The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Tales My Father Told Me

By Lois S. Poff © 1987

Issue: October, 1987

Mr. & Mrs. Peter E. Sweeney taken on May 10, 1953 at their granddaughter's wedding. They were in their seventies when it was taken.Mr. & Mrs. Peter E. Sweeney taken on May 10, 1953 at their granddaughter's wedding. They were in their seventies when it was taken.My father, Peter E. Sweeney, eighth child of Samuel and Margaret Thomas Sweeney, was born at Floyd, Virginia, March 18, 1878. He was a great–grandson of Benjamin Sweeney, a preacher who came from Ireland around 1800 and settled on the branches of Nicklas Creek near Endicott, Virginia. He was a grandson of Charles Thomas and his first wife Polly Connaday Thomas.

He did right much wagoning in his day and he said one night he camped out near a creek in Roanoke Valley. He woke up in the night and water was up in the wagon. He got up, harnessed up the horses to the wagon, got on one of the horses and got out of there.

Another night he was driving back from Roanoke and pulled in for the night across from the Copper Hill Church of The Brethren. He said he didn't know until he got up the next morning that he slept in a graveyard that night.

He told me that one day a white man and a black man followed his and Mr. Lemuel Boothe's wagons for five miles out of Martinsville, Virginia, to rob them that night. They didn't have a gun or a thing to fight with, but they both slept in the same wagon. The men were talking outside the wagon and he woke up. He looked out at them and asked them what they were doing hanging around his wagon at that time of the night, disturbing hard–working people about their sleep. One of the men told him that they just wanted to know how the produce was selling. He told them that it was none of their business how produce was selling. Then the man told him that he didn't know he was talking to a millionaire. He told the man the millionaires didn't prowl around at that time of night. The men left, my father inquired about them on the next trip down and found out for sure that they were robbers.

On another trip he and another wagoner stopped at an old deserted house to spend the night. When they went in, a fire was burning in the fireplace and a woman was in there. He asked her if she cared if they slept by the fire and she told them that she didn't care and then just disappeared. He said he didn't sleep a wink that night and the fire burned all night and no one ever put any wood on it.

My father told me right much about his childhood. He said his father was a constable and they lived on a large farm up past the Floyd County Poor House Farm on road 679. His father gave an acre of land for a school. The name of the school was Cabbal. One of his older brother's, Leonard, who was born 1869, learned so fast and was such a good student that the teacher told his father not to send him to school anymore for he already knew all he knew. Leonard quit school and got some kind of secretarial job. He did some beautiful writing and gave it to his parents and told them to see how long they could keep it. One day he was out walking over the farm with his brothers and lay down to rest. He told his brothers that when he died, he wanted to be buried right there. Soon after that, he took diphtheria, died at seventeen and was buried right there.

My father's mother got sick when he was small and was bedfast for a long time. The older children were married and away from home, but besides him there was Mary Jane (Hill) a younger sister, and two brothers, Dock and Sam, who were a few years older. His father kept hired help to run the home. His mother died when he was twelve and his father married again and had other children.

He said one night when he was fourteen, he walked back home from a party alone. By then it was two o'clock in the morning and he met a woman on a white horse. He said she didn't speak to him, so he didn't speak to her and that people were always seeing things around there.

His grandmother (nee Nancy Moare) lived to be ninety and stayed with them in her old days. The little children worried her and his father built her a house out to herself. He stayed with her some and if he built up a big fire in the fireplace, she would say, "You are going to burn this house up, you are going to burn this house up."

One Saturday he and some more boys walked several miles over to the Red Oak Grove Church of the Brethren, to attend a love feast. They slept in a straw–rick that night, but ate breakfast in the church the next morning with the church people.

My father worked in West Virginia some. One night when he was on his way back from West Virginia, he walked across Peters' Mountain near Pearisburg, Virginia alone. He had a gun, but only one bullet. Something scared him and he shot real quick without thinking and then had to walk through the mountain the rest of the way without even a bullet.

After he got older he bought a riding horse and he and his brother, Dock, courted down on Pine Creek at Ballard Stricklers and married sisters. He told me he ate so many good meals down at Ballard Stricklers and he used to think the girls were cooking them, but he found out later that their mother, (nee Celeste Sowder) was doing all that good cooking.

After my parents got married they lived at North Fork, West Virginia for around ten years. He cared for the mining mules at the stables and she sewed for people. When they came back to Floyd, Virginia they bought a Phlegar farm close to town on down below Pine Tavern. There was a log house on it over on a hill at some cherry trees and a rock foundation on down below the house, near a spring where the Phlegar schoolhouse used to be. They lived in the log house for several years until they could build a new home and the three of us were born there.

One night some of my father's nephews came by and told him to get his gun and come with them for they saw a bear. He went but he said all he saw was a black calf. Then one day when my parents went to the store, the older children got afraid that bears were coming and got us all up on top of the house. They took us up on a big cherry tree limb. When my parents returned home, we were all sitting astride the ridge of the roof. I was too little to remember that.

About the time my parents were starting to build a new house, the Howard's were tearing down a salt–box designed house on East Main Street in the town of Floyd to make room to build the big brick mansion now owned by Hugh Rakes. Although my father already had lumber sawed for the new house, he bought the house they were tearing down, moved it in his wagon and rebuilt it. We thought the home was beautiful. It had three sets of big double doors and transoms over most of the doors downstairs. There were some initials cut in the glass in the big bay windows that the Howard girls cut with their diamond rings. A section of the big bay windows opened up as a door to go out on the porch from both of the front rooms. When my parents remodeled the kitchen in later years they took out the old built in cupboard that came with the house and I bought the lower section at their sale. The house is now considered one of the historical homes of Floyd County.

One time when we were little we started asking our father questions. We asked him what school he went to and he said "Cabbal." We asked him who he was named after and he said, "Peter Moare." We asked him if he ever had to fight in a war and he said he didn't, but he was just about to have to go to the Spanish–American War and it ended. I wish now we had asked him more questions.

He taught us right much by parables. He said there was a boy in West Virginia shooting craps, and said that if he didn't make that one, he hoped the Lord would strike him down. He shot, missed, went down paralyzed and didn't walk for years.

He said two women were standing in a doorway during a thunder storm. The lightning struck a stalk of corn and one of the women laughed. The next bolt of lightning killed her but the baby in her arms was unharmed.

He told us that one time someone was making fun of the way a crippled person walked and it wasn't long before the person who was making fun had to walk just like the crippled person.

He said that one hot day a boy ran to the swimming hole, and got in the cold water without cooling off first and had to walk bent over for the rest of his life.

After my father got old, he sold his farm and bought a house on Stewart Avenue in Roanoke, Virginia. He was eighty–nine when my mother died and so grieved that he just sold his house and stayed around with his children.

He told me that he had prayed all his life that he would never have cancer. He stayed strong both physically and mentally until he was almost ninety–five. He died at Fairfax, Virginia March 20, 1973. His funeral was held in the Floyd Methodist Church and he was buried in the Stickler Cemetery at Floyd, Virginia.