Thursday, August 6, 2009

Day 150/365 Charlie and Mary

This photo was taken on August 6, 1924. It's my grandparents, Charlie and Mary - Charlie is just barely eighteen, and my grandmother is just barely seventeen, and they are about a half hour from being married. In the mountains of Virginia, they are considered a little on the old side for just getting around to be married (Mary's mother married at fifteen).

Charlie looks uncomfortable in his suit, but Mary is wearing her best dress and white stockings for this special occasion.

At this point in his life, Charlie was working odd jobs and running shine across the mountains. In the next year, he will begin working in the mines in West Virginia, but still running routes on the weekends to make ends meet. Eventually, Mary will put her foot down, and he'll quit helping the "likker boys", and concentrate on the mines.

A few years after that, there will be a fire in the mine, and Charlie will never go back down. After recovering, he'll take his wife and what will then be five children, and start sharecropping at one farm or another.

In 1946, after 22 years of marriage, the death of their first child, and the birth of six others, they will somehow manage to scrape together enough to buy a piece of land. No house, just land.

Charlie will get on part-time at the Virginia Department of Highways, work the fields full-time, and after a sixteen hour day, every day, he will come back to their cabin, grab a second lunch bucket Mary has packed, and walk down to the piece of land so as to work on building their new house. No construction crews, or bulldozers, or power tools - just picks and shovels to dig out the root cellar basement, axes to cut the trees to haul to the local sawmill to be planed into lumber, and Jerry the draft horse to pull the joists into place. Plus three daughters, all under sixteen, to help.

The photo above was taken the day they put the money down for the land - the original was sent overseas to their oldest son, because he was in Germany at the time, fighting for the Allies.

One of my favorite photos of Charlie and Mary - it's the Fifties, and one of the older daughters has brought home a Polaroid camera - the kind you count off 20 seconds, then pull the paper off the back, and wave it in the air to help it dry. It's an amazing thing to watch, especially if you live where pumping your own water is common, and television is something that only rich people have.

The new livingroom furniture in the late 1950's -it's the first matching furniture Mary has ever had, and she wanted their picture taken with it. One of the new kitchen table chairs is dragged into the picture as well. Charlie has just gotten home from work at the Highway Department where he's gotten on full-time. He still has fields to work after dinner and livestock to tend.

1974 - Charlie is still just as uncomfortable in a suit as he was 50 years before, but Mary has talked him into going to church this morning, since it's their 50th wedding anniversary. Charlie is not much for church-going, but Mary goes almost every Sunday, since it's almost the only place she goes except for relatives homes. She doesn't believe in women driving (or voting).

Later that afternoon, this "formal" 50th anniversary photo is taken in the front yard of that house Charlie built. The six kids and sixteen grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews all come for the party, as well as friends and neighbors up and down the valley. Almost everyone is related some way or the other, since both sides of the family have lived here since the 1700's.

A week later, my grandmother is canning in her kitchen, and stops to look up sharply - she runs out of that house Charlie built for her, straight down the windy road that goes down to the hay field. She just has a feeling.

The tractor has hit a rock (they think), and rolled with my grandfather, straight to the bottom of the mountainside.

Two days later, my grandfather is buried. My grandmother lives another twenty-five years, but for all intents and purposes, her heart goes with Charlie down that mountainside.

Today would have been their 85th wedding anniversary.


  1. Thank you for sharing. This was a very touching story.

  2. What a wonderful story - thank you for sharing that.

  3. Very touching. I have heard parts of this story before, but not the entire story you just shared--and I've never seen pictures. Imagine that. It's been so nice to see pictures after all these years.....
    Jeannie in IA

  4. Very, very touching story. Love the photos. Made me cry.