Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mountain Girl Grandma

A little more than 100 years after my grandmother Mary was born, her granddaughter, Connee Troutman Handke Willis wrote a poem to her memory. Dated November 27, 1987, It is tucked into a collection of family Christmas letters in my office. With Connee's permission, I’m including it here because it’s a testament to some of the family lore about our grandparents, and it’s a lovely tribute to our grandmother. Thank you, Connee.
Mountain Girl

Sweet, spicy and tart
as the nutmeg and lemon
that laced the sugar cookies
multiplying in my memory
as they did in your cookie jar.
            Tall, proud and enduring
            as the Appalachians
            that beheld your beginnings
            on that May day in 1887.

                        You were my mountain girl grandma.

Born in the shadow of Walker Mountain
in western Virginia, called Rich Valley,
of poor, hill-country parents
who could neither read nor write,
you wanted to be a teacher.
            Cleaning grimy black soot from lamps for pay,
            you lit your light of learning
            and, with brown eyes sparkling,
            earned your teaching degree.

                        You had spunk, my mountain girl grandma!

You taught, then your mama
moved the family to Missouri
for new beginnings and to get you away
from that back country boy
who had taken such a shine to you.
            One day he hiked up out of the valley,
            clear over Walker Mountain and down
            to the train station, emptying his pockets
            for a ride to claim you, his sweet Mary Ann.

                        Were you surprised, my mountain girl grandma?

Married, you moved to Nebraska,
and, with your brood of five young-‘uns,
one of them my daddy,
you raised chickens and garden and
together, wrested a living from the dry, hard dirt.
            By the evening’s lamplight
            you mended clothes and quarrels,
            and answered questions about homework,
            about faith, hopes, dreams, and becoming.

                        You were strong, my mountain girl grandma.

Spare and angular when I knew you,
fresh in cotton housedress and home sewn apron,
still a touch of the mountain in your voice—
your can’t was “cain’t”, your hollow, “holler”,
your hair was seasoned, salt and pepper.
            Your house bulged at holiday feasts for kith and kin,
            where mashed potatoes mounded
            like the rounded hills of your recollection,
            eroded, streaked by floods of rich, brown gravy.

                        You were a memory-maker, my mountain girl grandma!

I recall you and grandpa
telling tales of the lump in his throat
when he climbed Walker Mountain,
never to return. The twinkle in his eyes
told me that Mary Ann was worth every step.
            When that mountain boy died, the sparkle
            slowly left your eyes and your gait—
            now you, too, are tucked in these
            gently rolling hills,* an eternity from Rich Valley.

                        A black-eyed susan,
                        you looked folks in the eye,
                        squared your shoulders and took on life—
                        I miss you tonight, my mountain girl grandma.

(Used by permission from Connie Willis)

*The "gently rolling hills" referred to in this stanza are in Wayne County Nebraska, specifically a little cemetery called Pleasant View, near the town of Winside.

Grave marker of Mary Ann Waggoner and Clint Troutman, Pleasant View Cemetery, Winside, NE.
(c) 2013 Z. T. Noble (except poem, copyright for which belongs to Connee Willis)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Myth Busting

It’s not fun being the family myth buster. My family’s stories have filled me with wonder, and my curiosity nudges me to seek proof. Sometimes, I end up debunking the stories, instead. One story that I refuse to say has been debunked—yet—is that my grandmother Mary Ann Waggoner attended Emory and Henry College for her normal training. Actually, I’d heard two versions of this story. My dad said it was Martha Washington College that she’d attended.
“Normal training” in Grandma’s day was a brief period, maybe twelve weeks, of teacher training during or after high school. Then the student was awarded a provisional teaching certificate. We know Grandma achieved her certificate because we have it on file, but where did she receive her teacher training? That is the question.
Miss Mary Waggoner's provisional teaching certificate, dated 20 August 1907.

On a bright March day back in 2002 when I was visiting my mother in Saltville during my spring break, I drove to Emory & Henry College at Emory, Virginia, about fifteen miles distance, to see if I could locate my grandmother’s records.
Emory is a beautiful campus, the whole of which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Named for John Emory, a bishop in the Methodist Church, and for the statesman Patrick Henry, the college began admitting students in 1838, which makes it the oldest college in Southwest Virginia.[1] I drove around the campus admiring the stately brick buildings, some with white pillars in front, wondering where to start. Seeing the library, I thought I could at least get information there. When I explained my quest to a man at the desk, I told him that my grandmother may have attended there, about 1905 or ’06. To my dismay, he said that the campus was not opened to women until 1920.
He added however, that Martha Washington College for Women in Abingdon was a sister college to Emory, so that’s where she may have attended. He offered to let me see the records of that college, so I sat down in an oak chair at an oak table and waited for him to bring them to me.
As I waited, I couldn’t help but think about my 10th anniversary, which my husband and I had spent at the Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon. The Inn is the very building that housed Martha Washington College for Women, the very building where my grandmother may have taken her normal training. Back in 1830, William Preston bought the property and started building his mansion, then  sold it to the college in 1858. It remained a college until 1931, when the depression forced it to close.[2] Today the Martha Washington Inn looks almost the same as it did when the college thrived. It’s red brick fa├žade and long front porch with white pillars and rocking chairs invites visitors to rest and enjoy the ambiance of the 19th century.
Soon, the librarian returned carrying a huge, black book and laid it carefully on the table in front of me. It smelled of dust and age. As I turned the brittle pages, little yellow pieces crumbled from the edges. I tried to be gentle. I perused all lists of students  from 1900 through 1909, the year I knew my grandmother had left Virginia. No luck. I saw the names of a few of her cousins, both Havens and Wagner, but not hers. I left disappointed.
My search continues, however. I’m hoping that I can one day find some connection between E&H or MWC and Grandma Mary’s teacher training.

[1] “History, Mission, and Culture,” Emory & Henry College, (accessed April 18, 2013.
[2] “History,”, (accessed April 18, 2013).

(c) 2013 Z. T. Noble

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Mystery and Magic of Old Photos

Old photos fascinate me, even if they're not of my own family. Sometimes in antique stores, I thumb through a box of old photos and wonder about the identity of the people--chubby children who once were the joy of their parents, a solemn bride and groom staring at the camera and wondering about their future together, bearded old men and and sturdy women embodying the collected wisdom of their families. Whose ancestors are they? Is no one around to claim them?

I like to study the faces in the photos of my ancestors, their eyes, shape of noses, mouths, and chins, the tilt of the head, the way they wear their hair, their clothing. Yes, I know, that may seem weird--but I want to know them. I don't want them to be forgotten. There's a scripture, Psalm 103:15-16, that often comes to my mind when I look at these pictures: "As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more." That statement makes me a little sad. It inspires me to keep the memories alive a little longer. After all, the stories of our ancestors are our stories. Maybe I'm driven by something within myself that doesn't want to be forgotten, as well.

These photos of the Waggoner family intrigue me. This first one is the original that I mentioned in my previous post, the family portrait, sans Gordon and Leo. Years ago, my dad gave me this photo, and then a cousin of dad's sent me the other photo saying, "Two of the sons were added later, but I don't know which two." Happily, I sent her a copy of my picture, so she would know. This portrait may have been taken about 1909, perhaps just before or after the family moved from Virginia to Missouri.
Seated: Eli Pierce and Rachel Havens Waggoner. Left to right: Mary, Emory, Alice, Ida, Jacob, Amanda.
Looking at pictures of my grandmother Mary, I think she is remarkably beautiful. This one showing Mary on the right is my favorite. I'm not sure of the identity of the woman beside her. I've compared it to pictures of her sisters, but she doesn't look like one of them. If anyone has a clue to her identity, let me know.
Mary Waggoner on right and unknown friend.
On the back of the next picture in my mother's handwriting are the names Alice and Ida, but I don't think my mother identified the one on the left correctly. I think it is Mary and the one on the right is, maybe, Ida. But Ida was ten years younger than Mary. Does this girl look that much younger? Compare the image on the right with Mary and Alice in the family photo and let me know what you think. Mary or Alice?
Mary and Ida (?)
The next one of Mary may be a picture of her at a younger age than the ones above:
Mary Ann Waggoner

This next picture includes a bit of a mystery. It's the rest of the picture that I posted on the first day of my blog, but I had cropped a third person out of that one. On the back of this photo, someone wrote that the third person is Mary's cousin, Sallie Havens. However, when I sent this photo to some of Sallie Havens' descendans, they said not so. They sent me a photo of Sallie when she was a young woman, which I've posted below for you to compare. So I'm not sure who this third person is. I think she looks a lot like Ida, but then she looks maybe too old to be Ida. What do you think?
Mary Ann Waggoner, Clint Troutman, and Ida (?)

Here's the picture of Sallie Havens that her descendant sent me. Definitely not the same person pictured with Clint and Mary.
Sallie Havens

The mystery of old photos goes on.

(c) 2013 Z. T. Noble

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Mary's Family

My grandmother Mary Ann Waggoner was born in Bland County Virginia on May 20, 1887, the third child and first daughter of Eli Pierce and Rachel Havens Waggoner. Being the oldest daughter, Mary was expected to help with her five younger brothers and sisters. She loved school, but sometimes she had to miss it to help her mother with a sick child or other emergency. She hated that. Even so, she was determined to finish school, and she apparently she did, although I've never found her school records. She even took “normal training” and taught a few years at the Ellendale school. 

I’m not sure when the Waggoner family moved from Bland County Virginia where all of the children were born into the Chatham Hill area of Rich Valley, Smyth County, Virginia, but they did. 

Eli and Rachel Waggoner are seated in front. Left to right, back row: Emory, Alice, Gordon, Jacob, Leo. Middle row: Mary, Ida, Amanda. This picture was probably taken in Missouri after the family moved there in 1908 or '09. Notice the girl's dresses are all made from the same fabric. There are two versions of this family portrait. The first one does not include Gordon and Leo whose images were added later. Even then there was photo-shopping, to a degree.

I don’t know much else about Mary’s childhood. Most likely during her childhood, Mary would have been expected to help her mother with the all the housework. This meant not only cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the younger children, but also doing laundry in the ice cold water of the creek near where they lived on a small parcel of land, about eight acres, along a creek somewhere in the valley; I’m not sure of the exact location. According to census records, her father Eli Waggoner was a farmer. She had older brothers who probably were expected to help their father with the animals, the plowing, and so forth. Mary may have helped with the care of chickens, a task she enjoyed later in life. 

As an adult, Mary loved her chickens, my mother told me. She enjoyed standing in the chicken house and simply watching them peck and cackle and fluff their feathers as they settled themselves onto their nests. The mixed smells of chicken feed, straw, feathers, and chicken droppings never appealed to me in the few times I entered a chicken house, but to Mary, they must have been tolerable if not pleasurable. If she enjoyed her chickens so much, I’m sure she must have kept her chicken house as clean as possible. She must have reached with gentle fingers under each hen to extract her eggs from her nest, maybe clucking to the chicken all the while to distract her. Mary sold her eggs, but not just to the grocery store or to her neighbors. She sold fertilized eggs to the hatchery in town because she could get more money per egg that way, which tells me she was smart and enterprising.

(c) 2013 Z. T. Noble

Friday, April 5, 2013

Life in Rich Valley, Virginia

            A valley of rocky fields, of rolling green hills, of scattered homes and churches dotting the hillsides stretches for miles between the Walker Mountain Range and the Clinch Mountain Range in southwestern Virginia. Called Rich Valley, it is the land of my grandmother Mary’s ancestors going back as far as 1745, the first year the region was opened to white settlers, but Mary didn’t know that. Although Clint's mother's family had been in the area since about 1810, Clint's father was a relative newcomer, having arrived there from North Carolina after the Civil War.
            In my grandparents’ childhood, the valley teemed with life. A country store where people could buy anything from a soda pop to a plow stood at nearly every crossroads or T-road and sometimes in between. A post office provided mail service, and a country doctor rode a circuit. Court appointed magistrates held court on their front porches or living rooms depending on the weather. Children hiked miles to the Ellendale School perched about a quarter mile off the main road on a barren hilltop like a sentry, but they seldom finished school often having to drop out to help with farm work or to take care of little brothers and sisters. Families averaged eight to ten children, so mothers needed all the help they could get. Clint and his friends played games, such as Hide-and-Go-Seek or Roll the Hoop or Marbles, to name a few. Mary and her friends may have played those games, too, or jumped rope or played with homemade dolls. Certainly, the girls learned to "sew a fine seam" and cook and do all that a woman should know to manage a household. Boys learned their fathers' trades, in Clint's case, farming.
           Bathrooms consisted of outhouses situated several yards from the house; often a slop jar was kept under the bed for night use and emptied in the morning. Wouldn't you have loved that job! The family took baths once a week at most in a zinc tub in the kitchen using water heated over the wood-burning stove, and they all used the same bathwater. Dad usually bathed first and the youngest child last. Those who had running water in their homes ran a pipe from a spring to the house, and the water ran full force day and night. If they couldn’t pipe water into the house, they carried it from the spring in buckets. Women often washed clothes on rocks in creeks rather than hauling water to the house. For that reason, it was important to live next to a water source, such as a creek, a spring, or a river.
            If they had a special need, people could travel on foot or horseback, and did, across Walker Mountain into Marion, Virginia, the county seat, but in general, they could find most everything they needed in the valley. The road to Marion was a treacherous one that snaked over the mountain. It was best taken on foot or on horseback, for a buggy might tumble off the edge of one of the switchbacks on the downward trek.
            Life was fairly peaceful in those days, except for the threat of diseases, such as dysentery—or “the flux,” as the people called it—diphtheria, and tuberculosis that snuffed out too many young lives, including four of Clint’s siblings.
Posing for the camera in front of their home in Rich Valley, Virginia, are Daniel Absolum and America Pratt Troutman, their son Lee Roy and their dog--about 1903.
As far as I know, there is no picture of Mary's childhood home. This photo is the home where Clint grew up in Rich Valley, Virginia. Seated in front of the door are his parents, Daniel Absolum Troutman and America Pratt Troutman. The boy with the bicycle is Clint's youngest brother Lee Roy. I don't know the name of the dog, but doesn't he balance the photo perfectly? He needs a name--maybe Rex or Fido. Judging by the size of Lee Roy, who was born 8 August 1891, I'd guess this picture was taken about 1903. Doesn't he look about twelve years old?

(c) 2013 Z. T. Noble

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Mary Ann Waggoner and Clint Troutman, my grandparents
The title of my blog, Rattling Old Bones, came to me from the mouth of my mother's brother, Woodrow Wilson McIntyre, affectionately known as Uncle Woody. When I told him I was researching my great-great-grandfather's Civil War record, Uncle Woody said, "Oh, you're just rattling old bones!"

"I suppose so," I said. Over the years I have rattled a lot of old bones, and those bones have become real people to me. The two pictured at the left are my grandparents, Mary Ann Waggoner and Clint Troutman. I'm pretty sure this picture was taken in Virginia before they were married. They were sweet on each other, but their parents objected to their romance. I'm not sure why. They wrote a stack of love letters to each other, which Mary saved until she caught one of her daughters, years later, reading them. Mary pitched them all, but one, into a fire. I don't know how that one letter escaped, but somehow it did. Thanks to Mary's daughter Virginia, the letter and many other family artifacts have been preserved in a family album.

More on the romance of Mary and Clint later.

(c) 2013 Zola Troutman Noble