Friday, October 24, 2008

Day 39/365 Family is Always Family... 7 Days to Halloween

This is my front yard, complete with yucca plants. Although we live in a historical district, in a pre-Civil War home, we do not have the traditional Southern family cemetery in the front yard.

At least, not one you can see.

I am a hybrid: a product of 2 Southern family trees, with seven generations accounted for in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, but through farsightedness on my father’s part, raised a government brat (always referred to as “Yankee” by my cousins).

My great-great-great-great grandfather Holton was a young man living in Rockingham County when he bought approximately 700 acres of land from Abraham Lincoln ( not that Abraham Lincoln, but his grandfather). It was 1750, and 100 years later that land would become Bland County, Virginia, less than a year before a civil war broke out that would define Mr. Lincoln’s grandson for all time.

Holton built his first house and barn by hand using giant logs of American chestnut and hemlock, pegged together. The house caught fire during the War, and the one piece of furniture that was saved ( Holton’s handmade walnut table with one drawer and handturned legs) now sits upstairs next to my bedside.

The “new” house (as it is still called today), was re-built within months, even with the war raging, and even though my great-great grandfather was serving in the war, had two nephews imprisoned at Camp Chase, and a son fighting with Stonewall Jackson. It was again built of American chestnut and hemlock, again pegged together, with wide-plank flooring and big stone fireplaces. It featured a connected kitchen, a novelty at that time.

By 1917, my great-grandfather had inherited the homeplace, become something of a well-known horse breeder and bear hunter (Teddy Roosevelt came hunting on our mountain).

This is my great-grandfather, Jesse Archibald, and his favorite horse Kentucky. He was showing off for the new-fangled camera the girls had just gotten. Minutes after this, he led the horse up the steps and down the big center hall, to that conveniently connected kitchen. The screaming woman was my great-grandmother, because Kentucky found the huge pot of soup simmering on the stove. She discovered this because she followed the big muddy horseshoe prints down the hall

Jesse also had his sons courting their girlfriends on his front lawn. This would be my grandfather, and his then-girlfriend (later my grandmother). My grandmother came from the Virginia Eastern Shore, and was then teaching school in a one-room mountain schoolhouse, the only building precariously balanced at the very top of a ridge, reachable only by horse, or horse and sled in the winter. Grandpa brought her home on horseback to meet the family.

She stayed.

Of course time moves on for everything and everyone. Generations were born, lived, married, marched off to war, came home again and died in the homeplace. Then they were buried up on the hill, in the family cemetery. Initially it was unfenced, with big cedar trees planted on the corners after the War, to compliment the yuccas that Holton brought with him from Rockingham County back in 1750.

Sometime in the 1930s, a wire fence was put up to keep cattle from wandering through.
Holton is there, his son Tunis, their wives and families. Then the next generation, Andrew, his son Tunis, his nephew Tunis, an infant son my dad was later named for, as well as markers for the two boys who died in Camp Chase in Ohio as prisoners of war. They never made it home, but the family still held their places open.

My great-grandparents are buried here, as are my grandparents, and my great-aunts and uncles, and a couple of the cousins.

Several years ago, we made the two hour drive up to the farm, and helped my uncle clear out the brush and overgrown plants from the tombstones. Many of the stones are so worn they can’t be read. If we hadn’t made notes years ago, we’d have never known who was there, and where.

These are my yucca’s and my family cemetery —literally. We transplanted all of them from the family plot up in the mountains. So that’s Holton and Alcey, Tunis and Rhoda, Andrew and Sarah, my Great Aunt Onie, my Aunt Lucy, and my cousin Jo-Girl. They’re all out there.

Makes a house a home.


  1. Ahhh - I have the old traditional family cemetery IN my front yard, complete with 13 graves and tombstones (some of which you can still read). I love my cemetery - Chuck's out there, and one day I'll join him!

  2. I didn't know that about your yucca plants! Another neat story about your interesting family. Thanks for sharing!