At that time, there was a man by the name of Sheffey that brought quite a reputation as being a man that could perform miracles by his prayers. He'd pray for a still house to be destroyed, and it would burn up in lightening strike or a tree would fall on it or something of that kind. And he would meet a man that had a team that was poor and thin, he'd happen to stop and pray that he wasn't feeding the team right, and they'd ask Jesus to give the man enough feed to feed his horses properly, and if he didn't feed them properly, to take the horses away. So those people, he'd pray for the horses, they believed enough in his prayer, so they went to feeding the horses and they didn't have any more poor horses.
In fact, Maude always laughed. My sister Maude always laughed about him, however, seeing him hugging a tree and thanking God for its sweet sugar. But we'd see him stop along the way on the road at the mud puddle, take out a handkerchief and lay it down, and take all the tadpoles he could collect out of the mud puddle in the road and carry them and put them in water when the mud puddle was about to dry up.
I remember him quite well. I saw him lying down at the church at the June Meeting, lying with his head down hill and his feet up the hill on a sheep skin. He always had that sheep skin with him, which he threw over his saddle and rode on it. I didn't know why he was doing that, but later I was told by my father that he had a hernia and was lying there to correct his affliction.
I watched him pray once down there. At that time most people wore stiff celluloid collars so they called on Brother Sheffey to pray. He got down and started his prayer and I was watching him as I was listening, and he took off his collar and opened his shirt up and he prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed, and by and by, he buttoned his shirt back up and put his collar back on and said "Amen" and that was the end of that prayer.
My cousin, Dr. Muncy Groseclose, said that his father had a still house and Sheffey prayed for it to be destroyed and lightening struck it. They say that the Justices -- my grandmother was a Justice -- the Justices lived over in North Creek in Bland -- they had a still house, they even had their own jugs with their names on them. Was carrying on quite a distilling business and Sheffey prayed for the still to be destroyed and the wind blew a tree down on it. From that time on, they didn't dare ever distill anymore.
But he was an old preacher. He traveled all over the country, came home and Mother asked him, "Now Brother Sheffey, how's your wife ___ ?" "Oh, Sister, I don't know, I've been out and I haven't heard from her for two months." Mother said, "Well, if that's the way, I wouldn't have liked to have been a preacher's wife." He says "The Lord's work has to go on."
Mother made a log cabin quilt out of silk -- a very beautiful piece of work, very tedious work making it. And kept it on a guest bed on the top of the bed. Now that's a showpiece, of course. She put Mr. Sheffey in that room. Sheffey, when he went to go to bed, he turned the bed down and turned the sheets down and took this log cabin quilt that Mother valued so much, and put it in and slept on that.
Well, around the wall, he drew pictures of fish and tried to imitate the early Christians, and he was drawing on the walls of people's houses, all of them. All the rooms of our house were sealed (?). He'd use the knots and made pictures around them. My cousin Lucy Muncy has a board that has quite a bit of his drawing -- his artwork -- on it. It's comical looking and rather crude. But he was quite a character. Recently, a man has made some money by writing a book calling it the . . . (tape runs out).
Some 80 years ago, they let us sit around the open fireplace. It was a winter night; the temperature makes little difference. My father was carrying in a huge back log, one that makes me marvel as to how he was able to cut it and carry it in and lay it in place. And on top of this huge back log, he has laid a smaller log. In the front, on the andirons, he has laid a fore stick. Oh, I'd say the fore stick probably was hickory, about eight or ten inches in diameter. And in between the fore stick and the back stick, he has laid log sticks, and the fire is roaring. Dinner is over and all have gathered around the fireplace for a light.
In addition to the open fire, there is an oil lamp with a wick as you now see, about an inch wide. And, if you set close enough, you could see to read very well, and that's what Father or Mother was doing, he was reading to the rest of the family. Or she was reading. They would take it turns about. Reading from some old book, perhaps it was one of the New England writers -- Scarlet Letter. Perhaps it was one of the English books which we loved so much -- Scottish Chiefs. Oh, we had a few, perhaps a dozen books.
This Christmas, for instance, we received six lovely books. If we had received one book at that time, it would have been an expensive gift. We had perhaps a dozen books in the bookcase altogether. People of Bland loved books and were eager for education, but the great Civil War depression still lingered and money was very scarce and hard to find.
So that one way they were able to get a little extra reading was to agree with some of the neighbors for each to buy a book, one book. And to circulate those books. There were no libraries available. I do not know if there was a library in Wytheville. Perhaps there was, but there were no libraries in Bland except private libraries. And I suppose the largest library in Bland County would not have had at that time more than 50 books, including the Bible and the song books and a few of the school text books. But we read those we had. That is, Father and Mother read to us.
And now they were reading The Lady in White. That is a thrilling story, and you will enjoy it if you will listen in, as we all did while the fire burned.
You know, the people of Bland, my parents and their forefathers, prized books. Books at that time were worth preserving. My mother said if one of the children in her family dropped a book, they would get whipped for dropping it. That they mustn't drop a book, that the books were to be held carefully and not dropped.
Anyway, while the fire burned, they read and then after reading for hours we went to bed. Or perhaps this was in January. If it was in January, Father almost certainly was thinking about sugar maple time and preparing for the sugar season.
The sugar season was the season when a little ice would freeze at night and would thaw in the daytime. The sap from the big sugar maple trees were caught in troughs chopped out of poplar trees. That is, a poplar tree was felled by Father and cut into sections about three or four feet long, split down the center and then chopped out in the center to make a trough, to catch the sugar water from which the syrup and sugar was made.
We had to have spiles and these were made out of elders. There were two patches of elders on the farm that Father protected and let them grow in order to make spiles. He'd cut out sections of these elders and try to get sections that were six inches long, if possible. About an inch and a half from the end, he'd cut down and split out to the end and then, would punch the pith out -- punch it out where he had cut it, and make the spiles.
He would use a hatchet to knock the rough bark off the maple sugar trees. About half an inch bit to drill them. He never used a large bit; he took care of his maple trees. But he'd use a half an inch bit to put the spiles in, then the water dripped in the trough. Then we'd have to carry it in buckets, and some of the buckets we used were homemade wooden buckets and some were tin buckets, like the two-gallon buckets.
And I was not very old when I learned to use a cup to get the water out of the sugar flows into the buckets and carry two buckets, one in either hand from the trees down to the evaporating place. We had two sugar houses, one behind the furnace, both of which had a home-built evaporator, wooden evaporators with a sheet of metal on the under side. The furnace was fired by a timber about as big as the size of wood rails, if you know what a rail is for on a wooden fence. I would evaporate the sap down almost thick enough for syrup. Then we would have to let it stand over night and strain it very carefully, and drain it before we strained because our maple trees were on limestone land and the sap carried lime up and in three gallons, I would say, there would be almost a teacup full of sediment of lime from the sap. Or at the other camp, we had huge pots, metal pots that would hold 50 gallons at least -- evaporate there. Around the fall we made new spiles, and got ready to make maple sugar.
Oh, sometimes Father would carry in a couple of bags of corn on the cob and we'd shell the corn because the next day, one of us was to go to the mill and have the corn ground into meal on the bar mills. That was where we got the wonderful corn bread we had.
We had big iron skillets for baking the corn bread. Mother would heat the skillets on top of the stove until they were real hot, and pour the batter in, and the crust of corn would be so thick and crisp and so good when we put the homemade butter on this.
And when I say butter, I have to think about the churning. We made our own butter entirely, and had one of those up-and-down churns. The churn was a homemade churn. It was made out of wood. It was about three feet high. It had a dasher that we worked up and down until we had the cream just exactly right. I could churn it. By the time I would count a thousand dashes up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down a thousand times, and there we'd have a ball. I would do the churning. Mother would take the butter out, wash it clean of the cream, soured cream was left of the buttermilk, take it out of the buttermilk and wash it, then salt it, and make it into cakes, usually into a mold which they had, which was pound size, I guess.
Anyway, we don't have that kind of butter anymore. The kind of butter you get from the store has used a special bacteria to prepare the cream, but it doesn't taste like the homemade butter that we had.
But we have gone from the fireplace to the sugar orchard to the kitchen and to the dining room. We have left books.
I was thinking about books. How much our forefathers praised the value of the few books they had. And I think what inferior books some of them were -- most of them. The print was almost impossible -- fine print in order to save space. And many of them were of indifferent value.
Mentioning the books, our forefather, the first one that we know positively much about of the Bruces was William Bruce. The first place that I can find where he was, he lived in Albemarle County, Virginia. After living there, he went down to North Carolina during the Revolutionary War and settled down there, apparently, and held a certificate of service there, but he was also court-martialled. He was cleared by court-martial of not being physically able for service. I suspect that since there was so many Loyalists going down there that they suspected him of being a Loyalist and court-martialled him.
Of course, when you think about the Revolutionary War, those people who wanted to continue to remain a part of England, they're not to be too much condemned. In the good old . . . . Sometimes I almost wish we were still a part of England when I see some of the things that are happening here in America. But we're going forward, I hope, and not backwards.
But you have your newspapers, and you have your TVs, you have your radios. Every time you turn on, you're hearing something that is news, I hope it's good. Some of it isn't good today.
Anyway, William Bruce, our first Bruce ancestor, when he died, the inventory of his property mentions four books. I suspect one of the four was a Bible, I don't know, but I suspect it was. But through a chain of circumstances, almost incomprehensible good luck, I have been able to come into possession of one of the books that he had.
It was carried by one of his sons to Indiana and from there out to Iowa, to Portland, Oregon, and from Portland, Oregon, was brought back to Ohio and through real luck, good fortune, I was able to come into possession of that book.I'm not sure the age of it. It had many letters in it . . . But the burden of the book was to prove that Jesus Christ was divine, that he was not man, but divine, that was the purpose of the book. And it was valued as one of the four books to be carried, I think, from Scotland to Virginia because there are notes at a few places in the book referring to places in Scotland. Well, it's an old book.