Summers with Dad on our Bug Ridge Farm

The summer of 1928, when I was fourteen years old, was the first of four vacations I lived on our farm with Dad. I have always believed a major reason brother Brady and Dad decided to buy the farm was to provide a work experience in a mountain setting and the opportunity to spend meaningful weeks living with Dad for me. If that was their motivation, they were justified in it and the results were all they could have hoped for. In those years of the great depression there was no work for a boy in Salem and I would have been at loose ends all summer, playing endless hours of tennis and being generally useless.

Summer life on the farm was quite like camping out. The terrain was steep and rough. A few acres were wooded–with some beautiful poplar trees–and most of the land that could be cultivated was overgrown with brush. (In West Virginia they call the unwanted growth “filth”.)

There were no buildings on the property until Dad, with some carpenter help, built a chicken house. We lived in that house for two summers. When it rained we moved the bed to the middle of the room to avoid the water that came through the cracks in the walls. We cooked on a wood burning stove and had kerosene lamps for light at night. (Dead chestnut trees provided excellent firewood.)

Until a well was drilled on top of the hill, we carried water from a spring on the hillside below the house. Going to the spring for water one day I spotted a copperhead snake sunning on a rock and killed it with a stone. It was great exercise cranking up water from the deep well that was drilled.

The first few days and nights of each summer on the farm I experienced real homesickness for Mamma, my friends and life in Salem. The after dark calls of the Whippoorwills brought on loneliness at bedtime. (Another nighttime sound was the slap, slap of flying squirrels jumping from one tree to another close the house. We didn’t see the flying squirrels in the daytime.)

The projects Dad and I worked together on most of the time were tending the garden crops and clearing the land of brush. One of our leisure time activities was target shooting with my twenty- two rifle. Once we walked to Elk river and went swimming. This was the only time I ever saw Dad swim. He wore his overalls and swam with a breast, or frog, stroke. With each stroke the bib of his overalls would balloon out. Dad had many experiences and stories to tell me as we worked and played. He enjoyed walking through the garden and around the farm as we rested from work on Sabbaths. He planted fruit trees of many varieties and raised blue ribbon quality Rhode Island Red Chickens.

Indians–probably Cherokees–must have lived and hunted on Bug Ridge. Of the several artifacts we picked up on our land, Dad’s was the finest–a black spear head perfectly crafted. It is the best artifact in my collection and I wear it now as a striking bolo.

I probably would not have chosen to spend those summers on the farm but now I would not exchange those experiences for any other activity I might have engaged in. The saying is certainly true, “You can take a boy out of the hills, but you can’t take the hills out of a boy”.

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