Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

© 2006-2017 All rights reserved

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Understood Betsy

Recently I read Dorothy Canfield Fisher's novel, Understood Betsy, originally published by Century Books in 1916 and by Henry Holt & Company in 1917. Several free versions are available online.

One e-edition, posted online in various forms, is here: . Another edition is here: downloaded a digitized version from Google Books into my Google Play app on my iPad:

While the book was written for children, adults will also enjoy it. I did. It's a wonderful look back to a simpler time, and is rich in details of everyday life of a century ago.

The plot: Nine-year-old Elizabeth Ann, orphaned as a baby, has spent her life with her Great-Aunt Harriet and her Aunt Frances (Harriet's daughter) in a city somewhere in the Mid-West. When they took her in, they were glad that Elizabeth Ann's other relatives, The Putneys in Vermont, didn't get her. They didn't like the Putneys at all.

Chapter 1 shows their dedication to Elizabeth Ann:
There was certainly neither coldness nor hardness in the way Aunt Harriet and Aunt Frances treated Elizabeth Ann. They had really given themselves up to the new responsibility; especially Aunt Frances, who was very conscientious about everything. As soon as the baby came there to live, Aunt Frances stopped reading novels and magazines, and re-read one book after another which told her how to bring up children. And she joined a Mothers' Club which met once a week. And she took a correspondence course in mothercraft from a school in Chicago which teaches that business by mail. So you can see that by the time Elizabeth Ann was nine years old Aunt Frances must have known all that anybody can know about how to bring up children. And Elizabeth Ann got the benefit of it all.

She and her Aunt Frances were simply inseparable. Aunt Frances shared in all Elizabeth Ann's doings and even in all her thoughts. She was especially anxious to share all the little girl's thoughts, because she felt that the trouble with most children is that they are not understood, and she was determined that she would thoroughly understand Elizabeth Ann down to the bottom of her little mind. Aunt Frances (down in the bottom of her own mind) thought that her mother had never really understood her, and she meant to do better by Elizabeth Ann. She also loved the little girl with all her heart, and longed, above everything in the world, to protect her from all harm and to keep her happy and strong and well.

Aunt Frances did everything for Elizabeth Ann—dressing her, combing her hair, walking her to school and back, etc. Elizabeth Ann didn't even have to think for herself; Aunt Frances took care of that for the "sensitive, nervous little girl." When Harriet developes a serious cough, the doctor recommends treatment and Elizabeth Ann must stay with her Putney relatives for a while. It will, she's assured, only be temporary. A family friend accompanies her partway by train. When Elizabeth Ann arrives, her Uncle Henry meets her in a horse and buggy—and promptly hands her the reins. She's puzzzled at first, but soome figures things out. When she arrives at Uncle Henry and Aunt Abigail's house, she finds that she has to do a lot of things for herself—and her relatives call her Betsy, not Elizabeth Ann. What Betsy learns over the course of the year changes her considerably. And therein lies the story.

I loved the author's voice. While there's a lot more telling than there is showing, the author is a wonderfully intrusive narrator, commenting on things that—well—need commenting upon. Plus she does an admirable job of letting her readers see how different life was a century ago.

Dorothy Canfield Fisher is an interesting character in her own right. Biographical information about her is here: and here: The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award honors excellence in children's literature.

Recently, however, there was a movement to get rid of the book award because of Dorothy Canfield Fisher's past involvement in the eugenics movement—"Author under scrutiny for long ago ties to eugenics"  provides some background.

From Molly Walsh's June 2017 article, "Vermont Considers Dumping Dorothy Canfield Fisher Over Ties to Eugenics Movement": "It's appropriate to revisit history and reexamine the lessons it might teach through a contemporary lens, said State Librarian Scott Murphy, who has the final say on whether to remove Fisher's name. But he said it's also important to view things in context and take a measured approach when it comes to removing honors in response to changing attitudes and understanding."

Many came to her defense: "Institutions, relatives, respond to Dorothy Canfield Fisher controversy
In his July 2017 Times-Argus commentary,"Don't scapegoat Fisher," Richard Gower defends her:
"That was then, and this is now. You can’t change history. You can only hope to learn from it. And, arguably, society has learned from many mistakes of the past and advanced because of them."

What needs to be understood about both the book and the controversy:
Re-examine the lessons of history from a contemporary lens.
You can't change history.
View things in context. 


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Monday, November 06, 2017

Asplundh Destruction

Lately AEP, the power company, has had Asplundh destroying trees along its right-of-way. Wherever there's a power line, the trees are not safe. This morning, Asplundh came to our road to do their destruction.

I heard them before I saw them. The noise was deafening. They were clearing part of the cow pasture across the road where the power line cuts through. You can see the pole to the left in the picture below.

There's a line of pines and cedars along the cow pasture, parallel to the fence. These evergreens provide both shade and a windbreak for the cows. But some, alas, are under the power line. Most of the trees are well below the line, they're just under it.

Asplundh isn't noted for doing a neat—or environmentally responsible—job. They just cut willy-nilly. It was bad enough when they only used chainsaws. Now they use a sawon the end of a long pole mounted to a truck.

First they sawed out the tree-tops which fell to the ground. Some fell on the fence, which wasn't in very good shape to begin with.

Later, they took chainsaws and leveled off the rest. They threw a lot of the trimmings into the pasture. Now the line of evergreens is gone. Note that you don't see any power lines over what they cut.

Then the big pole saw went back to do more damage. You never know when those trees will take a growth spurt and tangle themselves in the line that you can't see below because it's way over in the pasture.

I wonder if they'll go into the pasture to cut. There's a really big bull in residence who's protective of his territory. The photo below shows one place where the fence as down. The Asplundh crew went off to lunch without putting it back up.

A border collie inspects the damage.

Not a thing of beauty anymore.

A view from my deck of the machines of destruction.

A view from my deck a couple of months ago—when the trees along the pasture were green and beautiful. And still there.

Update: After lunch they returned and, er. cleaned up. We figured they'd chip up all the trimmings and haul them off. Hope—they just dumped them into the cow pasture. In a few weeks, this brushpile will be nice and dry. One cigarette flipped from a truck window, and—well you can figure what might happen.

They snapped a fence post and the wire was down. How did they fix it?

Here's how:

They propped up the snapped post with a piece of cedar they'd trimmed. Then they affixed the prop to a stump and the snapped post with barbed wire.

Notice that they left some barbed wire strands hanging loose. Surely their repair is good enough to contain the 1,500-pound bull that lives in the pasture.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Here There Be Spooks

It's the time of year when folks start thinking about ghosts and witches and such. Now, I've never seen a ghost, but I've gotten pictures of orbs before, and others have taken pictures of orbs on parts of some property I own—like this one from Polecat Creek Farm:

Photo by Robin Bevins
When I went on the historical society's ghost tour back in 2007, I found some orbs on the photos I uploaded to my computer. You can see them in "Another Interesting Day" blog-post. I've gotten orbs in my neighborhood, too, like the ones in "Seizing the Moment" blog-post and "Evening Walk Alone."

Supposedly witches lived in Franklin County back in the day. The settlers' map of the county even notes where a reputed which was located:

Whether the witch was Juggs Burton or someone else isn't clear. However, there's a well known story about two witches who once lived in the county: Duck and Montague Moore.

Raymond Sloan, a local historian of days gone by interviewed someone in the 1930s about these two Franklin County witches. His tale is included in Virginia Folk Legends, edited  by Thomas E. Barden, Published by University of Virginia Press, 1991. Here are the pages as they appear in Google Books:

An easier-to read-version appears on Dave Tabler's Appalachian History blog. I'm not sure when these two witches were around, but it must have been over a century ago. They're long gone now.

It wouldn't be Halloween if I didn't repost "Samhain, Shut-Ins, and the Resurrection" from 2006. It's not often that you see a critter spring back to life.

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Desolate Places

October is a month of desolation, when we're aware—despite clear blue skies and bright colors—that the year is dying. Leaves fall; winds blow; the days grow shorter. Robert Frost captures the desolation in this poem:

Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

On a few recent October mornings, I've noticed some of the desolation near me. Just down the road is what was once the old Wright farm, that was clear-cut a few years ago and then sprayed with herbicide. Remnants of the house, desolate and decaying, remain.

The barn, or what's left of it, is still there, too.

The long-dead Wrights still lie in their desolate, untended graves. I blogged about them in "What Was Once."

Several miles from this farm, on Brooks Mill Road, is an old building surrounded by woods. I'm not sure what it used to be, but I'm guessing a church. But it's pretty much abandoned—desolate in these October woods.

On the Sutherland planation, the skies show October's bright blue weather but the buildings are desolate and falling down.

This cabin, which once was the home of Civil War veteran William M. Sutherland, hasn't been lived in for nearly a century. October is coming to an end. The wild earth will go its way.

October seems to inspire poetry. Here's another October poem.

A Calendar of Sonnets
Helen Hunt Jackson

The month of carnival of all the year, 
When Nature lets the wild earth go its way, 
And spend whole seasons on a single day. 
The spring-time holds her white and purple dear; 
October, lavish, flaunts them far and near; 
The summer charily her reds doth lay 
Like jewels on her costliest array; 
October, scornful, burns them on a bier. 
The winter hoards his pearls of frost in sign 
Of kingdom: whiter pearls than winter knew, 
Oar empress wore, in Egypt's ancient line, 
October, feasting 'neath her dome of blue, 
Drinks at a single draught, slow filtered through 
Sunshiny air, as in a tingling wine! 

October is coming to an end. The wild earth will go its way.

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Sunday, October 01, 2017

Margie Odell Caldwell Ruble

Correcting Genealogical Errors

From doing online genealogical research on my family, I've learned that there are lots of errors and stumbling blocks. One of them involves the name of my great-grandmother on my Ruble side.  I've blogged about her before— on "The Ruble Connection" on my Naces of  Lithia blog and I've blogged about her on this blog back in 2014: "Tangled Ruble Roots." Thus, some of the info in this post might be a bit redundant, but I'd like to get the word out on what her real name was.

 My great-grandmother's full name is Margie Odell Caldwell Ruble, but a lot of sites—as well as several trees on—mistake her for her older sister Maggie. Or they think her name is Margaret or Marga or Margie Logan. Or they get her birthdate confused with Maggie's.

This picture of Margie and her husband George William Ruble was taken before 1935, because that's the year he died.

I know the picture was taken at their son Howard Ruble's house on Watts Avenue in Roanoke because the background still looked like that in the 1950s when I was a kid. I also remember hearing my grandmother Blanche Nace Ruble refer to her mother-in-law as Margie. 

I think a lot of problems with her correct name might have started when someone got it wrong and a lot of others copied the error. When doing genealogy, it's best to work with primary sources rather than heresay.

My Aunt Leona—Margie's daughter—wrote this note for me when I was a child so I would know who my family was. Aunt Leona was off a digit in her grandfather's birthdate, but the names of his children look correct. Also, I'm not sure about Caroline Surber—I think she was an aunt rather than a grandmother—but, according to census records, she lived near Marcellus's father Henry Surber.

Notice that Maggie L. Caldwell—Margie's older sister—was born on May 9, 1859, before her father—Alexander Gibson Caldwell—went to war. Margie O. Caldwell and her twin sister Montra were born on February 25, 1866, after the war was over. (Note: To add to the confusion, on her Find-a-Grave site, Montre's name is spelled Mauntra and her birthdate is a year off.)

The Ruble family bible is another primary source. According to this page from it, George William Ruble was born on June 17, 1861, and his wife Margie Odell Ruble was born February 25, 1866. A note at the bottom says they were married October 14, 1884.

Another piece of evidence is this 1920 census where Margie O. (age 53) is the wife of Geo William Ruble (age 58). Their sons Kenneth, Bertranse, Stewart, and Eugene are still at home:

Their tombstone is hard to read, but you can see the name is Margie. It's not Margaret.

Margie's death certificate clearly identifies her as Margie Odell Ruble.

Her husband's death certificate identifies her as Margie Caldwell Ruble.

So, from looking at some good primary sources, we know that her name was Margie—not Maggie, not Margaret.

Perhaps this blog-post will help folks who are researching the wife of George William Ruble learn that her real name was Margie Odell Caldwell Ruble.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Clement-Witcher Feud

A few miles from me as the crow flies, three brothers who all died the same day in 1860 are buried in a single grave on the family plantation—"Mountain View" on Snow Creek Road in Penhook. How did this triple death happen? Turns out a woman was involved—and she was a Smith, though I don't know if she and I descend from a common Smith ancestor.

Victoria Smith, the daughter of Albert G. Smith, was beautiful and had many beaux in the Franklin-Pittsylvania County area. She came from a good family; her grandfather was Vincent Oliver Witcher, the great-grandson son of Revolutionary War Colonel William Witcher and the son of Capt. Vincent Witcher who served in the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates prior to the Civil War.

Victoria married James Clement, the son of Dr. George W. Clement, and here's another  Smith connection: James's mother was Stella Smith, daughter of John Smith of Lewis Island (the road I live on used to be called Lewis Island Road). This John Smith was the son of John Smith of "The "Pocket," a large plantation in the bend of the Smith River.

Unfortunately, the marriage was not happy, and Victoria became so afraid of her husband that she sought divorce. The divorce proceedings were where thing turned ugly.

The story has been told in print several times. One of the oldest is from An Old Virginia Court, by Marshall Wingfield, D.D., who wrote several histories of Franklin County.

From "An Old Virginia Court" by Marshall Wingfield, D.D., Memphis, Tennessee, The West Tennessee Historical Society.

The killing of three Clement brothes---James,William and Ralph by Capt. Vincent Witcher, John A Smith, Vincent Oliver Smith, Samuel Swanson and Addison Witcher. Addison Witcher was the son of Vincent Witcher. John and Vincent Oliver Smith were his grandsons. Samuel Swanson was his son-in-law.

James Clement married Victoria Smith on March13, 1858. He was one of ten children of Dr George W Clement, born1786; married 1811; died 1867. Dr Clement was educated at Hampton-SydneyCollege and the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania. His mother, Stella Smith, was the daughter of Major John Smith of LewisIsland. Their Franklin County home was called "Mountain View".

Victoria Smith was the daughter of Albert G Smith and the granddaughter of Capt. Vincent Witcher. She was born in 1837. The Smith family regarded the Clement family as of inferior social station. Dr Clement was very proud of the beauty and wit of his daughter-in-law, Victoria. Two of her old sweethearts continued their attentions after her marriage(of innocent nature). They were William P Gilbert and Samuel D Berger. Her husband, James Clement, accused her of unfaithfulness and humiliated her. Fearing physical violence, Victoria Smith Clement,fled from her husband on the night of August 24, 1859, and found refuge in the home of Sherwood Y Shelton, who lived a mile distant. She left behind her six month old baby, Leila Maud, born March 1, 1859, so great was her terror., In three weeks, the taking of depositions was begun at Dickenson's Store, to be read as evidence in the suit then pending between John A Smith, next friend of Victoria Smith Clement, plantiff, against James R Clement, defendant. The taking of depositions continued until February 25, 1860, when the Clement brothers were killed. Capt.Vincent Witcher objected to having Elizabeth W Bennett make part of herstatement on Saturday "and then being left in the hands of the oppositeparty to be picked until Monday." He made the statement that shewas under control of the Clements.Ralph Clement said "that whoever saidthat was a damned lie." Capt. Vincent Witcher drew a "five shooter" and started firing at Ralph Clement. Addison Witcher conducted the examination for the plantif. (Robert Mitchell, Justice of the Peace,appeared to have forgotten everything that transpired).

The bodies of the Clements were riddled with bullets and gashed with knives. William Clement was disembowled; James Clement's throat was slit from ear to ear. Ralph Clement lived three hours and made a dying declaration: I never attempted to draw an arm. Addison Witcher caught and held me and told them to come shoot me. A damned rasccal Robert W Powell stated in his deposition that Addison Witcher held RalphClements while Vincent Oliver Smith shot him. George Finney statedin his deposition that John Anthony Smith shot and stabbed James Clement. Both James and William Clement were reclining on a bed in the Counting Room when the firing began. Some thought the early firing came from the bed. The Pistols of both James and William Clement had been fired until empty, but Ralph had not drawn a gun. The three bodies were carried from Washington Dickinson's Counting room, in a farm wagon, and buried in a simple grave near the shaded driveway to the old brick house,their boyhood home.

The defendants claimed self-defense and charges were dismissed, March 23, 1860. In June 1860, the depositions were published in book form by Dr. G W Clement, Sr.

Dr. George W Clement's mother, Stella, was the daughter of John Smith of Lewis Island, son of Mr John Smith of "The Pocket". 1700
(Clement: History of Pittsylvania County)

You can read more online about the Clement-Witcher feud at these sites: "The Clement-Witcher Case," "Allegations of Infidelity at Heart of Massacre," "The Witcher-Clement Case," and a page on Rootsweb.

Some print books about the case are also available. The late Franklin County historian A.D. Ramsey wrote about the case many decades ago. I bought his booklet at The Frankin County Historical Society several years ago. Local historian Beverly Merritt's book, The Untold Story of the Clement-Witcher Feud, is a transcript of the trial.

Victoria was in her early twenties when the picture at the top of this page was taken. Here is a picture of me when I was twenty. 

If you squint a bit, I look like her just a little around the eyes and nose Or maybe it's my imagination. But I would like to know if she and I might might somehow be kin on the Smith side.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Mystery Vine

About a month ago, a mysterious vine started growing on a low-lying limb of the pin oak.

The vine grew pretty fast, but it wasn't kudzu. We decided to take a closer look.

It had big leaves and some small flowers on stalks.

A variety of bees seemed to like the flowers.

The vine has  tendrils that attach themselves to branches and leaves of the pin oak.

It also has odd little pods that grow beneath the leaves.

 I asked some friends on Facbook what it might be. Guesses included kudzu, wild grape, fox grape, moonseed vine, and moonflower. A few folks suggested wild cucumber, which seems the most likely possibility, but a wild cucumber has a different flower. Most likely my mystery vine is a bur cucumber—but my vine looks slightly different from pictures I found online.

Whatever it is, its days are numbered on the pin oak.

So—is it a bur cucumber, or what?

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