ALL WORK IS COPYRIGHT PROTECTED
UNTIL DEATH DO US PART © 1998, Wanda L. Harrell Revised 2003
“Until death do us part,” were the words William Herrell and Celia Garland said,
On the day after Christmas in 1872, the day that they were wed.
Near Big Rock Creek, beneath the mountain called The Roan,
Is where they reared their family and made their home.
They would, in time, own about a thousand acres of land,
But the original tract was bought from Bill’s parents, Jane and Sam.
They worked from before dawn to after dark, with ever so little rest,
To make the Herrell farm of Mitchell County one of the very best.
They increased their acreage by buying adjoining small farms,
And while they lived in a log cabin, they built outbuildings; three barns;
A smokehouse, to cure meat, with a dry second floor,
Where the onions, leather britches and dried mountain herbs were stored;
A springhouse where, from the mountain rocks, flowed water cold and sweet,
Into troughs where perishable things were cooled like milk, butter and fresh meat;
And fences, of which some were built of wood and some were fashioned of rock,
To section off areas, for the fields and all of their livestock.
On the sunny side of the mountain, Bill grew crops of rye, oats and wheat,
While Celia grew, in her garden, things like corn, ‘taters, beans and beets.
Bill was recognized by the black, broad-brimmed, hat that he wore,
When he rode to town, or just down the road to the general store.
Bill was meticulous with the ledgers he dutifully kept,
Recording the barters and the money he saved, made or spent,
And he wasn’t trusting, where banks were concerned, so ‘twas said,
He kept money in a sock ‘neath the mattress of their old rope bed.
Celia made quilts from scraps of fabric to keep her family warm,
When outside there raged wind and snow from a winter storm.
When she washed their clothes to rid them of stains and dirt,
She scrubbed away on a washboard until her hands bled and hurt.
Celia had blue eyes and thick tresses of curly, red hair,
A fair complexion, and a jaw line that was square.
Everything was from scratch that Celia had to prepare,
When the large table she laid, with hearty country fare.
It was a big task to keep her family well fed,
But she did it daily with iron skillets of fried chicken; pones of cornbread;
Country ham with red-eye gravy on biscuits as big as your hand;
Tall jam cakes smothered with apple butter or wild strawberry jam;
Freshly churned butter; wild honey; big pots of beans and ‘taters;
Fried apples; sawmill gravy; and in the summer, fried green tomaters.
The children and grandchildren just loved it when Celia baked
Their favorite, a big old-fashioned gingerbread cake.
To wash it all down, there was coffee, hot and robust,
Or a glass of cold buttermilk…one or the other was a must.
To obtain security for themselves and their children was their goal,
So, Bill and Celia labored each day, with body, heart, mind and soul.
Twenty-five years passed…the farm prospered and their family grew,
When they decided to build a big house, brand spanking new.
It was built to last for years and Herrell generations to come.
“Best built in the county,” was the boast when the work was all done.
They used clapboard of sturdy poplar and wood shingles for their new home.
As a foundation, under each corner of it, they laid stacks of fieldstone.
There was a front porch, where mud and snow could be stomped off boots ‘n shoes,
And older folk could rest a spell, tell tall tales and swap their news.
It had narrow window lights, one on each side of the heavy front door;
A wide hallway, where company could hang the coats they wore;
A kitchen porch, where the womenfolk could each take their turn,
At dashing fresh cream into butter in an old wooden churn;
Three chimneys; fireplaces in each room to provide warmth for everyone;
Large windows, through which came light and warm rays from the sun;
A sturdy staircase that led to the rooms on the second floor;
A deep cupboard that held dishes, pottery and canned vegetables galore;
A desk rigged on pulley, where Bill could record transactions of the day,
Then when finished, lift everything up and out of harm’s way;
A cast iron Home Comfort range with chrome trim, all shiny and bright;
Kerosene lamps and lanterns to illuminate the night;
And a meal room where cornmeal and flour were stored in large bins,
There also, were shelves for spices like cloves, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon.
Neither Bill, nor Celia, was ever known to shirk
From the responsibilities of family or tedious, hard work.
When the grain was thrashed, or there were fields to plow or till,
Celia carried heavy baskets of food to the hired hands working with Bill.
The children they had, before building the big house, numbered ten,
All were all born within the walls of their little log cabin.
Then one more was added, their family once again grew
When the last child was born in the big house, when Celia was forty-two.
The clock on the mantle tick-tocked away the time…day in, day out.
Each day was busy and full, about that, there is no doubt.
Then four days before Bill would have turned sixty-one,
He breathed his last breath…his hard work on earth was done.
Over his final resting place stood a shed to protect his grave from rain,
And a simple granite tombstone, upon which was chiseled his name
And an epitaph, which read, “Rest Father, in quiet sleep,
While friends, in sorrow, over thee weep.”
The home place was passed down to son Wilder, and then in 1942,
He sold it, and moved to Pennsylvania with his wife, Martha, their children and Celia, too.
The skeleton of the big house now stands empty and still.
There’s no company, no children, no Celia, nor Bill.
The front door lays rotting on the damp, cold ground,
Where the wind will never again catch it to make a slamming sound.
No one rests or stomps their feet on the front porch, for it is no longer there,
And dangling, without purpose, are the well-worn stairs.
In what was the kitchen, there’s no longer the fragrance of gingerbread or noisy clatter.
Gone, forever, are the voices of the grown-ups and the children’s constant chatter.
Standing yet are the chimneys and fireplaces, with their bricks now cold and stark,
For never again will they witness a warming blaze, not even a spark.
As for the smokehouse, the rock foundation is all there is left to see.
Gone is the first floor and hams, also, the second floor and the catnip dried for tea.
Never again will visitors or kinfolk hang their coats in the hall,
Nor will photographs of family adorn the parlor walls.
The roof is still there, but has begun to bow
From neglect and the weight of a hundred years of winter’s snows.
The big windows are shattered much like Bill and Celia’s plan,
For their children, and their children, to live upon their beloved land.
The farm that once flourished is now so ghostly quiet.
As time passes, night turns into day and another day becomes another night.
The years have come and gone, seventy-six, since Bill Herrell died,
Believing that his dear Celia would be buried by his side.
Neither one of them ever dreamed the words they said in 1872 would truly come to pass,
Or that the plans they so carefully made for their family wouldn’t last.
In 1945, Celia was laid to rest in Maryland, far from her Bill and the home she knew,
So those words they spoke so long ago really did come true.
“Until death do us part,” were the words Bill and Celia said,
On that day so long ago, when they were wed.
Could that be the wind from the mountains, or is it the sighs of Celia and Bill,
As they look down upon their land and their home place, now forever still?
BILLIE HARRELL (1926-1977)
MY DADDY'S HANDS © 1998, Wanda L. HarrellI In loving memory of my father, Billie Harrell (1926-1977)
Visions of my daddy’s hands linger in my mind.
His hands were wrought from hard work and daily struggles,
But were diverse in their ability and use.
They are sorely missed by many, but especially, his first born, me.
As a child, his hands ...
Caressed his mother’s for a loving touch;
Crawled on the wooden floors of home;
Played in the dirt of the North Carolina mountains;
Closely held things that pleased him;
Pushed away things he didn’t like;
Attempted to touch things that could hurt;
Wiped away tears that came from fear or pain;
Proudly carried a tin lunch pail to school;
Firmly held a pencil to practice the ABC’s and arithmetic;
Wrote with chalk on a well-worn blackboard of slate;
Turned the pages of a textbook;
Combed his red and curly hair;
Washed his fair and freckled face;
Buttoned up his shirt;
Snapped up his overalls;
Drew up his socks;
Laced, with pride, his newly half-soled shoes;
Pulled a warm quilt up to his chin in Winter;
Hid green bean shells under his plate;
Peeled and pared an apple with his pocket knife;
Delighted in playing in the cold water of a mountain stream;
Eagerly held biscuits laden with butter and honey;
Peeled the skin off his Christmas orange;
Happened to be the eldest male hands of his parents’ children;
Were required, after 4th grade, to leave childhood behind;
Assumed the tasks of a grown man.
As a man, his hands ...
Used many a hammer and many more nails;
Learned, from his father, to measure a tree’s board feet;
Tossed feed to the farm animals;
Gingerly removed eggs from the chickens’ nests;
Cleaned the stalls of horses and cattle;
Opened and closed many a gate;
Controlled a plow behind a cantankerous mule;
Knew well a hoe, a shovel, a saw, and an ax;
Helped his parents move from North Carolina to Pennsylvania;
Signed up to join the US Navy during WW II;
Held the hands of the one he would marry;
Placed, at age 21, a ring on the finger of his new bride;
Labored long and hard at whatever task was set before him;
Adeptly steered many makes and models of cars and trucks;
Bled, when working in the frigid Winter air;
Played silly tricks on friends and family, alike;
Found no job too menial or too difficult;
Made gestures when telling a tall tale;
Placed fence posts in smelly liquid tar;
Held a pitchfork to chase away an angry bull;
Changed tires on cars and trucks;
Placed many a cashew in his mouth;
Smelled of sawdust and tobacco;
Loosened his “bothersome” necktie;
Turned potatoes, frying in an iron skillet, over an open campfire;
Repaired many things that were broken;
Applied paint or paper to a needy wall;
Figured constantly, on any kind of paper, ways to get ahead;
Paid for many homes and many more tracts of land;
Knew, by touch, whether a steak was medium or medium-well done;
Placed lots of money in the bank for rainy days;
Emanated confidence to those who shook his hand.
As a father, his hands ...
Proudly held his first-born child, me;
Lifted me up to touch the ceiling in the kitchen;
Securely held me while bouncing me on his knee;
Held me gently, as I slept in his lap, as he plowed,
Controlling the Ford tractor all the while;
Spanked really hard when discipline was necessary;
Thoughtfully spoiled me with candy, 5-cent Cokes and ice cream;
Carried Christmas trees laden with snow into the basement to thaw;
Lovingly made a swing on the crossbar of the clothesline;
Pinched my nose to wake me up;
Carried groceries over a mile, in deep snow;
“Attempted” to play the fiddle when we were snowed in;
Pitched a baseball in the back yard;
Bought a bicycle, a sled, and my first car;
Slipped money in my pocket while whispering not to tell;
Paid for tires when I was too proud to ask for help;
Eagerly became the hands of a loving grandfather;
Tenderly held his granddaughter, then his first grandson;
Flipped open his wallet with pictures of his grandchildren;
Never knew the touch of his second grandson.
At the end of his days, Daddy’s hands were...
Held in my hands, in a loving caress;
Frail and weak, mere phantoms of the strength they once exuded;
Conveying love for me, his first-born child;
Needing my touch as much as I needed his;
Lingering, with what would be the last precious touch in life;
Waving good-bye for the very last time;
Praying to be reunited again in Heaven above.
Wanda Harrell, circa 1951
LITTLE GIRL © 1999, Wanda L. Harrell
A rosy color was brushed upon her cheeks by the cool Spring breeze,
That also played a whispering song among the fresh green in the trees.
The eyes of the little girl sparkled like sunlight reflected on rippling water,
When her daddy said, “Come take a walk with me, my darling daughter.”
Hand in hand, along the dusty lane they walked,
While father to daughter, and heart to heart they talked.
While they strolled along in the beautiful springtime countryside.
She sometimes skipped to keep up with her father’s much longer stride.
He quickly lifted her up, so upon his wide shoulders she could sit,
When, in her little girl voice, she said, “Daddy, I’m tired...just a little bit.”
“Oh, Daddy,” she said, “I wish I could ride like this every place I go,”
And after a pause exclaimed, “Oh, Daddy, I do love you so!”
He chuckled when her tiny little fingers tousled his hair,
And then, in little girl fashion, patted it back down with great care.
The daddy thought and then said to her, “Ever since the moment of your birth,
I have loved you, my precious little girl, more than anything on this earth.”
“Before you were born,” he admitted, “I had thought I wanted a baby boy,
But, my darling daughter, you have brought me so much joy.”
She hugged his neck tightly as he told her how he loved to watch her play,
And following prayers, fall soundly asleep at the end of the day.
After awhile he noticed she had become very quiet--not a word was said,
For his little girl had fallen asleep resting her small head upon his head.
Daddy and daughter no longer talked,
As head upon head, along the dusty lane he walked.
While securely holding her, he looked up to the blue skies above,
And said, “Thank you, Lord, for giving me this wonderful bundle of love.”
My 3 Js—Jimmy, Julie and Jeffrey
A MOTHER'S DAY © 1983, Wanda L. Harrell
A mother's day is...
Helping with science, spelling, social studies and math,
Begging and pleading to please take a bath,
Trying to teach a five-year-old how to skate,
Explaining the difference between a city and a state,
Reading a story, sewing a button on a shirt,
Reminding that before eating to wash off that dirt,
Finding footprints on a freshly waxed floor,
Spilled milk, cookie crumbs, wild questions galore,
A slamming door, signaling thirst on a summer day,
Finding the new carpet is full of blue modeling clay,
Discovering strange little objects under the bed,
Noticing his socks have one green stripe and one red,
Wondering why everything is suddenly quiet,
Stopping the washing of dishes to referee a fight,
Laughter, torn blue jeans, skinned up knees,
Begging once more to please eat your peas,
Teddy bears, broken crayons, a coloring book,
Wondering when there will be time to cook,
Listening at day's end to your child's bedtime prayer,
And watching in awe as they sleep without a care.
One day, the children will be all grown
And the years will seem as though they have flown.
At that time, I pray that I might smile and recall,
Filling the quiet with these memories, one and all.
GENERATIONS © 2006, Wanda L. Harrell
Ever since our Creator imparted the first, precious unheard whisper of life,
Forming man from dust and woman from his rib to be husband and wife,
Couples have loved, and from that love, new generations were given birth,
Increasing their number to dwell upon this magnificent orb we call Earth
Towering trees dress in green attire until brown, until their season ends,
But with each new season, their purpose driven cycle commences once again.
Rain falls, brilliant flowers bloom and each new generation gives chase
As sons and daughters are born and grow, ultimately taking their parents’ place.
Since the beginning of time, all of the generations of mothers and fathers
Have had the God-given responsibility to nurture their sons and daughters
So all the myriad generations of humankind could thrive and grow
In the seemingly endless cycles of life, going with life’s ebb and flow.
Continuing the eternal sequence of God’s plan, new generations ready for birth
With the breaking of each golden dawn, bright daylight or dark night on Earth.
LITTLE OSCAR © 2003, Wanda L. Harrell
LITTLE OSCAR is Wanda's only poem especially penned for children. Her daughter is a teacher in Orlando, FL; this poem was written especially for her class of 2002-03. Note: Wanda also drew the sketch of Little Oscar.
Little Oscar is quite the remarkable little worm,
One that you’ll rarely see wiggle or seldom see squirm.
Little Oscar looks incredibly smart and wise,
Wearing big round glasses over his tiny eyes.
Little Oscar is a worm that is really quite rare,
‘Cause he prefers to sit quietly in a comfy old chair.
Instead of wiggling about, his favorite thing is to read and look
Through pages and pages of every imaginable kind of book.
When he reads, he can be anyone or do most anything
He can be a knight of the Round Table, or Arthur, the king.
Little Oscar can be Peter Pan and fly through the air
Or live in Yellowstone Park and be a big old bear.
He can be a policeman and drive a snazzy patrol car,
Or a gymnast, tumbling, flipping and swinging from a bar.
Little Oscar can be a famous singer with a noisy rock band,
Or shipwrecked Robinson Crusoe finding footprints in the sand.
He can be a fearless fireman who wears a yellow helmet and raincoat,
Or a whaler of old searching for Moby Dick from a big boat.
Little Oscar can be a brave sheriff wearing a shiny star on his chest,
Or a rough and tough cowboy herding cattle in the old, wild West.
He can be an astronaut and ride a rocket ship to Mars,
Or an astronomer with a big telescope to study the stars.
Little Oscar can travel by plane or boat to any faraway land,
Or have Dr. Seuss make him a breakfast of green eggs and ham.
Little Oscar can go anywhere or be anything he wants to be,
‘Cause he’s a little bookworm who does everything cleverly.
All he has to do to be any of these things or go anywhere
Is just read through the pages of a book while sitting in his chair.
Oh yes, Little Oscar is quite the remarkable little worm,
A worm that doesn’t need to wiggle and doesn’t need to squirm.
FAMILY ALBUM © 2007, Wanda L. Harrell
After struggling up the twisting, well worn stairs, the old lady decided to explore
Her attic’s treasures, randomly strewn across the wide planks of creaking floor.
Crippled rays of sunshine made their way through grimy glass windows paned
To illuminate odd bits and pieces of what the dusty, neglected room contained.
Amidst a treadle sewing machine, trunks and a dress form stood an old bookcase,
And silently beckoning from a shelf there, from a long forgotten hiding place,
Was a book encased with a dense layer of dust gathered through the ages,
A once crimson velvet photograph album with antiquated, thick, cardboard pages,
Seating herself in an aged white wicker rocking chair she dragged from across the room,
She prepared herself to relax, and at her leisure peruse the long forgotten volume.
After blowing dusty time from its cover, and with a mind curious and solemn,
She slowly and gently opened this old book, her family’s long forgotten album.
Preserved therein were faces of her heritage, her ancestors from long, long ago,
Men, women and children in sepia tones with each name carefully written below.
There were tin types and fragile photographs of couples, standing straight and tall,
Wearing their finest garments of the day, but on their faces, they wore no smile at all.
Babies were held in their mother’s arms and small children sat upon the knee
Of their father; all were dramatically posed and proper for the camera’s eye to see.
Having been erased from memory; her curiosity was new and would not let go,
So with each gentle turn of the page, her interest seemed to thrive and grow.
Driven to do more than give a fleeting glance, her eyes paid attention to their eyes,
Thinking about the myriad tears that had long ago flowed amidst woeful outcries.
While viewing the smile less faces, she wondered about their laughter’s sound,
And if any one of them possessed a contagious laugh, infecting everyone around.
Gingerly turning the pages; her mind filled with thoughts of each and every one,
Puzzling about the person and every day living before their lives on earth were done.
Suddenly, her attention was caught by a lady whose face was round and fair,
A lady who primly sat with folded hands in the very same white, wicker rocking chair.
The photograph was of another elderly woman, a woman who looked just like her,
But there was no name or even initials inscribed underneath the old-fashioned picture.
Immediately, tears began to well up in her eyes; her vision promptly began to blur,
While she feverishly fumbled through the heavy book to find another image of her.
Disappointed, she quickly returned to the previous page, and could not help but stare
At the woman’s face and the crocheted cap covering most of her snow white hair.
While sorting through distant memories of her personal past, she poured over each detail,
Desperately trying to recall someone once mentioning this woman so old, tiny and frail.
Tears of grief ran down her wrinkled cheeks for a lady who would stay forever unnamed
In the family album, just one moment of a full life was the solitary thing that remained.
With no way to know if the mystery woman was a grandparent, an aunt or second cousin,
She finally concluded she would have to wait until she joined this ancestor in Heaven.
But, she continued to lament about the unknown life and name of the nameless woman
As she closed the silent treasure, and sat with hands folded upon her family album.
WANDA'S MARVELOUS FAMILY: CHILDREN & GRANDCHILDREN
STERLING WILLIAM, WANDA'S WONDERFUL GRANDSON, JULIA'S SON.
GRAYLAND McKENNA STALNAKER, WANDA'S PRECIOUS GRANDDAUGHTER, DAUGHTER OF JIMMY AND BRENDA.
THE PRECIOUS SOPHIA ROSE STALNAKER, DAUGHTER OF JEFF AND RACHEL (BORN 5/10/06).
THE PRECIOUS EDEN LILLY, DAUGHTER OF JEFF AND RACHEL (BORN 10/12/08)
PRECIOUS AUGUST OLEN STALNAKER ENTERED OUR WORLD ON 6 JANUARY 2010. THE PROUD PARENTS ARE JIMMY, JR. AND BRENDA STALNAKER.