In the summer of 1921 Mama had a second serious operation in the Clarksburg hospital. I was approaching my eighth birthday. Aunt Sarah and her son, Blondie, took me to their farm near Berea for several weeks during Mama’s recovery. It was a valuable and memorable experience for me.
Aunt Sarah was the widow of Ellsworth Fitz Randolph, Papa’s much loved brother. Uncle Ellsworth was killed in a logging accident in the woods when their only son, Blondie, was very young. Aunt Sarah was a very courageous and enterprising woman who made a good life for herself and her son until he left home for college. Blondie had a successful career as a teacher and administrator in West Virginia’s secondary schools. Aunt Sarah moved to a home near us in Salem for the last years of her life.
The farm was across the Hughes River from the Asa Fitz Randolph farm where Papa grew up. A swinging bridge for walking crossed the river but fording the river was the only way to reach the farm on horseback or by buggy. The road from the river to the farm was rocky and rough.
Uncle John and Aunt Callie Meathrell’s farm bordered on Aunt Sarah’s. They communicated by shouting across the hollow between them.
Looking back over the years, I feel very privileged to have lived on a West Virginia hill farm without telephone, running water or electricity. Water came from a dug well reached with a bucket on a windlass. Kerosene lamps provided light at night and heating and cooking was done with wood burning stoves. Two horses were the mode of transportation and power to work the land. Roxie was Aunt Sarah’s horse–dependable and slow. Blondie prided himself on his horsemanship and rode a spirited horse, Rowdy. I enjoyed many happy rides around the farm on Roxie.
Aunt Sarah “mothered” me perfectly. Being a “Mama’s boy”, I’m sure I was homesick some of the time. She was a happy person who often sang as she worked. One song she sang is still fresh in my memory:
Will you always love me, darling, as you did once long ago,
As we sat beneath the maple on the hill.
The words of another song she taught me, “Sleep on, Lazy John” escape me now.
The food Aunt Sarah cooked from a variety of farm produce was delicious. I do remember not caring for a dish she prepared called “thickened milk”.
Going to church on Sabbath by horse and buggy was a unique experience. The church was on Otterslide, probably a three or four mile trip. I was interested in the stomping and whinneying of the horses tied up outside during the worship service. Going to church was the social event of every week.
Aunt Sarah took me to the funeral for Mrs. Kildow. I had never attended a funeral or seen a corpse. The grief expressed in the funeral was troubling to me. They sang the hymn, Nearer My God, to Thee” and it has never been on my list of favorite hymns since.
In Salem during my childhood it was the custom when there was a death in a family, to have the body in the home until the funeral–and often the funeral was in the home. A large black crepe bow on the door of the home signified that a death had occurred. I felt awed and mystified seeing the crepe on a door.
Back to the summer with Aunt Sarah, it was fun to visit Uncle John and Aunt Callie’s home and play with Carl and Lowell Meathrell. They were second cousins (Rupert Meathrell’s sons) about my age. Their home was in Clarksburg where I sometimes visited them. (My first bath in a bathtub was in their home.) Some years ago I met Lowell by accident at a small airport in Indianapolis, Indiana. He has had a career in aviation.
Once Uncle John sent me to get water from the spring at the bottom of the hill below their house. When I was delayed, watching frogs in the spring, Uncle John called, “Elmo” I answered, ‘I’m coming” and he replied, “Yes, so is Christmas but it’s a long way off!”
Judd was Aunt Sarah’s big, shepherd-like dog. He became my constant companion. While hunting with Judd by the brook below the barn, he chased a chipmunk into rocks where I was able to pull it out by the tail. Fortunately for me, he grabbed the chipmunk quickly, doubtless saving me from being bitten. My excitement knew no bounds when I rushed to the house to tell the story and show the dead chipmunk. Afflicted as I was by stammering, my telling of the adventure bogged down uncontrollably with a series of “tail-tail-tail-tail”. From that time on when I would stammer Aunt Sarah and Blondie would stop me by repeating, “tail-tail-tail-tail”. It was painful speech therapy for me, but it worked. One can say that was a “water-shed” experience in my life and I am most grateful for the help they gave me.
An exciting experience with Blondie comes to mind. He and I were crossing the river at the ford in a buggy when the horse reared up in the buggy shafts. Blondie pulled back sharply on the reins and the horse fell on his back in the water. I was very frightened but no serious harm was done. (Blondie had taken the Barry course in training horses and was something of an expert.)
You can imagine the stories and experiences I shared with family and friends on my return to Salem from Aunt Sarah’s farm. I cherish those memories and want to share them with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.