-- Memories of growing up in Bland County, Virginia at the turn of the century --
Recorded by Andrew Marion Bruce (1889 - 1986) in February 1978
Transcribed and Edited by Lawrence J. Smith; Rev. 2
You do not have to believe all I say. I may not believe everything myself, especially if I get to talking about myself. I've read too many autobiographies to believe all people say about themselves.
Eighty-nine years ago on the 15th day of February, 1878, I was fortunate enough to be born in one of the garden spots of the world, Bland County, Virginia. My mother, Elizabeth Muncy Bruce, and my father, Jesse Winton Bruce, told me that I was a day away from a Valentine.
Often they fed me warm maple sugar on February the 15th. Sugar made from their own maple sugar trees. One time when I opened my mouth, so wide to receive a bite of warm sugar, I had to close my eyes, and Father dabbed the warm sugar on my nose. Certainly I cried in disapp ointment. But Father gave me two more wonderful bites of sugar.
I suppose everybody knows that Bland County, Virginia is one of the garden spots of the earth, a place where limestone soil and freestone soil are happily blended. They say that when North America was floating around, it bumped into another chunk of land so hard that it shot up the old Appalachian Mountains almost nine miles high. That happened before my first birthday and I can't prove that mountains were that high. Yet as a boy, I picked petrified sea shells out of the rocks on top of Brushy Mountain, a part of the Appalachian Mountains.
Excuse me, I know I'm not as important to all the people as I am to myself, but I can't forget eating white strawberries and red strawberries off of our farm. The blackberries so large that my mouth could take only one berry at a time.
It's easy for you folks to hear that food played a large part in my life. To this day I have not regretted that food was a necessity. In fact, it still is, but then, as now, there is more to life than food and drink. And someone long, long ages ago discovered that fact.
To tell you the truth, if it had not been for people, I would not have lived. So I guess people are more important than food and drink. When I come to think about it, as I have spent a lot of time so thinking, there were a few girls -- or one at least, that I was hungrier for than I was for any dinner that I ever ate. But since I am 89 years old, I will talk about something else first.
The house in which I was born was a seven-room log house. However, there are features which indicate that first there was a one-room log house. The kitchen was better constructed, showed better workmanship in every way than the rest of the house. The kitchen, in my opinion, was about 16 feet square and had a large fireplace at one side and a combination pantry and cloakroom at the other side. The logs out of which it was built were large and carefully hewn and mortised together. The walls were chinked with wood blocks and native clay. The chimney and fireplace was built out of large sandstone rocks, carefully dressed.
The logs and the rest of the house were smaller and not so skillfully hewn. And the second chimney and fireplace downstairs and upstairs were out of inferior stone, and the workmanship was not as good as the kitchen. Later, most of the house -- but not the kitchen -- was covered with poplar willow boarding. The outside door to the kitchen was narrow and barely six feet high. Uncle Jess Muncy had to stoop to keep from bumping his head when he entered.
The hinge and the door latch were shop made. The kitchen fireplace was large and had two chains and a swinging bar on which to hang cooking utensils. There was a Dutch oven which set over the coals. The oven had legs or feet about four inches high and a large cover.
When I was a child, a Franklin cooking stove had been installed by the side of the fireplace. As I remember, there was a tier of open shelves in the corner to the left of the fireplace and stove. And a coffee grinder was fastened onto the wall. In the right corner of the fireplace there was a cupboard with upper and lower doors, and the dinner plates and drinking glasses were kept in the upper shelves.
There was a combination cook and dining table and a double bed with a trundle bed under it. The trundle bed was pulled out and for a while, my brother and I slept in the trundle bed. There was a side bench near the outside door on which a bucket or two of water set. The door was on the east side of the kitchen and there was a small uncovered porch. At the south side of the porch, there was a post on top of which was a short plank on which a wash pan or basin was placed to use in washing our hands and faces. A family towel hung by the door.
On the north side of the kitchen there was a long partition with an open door space entrance in the middle, forming a pantry on the west side and a cloakroom on the east side. Around back of the kitchen, perhaps 50 feet away, there were two arborvitae trees which were some 20 or 30 feet tall.
Beyond these arborvitae’s was a log smokehouse, and beyond the smokehouse was an ash hopper and a pole on which hung iron kettles. The kettles were used for washing clothes sometimes, and for making soap. The smokehouse was built out of logs and the cracks carefully stopped so the meat could be hung up and smoked. It had a dirt floor. Along one side was a large trough hewn out of a log.
After the hams and sides of meat were salted, cured, and smoked, they were packed down in that trough and covered. The meat was covered with fresh wood ashes. Corn cobs were put between each layer of meat, and then all was covered completely with ashes. The ashes perfectly protected the meat from rodent and insect piss, and the meat was wonderful when it was taken out and cooked. In one corner of the smokehouse, a barrel of sorghum molasses was kept. There was a large padlock to the smoke house door. It was one place where they were afraid of burglars.
Below and southwest from the kitchen was a springhouse and a very fine spring. The water temperature was in the middle 50s. Now that spring is supplying water for three homes.
Since we are outside, I'll keep you there for awhile. East of this one room kitchen home, about 75 feet, was a log granary. It contained two fairly large bins in which were stored wheat and buckwheat and several tools: hammers and saws and so forth. On the north side of the granary was the wood lot where wood was piled and chopped. Beyond the granary was a loom house. And under this loom house, there was an excellent cellar for storing fruits and vegetables during the winter
All of these were south, on the south side of Route 42. North of the road and slightly west, there were two log barns and a cider mill. Back south of the road to the west, there was a combination blacksmith shop and tobacco barn.
Now let's get back to our one-room mansion. My great grandfather Bruce was very busy raising a family of eight boys and four girls while he was farming and preaching and practicing law. He raised all these 12 children until they were old enough to be married and had married and had children of their own.
He, or someone, cut a door through the back wall of the pantry from the kitchen, put in four steps, made a door out of two solid walnut planks and built a dining room. My memory may not be accurate, but I think this dining room must have been about 18 feet long and 10 feet wide. It might have been a little wider. The floor was entirely of walnut boards, knot-free and about an inch and a quarter thick.
When my father wanted to marry, my mother demanded a private room of her own, and a bedroom was cut off of the north end of the dining room. A door on the east side of the dining room led to the living room - bedroom combination.
Great grandfather Bruce wanted some place to preach and so he made the living room right large. Again, I estimate it was 18 by 18 feet. It had an outside front door. On the east side, there was a large porch. The house was especially oriented facing the east, so that the shadow from the roof fell exactly at the edge of the porch floor at noon, winter or summer.
There were two small windows to this large room, one on the north side and one on the east. The fireplace and chimney were along the north side of the room. This chimney also had a fireplace on the second floor. The winding stairway led up on the south corner of this large room, to the second floor and bedroom. It had no windows.
There was a lean-to type attic on the west side of the second floor over the dining room. The door of the attic from the bedside was seven or eight feet high, tapering down to the west side of the attic where it was only about a foot or two high. When I came along, there were two spinning wheels, one large and one small. A wheel, a small bed, and a wooden chest in the attic.
copyright 2001-2005 Lawrence J. Smith