Restoring the memories
Farming has always been a tough occupation, and today the news is full of stories about the struggles of maintaining the family farm - struggles that appear to get more difficult as the land passes from generation to generation.
If Lula H. Poage Gay was alive today, she could tell us a thing or two about those struggles.
Lula and her husband, John, had a home built in 1902 on their 280-acre farm on Buck’s Run near Buckeye - a home of Jenny Lind construction, set on cut stones as its foundation.
The family drew water from a spring, heated the home with firewood, knew the joys of no indoor plumbing and survived as subsistence farmers.
But things changed rapidly for Lula in 1910 when the foundation of the home was shaken as 29-year-old John suddenly became ill and died aboard the train that was taking him to the hospital in Ronceverte.
Not only was Lula left a young widow with a mortgage and a farm to tend to, she also had two young children, Lewis and Polly, and a third one on the way.
“It was the worst time of the year,” said granddaughter-in-law Ellie Gay.
It was a cold December when Lula gave birth to John.
“That poor woman had her problems,” Ellie continued. “But she was a hard-working woman, working out in the fields like a man. She had a salty tongue, and a lot of spunk.”
Lula’s grandson, Jack Gay, fondly remembers her.
“She had a good heart,” he said.
A good heart and plenty of hard times.
Although the family gathered round to help with the farming, there was at least one person who was not so supportive.
“Someone burned the barn, trying to force her into foreclosure,” Ellie said.
But Lula didn’t relent. She held her ground in those early days, later married Earl Kee, and when she died at the age of 84, she was still holding onto her land.
It is because of the spunk of that hard-working woman that Jack and Ellie find themselves dividing their time between their home in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and the homes they love in Buckeye.
Lula’s son, Lewis, married Margurerite Moore and they were the parents of Jack and Robert, now of Hortonville, Wisconsin. The boys grew up in that Jenny Lind home on Buck’s Run, as well.
And that is where Jack got first-hand knowledge of the ways of subsistence farming.
“We had cows, sheep, turkeys, chickens, and enough to provide food, with a little money for shoes and things,” he said. “That’s the way it was for most people back then.”
There was also a cave in which to store the milk and a root cellar for apples and things.
Jack took what he learned on Buck’s Run and put it to use for five-and-a-half years in Uganda as part of West Virginia University’s contract with the Agency for International Development. Working with the Agriculture colleges in that country, he taught others how to survive on a farm. Teaching the ways of his parents and grandparents.
Memories of that old home place led Jack and Ellie, in their retirement, to a decision – to take the old house and bring it back to life.
“By 2008, the house was a mess and the floors were buckeling,” Ellie said. “The temptation was strong to just knock it down.”
Although he can’t remember the name of the original builder, during the restoration and remodeling, Jack did recall the words of his grandmother who said the man couldn’t drive two nails straight.
“I can believe that after what we got into,” Jack said. “It was a little fixer-upper. We fixed this. We fixed that. One thing led to another and we just couldn’t quit.”
Stamina and determination appear to run in the Gay bloodline.
As true for any home – inside and out – a good foundation is required, and that was the starting point for contractor Curtis Kimbrew, of Marlinton.
The interior of the home was gutted and given a new lease on life. In a place where there was originally no indoor plumbing, there are now beautiful bathrooms and “a local kitchen.”
Randy and Teresa Sharp, of Glades Building Supply, worked closely with design planner Jack to outfit an easy on the eye, hard-to-tear-yourself-away-from kitchen.
Kimbrew incorporated a walnut shelf onto the center island – walnut from a tree that was cut 50 years ago from the front yard of the home.
Jack and Ellie give credit to many local businesses when it comes to the successful completion of this renovation.
Buck Turner, of Marlinton, assisted them with the “electrical layout;” Rose’s Excavating, of Hillsboro, handled the installation of the septic tank; and the new pine tongue and groove paneling came from Smith Lumber Sales in Huntersville.
But not all of the walls are sporting new paneling.
When the wallpaper in the bedroom was removed, it revealed wormy chestnut bead board walls.
Although wormy chestnut was found throughout the house, the couple decided to have the bedroom wall stripped down and refinished to show what is now considered the grandeur of another time.
An addition was added on to the home so the stairs now lead from the keeping room area to the upstairs bedrooms. In the past, access to those rooms was made from the outside of the home.
Kimbrew told Jack that, as he understood it, in the early days when travelers were passing through, folks were obligated to offer them lodging, although the family might not necessarily want strangers wandering through the main part of the home. The outside stairwell provided a means to be hospitable, but safe.
Kimbrew’s knowledge stretches from the past to the present. And in the present, working alone on the project, he came up with some pretty incredible ideas.
Linen closets built between the tub/shower combination and the wall, have hinges so they are easily removed to gain access to the plumbing if necessary, and seven pocket doors save space in this most inviting home.
The renovation took about two years, but Jack and Ellie did not give up.
“We wonder what Grandmother would think if she could visit the old house today,” Ellie said.
Lula’s home is a staying kind of place.
The Eugene Beverage family made it their home for 44 years.
And as avid bird watchers, Ellie reports that a pair of Loggerhead Shrike and a family of Red-Tail Hawks live there, as well.
Jack and Ellie now live part-time in a newer home on Rt. 219, which was built by Jack’s parents in 1958. From their sunroom they have a clear view of the farmland and the refurbished home place, and their hearts are at peace –though often torn as to which place they like the best.
Jaynell Graham may be contacted at email@example.com