Peevish Pen

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

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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), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Going Home to the Farm

"You can go home, but you can't go back."

My husband with my cousins Ron and Mike and Ron's wife, Anita.
The old house is behind them; the new outhouse is further back.

Because I was at the old homeplace on Sunday to visit some cousins visiting from out of town, I decided to re-post this story I wrote five years ago. "Going Home to the Farm" was originally published in the July/August 2003 issue of Blue Ridge Traditions.

Going Home to the Farm: Union Hall in the 1940s
c. 2003 by Becky Mushko
"Sunday was always visiting day at the farm," Ralph Porterfield remembers. "Some days we'd go to Joe and Sally Smith's place and sometimes to another uncle's place. Then some Sundays, they'd all come to my grandparents'place. The conversation was always about tobacco, weather, and what the relatives were doing. And always about past history."

"The farm" was Kate and Dave Mattox's place in Union Hall, Virginia, down a dirt road off a paved road that now leads to Smith Mountain Lake.

An old carriage road used to run past the house, which—according to Ralph's cousin Ron Mattox—was originally built by a Mr. Street in the late 1700s or early 1800s. The main part of the house was once used as a way station. A kitchen was later added to one end of the original log house and a bedroom to the other. Clapboards now cover the entire structure, but the logs are visible from inside the main section.

The road was still in use in the late 1800s and early 1900s. "My grandmother was born in that house," says Ralph. "She said people frequently passed through there."

"Mr. Street," notes Ron, "died about 1837. He's buried on the left." The graves of Mr. and Mrs. Street are in what used to be the front yard of the house. A trip to the outhouse, which required passing the graves, was called "visiting Mr. and Mrs. Street."

The Streets' headstones in the front yard.

Ralph regrets that he didn't pay more attention to the old family stories, "But a child thinks everyone is going to live forever. They talked about people that were a hundred years before my time, and I was only eight or ten years old."

Once Ralph's uncle, William Mattox, taught him to plow with a team of horses: "I can remember working a horse and slide when we were getting in tobacco. I didn't care much for getting the worms off, but I liked anything that involved horses."

Ralph particularly enjoyed the Sundays when Tom and Berthie Brown, who lived next door to his grandparents, would come by in their buggy.

"They would let me drive them home, and I'd walk back home by coming through the woods. My mother said she used the same path when she was a little girl."

His mother and the Brown girls would walk up to the main road together—a distance of about mile—to catch the bus to he old Glade Hill Elementary School, which used to be in the woods behind where the current Glade Hill School is.

"I remember eating many dinners by the light of two kerosene lamps" Ralph recalls. "We got our water from a spring about 200 yards away. On washday, it took 8 to 10 trips to the spring carrying two buckets. I guess it's a way of life we're never going to see again, and while some of it was hard, all in all, it was a pretty good life. I know I'd love to go back and do it again."

The spring is located near where slave cabins used to be, about 50 yards from the house. In pre-Civil War times, a slave coming to work at the house would bring water. Decades ago, Kate Mattox would point through the kitchen window and tell her grandchildren, "See those jonquils? That's where the slave cabins once were." Now even the jonquils are gone.

Ralph remembers parts of a story his grandmother told about family members who left long ago: "One of the brothers loaded his family and possessions in a wagon and headed west. This relative had two back-up horses tied to the wagon."

Their departure would have been shortly after Mariah Louisa Martin and Henry Silas Smith, Kate Mattox's parents, were married in 1876. Henry Silas was 23, and Mariah, his second wife, was 22. Mariah was the daughter of Rev. John Reid Martin and his third wife, Elizabeth "Queenie" Webb). Henry Silas was the son of Samuel Wood Smith and Malinda Laetitia Holland, who had owned the place.

Kate Mattox never heard any more about the family members who left, but some other relatives thought maybe they went to Texas or New Mexico. Neither Ralph nor Ron knows who these relatives actually were, or even how they're related.

Ralph had many adventures on his grandparents' farm: "I had a lot of good times on that farm but there were a few scary times also. I stumbled onto a moonshine still back in the late forties. I was squirrel hunting way back in the woods east of the house. I was probably a mile or a mile and a half back in there. In the 1800's, one of the main roads in the area came through there. . . . It followed the upper edge of that hollow. It was slightly below the level of our yard, went on down, crossed the creek and back through that area. I was told that it eventually came out over towards Rt. 40 towards Penhook.

"I was following the remnants of the old road and came around a curve when I saw two men, the still, and an old truck. They loaded some quart and gallon jars on the truck and covered the bed with brush. I was afraid to slip out, and I knew they hadn't seen me yet, so I just laid down and hid in the brush. They sat around, talked, checked the still, and in an hour they left. I went back home and told my grandfather about it and he contacted the sheriff. Two days later, I showed several men how to get to the still. I later heard they got the still and all the equipment, but they didn't catch anyone. It was a good hunting spot with huge oak trees, but it was awhile before I ever hunted there again."

Another scary time involved an escaped convict: "One morning, two deputies and a guard from the chain gang woke us up about daylight. It seems a convict had escaped the prior evening, and the bloodhounds had tracked him right up to my grandfather's truck that he used to park under the old tool shed. Fortunately, he always locked it at night. They caught the guy later that morning hiding in that old building a mile from our place. It used to be a black church. I used to go up there sometime on Sunday morning and listen to them sing."

The shed where the convict hid.

Ralph remembers the old place fondly: "One thing about that place, good or bad, calm or crazy, I loved every minute of it; but since I've gotten older, I get a little bit of a sad feeling when I go there. It's kind of like that country-western song with the line that says, ‘You can go home, but you can't go back.’”

On Sunday, a new generation discovered the old home place—one boy who’s two and a half and another who’s almost two. I wonder what stories they will tell fifty or seventy-five years from now.

A member of the next generation sits on a round bale in the hayfield.


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Blogger Amy Hanek said...

Funny, you should mention the old Glade Hill school. I have sat many a football practice and speculated on the ruins hidden behind the trees to the left of the soccer/football field. My kids told me it was the old school, but who believes anything kids tell you? lol.

I'll have to take few pictures for my blog...

12:43 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

There used to be two old schools behind the current elementary—the old elementary and Glade Hill High School. Glade Hill HIgh School closed in the 1950s when Franklin County High School opened in Rocky Mount.

I'm not sure which still school still stands. Another building—I believe it was an auditorium—also used to be there, but was torn down a few decades ago.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Amy Tate said...

That house is what I picture when I read about Jacie's farmhouse, in your story. That is...except the part about the convict!

4:34 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

Nah, the old homeplace is actually pretty small—three rooms and a loft. For my novel, I envision something more like the house at Willow Tree Nursery in Penhook.

But the location is close.

5:19 PM  

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