow Wilson.

Sarah: Who was your favorite movie star?

Clara: I didn't know there was a movie star.

Sarah: Do you remember World WarI?

Clara: I sure do, I had a brother there.

Mary Ann: Where did he fight?

Clara: He didn't fight and wasn't there more than a few months and the war was over.

Sarah: Did your family support the war?

Clara: Or course.

Sarah: Do you remember when you heard the war was over with?

Clara: Yes. You could hear people hollering for miles.

Mary Ann: How did you find out it was over?

Clara: It seems like someone from the post office told us.

Sarah: How did people celebrate when they found out?

Clara: They just got together and sang and the usual. They went to the church and had a service and prayed.

Mary Ann: Which church was that?

Clara: The Pinegrove Methodist Church over in Bastian.

Sarah: What was the 1920's like?

Clara: I don't remember much about the 1920's. I was in Bluefield at that time, working.

Mary Ann: Where did you work?

Clara: I worked for Doctor Kozak and a drug store then a candy store.

Mary Ann: What did you do for Dr. Kozak?

Clara: Just whatever had to be done. I helped repair glasses because he was an eye doctor and I kept the books. I went to business school in 1919, 20, 21, 22.

Mary Ann: Where was the business school at?

Clara: Bluefield and it was called Bluefield Business College, but it isn't the same one that is there now. The first man that taught me was a Ferguson. Him and his wife, they were old people, I guess he was in his seventies when he taught me and he had a great big old German Sheppard. If you left your shoes at the bottom of the steps that dog by the time school was out would bring them upstairs to you. And if you left an umbrella he would do the same thing, but he would drag it up by the stem so the umbrella wouldn't get caught on the stairs as he drug it upstairs. They both were killed in Tazewell sometime after I was married.

Mary Ann: What did they teach in business school?

Clara: Short hand and typing, bookkeeping.

Sarah: Do you remember anything about President Harding?

Clara: No.

Sarah: Do you remember when women were allowed to vote?

Clara: No, I never voted but a couple of times.

Sarah: Do you remember when the stock market crashed?

Clara: No, I didn't have any stocks.

Mary Ann: You don't remember the Depression?

Clara: Oh yes, everybody remembers the Depression.

Mary Ann: How did it affect your family?

Clara: I don't know if affected them or not. I don't think it did.

Sarah: Did anybody in your family work in the CCC camps?

Clara: Yes, I had two brother's work in them. Evertt was one of them and Marvin started working there about the time it shut down.

Sarah: When did you get your first radio?

Clara: I don't remember.

Sarah: When did you first get electricity?

Clara: 1921 or 22.

Sarah: How did it change your life?

Clara: I was used to electricity because I had been working in Bluefield.

Sarah: When did you get a telephone?

Clara: 1955-56.

Sarah: When you get your first television?

Clara: Back in the twenties.

Sarah: Do you remember where you were when you heard the Japanese had bombed Pearl harbor?

Clara: No, around here somewhere.

Sarah: How did people feel about it?

Clara: They just had to take it because it was already done. The Japanese are still regretting it, I think.

Sarah: Did anyone in your family fight in World War II?

Clara : Earl was still in the service, and Okie was gone about six months then he came back because he was sick. Then Marvin went in were both in the Navy and my younger brother Carl was in the army.

Mary Ann: Were any of their ships bombed?

Clara: I don't think so. My older brother Earl, helped take Iwo Jima. He was there on the hill when they put the flag up and Carl was somewhere else. But Carl had bad ears and he couldn't hardly hear and after that batttle was over he could hear. I always thought that was odd.

Sarah: What was it like at home during the war?

Clara: You worked yourself to death.

Mary Ann: What couldn't you get during the war that you normally would have bought?

Clara: Well you could get coffee every now and then you couldn't always get it. My mother in the spring would go to the mountains to get birch and scrape the bark off, boil it and we would have birch tea. We had several different kinds of teas. She had hops, it grows on a vine, we had buttermilk, plenty of water. We drank sassafras tea too.

Mary Ann: Did your mother use any of the herbs to doctor with?

Clara: Oh yes, she would use slippery elm for boils and that would work for cuts and stuff like that too. I don't know any others. One time the axe fell on my sister's foot and my dad sewed it up. They sterilized some silk thread and I held her arm and my aunt was there and she held her other arm and we held her real tight while he sewed it up.

Mary Ann: What kept it from getting infected?

Clara: I guess the stuff they put on it. She couldn't walk on it for a while, but it cut the tendons in two of her toes and she couldn't raise them up after that. See if she would have seen a doctor he would have fixed that too. But she would have bled to death before we could have gotten her to a doctor. The closest doctor was in Bluefield or Wytheville and it took twelve hours to get to Bluefield.

Sarah: What kind of shape is the country in today in your opinion?

Clara: I think we are in better shape physically and mentally and every way. Because we have good doctors now, and people have better lives than they had back in those days. They take better care of themselves, they had less to eat and less to wear back then. My mother used to make overalls for the boys and two families. She made all the underwear, undershirts, and socks.

Mary Ann: How old was your mother when she died?

Clara: Ninety-seven and I'll be ninety-five in October. My dad died when he was eighty.

Mary Ann: Is there anything else you want to tell us about?

Clara: Well, we used to have a chestnut orchard on the side of a hill and all you had to do after a big rain was go to the bottom of the hill and you could get a big old pile full of chestnuts and we would sell them in Bluefield. We would go with him sometimes and go shopping.

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