There are many wonderful places in West Virginia that are full of family history and memories, but none can compare to the “Homeplace”.
This beautiful old home is nestled on 150 acres, deep in the mountains near Will’s Creek. Before my Papa was born, his mom, Effie, and his dad, Okey, were living in the upper, opposite side of the mountain. Okey began talking to “old man Waybright” (L. E. Waybright) who owned the farm at that time and suggested that they should trade properties. This would give Okey a larger and better plot of land and allow Waybright to move higher up the hill, making life easier for him in the winter.
As the story goes, the house was already there but too small for a growing family, so Okey, tore down their old house, saving the good lumber, and used it to add onto the new house. Papa must have gotten his strength and determination passed down from his dad. Can you imagine the immense amount of work it must have taken to tear down a house, then use horses and sleds to haul the good lumber over the mountain ridge and down the other side, and then add onto the house? It’s an example of the fortitude and courage that runs deep in the veins of West Virginians. It takes a special kind of people to live and thrive in a part of the country that is truly “wild and wonderful”.
In the end, the house had three bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a large porch. There was no indoor bathroom at this time, though they would add one many years later, only an outhouse. By today’s standards, the house was still far too small for a family that would grow to be twelve people, but they made it work.
My papa was born in that very house and lived there until leaving to join the army at eighteen years old. Life was not easy on the mountain but having nine brothers and sisters kept it interesting and made the work lighter. On their 150 acres, they raised animals for their meat, eggs, and dairy, and grew crops of corn, potatoes, apple trees, strawberries, and a myriad of other vegetables. They truly lived off of their land, from the food on their table to the water from the spring that they drank.
One of my favorite stories was how Papa remembered being too little to help plough or harvest so his job, along with the other young siblings, was to carry large mason jars of water from the spring up and down to the older siblings to drink. It is a steep and unforgiving incline on the side of the mountain and, having climbed it myself, I can attest that it would be a formidable job for a little guy. But that is the kind of life that breeds character and strength into a person.
I love my life and my beautiful house and all my modern conveniences, but I do think that my generation is missing out on so many vital life lessons by having life made so easy for us. How to go about incorporating more responsibility in my own life and the lives of my kids is something that weighs on me. It is part of why I value being around my Papa and why I want my kids to soak up as much of his life as they can. I guess I’m hoping that some of that West Virginia mountain essence will rub off on us.
The day we spent walking in the footsteps of Oakey and Effie and my papa was absolutely priceless. I would trade a minute of it for anything in the world and I hope that we get the chance to go back again and again.
Here are pictures of the house, the fishing pond, the spring, and the cellar which was cut into the side of the mountain. The cellar acted as an old time refrigerator where they would keep their canned goods and other perishables. To this day it is amazing to walk into it and feel how cool it is inside. Not far from the cellar is the spring where you can literally take a cup and dip in for a fresh drink from the natural rock pool. You have never had such freezing cold and clean water in your life as you can get there. The running water in the house comes directly from the mountain’s spring as well as the natural gas used to heat the home in the winter. Talk about “off the grid!”
The day before we were to go to the homeplace, or “hollar” as it is also called, Lois June called and Papa requested a old fashioned country breakfast which she and Sheila were more than happy to fix for us.
Here are some pictures of arriving on the property, breakfast, coffee on the front porch and some of the first visitors to arrive.
After breakfast, we enjoyed exploring outside and and sharing sweet conversations.
Once we wore Laelynn out, she was put down to nap in Papa’s childhood bedroom. Then Michael and I left Jonah and Haven under the watchful eye of about a dozen aunts and cousins, checked on Papa who was happily chatting under the shade by the pond, and headed out to hike up the mountain to the ridge and border of the property. It is a challenging hike, as it winds it’s way up the mountainside and then across the ridge and down around the pond. There were a few slips and falls and we both learned the value of a hiking stick! It was so much fun to spend a little time, just the two of us, enjoying the views.
Back at the house, we were thrilled to visit with even more family as the day wore on. It was like a long overdue family reunion and there were smiles all around.
I think one of my favorite reunions of the day was when Uncle Charlie and Papa got to catch up with each other in their childhood home. They are such a fun pair! They teased and talked and laughed and play fought all evening until it was time to go home.
I wonder if this was the dream that Okey and Effie had when they worked this land and built onto the house. I wonder what they would think to see it still in the family and being loved and treasured all these years later. I think they would be proud.