By Violet R. Eye
What would he do now that he had graduated eighth grade? High school was not an option since the family was quite poor. He was born in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the first child of Harry and Carrie Rexrode, but the family moved back to Pendleton County to live with his grandmother who was no longer able to care for the farm. My daddy, Delbert Rexrode, was probably around 4 years old and his brother, Paul, a baby.
Granddad Harry carried the mail from Palo Alto, Virginia, to Doe Hill, Virginia, in Highland County and worked the small farm his mother had managed to keep after his father died. The mail was carried by horse!
What was considered a good inheritance in early 20th century had been sold right out from under my daddy’s family by his uncle. The family never forgave him for that and Uncle Dave never amounted to a “plug nickel’ as the old saying goes.
My daddy picked up work where he could find it, but most in the neighborhood were equally poor. Harry and grandma Elizabeth were left to raise the four children after daddy’s mother died when he was just 13. Uncle Paul was 2 years younger than daddy—a very shy and bashful boy, and simply would not attend school. Sisters, Virginia and Ruth, went to school but only elementary.
During the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) era many young men joined in order to help the family. Daddy worked for a time in Arizona and California. Upon returning home he worked on the construction of what is State Route 25 or now Moyers Gap Road from Johnstown to Route 220. It was during this time that he met mom’s father.
Delbert Rexrode and Sheba Smith were married in 1940 and lived with granddad Rexrode and the rest of the family until they moved to the farm next door.
The Siple’s Place was owned by Mrs. Rebecca Hiner and daddy and mom were to maintain and farm the land for a place to live. They were allowed to live in half of the house and Mrs. Hiner would use the rest.
When hay making was going on the hired men would stay in her part of the house but mom did the cooking and cleaning for them. She also cooked for Mrs. Hiner when she was there and kept her part of the house clean when she wasn’t.
The work was hard and the days long. Each day started with feeding the work horses, Bob and Dick, and this was done before daddy had breakfast. There was no tractor or baler and the work was done using the two horses and machinery that they would pull. Mom helped as much as she could with the work but with two babies 11 months apart, that wasn’t easy.
Daddy would plow for days to plant the corn, wheat and oats. The horses pulled the corn planter to drop the corn, pulled the mowing machine to cut the hay, and pulled a buggy rake to rake the hay.
Once the hay was dry and raked, the men would shock it. The shocks would be put onto a drag and hauled to the spot in the meadow where it would be stacked. A long pole was put into the ground and the hay was then stacked around the pole. When it was stacked high enough someone would get on top and lay hay in a certain pattern that would keep the hay below from blowing away. This process was called topping out the stack. A rail fence to keep the cattle from destroying the hay was put around the stack.
When it came time to start feeding the hay, daddy would start at the top and throw off however much was needed and carry it by forkfulls out away from the stack to the waiting cattle.
The wheat and oats were cut and shocked in the field. A binder was used to cut the grain. The machine would cut and tie the grain into sheaves. The sheaves would remain in the field until the threshing machine would come.
A man by the name of Boyd Moyers had the threshing machine that would come to the farms in Pendleton County and also in Highland County, Virginia. I remember one time that the wagon upset and spilled all of the sheaves it was hauling. This happened in what was called the Still House Field and I can only guess that a moonshine still once lived there!
The new straw from the grain was blown into the barn to be used to bed the horse and cattle stalls in the winter. The wheat and oats were stored in sacks to be used for making flour and feeding the animals. A portion of the grain would be stored in boxes in the grainery to be used for planting the next spring.
The corn was cut by hand and stacked in shocks. The shucking of the corn was done by hand and usually done after all the other farm jobs had been completed. I remember daddy and Uncle Paul shucking corn after it had snowed. They had a special glove-like thing that had a sharp cutting blade on one finger and was used to cut the shuck down so the cob of corn could be removed. The corn was thrown on a pile as it was shucked and then hauled on the wagon to the corn crib for storing.
Mom helped daddy with the milking, raising pigs, and when the lambs were born. She also took care of the chickens and turkeys. Keeping track of the turkeys in the spring was a hard job. Unlike the chickens, the turkeys would go far out in the fields and even to the woods to nest. As every penny was necessary, keeping track of each egg and poult was a very time consuming job.
Daddy worked the Siple ‘sPlace until I was old enough for school. The winter I started first grade was when the family moved to another farm in Highland County, Virginia. It was owned by Miss Leta Hiner. This house was a big house and had electricity and cold running water. The Siple’s Place had no electricty and the water was carried from the spring house. We could use all of the house except one room and that was to be kept for Miss Leta.
During the first several years at the new farm, the work was still done using horses. A tractor was purchased after a time and a man who had a baler would bale the hay until the Hiner ladies decided to purchase a baler.
Daddy still used the horses to plow the corn. I recall many long, hot days covering and hoeing the corn. My sister also had to help with this job. My brother and youngest sister weren’t big enough to do a lot. My Uncle Paul was hired to help with the hay making, corn cutting/shucking, and grain cutting.
There were also cattle, sheep, and hogs to be cared for. My daddy was very skilled at raising top lambs and calves. Rarely did he take lambs to market that they didn’t all grade the top grade. He could tell the other farmers what grade their lambs would be.
As we kids got older the workload on daddy and mom became greater. The Hiner ladies, Miss Leta, Mrs Lura and Mrs. Rebecca owned five farms: two in Highland County, two in Pendleton County and one in Randolph County.
As the other tenants left these farms to find better paying jobs, it fell to daddy to oversee the work at each place. More men were hired to help with the farming. Daddy was paid a small salary plus the use of the house. He was allowed to have a few milk cows, a brood sow, a few sheep and poultry.
The bill at the local store always took every penny of the monthly salary. Mom would sell eggs, cream, berries and walnut kernels to purchase the items that could not be raised.
A milking herd was started when I was getting ready to start high school. I helped with the milking each morning before getting ready for school and also in the evening. I continued to help with the farm chores that I was physically able to do until I married and moved away at age 20.
Mom started helping daddy more with the sheep and cattle as we got older, and she was known as a pretty good “granny”—someone who helped the ewes when they couldn’t deliver their lambs. Mom also helped the neighbors when they called with a problem.
As I said, farming is hard work, and the dust and dirt began to take its toll on daddy. He was diagnosed with asthma and had to get two shots each week for years. He also used an inhaler, but he continued to work.
By the time my sister and I graduated high school in 1960, the Siple’s Place and the farm in Randolph County had been sold. Daddy and mom continued to care for and work the other three farms. My brother bought the farm we lived on after he returned from Viet Nam. He got a job at the local bank and mom and daddy continued to do the farming.
As daddy got older the medical problems worsened and he was forced to slow down. Mom continued to raise the sheep and the milking herd was sold. My Uncle Paul helped when he could but he wasn’t well either. Daddy always felt he needed to take care of Paul much like his own children.
Paul suffered frostbite on his feet, resulting in the loss of most of his toes. He was forced to live in the nursing home. Daddy would visit him weekly and when Paul died, it was like a part of daddy was gone also. He was never the same.
Daddy’s health continued downward and he also lost toes due to poor circulation. His days of farming were over. He could no longer ride his beloved horse, Prince, or hunt the ginseng, a sport he had enjoyed from youth.
My daddy spent the majority of his life, 60-plus years, with mom by his side farming. It was a job they loved and took seriously and worked and cared for as if these farms were their own. Daddy worked hundreds of acres of land during his lifetime, but never owned one single acre.
As daddy’s health took more and more of her time, mom was forced to sell the sheep. She wasn’t young either and it wasn’t safe for her to be out seeing to the sheep after dark, and by herself.
Delbert M. Rexrode, Sr. lived to be 85 years old and Sheba S. Rexrode lived to be 95 years old. They worked hard for every penny they ever had and raised their family well. They were truly born to farm!