Before I was born, the living room downstairs and the bedroom upstairs had been divided by partitions, so that the house I knew had seven rooms. I think I was about 14 years old when my father built the frame house now standing on the north side of Route 42.
Father used some of the lumber from the old house in building the new. He tried to have the walnut floor from the old dining room. We wanted to use it in the new house, but the carpenters found the wood so hard and perhaps full of grit, that it ruined their tools and they refused to work very much on this walnut floor.
The old clock, which is still running, has a note written on the inside of it, which states that it was repaired in 1853. The beds were all made of cords, ah -- some that had sacks only, without springs. They had feather ticks for the winter and straw ticks for the summer. Each summer the straw was changed. The ticks were made of hemp or flax or linen.
Incidentally, when I was small, I wanted to be smoking corn silks and ramie tobacco and anything that came along. My mother and father once showed me a small plant outside and told me whatever I did not to smoke any of it, for if I did, it would injure my brain. That small plant is the popular one today that we hear so much about. But I never smoked it.
My great grandfather Bruce accumulated considerable property before he died, and he gave, before his death, to each of his 12 children, approximately $250. Kept a small book, which he made himself folded with paper and tying it together with a string. The book had records to be turned over to his executors so that in settling his estate, they could give each child as near the same amount as possible. There was no difference between the boys and the girls in the amount that he was giving.
He gave to each one, before his death, according to his own estimates, in the neighborhood of $250. Now you must remember that the dollars in those days are different from today. This was in 1841. His tax tickets for 728 acres of land and 10 horses was four dollars, 86 and a half cents.
My father's farm in Bland County contained over 300 acres but the valley between Brushy mountain and the high ridge was so narrow that most of the land was in the mountains, and not more than about 100 acres was used for pasture land and for cultivated land.
A two-horse team had to be used to plow the land and to harrow it. The harrow was made of wood, triangular shape, with iron tooth pegs going through all the holes in the wood frame. Corn was planted in hills about four feet apart in rows. There we dropped three to five grains of corn and after it came up, and was about six or eight inches high, it was thinned to two stalks to each hill.
The soil around the corn was cultivated by chopping the weeds out with hoes or a horse-drawn cultivator or both. In late August or September, it was cut and shocked. It was cut by a hand cutter. You held the corn in one arm and cut it off with a chopping sweep. And, carried it in, shocked it in rows about 10 feet apart. If you plan to sow wheat in the corn field, the shocks were 20 feet apart.
At the time I can remember what was sown by a two-horse-drawn drill was the wheat and the buckwheat. It was harvested when ripe the next summer. One man used a cradle, another tied the wheat into bolls. Then the bolls were shopped together. Then later the shops, after the wheat had dried, they were either hauled into the barn or stacked outside.
Someone in the county always had a threshing machine. The threshing machine was separate from the steam engine. The steam engine was about a hundred feet from the threshing machine, yet driven by a belt. And it required a cart and some barrels of it to keep the boiler in the steam engine. Some 10 or 12 men, or boys, helped with the threshing. All who had wheat in the community exchanged as helpers.
My father usually had about 300 bushels of wheat a year. Buckwheat was sowed later in the summer and was threshed by handmade flails on the barn floor. And after it had been beaten out by hand, the chaff and weeds seed were blown out by hand-turned windmill.
My father grew sorghum about every third year; also, grew green corn and made brooms for home use.
Like many farmers, my father raised horses, cows, sheep, hog, chickens, and turkeys. For the 17-year locust, he raised one hundred ducks to feed on the locusts the minute they came out of the ground, as a protection for his fruit trees.
Almost always we had an abundance of berries of various kinds -- strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and huckleberries. An abundant garden.
Mother always put up a supply large enough to last two years, for fear that there might be a short year. She guarded against that short year and we never suffered for food. You see, I was served on a self-sufficient farm table. We bought sugar, salt, coffee and spices. Father did some of the marketing.
Usually Mother made all of our other clothes, knitted our socks and stockings, knitted gloves, and sometimes knitted caps for us. But she bought cloth and made the girls and herself their dresses and made other clothes for my brother and me. That was the kind of life we were living there at that time.
Peddlers used to come through Bland County, carrying almost impossible loads. I remember one man who came through had what looked like three trunks. One, he had some strips that he had fastened on his back to carry it, and he carried another in each hand. And, he couldn't speak English very clearly, it was "had bootners and ribbons to sell" and a lot of little shawls, fringy things. Mother usually bought needles, pins and buttons and a few things that might be needed from them. She always felt sorry for them. I think the peddlers probably were from Ireland. There was an Irish settlement down in the lower part of Giles County. It's still referred to sometimes as "the Irish settlement".
Father had one of the Irishmen to work for him digging ditches. There was a piece of swampy land that this man ditched, and he lived at home for about a year. I can't remember -- all I remember is what Father would tell us about him. He said that the swamp where he ditched, that it was like in Ireland, the peat that they burned. And Father would talk about this Irishman going hunting with him -- squirrel hunting, and he'd say to him, "Jesse, I saw a squirrel turn the tree around." And one time he said, "Jesse, why don't you get all the men in the community just to go through the woods shootin' and then turn around and come back and pick up the squirrels."
Mother often referred to him as the one Roman Catholic that she knew anything about. Said that when she'd see him down on his knees with his prayer book for two hours on a Sunday, that she couldn't help but believe there was something to his religion.
Also, there were wagons which came through, people selling yarn and also some goods. Peddlers of a type, but traveling with a wagon. I remember seeing Mother examining the yarn to see whether it was real yarn or not and testing it with a match to see whether it curled up when she burned it with a match or not. And she would buy some of this yarn, of the color and the kind that she wanted, either the double twisted or the single yarn.
Mother did her knitting with four steel knitting needles and she knitted so much that she could be knitting a stocking and reading at the same time. We loved our mittens. All of us wore mittens in the winter that she made for us by knitting.
I remember one time there was a troupe, perhaps of 15 or 20, came through that people said they were Gypsies. They were all watching to see that the Gypsies didn't have a chance to borrow any clothes off the clothes line or any other garments they might use. They did not have a very good reputation.
My parents and all their forefathers were quite religious. They looked upon the Bible as something that was divine. And, their home was a home for preachers. Preachers, the Methodist circuit riders, would often come by home and often bring their children and leave their children there while the preacher went on doing his circuit, doing his preaching. So we were virtually raised up almost in a church. The old house was often used as a preaching place before the village church -- that was the report at least.
And, Mother was perhaps almost fanatic about religion in one way. The Peery's and part of the Muncy's were Lutherans. But Mother made up her mind when she was a little girl, she said, that she was going to join the church the first opportunity she had. She had been praying and gotten religion, and she was going to join a church, and so the first opportunity she had was to join the Methodist church. She joined the Methodist church and then married into a Methodist family.
She believed that there was something divine about that, and she believed that the Bible was written in the dead language so it couldn't be changed. Always we were having those constant revival meetings, and one preacher would describe hellfire, damnation, a place that you burn and burn and burn forever, and you'd have a kid so excited that he couldn't sleep.
One of the great occasions was known as the June Meeting. It was a two- or three-day meeting that was held at the Hoge's Chapel Methodist Church there at The Slide, and the people looked forward to it at first. Father even made a large box that he just barely could fit in a wagon bed to carry lunch or dinner to the June Meeting. People come 30 or 40 miles to the June Meeting.By and by, this June Meeting got to be a place where many undesirables came. Mother would bake cakes and make pies and fix up sliced ham and everything for the dinner, and some of these people would walk in and pick up half of a cake and walk away with it. They finally got so disgusted with the trash that was coming in from 30 or 40 miles around that the people agreed not to have any more June Meetings.
copyright 2001-2005 Lawrence J. Smith