Please welcome today’s guest blogger Debra S. Youngblood
This article is an edited version; original post is here.
Grandma was born in the late 1800’s. She was kicked out of her father’s house when her mother died and he remarried. She was seven years old. She found a place to work, cleaning and cooking, and lived there until she was 14, when she met my Grandpa. They were married, and she bore him 9 children that lived. A set of twins died shortly after birth, and, from what I was told, she had a miscarriage while cooking supper. As it was told to me, she “shoved it aside with one foot and kept on cookin”.
She always chewed tobacco, grown by my Grandfather, picked by the grand boys and hung to dry in the huge barn. Don’t know if she drank corn liquor, but I do know that my dad had many stills that dotted the countryside during the 20’s and 30’s. He did tell me his father came upon one of his stills by the banks of the Coal River and promptly threw it into the middle of the river. He said it was a mighty fine still, and was sorely missed.
When all of her children were home, she cooked a breakfast, dinner, and supper, for her huge family and all the men who worked for them. From the time I can remember her face was deeply wrinkled, her hair snow white, a testimony to her Indian ancestors. Perhaps when she saw my skinny-legged, bean pole self, she was aghast that her son could produce such an off-spring. I know I favored my Grandma on my mother’s side, and there was no love lost between the two Grandmas. Actually, one of her sons (my dad) married my mother, and my mother’s brother married my father’s sister. I’ll let you decipher that one. That made the children of these two marriages, again, what I was told, “cousins twice over.”
I try to imagine what Grandma’s life was like living in rural West Virginia at the turn of the century. What a time to live and be young. Working from dawn to dusk, Sundays going to church, and Saturday’s driving a mule-drawn cart into town, to sell vegetables or buy supplies. Church was the only outlet for fun and social gatherings. Where young women were courted, and gossip was whispered, and new clothes were shown off. If anyone really listened to the preacher, it’s a miracle. . . Back then when you were baptized they dunked your head in the Coal River, winter or summer, and fire and brimstone lit up the pulpit like fireworks at a Kiss concert.
My Grandma’s life was hard, I know that much. Harder than even I can imagine, but she lived to a grand old age, making people jump to her tune to the very end. In her old age, she had acquired a certain wealth, and we all know how that affects the heirs. I hope she had a good time making them all hop to her demands. Though, I doubt by that time she had many demand, except keeping her supply of chewing tobacco well-stocked.
Not long before my Grandma died, a young woman doing a thesis on Appalachian culture, interviewed my Grandma. She found her story so fascinating that the tapes and transcripts are now locked away in the West Virginia archives. Quite an honor for a cantankerous, tobacco-chewing, salt of the earth hillbilly, now is it?