Virgie Bailey has lived her entire life down Wolf Creek. She remembers what it was like living on a farm. She is interviewed by her grandson. Read how her story inspired a Californian, Violet Vincent, to write Back Up the Holler and hear the song.
Steven Black: Hello, my name is Steven Black. It is October 11, 1996, and I'm about to interview my grandmother, Virgie Bailey, on farming. Describe the farm you were raised on.
Virgie Bailey: Well, it was mostly mountain land really, up and down, back on the south side of the mountain, about a hundred and seventy some acres. And it was rough.
Steven: About how much was tillable?
Virgie: Uh, well back then they plowed with horses and there was, I'd say, a third of it.
|Steven: Was there any bottom land?
Virgie: No, it was mostly hills, all hills, some swags like, but mostly hills.
Steven: Was there much timber?
Virgie: Yes, there was some timber. Daddy used to get out timber and saw his own lumber.
Steven: What kind of dirt was there?
|Virgie: It was rich dirt. I don't know what you'd call it, Loams I guess. It was real rich back then and there.
Steven: Describe the water that you had.
Virgie: Well, the water came from way back in the mountains. It was spring, and it run a branch nearly, well it run a branch year round, and we had the water piped down, out in front of the house, and we carried water from there to the house for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing, and everything.
Steven: How did dry weather affect you?
Virgie: Well, back years ago it didn't affect the water too much. We always had plenty of water.
Steven: Did the extreme cold ever cause any problems.
Virgie: Only thing, it would freeze up every now and then, and we had to go cut the ice off the water.
Steven: What was the house like that you lived in?
Virgie: Well it was, uh, weather boarded, and it had tongue grooved ceiling on the inside. It was five rooms. It had, uh, first I could remember a shingle roof, and in later times we put a tin roof on it. It was up on a rock foundation. It was painted white.
Steven: How did you heat your house?
Virgie: Well, with a fireplace and a wood cook stove.
Steven: How did you cook?
Virgie: Well, we cooked on a wood-cook stove and baked bread in the oven. It was as easy as cooking on an electric stove, now.
Steven: So, you didn't have electricity?
Steven: Or a phone?
Virgie: No. We didn't have any phones.
Steven: But you did have an out house, didn't you?
Virgie: Oh yea!
Steven: How was it made?
Virgie: It was just a small, light building with one seat in it to sit on.
Steven: What was it like in the winter time?
Virgie: It was cold!
Steven: I bet!
Virgie: It was COLD!!
Steven: What did you plant in your garden?
Virgie: Everything. You had all different kinds of vegetables. Well, If you had any vegetables, you had to grow em. So we started out with lettuce and onions and radishes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, beans, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage. Anything you can think of growing, we grown it.
Steven: Wow! When did you plow your garden?
Virgie: Early in the spring.
Steven: What were the first things you planted?
Virgie: Lettuce and onions.
Steven: Really. After a long winter, were you craving something green?
Virgie: Yea, you craved green stuff.
Steven: Did you gather any wild greens in the spring? Mushrooms?
Virgie: I never did gather any mushrooms, but I gathered greens.
Steven: Where would you find them?
Virgie: Uh, round hollers, branches, out in the fields, corn field and round fences. About anywhere back then, you could find wild greens.
Steven: When did you plant your potatoes?
Virgie: Uh, early in the spring. I'd say in April, mostly.
Steven: Did you go by the moon, or any other stuff.
Virgie: My dad didn't. A lot of people around us did, but he didn't. He just planted when he got a good chance, and that was it.
Steven: What kind were they? What kind of potatoes did you plant?
Virgie: Well, the first kind I can think of was the "Green Mountain. " And then we got the "Kenny Backs." And there was another one, but I can't think of it right now. I don't remember. My daddy raised something else, but I can't think of a thing.
Steven: Did you plant sweet corn?
Steven: When did you plant it?
Virgie: After the frost was gone.
Steven: Do you remember the varieties of corn you would plant?
Virgie: Mostly, everybody planted the yellow bannum back then.
Steven: Were there any other varieties of vegetables you would plant?
Virgie: Yeah, we always planted an early cabbage to have for slaw and to eat. Then we planted a late cabbage, late flat Dutch, for kraut and stuff we kept through the winter. I don't believe there was any other kinds of vegetables that we planted late.
Steven: Did you have a root cellar?
Virgie: Well, not really. We buried our potatoes and our apples and the things we wanted to keep through the winter. We buried them and kept them like that.
Steven: What about fruit, like apples?
Virgie: We buried those, too.
Virgie: You would dig a hole in the ground, a wide place. Put straw under it, put your apples on top of it, cover it with straw, and then cover it with dirt. And they would keep just as good as you could keep them in any cellar, and they wouldn't dry out like they do in a cellar.
Steven: Did you dry anything?
Virgie: Oh yeah, we dried apples, beans, peaches, and anything that would dry, we dry them some.
Steven: Did you can any?
Virgie: Oh yeah we canned lots.
Steven: Who did the canning?
Virgie: Everybody, Me and Mom and Grandmother and all of us. We all worked at it, for that was our food for the winter.
Steven: What was that like?
Virgie: Well we had a variety, just like you do now. We canned all kinds of fruits and vegetables, meats so we had a good variety of everything.
Steven: Was it hot?
Virgie: Yes. It was hot standing over the stove, canning.
Steven: Did you use a wood-cook stove?
Steven: What did you can?
Virgie: Meats, vegetables, fruits of all kinds: peaches, cherries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and all of them was wild, mostly.
Steven: Did you make any jelly out of the fruits?
Virgie: Yea, we made all kinds of jellies and jams.
Steven: Describe a typical day on the farm, for you, when you a child from the time you got up in the morning until the time you went to bed.
Virgie: Well, that would depend whether it was summer or winter. In the summer, you got up early and I had to go after the cows. I would go after the cows, most of the time while Mom fixed breakfast. Come back, eat breakfast, help milk, separate the milk. We sold butter, and we would separate the milk. Daddy kept about ten or eleven cows. And we would separate the milk, wash up dishes in the separator, get lunch for the work hands, wash dishes. Do the, if we had washing or work in the garden or anything, we would do that. Then we would have to come in and fix supper, and wash dishes, and do the milking again at night. Then you was tired enough to go to bed.
Steven: Yea, I bet you were. Did the farm leave you much time to devote to school?
Virgie: Well, you just studied when you got a chance. I went to school, though, regular all the time. There was a couple of years I didn't miss a day, but I had to do my work before I left and come in of an evening and do my work.
Steven: With all that work, what did you do for fun?
Virgie: Didn't have time, much, for fun. Now we did on Sunday, Sunday evening. All of us kids on the mountain where I lived, there must have been twelve of fifteen of us, would gather up on Sunday evening and play ball. We had a swing on a tree that we would swing. We would play "Blind Man's Buff or we would play "Tap Hand" or "Anne Over." Anything you could thing of, we tried it.
Steven: Could you describe those games? I've heard of "Blind Man's Buff" but ....
Virgie: Well, "Blind Man's Buff," as you said, one person ties something around their eyes, and they put them in a circle, and they have to catch somebody and identify them before they can take that and somebody else has to take it. And "Tap Hand" is just, or "Drop the Handkerchief," mostly is what we played. But you drop the handkerchief behind somebody and they have to catch you going around the circle before you get back and get in their place. If they don't, uh, if they catch you, you have to be it again. if they don't you get to get in the circle.
Steven: Really. Did your family go to church every Sunday?
Virgie: We attended church regular, but probably not every Sunday.
Steven: Where did you to?
Virgie: Round Bottom Methodist Church.
Steven: What was the service like?
Virgie: Well, pretty much as it is today. we had singing, and then the preacher, and then the Sunday school afterwards.
Steven: Would you get dressed up?
Virgie: Yeah, in your, "Sunday best," as they called it.
Steven: Did you like to go and see your friends?
Virgie: Oh yea, we visited a lot on Sunday back then. That was about all the entertainment you had was going and talking to your neighbor.
Steven: Did you go to town much, or any night-time school activities?
Virgie: No, not till I got in high school, and I went some to night-time activities. We played some basketball at night, when we played over at Bland. And we had plays and stuff that I was in up at Rocky Gap, but I didn't go to much other school activities.
Steven: Did people visit much more back then?
Virgie: Yeah they did. Yeah, they walked, and they had to walk the distance, a whole lot more than they do now when they got a car. They always got somewhere else to go, I think.
Steven: What kind of out buildings were on your farm?
Virgie: Well, we had a barn, we had a chicken house, we had, what we called a granary. It housed all the corn and all the wheat, and any kind of grain Daddy raised, he had bins in it, for it. And it was a big, just a frame building, boarded up and down.
Steven: Where were they located?
Virgie: Well, the granary was almost straight in front of the house. The chicken house was below the house, the barn was way back on the hill, and the spring house was out in the holler.
Steven: How were they built?
Virgie: They were built out of just, wood planks.
Steven: Did you have chickens?
Virgie: Yes. We had oodles" of them. We sold eggs, too. We sold butter and eggs in Bluefield. Sometimes we would have as many as a hundred and fifty hens.
Steven: What kinds of chickens did you raise?
Virgie: Mostly, white leghorns at that time. Then we got some brown leghorns, and we got some henger chickens, New Hampshire Reds, and some of them, but mostly white leghorns.
Steven: Were they free-ranging or did you keep them up?
Virgie: They could go anywhere they wanted to.
Steven: What did you feed them?
Virgie: Mostly the corn we raised.
Steven: Who killed them when it come time for dinner?
Virgie: Dad and Mom, mostly. Didn't kill none until after I got married.
Steven: Did you ever have any varmints get them?
Virgie: Oh yea, foxes and things would get one ever now and then. If a fox took to your chickens, you would have to kill it or it would get every one of them.
Steven: Really. Did you have milk cows?
Virgie:Yeah, we had from ten to twelve all the time.
Steven:Really. What kind were they?
Virgie: Guernseys and Jerseys, mostly. Sometimes we would get one a little mixed up with something else, but mostly Guernseys and Jerseys.
Steven: Where did you milk them?
Virgie: Well, we milked them at the granary. We kept our feed in there for the cows, and we milked them around the granary.
Steven: You said before that you would do the milking. Did you ever get kicked?
Virgie: Yes, my shins were busted a many of times.
Steven: What did you do with the milk?
Virgie: Well, we made butter and sold it at Bluefield for years. We made cheese, cottage cheese. We used it ever way we possibly could. And the separated milk, we fed to our hogs. We raised hogs and we fed the separated milk to them.
Steven: Did you have a spring house to keep your dairy products?
Virgie: Yeah we had a, well it wouldn't really a spring house, it was a big spring box that the water ran through that kept the milk real cold. It kept colder than refrigerators do now.
Steven: Did you raise any beef cattle?
Virgie: No, not back when I was growing up. We had milk cows mostly.We didn't have any beef cattle
Steven: You said before that you raised hogs. What kind were they?
Virgie: Uh, well we had Berkshire and Hampshire, and Holland Chine, andwhite ? mostly, well back then. There are different kinds of breeds now, but that was the main ones back then.
Steven: How did you raise them?
Virgie: On mostly milk.
Virgie: Yeah, separated milk. In the fall of the year, before we went to kill, Daddy would buy "Red Dog Chop" and feed them corn and "Red Dog Chop" and get them fat. Now they would have a fit if you got them fat.
Steven: What was hog killing day like?
Virgie: It was a busy day. You got up real early in the morning and you heated your water; they would kill the hogs and hang them, gutted them, cut them up, and at night, after we got our supper and all of our work done up,we cut up the meat to grind into sausage and the meat we rendered lard out of and all, until we got it all done. And our canned meat too, we cut it up for canning.
Steven: Like sausage and ham?
Virgie: Yeah, and tender loin.
Steven: Did you have any horses?
Virgie: We had work horses?
Steven: How did you use them?
Virgie: Well, they were used for everything back then. They were used for plowing, harrowing, planting, harvesting, and they were used just as a tractor is used today.
Steven: Did you help take care of them?
Virgie: Yes, I would feed them and water them. You had to take them to water when you was working; you would bring them in from the fields at lunch time and feed them. Then you had to take them and water them before they went back to work.
Steven: You said that they were work horses. Did you ever ride them?
Virgie: Yeah, I always rode one to feed or water hauls. I hopped on his back and rode him.
Steven: Did you ever have a tractor?
Virgie: We didn't while I was still at home. Daddy bought one after I left.
Steven: What implements did you use?
Virgie: We had harrows, corn planers, mowing machines, rakes and everything like that that the horses pulled.
Steven: What kinds of crops did you raise on your farm?
Virgie: Well, we always had corn and wheat, we raised wheat. Sometimes we raised buckwheat, and we raised soy beans at times, and we had hay.
Steven: Describe how you would prepare the ground for planting.
Virgie: It was first, well most of the time, it was cleaned. It was cleaned off. Then he would plow it, and them he would harrow it. Then it was laid off with the horses, and then planted with the planer, then drilled, depending on what he was going to plant. If he was going to plant corn, it was laid off in rows and then planed with the corn planer. If it was oats, he drilled. He had a drill and he drilled the oats. when he sowed grass, he sown it by hand.
Steven: How did you harvest?
Virgie: Well, corn was cut by hand and shocked in big shocks. Wheat was cut by a cradle and shocked, and then thrashed. Oats were cut and shocked, and they were thrashed or fed like they were. But corn, you shocked in a shock, and then you shucked in the fall of the year or winter time.
Steven: Did you have a corn crib?
Virgie: Well, the granary, as I called it, had bins in it for the corn.
Steven: Did you raise any other grains, like Barley or Oats?
Virgie: We raised Oats and we raised soy beans, but they were never used for anything. He fed the soy beans to the cows. Sorghum, we never did raise any, but there were people around us who raised it to make molasses.
Steven: Do you know how that was done?
Virgie: Yeah. You had to raise sugar cane, and in the fall of the year, you strip it and then you cut it. You run it through a grinding thing that goes around and around. The horses, back then done it. They've got it automatic now, but back a horse done the turning of the mill. You got all of the juice out of it and you put it in a big pan and you boiled it down. It took all day to boil it down to make molasses.
Steven: did you do any truck farming?
Virgie: Yeah, we did. We planted, we always planted more potatoes. And we had onions, beans, corn, and stuff like that that we sold all the time.
Steven: Did you take the stuff to Bluefield?
Virgie: Yeah, Bluefield.
Steven: You never took it to Wytheville?
Steven: Did you grow any berries?
Virgie: Yeah, in the last few years before I was married, we had a raspberry patch, and Daddy sold raspberries. We picked raspberries all day long.
Steven: Did you grow any tobacco?
Virgie: No, we didn't grow tobacco.
Steven: Did you have any orchards, or any other fruit trees?
Virgie: Yeah, we had an orchard with apples, peaches, cherries, and pears.
Steven: When they ripened, how did you pick them?
Virgie: By hand, with ladders and all. We picked apples and everything.
Steven: Were frosts a bad problem?
Virgie: Frosts didn't bother the apples, and the cherries and things were all gone by the time the frosts come. Most f the time frosts didn't hurt the apples. It did make them fall off, but Daddy always left a good crop of grass to protect them. So it didn't bother them.
Steven: Did you sell any fruit?
Virgie: We sold apples and peaches for a few years.
Steven: How did you cut firewood before chain saws came along?
Virgie: We cut them with cross-cut saws.
Virgie: Yeah. They would go to the mountains and cut down their wood with cross-cut saws and pull it in the wood yards. Then we would cut them up with cross-cut saws and bust it.
Steven: Where did you get your lumber for building?
Virgie: Well, we had a sawmill there on the place. Daddy and Uncle John got out logs and cut boards and all. They sold a lot of lumber, too. Shipped it on the railroad.
Steven: How did you pull the logs out of the mountains?
Virgie: With the horses.
Steven: They came in handy, didn't they.
Virgie: Yeah, I said that they done everything.
Steven: Yeah. What was your favorite job on the farm?
Virgie: Loafing, but you didn't get to do that. I guess I'd say take care of the chickens. I loved taking care of the chickens.
Steven: What was your least favorite job?
Virgie: Uh, helping Daddy in the field.
Virgie: Yeah. I didn't have any brothers and helping Daddy out in the field, I'd day, was my least favorite job.
Steven: Why do you think small farmers had to quit farming?
Virgie: There just wasn't any profit it, and you can't make a living on a farm anymore. You've got to have an outside job to make a living. All you can do on a small farm, anymore, is grow you something to eat.
Steven: How has farming changed over the years?
Virgie: Well, its changed a whole lot, for most of it is done with machinery, now, where back years ago we had to do it with horses and by hand. It was hard work back then. If you, now they have a machine to dig a ditch; they've got a machine to cover it up. Back then, you had to do it by hand. If you wanted to get a stump out in a field, you had to get it out by hand, where they've got a bulldozer now that you can bring in and get them out. Its modernized. I mean the machinery has really done away with the hard work, and the horses, and the things that people used to do things with.
Steven: Well, that was the last question. Thank you for letting me interview you again. This makes the third time. You've been a great help. This interview might go on the internet, on our web page. I'm not sure, but it might.
Virgie: I don't remember as much about as a lot of people, I don't imagine, but I know is was rough on a farm back then when I grown up. That's been sixty some years ago.
Steven: I thank you.
Virgie: There was really no other way to make a living back then. Unless you lucked out and got on the railroad or something like that.
Steven: Thank you.
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