The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Tales My Mother Told Me

By Lois Poff © 1988

Issue: May, 1988

Josephine Cameron Strickler Sweeny in 1889 when she was 18 years old.Josephine Cameron Strickler Sweeny in 1899 when she was 18 years old.My mother, Josephine Cameron Strickler Sweeney, was born December 15, 1881 at Floyd, Virginia, the fourth of eight children of Ballard and Celeste Sowder Strickler. She was a great–granddaughter of John and Sarah Linesay Helms, whose daughter, Nancy, married Samuel Strickler. She was a descendant of Jacob and Priscilla Prillaman of Callaway, Virginia, whose daughter, Anna, married Jacob Sowder.

When her ancestor, Abraham Strickler, came from Zurich, Switzerland to Pennsylvania in 1700, he could weave on a sixteen shuttle machine and brought with him a large Bible which had been in the family for around four hundred years at the time. My mother told me about it. He was one of the first settlers in the Shenandoah Valley. When he crossed the Susquehanna River to come to Page County, Virginia, his little daughter Mary (Roads) took her little dog and climbed up on the bows of the wagon to keep from getting wet.

She told about an Indian massacre in the family, but she didn't tell the names of the people. She said the old grandmother had a vision and saw the Indians camped on a mountain. She told her family and begged them to all leave home, but they didn't pay any attention to her. The Indians came and killed all in the family except the little girl who hid in a corn shock with the baby. The baby was her grandmother way back.

She said a mountain lion stayed on top of the house of some of her ancestors and screamed all night. The next morning the lion was gone and so was their pig.

My mother told me right much about the Civil War. Her father was eleven years old when it started. They kept a bridled horse hitched at their gate all time just to carry news. They didn't keep slaves. One time news came in that the slaves were rising in the South and coming this way. They and their neighbors got in their wagons, took supplies, and went over in a valley and stayed for days, but nothing happened.

Her grandfather, Samuel Strickler, was on dispatch duty in Floyd County when the Yankees raided through here. He and some more men got in a skirmish with them down east of the Town of Floyd and Samuel got his horse shot out from under him. He went down with the horse and pretended like he was dead. The Yankees passed so close that he heard one say, "There lies one dead Rebel." When he went walking in home a few days later, all plans had been completed for his burial.

She said one time when she was little, she was sitting in church by her grandmother and when one preacher got up to preach, her grandmother said right out loud, "That's the man that took my hams". He had taken them for food for the Confederate soldiers.

Samuel Strickler was a Justice of the Peace of this county for a long time. He was clerk of the Board of School Trustees until he became too feeble to travel. One time he got a lawyer at Floyd to write up a document. When the lawyer charged him five dollars, he told him that was too much money for just that little bit of work and the lawyer said, "It's just all in knowing how." Then one day Samuel was riding his horse by the lawyer's farm and the lawyer stopped him and asked him to fix some broken down machinery. Samuel fixed it and charged him five dollars. The lawyer told him that was too much money for just that little bit of work and Samuel said, "It's just all in knowing how."

My mother was raised on a large farm over at the back of the Pine Creek Primitive Baptist Church at Floyd, Virginia. She said on the weekends when they had preaching, her mother cooked all day on Saturday to have food for company. She just made stacks of pies. The years that they had the "Association" at that church, her mother worked for months getting ready for it. She just made straw ticks and made straw ticks for the women and children to sleep on. The men slept in the barn on the hay. She said when she went to church she had to sit still and listen to the preacher, for if she didn't, her mother would pinch her blue. Her brothers sat on the other side of the church with their father.

Mother said she never got to go over to Thrash's Mountain at Copper Hill to visit at the home of her great–grandparents, Valentine and Harriet Gray Thrash but one time, they all went in the wagon, stayed all night and went to Pine Forest Church on Sunday. She said her great–great–grandpa John Thrash never got to go back to his home in Tennessee until after he raised his family, then he walked back to Tennessee for a visit and then walked back home.

Her father's sister, Eliza, who married Aken Epperly, lived on an adjoining farm. When they went to town in the buggy they always had to stop and visit her on the way back home or she would get mad. She didn't have any children and would beg my mother and her sisters to come and live with her. My mother said she wouldn't have left her home and lived with anyone else for anything. She said Eliza had had her kitchen in about every room downstairs. I said, "Looks like her husband would have gotten tired of moving things around for her." My mother said, "She had the best husband every was, anything that Eliza wanted, she got." Her husband had fought with General Johnston in North Carolina and received a Mexican silver dollar for being with him at the surrender. They finally got some foster children to raise. They got a little club footed baby girl and worked and worked with her feet until they got her to walking. Aken made all of her shoes and made them in such a way as to straighten her feet. In later years she went to New York and became a seamstress.

My mother's parents worked so hard. She said boys would come to her house for breakfast, work in the fields all day and take home pork or some kind of food as pay for their labor. She heard her mother tell her father once to just not tend a certain field and he said, "The poor people have to eat."

My mother said she never could run fast, but her sister, Nan, two years older, could run as fast as any boy at the Mossy Dell School and was always the first one picked when choosing sides for games. One day another girl wanted her hair cut up like Nan's, so she and Nan went to the chop block and Nan cut her hair for her with the axe.

One time Aken, her older brother, asked the teacher if he could be excused and the teacher told him he couldn't go. He just went anyway and came back in a few minutes and told them the school house was on fire. The big boys put the fire out.

My grandparents thought the threshers just planned their rounds so they could stay all night at their house. One day one of the hands got cut and some one went after a man in the neighborhood that could stop blood. When he came he went out behind a building to himself. My mother, Nan and some of her brothers hid and peeped to see what he would do. They saw him throwing his knife around, but couldn't understand what he said, but the blood stopped.

When the shoe making man went to their home, he stayed for days until he had made new shoes for everyone in the family. One time my mother's double cousin, Eliza Strickler (Simpson) was visiting there and he made new shoes for her too.

One time when my mother was spending the night away from home with a friend, they all saw a big ball of fire come down near a grave yard. That made her feel so bad that she wished she was at home. Her brother Will's wife, Georgia Lancaster, who was raised up near New Haven Baptist Church said one night they saw something like a big lantern right over the church. They all walked down there to see what it was, but when they got there, it was gone.

I think my mother and her brothers and sisters had a good time during their teenage years. They had riding horses and my mother said that in the races, her horse could keep up with any of them and was often times the winner.

They had dances at their home and boys and girls who did not live close would stay all night. If someone had a dance and didn't have enough beds, they would just sleep on the floor. One time a young girl at a home was making biscuits and her mother told her, "To roll them thin."

After my parents married, they lived in North Fork, West Virginia. She said she made all the college clothes for a girl named "Lois" and that was who she named me after. She named her first child Ballard, after her father. He stayed down with his grandparents some. One night when he was six years old, Grandpa got real sick and needed a doctor. Since Ballard was the only person there with them, he walked out in the night alone and went over to the home of Wes Hollins, a renter on the place, and got him to come and get on one of the horses and go get a doctor. After that, Grandma told Grandpa he ought to give Ballard his watch for going after Wes and he did.

One day after my parents had moved to a farm near Floyd, they were expecting the threshing machine. Another older brother, Lynn, who was six, sat on a post for about an hour watching for it to come. When it did come, the whistle blew and he fell off the post.

One butchering day, my mother took some meat down to Eliza's to get it ground into sausage. She said the horse she was riding snorted and acted up all the way down there and she didn't know what was wrong with him. Her uncle Aken told her that horse was mad because he could smell that blood on the meat.

Once when I was little, I went with my mother to town in the buggy. She was going to shop and to have a tooth pulled. I saw other women come into town in fine pony buggies pulled by beautiful ponies. We didn't keep ponies. One of the work horses pulled our buggy.

When I was growing up my mother made just about all our clothes except our straw hats and shoes. She was a talented seamstress and could make clothes just like the picture. Uncle Cain Sweeney who ran a store would buy boxes of second hand coats from off away from here and she would buy them and make our coats out of them. She would order big remnant bundles from the mail order catalogs for around two dollars and make dresses and shirts from them. She told me the first time she made a shirt; she ripped one up and made one by it.

I have often wondered how she kept all of her seven children so healthy and did about all the doctoring herself. She doctored cuts and puncture wounds with turpentine and colds with Vicks salve. The poultices she doctored with were better than the doctor's medicine. She said she wished her mother hadn't run from the measles when she was growing up. She had them when her children had them and she said she was so sick that if we had died, she wouldn't have known it. My father had them when he was little.

I don't remember when we had the measles, but I remember the cold, icy winter when we all had the World War I flu. I was four years old and I was the last one in the family to take it. My little brother slept in an iron baby bed and I slept in a trundle bed that had to be pushed up under a big bed in the daytime. I was sitting in a little chair by the fireplace when I got sick. When I told my mother that I had the flu, she told me to go on upstairs to bed. When I got up there I was surprised to see so many beds in one room and so many people in the beds. The room was warm for there was a fire in there. Mr. Lemuel Boothe, a neighbor who was on our telephone line, came but he didn't come in. He brought us the most good food, apples, canned peaches and the best homemade light bread.

Our house, being on a main highway and so close to the road, made it a convenient place for beggars to stop. My parents always accommodated them and never seemed to be afraid of them. They were just afraid they would set the barn on fire when they slept over there. Late one evening two wagons of people stopped. I believe they were moving. My mother fixed beds for the women and children, and cooked breakfast for them all the next morning.

Sometimes when mothers died at child birth, she would go tend to the baby, for she knew how to prepare cow's milk for a newborn infant. She would go bathe, dress and put corpses in the coffin. I told her that I didn't see how she could stand to do that, that I'd be afraid of them. She told me that if I ever touched one, I'd never be afraid of them anymore.

When I was small she let me help her tend to her turkeys because she knew I liked to. I would follow them around over the fields to find out where the hens made their nests. She said if I saw one go in a brush pile and not come out, I would know that was where the nest was. She told me to try not to let the old gobbler see me for if he did, he would gobble and the hens wouldn't go to their nest. Later on in the day I would go get the eggs so the wild animals wouldn't eat them at night. She sure wasn't afraid of setting hens. She would grab them around the neck with one hand and work with the eggs with the other hand.

If I ever heard of anyone doing anything outrageous, I would tell mother about it. She would just say, "It takes all kinds of people to make a world."

I heard mother say so many times that she didn't want anyone to ever put her in a nursing home. She lived to be 85 and my father tended to her in her old days. She died in the Shenandoah Hospital at Roanoke, Virginia on May 26, 1967 and was buried in the Strickler Cemetery near El Tenador at Floyd, Virginia.

After she died, I bought a chest of drawers at my father's yard sale that I didn't want. I didn't know then that there was a little yellowed Bible in one of the drawers that her Grandfather, William Sowder had carried in the Civil War. My little grandson, Layne Poff, who was staying with me when his brother Gregory was born, opened a drawer and got the Bible. He brought it to me and asked me what it was. I asked him where he got it and he showed me. I leafed through it and saw where my mother had written on one page, "My Grandpa Sowder carried this book in the war," and then I remembered her taking it out of a trunk and telling us about it when I was little. I put it in a frame and told Layne I was going to give it to him because it was lost and he found it.