The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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

Calvin and Viola Cole

By Ivalien Hylton Belcher © 1988

Issue: October, 1988

Calvin and Viola ColeCalvin and Viola ColeFor the past several years I have seen a cute little gentleman playing banjo and dancing up a storm. When I found out he was eighty years old, I was amazed. On a hot summer day I decided to drive up to Carroll County and meet Mr. Calvin Cole and his wife Viola.

Winding down a quiet country road, I found Calvin Cole sitting on the porch of his neat mobile home, eating a banana. He invited me into his home and to meet Viola. I spent a very enjoyable afternoon with them talking and looking at pictures and scrapbooks.

Calvin Cole related some of his life's story:

"My parents were Andy and Lillie Cole. I had two brothers and one sister. My birthplace was in Grayson County [Virginia].

As a child I messed around on the farm. When I was about eight years, I was milking a cow and feeding the horses. There was always work to do, but I always found time to play baseball, ride horses, fish and swim. I found a banjo laying around the house and started picking a few tunes.

I went to school at Mountain View near Pine Mountain. My favorite subject was getting out and going home. Guess I just went to school because my parents insisted I go.

As a teenager I got a T Model car. Guess I was fourteen. I had a horse and small team of oxen and swapped them for the car. Not very many people had a car back then. Most of the time I had to park on a hill and let it roll off to crank. Boy! I remember the first car I ever saw – like to scared me to death. I run until I fell over. After the car had passed, I could smell gas. Then I went and examined the tracks, and thought, 'This invention was wonderful.'

Christmas in my day was kind of like other old timers. We just didn't get much, but always peppermint candy. I always hung my stocking and got a little something in it. We didn't have a Christmas tree, but we did dance a little to celebrate.

Ah! My courting days and falling in love! Well, I guess I went with three or four girls before I met Viola. She says three or four dozen was probably more like it. Some of my courting days were spent in a buggy pulled by a high stepping horse. I met Viola in Fries, Virginia when I was eighteen. She was sixteen and working in a cotton mill when I saw her the first time. I told her cousin, 'There comes my old woman.' She was real cute. We went together for three months and got married in 1926 and have been married for 61 years. Preacher Doc Williams married us at his home. Then we moved to Fancy Gap on a farm.

On the farm I raised cabbage, taters, corn, hogs, and kept cows. We lived in a two room house, but made four out of them. We had to work, but got along pretty good.

Over the years while I was young, my music was just a pastime. I played a little with my brother. After my children came along, four or five of them played with me. We played at homes and for pie suppers and went to Mount Airy and Martinsville radio stations. In 1941 I made a tape for the Library of Congress. Two years ago I went to Washington and played with the Blue Ridge String Band. I was scheduled to go to Italy, Canada, Texas and Hawaii, but was taken sick and had to have an operation. My band's name here at home is The Rock Creek Ramblers.

I worked on the Blue Ridge Parkway for 21 years and retired from there. My starting wages were $0.30 an hour, $12.00 per week. I helped fix the foundation under the Parkway; dumped rocks and set out trees. Sometime I get in my car and ride down the Parkway.

I was in the Navy and served nine months in Hawaii. It was hard to go off and leave my wife and children, but I had to.

Once I tried to run a store for three years, but I didn't like that a bit and got out soon as I could. You just can't suit people. All I could hear was, 'You can get it down the road cheaper.'

Back in the old days, a lot of moonshine making went on. One day I was walking over to a fellow's house and took a path and run into a still in operation. I jumped in and helped, and in the finish, got a little taste too. Guess I'd better not tell all of that tale.

I have a real nice family, ten children – seven girls and three boys. They have never been in trouble to amount to anything. All of the children are still living. They live in Virginia, North Carolina and this area. I have 22 living grandchildren and 8 great–grandchildren. My family has a good time when we are together. We carry on a lot.

After retiring in 1969, I thought I'd get in a little fishing. While walking along, I slipped and fell in the water. That made me mad and I throwed pole and all in the creek. I was through with fishing.

When I retired, I quit work. A fellow wanted me to help run a store, but I said no, I've quit. These days I rest, piddle around the house, go to town, walk, read the newspaper and go to the dance at Fancy Gap."

Calvin Cole goes to square dances and can be seen on the floor every time the caller says, 'Get you a partner.' He swings the girls like a teenager. That's pretty good going for an eighty year old. Don't you agree?

And now Viola Quesinberry Cole speaks:

"One of my childhood memories was a handmade rag doll made by my mother. It had a red dress with black dots. One day my sister got mad at me and threw it on top of the granary. No one would get it down for me and it stayed there until it rotted. I went every day and looked at my doll until it was gone. Us children made play houses out of moss, rocks and used broken dishes. We played some games also.

When I was five, I walked a half mile through the woods by myself to school. I was afraid, but I liked going to school and English was my favorite subject. I went to school until I was 15.

My family always did things for Christmas. We gathered all kinds of evergreens and tied pretty ribbons on them. Of course, we always hung our stockings. If we had a tree, we made decorations from what things we could find. Mother made us mittens and warm caps as homemade gifts. She always made lots of good molasses cookies at Christmas. We enjoyed them a lot!

Mother always read to us at night by the fire until about ten o'clock. Sometimes we shelled some corn for the mill, or maybe some beans. She read stories from Comfort Magazine, Hearth Home, Illustrated Companion, novels and stories of old things. I love reading to this day.

Sometimes we made play out of work by taking our work to a neighbor's and talk as we worked. I used to sew Stud Tobacco sacks – clip, turn, run the little yellow string around the top. The pay was $.40 for a thousand. I took this work over to the neighbors. They, in turn, visited bringing their crochet, knitting or quilt squares.

In 1926 I got a job in a cotton mill sweeping cotton off the floor. Later I worked in the spool room. My pay was $8.80 a week with $3.00 going for board.

I met Calvin at the cotton mill. He was up on a ladder cleaning light wires and threw cotton at me. I looked up and he was laughing and I fell for him right there. We were together constantly, at work, going to church and silent movies. After three months we were married.

While I was raising my family, I did a lot of cooking and washing on a board. I sewed and made the girls and myself clothes, a lot of them from feed sacks."

Ivalien: "Mrs. Cole, some of the prettiest skirts I ever had were from feed sacks. I used to go with my dad to the store and pick the sacks I wanted for a new skirt. That was fun."

[Mrs. Cole] "I saw my husband and three sons go off to service. They came home to me safe and sound and I'm thankful for that.

In 1966 I was operated on for colon cancer. That's quite a few years ago and I've done well and have been able to do things.

Well, I guess that's enough about me. These days I like to read all kinds of books, mostly love stories and books about the early settlers. Flowers and walking are hobbies that I enjoy. I fix scrapbooks with clippings of old times and people."

Viola Cole is so modest that she didn't mention being elected Mother of the Year. I happened to see a clipping in one of her scrapbooks. She has made some that are a history book and full of interesting facts. Viola celebrated her 78th birthday in July. She deserves to be Mother of the Year.

Calvin and Viola Cole are some fine folks of our Blue Ridge and have handed down a great heritage to their family and friends. Don't you agree? They are great people!