Brooksie Umbarger is interviewed by Kathy Starks on February 13,1997. (RGHS 98)
Kathy: Describe the farm you were raised on.
Brooksie: Oh dear, it was a great big place. In fact, it was called Sharon Springs Farm. I don't know how many acres was in it, really, I was small, and my father was the overseer of it, he watched after it until I was a great big girl, before we moved away from it. He enjoyed it so, working on the farm, and I always was out on the farm. I helped make hay, and anything and everything there was to do.
Kathy: How much of it was in pasture and how much did you have for grazing?
Brooksie: Oh, there was many acres, I don't know exactly how many, but there was a whole lot. After we moved off of that one, though, and my father got one of his own, it wasn't that large. It was just a couple hundred acres, I think, the one that he got. It was at the same location, he just took his part there out of what he had been overseeing all the time. His other two brothers that had been helping him, they all three just divided it, more or less among them. It was a great big place, though, we had several cattle, I don't know just how many, and sheep, and pigs, and everything.
Kathy: Where did you get your drinking water, and how did you water your animals?
Brooksie: There was a spring, right close to our house, come right out of the ground, and it was real good. Limestone water.
Kathy: Creeks and ponds? Were there several of those?
Brooksie: Oh, yes. There was a creek that went right down by our house and a barn that was there when we went there, and it is still standing. It's made out of logs. It's a great long barn, and it's still standing. We had to build all of our outbuildings like a cellar or a granary after we moved there.
Kathy: What was your house like?
Brooksie: Well, now, the one I was born in was part of a college, Sharon Springs College, and it was something. The ceilings were so high in it, and the rooms were so large, almost every room had a fire place. The chimney went up between the rooms and then the fireplace came through, and they were hard to heat.
Kathy: How was the house heated?
Brooksie: Heated with wood, what we could get. And of course, there was plenty of wood around. There was a great, great, great big hill behind our house, and it had chestnut trees on it. When the fall would come, we'd pick all of them on top of the hill. We'd have to beat the pigs there to get the chestnuts, and there is where we got the wood, off that hill, wood for the fireplace. What little heat we had in it, now, in the kitchen of course we had a cook stove, and we heated it with wood, too.
Kathy: What did you have in your garden?
Brooksie: Oh, we raised anything and everything, and lots of it. Every year, we always put out a garden. We'd plant it and garden all summer long. We'd look forward to it, that garden coming up.
Kathy: When did you plant your potatoes, and did you go by the moon, or anything like that?
Brooksie: We usually planted potatoes in April, early in April.
Kathy: Do you remember any specific varieties of corn, or potatoes, or anything that you planted?
Brooksie: No, I don't guess I do, I don't know what kinds they were. We were a big family, and we had a big garden. We had oodlins of potatoes to dig and pick up. I'd break my back picking up potatoes.
Kathy: Did you have a root cellar?
Brooksie: Yes, we sure did. I didn't get almost down, but we used it all the time we lived there and then when we went on to this other place we built another cellar, and it's standing good, we have cans, and we keep our potatoes there, too, in the cellar.
Kathy: Did you have fruit trees?
Brooksie: There was once upon a time an orchard on Sharon Springs Farm, but when I grew up the trees were too old and they didn't have many apples on them. And we didn't have any, yes, we did. My father, after we got the other place, then why, he bought new trees and set them out, yes, we had apples, and we'd keep our apples in the cellar, too, in the wintertime. We had what they'd call crow egg apples, I don't know whether you ever saw any or not, they were a red apple, kind of long-like, they were good. We enjoyed them a whole lot.
Kathy: Did you dry leather britches? Dried green beans?
Brooksie: Did I dry green beans? No, we didn't ever do that.
Kathy: Who did the canning? Who canned your vegetables and stuff?
Brooksie: Oh, yes. We canned and canned and canned, always, all my life. We canned vegetables:green beans, tomatoes, and we made preserves, we had cherries that we canned, peaches, and so forth.
Kathy: Describe a typical day on the farm, when you were a child, from the time you got up in the morning until you went to bed.
Brooksie: I don't know whether I can do that very well or not. I should forget that one up there (Ceres) and think about this one down here (Suiter). After I got married, when we come down here, we had a dairy farm and my lands, we had to get up early, early in the morning, early I mean, and milk and we kept 40 or 50 cows and milked. We got some milkers that would come in so handy. After we got the dairy we had to dig wells down here because this place didn't have any springs on it, there wasn't any water here. We had to dig a couple of wells to get the water for the dairy barn, and it took plenty of it, the dairy barn. Usually, there'd be about three of us milking. We'd put the cows in the holding pen, we called it the holding pen that was to hold them there until we got ready for them to come into the barn. We had it fixed so that we'd open the door and they'd come in in line, one after the other. It would take us a couple hours to milk. I did enjoy it, working with the dairy, though, after we got it all set up. It was a nuisance until we did get it with electricity and everything in. We didn't have any electricity for so long here, but after we got electricity, and we got lights and so forth, we didn't have to hurry to get through milking before dark like we did before. It was quite a difference when we didn't have to rush, push ourselves to get through.
Kathy: When you were still in school, did farm life leave much time for school?
Brooksie: No, I don't think it did, I tried to help with the farm as much as I could but I knew I had to get the children off to school. The bus would come by just about like it does now, eight o'clock. We'd have to be ready to go at that time.
Kathy: What did kids do for fun when you were little? What did you play with? What kind of toys did you have?
Brooksie: Well, we didn't have many toys at my house. We were to hard up to get any toys. We just had to create our own frolicking and playing.
Kathy: Did your family go to church every Sunday?
Brooksie: Yes ma'am.
Kathy: Where did you go?
Brooksie: We had a country church, Red Oak, and that's where we went all the time.
Kathy: You got dressed up?
Brooksie: Yes, we usually put on our best to go to church. And usually we would go to church about three times on a Sunday. I mean, we'd go in the morning for Sunday School and church and in the afternoon sometimes one of the preachers would come back in the afternoon and hold services and at night we had a youth group that met at night, and that's what we had to do at night, on Sunday night. That was a whole lot of going to church, too, we walked most of the time to the church.
Kathy: How far was it?
Brooksie: It was about two and a half or more miles, but we didn't mind it when we were young like that, we'd just get out there and go as fast as we could.
Kathy: When did you see your friends? What were the social events that you'd go to then?
Brooksie: Well, on Sunday afternoon, that's usually when we'd see the friends, meet, and usually there'd be a big crowd come around at our house, because we had a big family and each one of us had a separate friend and we did have a big crowd at our house most every Sunday.
Kathy: What kind of buildings were on your farm, like barns and sheds?
Brooksie: There were a couple of barns and we had a granary and the cellar, and we had a pig pen, too, for the hogs to be in, but as for a garage, we didn't have a garage to put anything in, and in my time growing up, we didn't have a tractor on the farm either, we had horses that had to do the work. We didn't get a tractor until after I was married.
Kathy: Did you have chickens? Oh, you already told me that.
Brooksie: Yes, we had chickens, I don't know how many we usually had, but we did have chickens. We had to gather the eggs then go back and shut up the chicken house.
Kathy: They got to roam around?
Kathy: Who killed them for dinner?
Brooksie: My mother would. We'd have to chase one down, and it wasn't any problem for her to cut that chicken's head off. We'd run one down and give it to her and she'd chop its head off, then she'd scald it and pick the feathers off. We usually had chicken for lunch on Sunday.
Kathy: What did you do with the milk and butter from the dairy?
Brooksie: We drank milk. We had a great big spring house we kept our milk in and butter and everything, and we had to churn, we kept the sour cream and churned it, that was a task, too, it was pretty hard to do, churn the butter, but it was good when we got it done.
Kathy: Did you sell the dairy products?
Brooksie: Not until after I got married, then we sold the milk. We had a Grade A dairy, we could get a good price for milk then.
Kathy: Did you have beef cattle?
Brooksie: Yes, we had beef cattle when I got married, but when I was growing up they were all beef cattle, but they didn't belong to us, my daddy was just overseeing the place, taking care of it. The ones that owned it then would sell the cattle off of it, when it come time to sell.
Kathy: The work horses that you had, how many did you have?
Brooksie: We had just one team, one team of work horses, and I can't remember what they called them, but they were good horses. And, after I got married, we had horses, too, down here on this farm. Jack used horses for a long time. It was just amazing to watch them go along, and the least little , when they wanted the horses to turn, course we had the bridles on them, and that would help to make them turn. You wouldn't have to speak very loud to them until they would be listening and turning around for him.
Kathy: What kind of crops did you raise?
Brooksie: Well, we had corn and wheat, oats, hay.
Kathy: How did you plant the corn? Did you have a corn planter?
Brooksie: Yes, we did. On the first, on the farm that I grew up on, the horses would pull the planter and plant the corn, then after I got married we got down here and got a tractor and planted it with the tractor.
Kathy: Did you raise sorghum?
Brooksie: I don't think we ever raised it, but that's something my family liked real well, they'd get it from someone else, buy it from someone else.
Kathy: Did they make molasses?
Brooksie: No, I never was around that.
Kathy: Did you take stuff to Bluefield or Wytheville to sell what you raised?
Brooksie: No, we didn't ever raise that much, we could usually use about all we raised.
Kathy: Did you grow tobacco?
Brooksie: Yes, we sure did, we had great big tobacco.
Kathy: How did you plant that and harvest it?
Brooksie: Well, someone else planted it, and they would have these great big beds, you know, and plant those little old teeny tiny seeds and it would come up in that big bed and we'd have to go up to Smyth County to get the plants to set out. There was, we got a two row tobacco setter, it'd set two rows at a time, and these girls would ride that setter and drop the plants in and that thing would put them in the ground for us. It was really a trick. That was a crop that was just a year round crop, I mean you'd have to start in the early months of spring, get the plants just as soon as it stopped frosting and set them out and work them through the summer months and the fall, then it come time to cut it, why we had to make arrangements to, I don't know what they did call those things, after they'd cut the tobacco they'd put it on a stick. You'd have so many sticks and it'd stand about, I believe three sticks up in the field to let it dry there, dry so long after it was cured, then it would dry so long and then we'd have to take it off the sticks and haul it to the barn, then when it come time to pull it off the stalks, it was about so many of us would get busy and pull that stuff off of the stalk. The ones, the leaves that was on the bottom, I can't remember what they called it, but they were all, there was about three different grades of tobacco on one stalk and we put it all in different piles like that and graded it as we went along, as we pulled it off I mean. It was an all year job though, start in the spring and, trying to get it put out, working the ground to get it out, set it out, then work it through the summertime, then come time to cut it, it'd take ever so long to get it all done, well, we wouldn't get it done until about Christmas time, that's what we bought our Christmas with, that tobacco money.
Kathy: How did you cut your firewood before you had chain saws?
Brooksie: With a crosscut saw. See that one hanging up there? That one's got only one handle on it. The ones they used then had a handle on both ends, two men would pull that thing and saw it up.
Kathy: Where did you get the lumber for your buildings?
Brooksie: I can't remember. I know that there was two or three saw mills around in the community and I guess they got it there from the saw mills, I don't know, I don't remember.
Kathy: Did you do any logging?
Brooksie: No, that wasn't in our line.
Kathy: What was your favorite job on the farm and why?
Brooksie: I think I liked milking about as well as anything, I just liked to be around the cows, I liked milking.
Kathy: What was your least favorite?
Brooksie: Being around the sheep. I never did like sheep much.
Kathy: I don't care for sheep either.
Brooksie: Hated it. They don't smell good. My brother-in-law, in the spring when they'd start to shear the sheep, he would set that old sheep down, I mean that thing would just set down on her back end, and hold the front up, and he'd start right under its chin shearing, and get every bit of that wool off, all in one pile. Wasn't smelling good. Little teeny lambs would come in the wintertime when it was the coldest and they'd have to bring them in the house and that's something I didn't care for either. Usually we'd have a set or two of twins and we'd have to feed one of them with the bottle. I didn't care for that, either.
Kathy: Why do you think small farmers had to quit the farm?
Brooksie: I don't know, I'm unhappy with the farms going out of business, I like farming, I've always been raised around the farm, I just like the small farms, and I'd like for them to keep on keeping on.
Kathy: And how do you think farming has changed over the years?
Brooksie: Oh, very much, I can't say it all, but there's quite a change in it. The way that we started out farming and the way that farming is done now, such a difference until you can't imagine. I know that when I was raise up there at Sharon Springs on the farm, when they'd make hay, they'd have a half a dozen men in the hay field, or more, and now they don't make hay that way. All my life I've enjoyed being on the farm and working in the hay field, and I just love to smell that grass when they cut it. I think it smells so good. I'd like to see the farming go on. Makes me sad to see people sell out and stop farming. I don't know what we'll live on if we quit farming. I know we don't have that much, don't raise that much, on the farm, I mean each family has their own farm and take care of their own products but if, as a whole, the farmers all sell out, why, it's going to be a strange dreary old world here. And something else, they're cutting the timber out of the mountains down so close until that may bother the water. You can't hardly see a, what I would call a ridge, in the country anymore, where they'd have good big trees on it, it's just about cut them all out, and that's sad we won't have any lumber to build any buildings with and so forth. I just think the farms ought to keep going.
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