of Virginia Hall Irby
Chapter I, 1900 - 1929
First Draft Copy
& Sleep Shop
122 N. Highway B-288
Clute, Brazoria County
Lynch, Reding, Irby 3 Savanna Blue -
C. L. Reding Two Rivers Poetry -
G. M. Irby published poetry -
M. Hunter Long Shadows -
Five-year-old Virginia, 1923
My grandparents lived in western North Carolina near the township of Sylva. They both had an extra cow, so they each traded a cow for glass windows and nails to be used in the new house they were building at Green ’s Creek across the footpath from where they currently lived. Their simple furniture — without ornamentation — was all homemade out of walnut, oak, and maple.
Grandmother, Bell Buchanan Hall, died soon after they moved into the new home. There were four children. Grandfather, Richard H. Hall, wasted no time in getting remarried to another Buchanan lady — although they were not sisters, they were kinfolk.
Aunt Annie was one of the four children. Her new step mother was Lela Buchanan Hall. We called her Aunt Lela. Some people agree that Lela discouraged all potential suitors for Annie and kept her at home to help her raise Aunt Lela's children which were forthcoming:
Mack Hall Violet Jane Hall Jack Wilbor Hall Walter Lee Hall Susie Rachael Hall
1905 - 13 Nov 1906 1908 28 June 1910 25 April 1919
Aunt Annie Hall was nailed to the ground! She was always at the home place. She did the cooking, washing, ironing, sewing, and mending, soap-making, canning, floor cleaning, and flower gardening. She did all the chores for a family of eight, and then there were from two to twenty extra people most of the time.
1. There were dozens of kinfolk coming and going.
2. There were hired hands for chopping wood, killing hogs, and making syrup,
clearing land, and raising barns.
3. There were traveling salesmen selling medicine, Watkins products, rugs,
bed spreads, jewelry, honey, and peaches.
4. There were traveling photographers (big in those days) taking family
and children's pictures.
Aunt Lela would talk to anybody who came through the yard. And she communicated well with cows also, talked to them and petted them. If she told them to jump over the moon, they surely would try it. She milked the cows and fed the chickens. Violet and Susie would churn, dry the dishes, set the table, gather eggs, and help Aunt Annie keep on hand over 500 cans of home-canned goods.
The boys fed the steers, pigs, dogs, and cats, laid in firewood, gathered honey, cleaned the toilets, mowed grass and weeds with a scythe, kept water buckets filled (a drinking gourd was beside each bucket). They tilled the garden and grew fields of oats, corn, and sugarcane.
(SEE ALSO; story of Aunt Annie in Texas, 1959.)
1905 - 1980
Ancillary buildings around Richard (Dick) Hall's place:
The "well house" was near the back door. A two-gallon bucket dropped down into the well to the water level and the bucket filled with water and was pulled up with a rope on a pulley to increase the applied power.
A "spring house" is different from a "well house." A "spring house" was built over a natural spring with a brook that flowed through a trough that kept milk cool.
The "cellar" was about 9 x 12 feet and was dug into a bank of shale and soil. All but the door was covered with soil and rocks, moss and mountain wild flowers. It made a nice cool place for canned goods, butter, sauerkraut, fresh fruits, and vegetables. It was dark inside and I could never see what kind of ceiling it had. It may have been concrete.
The "smoke house" was where they kept small tools: hoes, rakes, large and small scythes, axes, hammers, saws, planes, plumb bobs, levels, clamps.
A white wicker bassinet was also stored there. There was a box of walnuts that were not cracked. And quite a few boards: cherry, walnut, oak, and fir.
Everybody said that Dick Hall was a fine carpenter when it came to building a house. And he was also a prime, super-fine coffin maker. Back in the 1920 ’s it was almost unheard-of to find store-bought coffins. City folk bought a few, but country folk always preferred homemade coffins.
In the "smoke house" he had a few coffins on hand in assorted sizes. Often people laid up lumber for their own coffins to be made. When he would go out, he carried over his shoulder a tow sack that hung heavy with tools of his trade. He would get out his hammer and nails, plane, and saw. He measured the deceased person to insure a good fit. Then he would make the coffin especially for that person.
The "corn crib" was used to keep ears of corn dry. Corn was fed to farm animals and was also ground into meal to make corn bread ina skillet. The corn crib was ventilated and had a roof over it. That's when it was important to have cats!
A three-hole toilet "outhouse" was behind the "smoke house." There wasn't a better wiper than pages from an old Sears Roebuck & Co. catalog. Besides it was a good time to read the prices and dream about the good things that were advertised. If no catalog was available, a corn cob from the "corn crib" would do. Sometimes a maple leaf would do the job. (Just don't grab the poison ivy!)
A four-hole "Johnny" toilet "outhouse" was over the edge of a clear water branch with the water rushing under it. The branch gave it a continuous flush. It was the very best method to take it away. (The EPA heard about this one and that put an end to that!)
The "barn" had open stalls so the cows could come inside. Wagons, plows, and heavy equipment were stored in the barn. There was lots of straw in the barn loft. Sometimes chickens laid eggs up there.
"Doghouse #1" (1925) Mack (one of Dick's sons) always had three foxhounds and he often went fox hunting with them. He carried a lantern and hit the trail soon after dark, spent most of the night listening for the sound of their barks.
"Doghouse #2" (1925) This was used to house even more hunting dogs.
"The Pig Shed" (1925) A shelter was built to house the pigs!!
In the book, Mountaineers, by John Parris, there is a complete chapter on Dick Hall and coffin making.
In 1980 the old house was torn down to make room for a North Carolina State Highway expansion. Jean Hall (one of Mack's daughters and Dick Hall's grand daughters) collected much of the old lumber and used it in the construction of her beautiful new home overlooking Mount Pisgah near Asheville, North Carolina.
Aunt Enola Hall saw an airplane before she ever saw an automobile. The plane was flying around one of the mountains in Jackson County, where she lived.
Also in Jackson County, the very first automobile to ever be in the western North Carolina county was actually owned and personally operated by Henry Ford himself. Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Thomas Edison were traveling together in the Carolinas and stopped in Dillard, North Carolina to put the “Model T" on a train to ship north. Aunt Enola, nearby at the time of their arrival, quickly heard all about this marvelous invention and the trio of inventors that ultimately helped develop the twentieth century. (This story is recalled by Jean Hall Ray in 1995)
My father, Emless Hall, helped construct a power dam in Whitney, North Carolina, working for the Hardaway Construction Company. In 1915, 1916, and 1917 he worked for the Carolina Wood Products Company in Lake Junaluska and in Asheville, North Carolina.
My father would often visit friends in the Bryson City, North Carolina area. The shortest way home was through the railway tunnel out from Dillsboro. The trains didn't run at night, so he would go through the tunnel instead of going over the mountain. After one such trip when he went through the tunnel late at night, it collapsed before dawn! The thought of that would make one sit up and take notice!
For the months after the tunnel collapsed he rode his Harley Davidson motorcycle directly over the trail-less mountain — one of the first moto-cross riders!
Later my father became a Harley Davidson dealer, selling motorcycles to people back in the mountains. I have a photograph of my mother riding a motorcycle. In the photograph she is wearing a RIDING HABIT, which was designed for riding horses. But this young lady dared to try that which was new and exciting. (See this photo in Chapter 1 photographs.)
1917, December 12
Earl Monroe Irby was born to Langley Monroe and Belle Irby at their house in Piedmont, South Carolina.
1917, December 21
Emless Richard Hall marries Ottie Loretta Hunter in North Carolina.
In the first few months of the year, Emless Hall was employed by the Dupont Power Company to help construct a dam in Peneman, Virginia. Later in the year he was employed by the Jones & Co. of Atlanta for construction of a hospital in Oteen, North Carolina. He also worked on the this project again later in 1922, that time with the Fauning & Quinn Contractors, Co.
1918, December 21
Virginia Careen Hall was born to Emless Richard and Ottie Loretta Hall in the hospital in Biltmore, North Carolina. At the time they lived in Canton, North Carolina, but moved to Biltmore shortly after Virginia was born. Located at the entrance gate to the magnificent Vanderbilt "Biltmore Estate," the village of Biltmore was later annexed as part of Asheville, North Carolina.
1918, December 28 +/-
Aunt Glen and Uncle Tyrum Hunter were entertaining North Carolina Senator Tom Cox and the Governor of North Carolina at a banquet in their home in Cullowhee. Martha Lou Hunter, Aunt Glen and Uncle Tyrum ’s daughter, was just a little girl at the time. Just after the dinner blessing, the governor quieted everyone down to hear what Martha Lou was saying. When every was quiet to listen for the words of the child, she said: "Beulah [the cook] said this was the lousiest turkey she ever fixed!"
Another of her comments during this period; She had noticed that everyone had a different "nose" and there had been some discussion about "noses." A little later, looking up at a man with a particularly "cauliflower-type" nose, she said loudly;
"What type of nose does he have?"
1919 - 1921
My father commuted a few mountains over from Asheville to work on construction jobs at the Champion Fiber Company in Canton, North Carolina.
1920, April 01, 1920
Langley Monroe Irby, father of two-year old Earl Irby, died of "spinal tuberculosis" in Piedmont, South Carolina. He had been born the 29th of March, 1881, and had just turned 39 years old when he died.
He was survived by two sons, Earl Monroe and Harold Irby; one daughter, Motelle Irby, and his wife Hanna Mabell (Mae Belle) Aikens Irby.
This was the first time I ever saw a "flying machine." We called it a "flying machine" long before we knew it as an AIRPLANE. One flew over our area of Oakley, Asheville, North Carolina twice one day. Everybody rushed out of doors to see it fly over.
* * *
On the WASH DAY, we would drag the big metal tubs away from the house so the washing water wouldn't ruin the yard. We would fill the tubs, a bucket at a time, from the well. There were no water hoses, no detergents, and no water heaters. We had home made soaps that we would chip into flakes and put in the washing tub. Water was heated in the iron washing pot over a fire or on the cooking stove.
There was a washing tub with a washboard to beat the clothes onto, two rinsing tubs. White clothes, sheets, and towels were boiled, rinsed twice, and then dipped into "bluing" to keep them from appearing dingy. We would wring every piece three to five times. The laundry was hung on clothes lines to dry. They smelled wonderfully clean. If we could afford it, one could hire black ladies that would do the family wash for $2 - $3 per family. After a day of washing, the next day we would have a full IRONING DAY!
Mother ironed literally everything and it took all day to do it. Sheets, pillowcases, shirts, pants, slips, tea towels, diapers, gowns, coveralls. She heated two or three irons on wood-heated or coal-heated stoves. She used them alternately because they cooled pretty fast. Daddy made her first ironing board.
The ironing board was padded well to show fabrics better. Things that are to be ironed were dampened with water and rolled up in towels at least one hour ahead of ironing time. This way it made for a better press.
There was no nylon nor polyester, no "Drip-Dry." No "Permanent Press." No T-shirts. Most everything was cotton, linen, or wool. Cellulose Rayon was just barely showing up.
* * *
Daddy brought in the first radio I'd every seen. It was a little crystal set that would pick up three stations. It was about the size of my open hand and about as thick. There was no cabinet, the components were exposed. It was very simple — but it was Greek to me. You had to wear earphones to hear it. There was a little wire that you moved around to find a station. It was like magic when we first picked up the sound of people playing country music on fiddles and a banjo. I just can't describe how wonderful it was. It really was like magic. It was several years later before we had a nice static-free, controlled volume, wooden-cabinet (!) radio. Since then the world has exploded with radios, graph-a-phones, phonographs, stereophonic radios, black-and-white televisions, color televisions, computers, video cassette recorders, fax machines, the internet, acoustic sensors, microwave transmissions, portable telephones, cellphones, personal locating devices, and more.
1923 - 1924
Funds for community services were often raised by selling "Box Suppers." The ladies would pack food in boxes. The food boxes were made special and trimmed with crepe paper, ribbons, lace, flowers, or bows. The men in the community would bid on the boxes without seeing the contents. The highest bidder won — and he shared the dinner with the lady who prepared it.
1923 - 1930
I played "housekeeping" when I was five to twelve years old. Between the garden and the chicken lot I would lay out a floor plan with sticks, then make believe I had a living room, bedroom, kitchen, and dining area. My daddy owned a woodworking shop and had extra blocks of wood. I'd stack them to look like tables and chairs. I had an old folded quilt as a bed. I had a "piano" and a "grapha-phone" and a PARTY LINE TELEPHONE. I kept myself entertained for hours making believe it was real. I learned in those early days by the chicken lot that a room needed certain elements of design to be pleasant.
On the mantel of the old house there was a striking clock and one or two oil lamps. Oak ladderback chairs were seated around the fireplace. Some of them had real low seats. These chairs had been scooted up and back from the fire many times and the legs were worn up to the stretchers.
Susie Rachael Hall, born April 25, 1919 (still living in 1999) was close to my age. When the adults started talking about PANTHERS, and MAD DOGS, and finding a still where old ZEBE made his moonshine, it was time for Susie and me to get the sheep skin out of the hall closet and bed down with a quilt over us and listen to those tormenting tales.
It was common for schools to celebrate May Day on the campus grounds or at a nearby amphitheater. Every grade participated with singing, or dancing, or a playlet that came to a crescendo with the crowning of a May Queen.
At the Maypole dance a tall pole was wrapped with streamers and flowers, around which merrymakers danced and wove colorful streamers around the pole. I've seen as many as ten Maypoles going at once!
When I was in the first grade I was in a playlet as the WITCH in "Handsel and Gretal." I was dressed in a long black rubber coat, had on a witch's hat and I wore high-top rubber galoshes over my shoes. Underneath my witch costume I wore a fairy costume of sheer white material trimmed in sparkling tinsel. It was the costume for a fairy dance which followed the witch scene. I removed the witch costume and came immediately out as a fairy. All of the other fairies danced blithely barefooted as I wondered why the audience began to laugh. Then I understood when I realized I was the only fairy dancing while wearing black high-top rubber galoshes!
* * *
My father paid $9 for a seven minute ride in the skies and around the valleys and mountains of Asheville in an airplane "flying machine."
* * *
The Charleston was the popular dance step. I learned it when I was eight years old.
* * *
This is the year that houses began to be built with ATTACHED GARAGES.
I was old enough to go to the grocery store for my mother. There were no supermarkets, no air conditioning, no electric refrigeration, the country stores did not have electricity. The stores were owned by local families.
Sawdust was used on the floors at grocery stores to keep the dry dust down. Men hung around the stores to play checkers. Nearly every grocery store had one to three checker games being played on the porch or on tables under a nearby tree. There were few radios and no television and grocery store was the main avenue of information. Fresh fruit and vegetables could be traded for groceries. Also pecans, eggs, and apples, etc. were often bartered.
Flour was sold in printed cotton sacks, which when empty was then made into nice quilts, aprons, shirts, and dresses. Piece goods, thread, and scissors were sold in grocery stores.
Every grocery store sold kerosene for oil lamps and lanterns.
Sugar, meat, coffee, dried beans, dried apples, etc. were stored in three-bushel cans and were measured out by the pound and tied up in paper with a string. There was no adhesive tape.
Free delivery was made by grocery stores. Give the driver the list one day and he would bring it the next day.
Stores were not opened after dark.
* * *
The Reeds Chapel Baptist Church was having an OLD-TIME REVIVAL. At noon each day chimes rang out from the church with such appealing numbers as "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder."
My daddy liked the fellowship and the singing. He was not a singer though. For every song he would strike an high "C" and repeat it over and over throughout the entire song all the way to the end of the tune — all on one note.
One night during this revival he wanted to have a rebirth with the Holy Spirit. Three men noticed his need and followed him home to encourage him to step forward for Christ. The next night five men showed up early at our house. They prayed with him. Daddy was ready for the transition. It was a glorious day. From this day on he went to church and later taught the Men's Bible Class, all the while singing hymns in the same high "C."
When the roll is called up yonder, I'll be there.
BIRDIE was AUNT DONNA'S daughter on my mother's side of the family. Her husband was ZEB WHITT. I don't know where UNCLE RUBIN figured in, but he was there also. Maybe he was Zeb's father or uncle. Anyway, here it is: Birdie and Zeb bought a house down in a gorge in a rural area near Mars Hill, North Carolina. It was a nice two-story house with a balustrade porch upstairs and downstairs. Thinking back on it, the gingerbread ornamentation suggested that it was Victorian. Lightening rods were on every house in the country.
We went there during the summer. Each time we heard a living symphony when the whippoorwills whipped it up all night long. Fireflies winked and blinked. "Katydids," chanted with "Katy Didn't." Roosters proudly announced morning.
The next visit to Birdie's house was when her mother died of pneumonia, unexpectedly shocking everyone. We went there to be with the family. The day was overcast. Smoke fell over the chimneys and settled on the ground. The living symphony of birds and insects wasn't playing. The soft murmur of the branch between the house and the road lulled us into a coma.
I was one of the children that was nestled into one of the upstairs beds. Warm stones were heated in the fireplace and placed under the covers at the foot of the bed.
The adults sat by the fireplace and spoke in hushed tones about Aunt Donna. They spoke about what she had meant to them and how well she handled things. It was a quiet time of reflection. Finally, after everybody had ready settled down for the night, there was a MIND-BOGGLING CRASH that sounded like a huge firecracker with a spray of smaller crackers following it!! Uncle Rubin sprinted out of his bedroom in his underware and barefooted. The other adults rushed upstairs to see about the kids. Everybody was okay. But what what was the sound? What happened? Where did it go?!
Lanterns were lit (as there was no electricity), but nobody figured out what had made the sound. The next morning the adults checked everywhere and there was not a stone un-turned, yet nothing seemed to have caused the late night explosion. It became a real puzzle.
A couple of years past before Birdie found out what happened the night of the BIG FIRECRACKER. In those days churches had singing conventions with a few other churches. The singers would come early and stay late on Saturday. They announced it as an "All-Day Singing and Dinner on the Grounds." The Barbershop Quartet found it's way to gospel singing for these church conventions. The variety of the SINGER and the SONG kept everybody excited, clapping their hands, patting their feet, and joining in the choruses.
It was at one of those conventions that Birdie mentioned her experience with the mysterious sound. Another couple at the convention had the same experience. It was in a big old house. That family had actually found the source — the main horizontal support in the house BROKE across the middle and every single joint in the entire house responded to the cracked beam by slightly adjusting the load of the house.
The puzzle of that eerie sound on that dark night was finally solved.
* * *
When I was ten years old mother had the flu and I was giving the house a once-over for Sunday. Daddy introduced me to his philosophy;
"It's the corners that count."
As he swept the floor he pulled out the rocking chairs, cedar chests, and tables. He even pulled out the heavy oil stove and kitchen cabinet. The room was not clean until it was swept in the corners. True with painting, polishing, gardening, shipbuilding, bookkeeping, and plumbing, "It's the corners that count."
It's a good lesson to learn.
* * *
The first Mickey Mouse cartoon was released. It was also the first year we saw film with sound projection. I believe I only saw two SILENT MOVIES. They spelled the conversations on the screen. Somebody in the theatre played the piano and the show progressed, getting very dramatic on the piano playing. Sometimes they made other noises to accompany the picture.
Earl Irby was allowed by his step-father, Rufus R. Reid, to steer the family automobile, a black 1923 Model "T" Ford Roadster, for short distances in the South Carolina countryside.
* * *
August 1929 - 1930
Emless Richard Hall and Lyndon Hall temporarily moved to Mission, Texas from Asheville and Biltmore, North Carolina to do construction on houses there and in Bartlett, Texas. He worked for the Moore and Hale Construction Company. They also traveled into Mexico and sent photographs of Mexico back to us in North Carolina in early February 1930. (See photography section.)
My mother and I stayed in Asheville, North Carolina during that time.
* * *
The New York Stock Market crashes. The Great Depression begins.
“... people laid up lumber for their coffin.”
& Sleep Shop
122 N. Highway B-288
Clute, Brazoria County
Lynch, Reding, Irby 3 Savanna Blue -
C. L. Reding Two Rivers Poetry -
G. M. Irby published poetry -
M. Hunter Long Shadows -
“The soft murmur of the branch between the house
and the road lulled us
into a coma.”