Roberta Underwood, Part II: The War Years

In Part 2 of her reminiscences of growing up in the Bluemont area, Roberta Underwood recalls personal impacts of the outbreak of World War II had on this part of the "homefront": having to give up her dream of college to help on the family farm; social life with no young fellows around (since "everybody that could breath enlisted"). She also recalls community struggles to keep the Bluemont School open and the origins of the Bluemont Fair.

-- By Susan Freis Falknor

Roberta Underwood, Part I: A Gift for Story Telling

 

Susan Falknor. Now as you got older, you helped out on the farm, too, right?

Roberta Underwood. Oh, what are you talking about. Yes, of course. See, my brother Kenneth was in the service, and there wasn’t anybody to help Papa. And I had to get out and work. Like I said, I knew about working these horses because I done it. I’ve shocked wheat, cropped corn, cut corn – I’ve done it all. Made hay.

S. Hooked up a team of horses?

R. Absolutely hooked up a team of horses. And let me tell you one thing. Papa was very particular with his horses. He said this was his livelihood. And how you’ve got to take good care of your horses. When those horses were ungeared, they went and got a big drink of water. We had to curry those horses before we come to the house to get our supper or anything. Had to take care of the horses, ‘cause that’s our livelihood.

Gordon knows about this, because he lived like I lived. You met Gordon Beavers?

S. We are scheduled to go talk to him.

R. He’s a very nice fellow. Why, he’ll soon be 91 or 92, won’t he? I wanted to take him out last year, but I had to stand in line because so many people wanted to take him out for his birthday. He said he wanted to stretch it out. He’s a nice guy. He’s a bit shy. Before he knows you he’ll tell you little bits and pieces, but then when he knows you, he’s like me. He never shuts up! (laughs)

S. Do you remember any friends when you were a kid, around where you grew up?

R. Well, we were all friends. That’s how we got along. This was during the depression. Here wasn’t very much money. So, thrashing was a very big day. There was about 30 hands you had to cook for. The old thrashing machine worked all day, and you had these men to cook for. See, we didn’t have any refrigeration. We had to do everything from scratch. You couldn’t make a pie the day before, you had to get up early and do it that day. That went on every day. You maybe can’t visualize this, because you grew up with refrigeration. But people got along.

S. What crops did you father raise?

R. He raised wheat, he raised corn. Of course we had cattle. He made hay, he raised barley, and rye. And all that had to be harvested. He ploughed with a horse and – you’ve seen those old western movies—with just the plough and walking along behind it.

S. And the picture of the barn behind you?

R. The barn burned down -- that was our barn. The foundation remains. It burned after they sold it.  The bottom was stone.

S. But in those days, if there was work to be done, you did it, right?

R. Absolutely. If something had to be done that day, the housework had to go. You milked the cows, you fed the chickens. The whole nine yards. You made cheese, you pitched hay.

When I went to school, I had to get up and go and milk two cows. Then I had to come back to the house (Now Papa had already made the fire in a wood cook stove) and had to fix breakfast. You didn’t just open up a box of cereal. If it was cereal, it was oatmal or something like that you had to make from scratch. And a lot of hotcakes. Of course, we had eggs and bacon, we raised those. But I milked a few cows, come back to the house, fixed breakfast.

By the time I got that all done, my mother and father and all would be back at the house ready to eat. Then I had to wash the dishes. Wash the separator. Get ready. And get on the school bus at five minutes after 8:00.

S. What a schedule! How old were you – were you in high school?

R. Well, I got out of high school at 16. I started high school at 13. It was four years of high school. I went to Bluemont School seven years –

S. What is now the Bluemont Community Center?

R. Yes. And I wanted to ask you something. You know that school was given to the community and it sort of got away from us. Gone to the county, in other words. They are remodeling it now. They had taken the windows out – they had been sent to be glazed. I talked to somebody when I went over there.  He told me they had a completion deadline of about February or March [2012]. He walked me around.

S. Did you have regular school lunches when you went there?

R. No, they didn’t have lunches until my kids went there. The school was probably 10 years old. We had school buses, otherwise we walked. I had gone to the Airmont School, which was a single one-room school that taught seven grades. Now my sisters went there, to Airmont, which has been torn down. And then they made it to high school.

And you had to get your own way to high school. That’s when most of ‘em had a pony cart. Everybody had a pony cart. That was our transportation. And they even had a shelter for these horses to stay in, a pasture to put them out in during the day.

S. Did they go to high school in Unison?

R. Yes, they went to Unison.  They had a choice. They could have gone to Round Hill or they could have gone to Unison The only one going to Round Hill was Sam McMichaels. Nice guy. But, he was a guy. My sisters couldn’t go with him, because he was a guy. They had to go with the girls.  So they went to Unison. And they went in this pony cart. They just loaded up and took off. They ungeared the horse when they got there. 

My future husband, Lewis, lived at Mountville, out in the country, not right in the town. He had all this farm work to do, too.  They’d ride to Philomont, that’s where the bus was.  The bus didn’t go to every little house like they do today. He had to get in this cart, he and his sister, and come and turn this horse out there in Philomont, go over to the store to catch the bus, go over to Lincoln and then to Purcellville to school. And they’d do the same thing at night. And if it rained you got wet. That’s all there was to it.

S. Nobody worried about somebody stealing the horse, the cart?

R. Oh no. No, you didn’t have nothin’ to worry about. People watched after your things. People were very neighborly. Nobody locked the doors.

And even when we were having the Bluemont Fair, and the Fair had started, and my sister would come up -- she didn’t understand it. My husband was sort of the troubleshooter. If at this place they needed a pot, at this place they needed a spoon, at this place they needed something else, he’d run out and get it. And she’s say, “You all don’t just go into each other’s houses and borrow stuff!" But we didn’t think anything of it. That was the way we lived.

And when my father got sick, his neighbors came over and put his crop in for him. If it needed harvesting or something, they’d do that. You had to help your neighbor – that was all the help we had. We didn’t have all this welfare, or all these Food Stamps, or all these things. When you were poor, you were poor. You usually ate what you raised and that was it.

S. Your mother did canning too?

R. Oh my gosh, yes. And I canned ‘till I moved here. Of course I had a freezer later on. I made all our jelly, and when my daughters married I made all their jelly. We raised all these berries and fruit and them things. We never let anything go to waste. We had a vegetable garden. We raised just everything. And we always had a flower garden.

Mother would dry apples, we dried peaches, we dried corn, cherries. I don’t know if there was anything else or not. We store ‘em in bags, just cotton bags, washed feed sacks. We used those bags for everything under the sun.

S. And your husband’s name?

R. Louis. Louis Underwood. When I married him he lived at Bloomfield. They bought a farm there. I think I had to go a mile and a half to pick up a husband. We bought a house. Bought it there on Yellow Schoolhouse Road. And we lived in that house for 32 years.

S. What year did you marry?

R. 1945 (see picture, right).

Richard Underwood & Roberta Underwood-1945 S. And it doesn’t really seem like the Dark Ages.

R. It was primitive, the way we lived. People just don’t understand it. What, you didn’t have a refrigerator, no electric lights. Why, how did you manage? But everybody lived like that. We weren’t any different from anybody else.

We had two rooms that were heated. In our parlor, we had a stove.

We had a summer kitchen – and we got lucky enough to have two stoves, didn’t have to move the stove back and forth. And that little summer kitchen was sort of detached from the main house.  That’s where we’d store all our wood in the wintertime, just all around the walls and things.

Momma made sugar cookies and put them in a bag.  When she made cookies, she made cookies all day long. That’s when you rolled out all the cookies. Later on she might make drop cookies. But when I was real little we’d have sugar cookies and ginger snaps. And my granddaddy would help. He kept the fire going – that was his job.  Of course they had the other work to do, but it was an all-day job.

She’d put ‘em in this big  cloth bag. When we got back from school we’d have to change our clothes and go to the barn and do all that work. Time to milk again.  And this was seven days a week. Didn’t get no Sunday off or anything else.  That stuff had to be done. You took care of those animals. That’s your livelihood so you took care of ‘em.

S. The cookies in the bag – and then they would stay all winter?

R. Oh no! Maybe a month. They’d disappear. We would go run our hands in there and get whatever you could get in your hand – four or five – while we were changing clothes. And maybe another handful going out.

S. I guess that really was a treat. Without refrigeration you really didn’t have a lot of sweets and ice cream and things like that.

R. Ice cream. Now, that was a treat. I can remember, that’s what I got for my birthday, a freezer of ice cream and a cake.  I remember once my little great-grandchildren had a birthday and they asked, “Well, what did you get for your birthday?” And I said, “Ice cream and cake.”  And they said, “Is that all you got for your birthday”—cause they got a present. But ice cream was a present. Papa had to go either to Berryville or Purcellville to get ice, and of course we’d make this freezer of ice cream. Momma would make like a custard and she’d fix it all up and put it in the freezer and of course make us a cake.  We got our favorite cake.  I always wanted a yellow cake with chocolate icing. And we could have some friends in – that was a real treat.

S. Living with so few people around, did you have little friends?

R. Well, yes, indeed. And you’d be surprised – you’d have close friends who’d live a mile and a half away or something. There was always somebody stopping in. We would go to church and come back. We would get up early and kill a chicken, laid it in salt water, and then go to church. We went there at Bluemont [Bluemont United Methodist Church]. Come back, then you’d have to fry it. Well you had to have more than one chicken, at least two, maybe three, depending on who’s going to be there for dinner.

Come back from church, we’d have all these chores to do. We’d fix this meal. And there was always somebody driving by or stopping or something, maybe a family member coming to see you.

S. There weren’t any malls – not much shopping or entertainment.

R. Well listen. We had "blue laws." There were years when you couldn’t even shop. You couldn’t buy anything on Sunday. You went to visit friends. You went to church. You had lunch, and then you went to visit or somebody came around. But very seldom did we go away, because it seems like, once we took care of all of these animals. And we had a car. In 1930 we got a car.

“Everybody That Could Walk Enlisted”

S. When you left high school, what happened then?

R. Well, I graduated high school in ’42 and I married in 1945.  What happened? My dream got busted. The war came. You see, World War II started in December ‘41. And I graduated in May of ‘42. 

Nearly everybody out of the class – males – went. My brother went. And I had to help my father. There wasn’t anybody, I tell you nobody, around. Cause everybody that could walk enlisted. We were so upset over what the Japanese had done to us. You didn’t have to worry about it – men, they were standing in line on the eighth of December. Out of all in my class, we didn’t lose anyone, but one of the girls lost her husband. I thought we were pretty lucky. But that’s what I had to do.

One time, I don’t know whether the war was over or not – I don’t guess it was. Philomont lost – I guess it was four or five young men -- during the war.  And of course you didn’t even  have any bodies. You had this memorial service. It was so sad. And all these families crying.  And this was just this one little town. And I remember the Foxcroft girls sang. [http://www.foxcroft.org/] They had these forest green uniforms – a dark green.. But what a touching service. It was the saddest thing. It was the saddest funeral I ever went to in my life.

S. So your marriage was put off by the war.

R. Oh, no. I didn’t even know Lewis at the time. He was around, but I just wasn’t dating him. I had somebody else I was going with.

S. Now, you did not go out on dates with boys when you were 13—14—15?

R. Oh my Lord, no!

My plans were, you could go to school for two years, get an Associate’s Degree. And the way it worked, you went to school right after you graduated –like  in the summer time, you went all the next year and the next summer, and then you would have enough time in for an Associate’s Degree. And Loudoun County would hire you. That was my plan. I was going to Mary Washington. I wanted to study history and come back and teach.

Well, I didn’t get to do it. And I was there at home three years, from ’42 to ’45, helping about the place. I couldn’t leave my father.

S. You did what you had to do.

R. Exactly. That’s exactly what everybody did.  And you talk about helping and visiting and one thing and another. We was always in each other’s houses. Like one big happy family. We got along, the kids got along. And when you was at somebody’s house, and they tell you to do something, you better do it. No “I don’t want to” or nothin’ like that. If an adult asked you to do something, you did it.

S. Do you remember when your grandparents lived in the old house on Snickersville Turnpike that is now falling down, with woods grown up all around it?

R. That was the Highland House. That was one of the prettiest houses in Bluemont.Highland House - John & Margaret Martz


  S. Oh for goodness sake. This was the way it look then, huh? The lady on the front porch in the long dress –who was that?

R. I don’t know. But this was where Dr. Humphrey lived. He lived in that house [33697 Snickersville Turnpike]. Grandfather bought it from him about 1920-21.

S. Your grandfather and grandmother who bought the house, their name was …..

R. Martz. John and Maggie Martz, her name was Margaret.  My mother’s parents. He died in the ‘30s. I guess he didn’t live there 10 years.

Now another thing they did that was such a help to the family, they all sewed. Grandmother was a seamstress and she taught all of her children to sew. Treadle sewing machine. She had two machines and they did dressmaking. They also did crocheting and knitting and anything like that people wanted done. They made a good living.

And they all had music lessons. That was important.  And also the piano that I played on, that I took my music lessons off of, Mama bought from the Powell estate in the ’30s. It was one of those what do you call it… self-player, player piano? Oh, yes, music was very important. You had to have music.

And of course we always went to school and that was another thing that happened. The PTA.  And we had guests, right up until the time it closed.

“Top Drawer" Consumer Technology: Electricity and Telephones.

S. And you didn’t get on the phone because you didn’t have a phone? Did your parents have a phone?

R. My parents had a phone when we lived on the mountain. The phone was in my daddy’s name, I ran across it. We didn’t have one when we got to Airmont. We went several years without one in.

Typical small switchboardMy girlfriend was Helen Beatty – her mother had the first telephone office in Bluemont. You know where the stairs come right down to the road, that house?  It had a door off to the right. It had a switchboard .  Isabell  worked there, Betty Poston [now Betty Colbert]  worked there too, after the Beatty’s had it.  Later on they built a little brick building for the telephone office. It’s up on the hill opposite the Highland House.

R. That was the same Beatty who had the dance hall, and his name was Walter. His wife ran the switchboard. They had Isabell Arnett [later Dawson]  there, and they had Sadie Reid.   So if you wanted to make a phone call in Bluemont, you had to dial the switchboard. Well, they had a ringer on the side, they got on the line, and you said, “I want to speak to Miss Brown.” Well, they’d  pull it out of here and stick it in up there.

S. To literally connect you.

R. You needed the operator for everything.

S. So you turned the little crank and rang the operator.

R. They would answer. I’d sit up there a lot with Mrs. Baetty and Margery. Margery, you see, was older than me.

S. What years are you thinking of when you talk about this telephone system?

R. Well, it was in the ‘30s It sounds so primitive now, but it was top drawer then.  And not everybody had a telephone.

S. When did electricity come into this area?

R. Electricity was in Bluemont ever since I can remember.  But not in our house. We got it in 1944. And that was during the war.  I remember my Daddy having such a hard time getting things – he had to go to Georgetown.
My sister, who lived in Rosslyn, found the BX cable. He went down to get it.

There was just so many things you didn’t have during the war. Basics like sugar. Coffee was scarce. Cigarettes were rationed.  A lot of things you had to have stamps for – canned goods, meat, tires. Tires were precious. And I’ll tell you something else, was silk.

Everybody wore silk hose. Well they took all the silk and made parachutes.  You see, they had this mode of warefare. When they got ready to charge – say – here, they had paratroopers that got dropped and came in behind. That happened mostly in Europe. Against Japan, we were mostly in the islands.

S. I’ve heard about a Beattys’ dance hall, beer joint, or restaurant in Bluemont.

R. There were two Beattys. Walter Beatty and Henry Beatty. Henry Beatty, he had a -- do you know where Ruth’s Home is? [Ruth's home was a big house that had earlier served as a prep school and in the 1950s was a home for retarded children between Railroad Street and Clayton Hall road.]

There used to be two of those buildings. And he had a truck that went around and got all this milk, and it went down on the train.

See, there was a train then. The train left in ’38, and the war came along in ’41. And everybody could have got to Washington had they just kept that train going two or three more years. What an asset it would have been.

S. You mean there would suddenly have been a lot of business.

R. Right. Beatty took all this milk off the farms and took it to the station.

S. So he wasn’t running a restaurant or a dance hall.

R. That was his brother that did that. The one who had the telephone office? His wife and Walter Beatty had the  dance hall.  And I’ll tell you, Margery, that owned the store, married Ronald Hope.

“Sittin There Just Like Three Mice:" Courtship and Entertainment

S. Where was Beattys’ dance hall?

R. Well, you’ve got to go up where the  “horseshoe” turn on Snickersville Turnpike  just before it reaches route 7. You see, there didn’t used to be a round curve like that.

So it was up to the turn where Francis Ballinger lived, but it was a separate building. You know where Libby Stern’s house was? It was about where road bends back now. But they pushed over the building  where the dance hall was when they widened Route 7.

It was a pretty good dance hall, of all the places there in Bluemont. Some of ‘em were a bunch of drunks.

S. What were those places?

R. Well, one was right on top of the mountain. That place was called “Greentop.” In my time, that Horseshoe Curve [on Pine Grove road] was a wild spot. A decent woman didn’t want to go in there. I’ve been in the Horseshoe Curve twice in my lifetime.  It’s different now of course. I went to school with Bob McClarey, the grandfather of the gal who’s got it now [Tracy Wink]. And I liked him very much.

Now Beatty’s was a half-way decent joint. We girls – you gotta remember there was no boys around, everybody’s in the service -- everybody who could breath had enlisted. We got three gallons of gas a week, so we just didn’t joy ride. But every now and then we’d have a little bit of gas. And it was two girls. Lillian and Lucile.

S. Who were they?

R. One was a Dewney and the other was a Simpson. I went to school with both of ‘em. Lucile Simpson and Lillian Dewney.

S. So you three were friends.

R. Lillian, she seemed to have more privileges. Lucile’s mother was a widow, so she didn’t have a lot of anything. Lucile, she lived across the road from her. They’d come to Airmont and pick me up, and we’d go to Beatty’s. [Note: The drive is about 3.5 miles up Snickersville Turnpike.]

We didn’t touch the beer. I know my mother started out with, “if you drink beer, the men wouldn’t respect you. If you want a man to respect you, you have to act like a lady” and all of this good stuff. Well, it was the truth. I thought it was corny, but I used it on my girls when they were coming along.

So anyway, we’d go up there and just have a soda. It would be in the afternoon, maybe a Saturday or Sunday.  Or maybe in the early evening, because in the summer it didn’t get dark until around 9 o’clock.  Oh, we had to be home by dark, ‘cause all kinds of mischief started after 9:00 I guess.

S. I’m sure it did, actually…

R. [laughs] I’m sure it did, too. But we didn’t know anything about it, because we had tight reins on us.  But what I wanted to tell you is we’d drink a soda --  for a nickel. But they had this juke box. And that’s when the jitterbug was big. And we had Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and all them – they were the big bands then.

Well, you could dance. I didn’t like to dance with a girl – you just got out on the floor and jumped around. But, we had these conscientious objectors. They were stationed at Mount Weather. [A federal installation at the top of the mountain, less than a mile away from Beatty's place.]  Mount Weather was a weather station, and in the ‘30s, they did some mining up there.  But it wasn’t what it is today. So anybody that didn’t go in the service because of religious objections, we put ‘em in these camps, and they did work. Now those up there, they helped farmers at thrashin’ time, or getting’ corn in. They worked at getting the apples in, and they worked as orderlies at the hospital.

S. It was an alternative to being a soldier.

R. Yes. Very nice young men. You see, they had to give of their time. They had to come back to Mount Weather. That was their barracks. And they would come down to this place. They were all very religious people, and they didn’t drink any beer either. But they’d want to date us, you know. Well, we didn’t want to be seen with no conscientious objector, you know. We wanted a guy with a big uniform on. But we could dance. We’d be sittin’ there just like three mice, you know? Waitin’ for ‘em to come.  And of course, we’d be dancin’ among ourselves, but we’d be hoping…

And they’d want to take us on a Saturday date some night. Well, we couldn’t do it. Daddy wouldn’t let us. We lied about all that, you know? The truth of the matter is, we didn’t want to be seen with ‘em. But, they were good dancers and we enjoyed dancin’ with ‘em.

Actually, it was hard to get away on a Saturday, ‘cause we had all the farm work and all.  So this wasn’t something we did every week -- just occasionally. But it was fun. But what I wanted to tell you, what Lillian did – and John her son told me this --  that she never did have a permit. She went her whole life and never did have a driver's permit --  but what we’d do is this.

See, we was tryin’ to save gas. We’d be way up there on the hill, and she’d cut that car loose and coast. We’d come down where Glen Lloyd and them lived. That’s where we would try -- we just hoped there wasn’t nothin’ come runnin’ out in the road -- ‘cause you’d have to put the breaks on hard.

We’d come flyin’ right down through Bluemont. Wasn’t that many cars or anything on the road then. Anyway, that was our mischief. And I don’t know if our parents knew we did such a thing. You just didn’t tell everything you knew.

Riverside Rendezvous today Now one Sunday my sister wanted to go out, over to the Shenandoah River. Poor Ollie. She had this beau, Carroll Furr, in fact, she married him. He wanted to take her over by the river, to the Riverside Rendezvous at Castleman’s Ferry.

Did we take a swimming suit? I don’t know. We didn’t swim. But we’d take a picnic lunch sometimes. They had a snack bar in that place and you could get things there. Sit on the bank and eat and relax.

This was in the early ‘30s.

S. Now where, exactly, was this place?

R. You know where the [Route 7]  bridge goes across the river, down to the right [on the northern bank] you can still see it. I’ve seen it just covered when the water rises – I’m amazed it’s still standing. There was a dance hall/beer joint too. It had a bad reputation.

Carroll wanted to take Ollie out on a date. But they stuck me and Ken in the car. Put us in the car to go ridin’ with ‘em. She had to take her little brother and sister.

It had a rumble seat. Course, we loved the rumble seat. But I bet Carroll  could a’ killed us, and killed my daddy and everybody else, ‘cause he couldn’t take Ollie out. And she was a pretty thing. She was the one that died when she was in her ‘50s.

One time, on a Sunday, Mom went with us. I don’t know how that happened, whether Carroll invited her or what. And she sat in the rumble seat with us. I think Mama was a little timid. Ollie was her hand with all these turkeys and things, and she pampered her a little bit.

S. So your father said, you can go, but you have to take your little sister and brother and maybe your mother with you.

R. These were her chaperons.

S. So that’s why you say, “Poor Ollie…”

R. Well, it was embarrassing. And she never got to go out by herself.

And that was such a big deal, go and sit by the river on the riverbank. And most kids today’d be bored to death.

S. I don’t think people know today that you used to be able to stop down by the bridge for a picnic, and get soft drinks …

R. Sittin’ out in the sun, drinkin’ a bottle o’ pop…

S. Maybe the  beer joint came later.

R. Well I think that must have gone on after dark. I don’t know, but I know it had a bad reputation.  Your Daddy wouldn’t let you go. And in those days, if Daddy or Mother told you not to do it, you didn’t do it. All this poutin’ didn’t help either. You could of pouted all you wanted to. And God forbid if you did sneak off someplace, and a neighbor see you or something.

I can’t remember what year it was when my brother got his permit and he asked Papa for the car. And we got out. And he said to me, “Where do you want to go?”

I said, “Orchard Inn.” That was a forbidden place. But I wanted to see what was there.

S. What year was that.

R. I wasn’t married, so it was between ’42 and ’45 someplace.

S. Which of these places was the “Orchard Inn?”

R. On Rainbow Road, like if you’re going to Charles Town on Route 340.

[Note: The Orchard Inn was a well-known bar In Rippon, West Virginia, where several singers of the day appeared. Later renamed the” Rainbow Road,” It was the site of ”Sweet Dreams,” a movie on the life of Patsy Cline http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVkjVppclv0]


The Orchard Inn was a place where I wasn’t supposed to be. But here’s what happened. I was so tickled to go – it was just curiosity.  We got there. We hadn’t been there 15 minutes before someone got up and started up a fight.

Well, I was scared to death, ‘cause we didn’t carry on like that. Was never any fightin’ and cursin’ at our house. And I knew no way was I going to be cooped up in that. So I just did like this [pointed] to go down to the door.  We got out, and we heard the sirens coming from Charlestown.

Now later – I got married and he got married – I’ll say seven to ten years –we was all sittin’ around the table one day with our spouses and kids, mother and father.

Kenneth looked across the table at me and said, “How ‘bout the night you and I went to Orchard Inn?”

 My Daddy was unhappy. He sort of looked at me and said,

“When did you all go to Orchard Inn?” Cause even after I married they didn’t want me to go to the Orchard Inn – they didn’t want their daughter in no Orchard Inn. “When did you all go to Orchard Inn?”

“The night I got my permit,” Ken answered.

And Daddy lectured him. “What you doin’ taking your sister to a place like that?" And you know what Ken said? He said: "She wanted to go." So there it was -- and he dragged me right into it

Roberta's Children

S. We’ve talked about so many things and for a long time -- and I don’t want to wear you out. But I do want to ask you about your children. You have children, right?

Roberta and her childrenR. I had three children. One of them is already deceased. She died when she was 36, in 1999.  Heart problem. Beverly, the first one, born in ’46, she is 65 years old. And the other one is Rhonda, and she was born in ’53, so she’s going to be 58 years old this year, I guess. Help me with my math.

S. And your daughter who died, what was her name?

R. Karen. She lived here with me. And she died here.

S. You knew she was in bad health?

R. No. She had the same thing that her Daddy and her Grandaddy had. They just dropped dead. She did too.  We’d gone to church in Bluemont. She said she was going to deep clean her room. I said I’d help her, but she said, no, she wanted to do it herself. It was Halloween, and I went to sort of put the yard to sleep – you know, clean off the flower beds and things like that.

She asked me about 3:00 in the afternoon if I would make a lemon pie for supper.

Well, I started in on the pie, but in a few minutes Rusty, my grandson, called. He had my first great grandchild and he was going to bring him up. He had a little costume he wanted to show me.

I said to Karen, I only have stuff to make one pie. I’ll make you your pie on Wednesday night, and I’ll make an apple crisp.

We didn’t have the dessert, we waited until Rusty came.  He came, we saw the little boy in his costume and everything.

After they left I straightened up the dishes and she took her bath.  When I saw her she was towel-drying her hair and she said to me, “The bathroom’s yours.” She never said anything about feeling bad. She had laid out her clothes – on a hook behind the door.  She worked for a bank and she had her suit and a blouse up there.  She had her jewelry laid out on the stand and all. I went in and washed my hair and took a bath.

I was rolling my hair. And I heard something hit the floor. And I went in, and she was on the floor.  I came back to my room to call, and she had knocked the telephone over. I know I did all this, ‘cause I was the only one here. Anyway, you don’t remember a lot of it. I put a towel over her and put the telephone back to rest. And I called – of course they were here in no time.

I knew she was dead. Of course, they took her to the hospital. She was 36 years old.

S. No symptoms, or anything.

R. I know she felt alright, because she laid out her clothes for the next day, and she never said anything. We laughed and cut up with this little boy. We stood at the door waving to him, you know. She was dead in an hour’s time.  You just couldn’t believe it. That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my life.

S. But it sounds like you’ve been tough.

R. Well, you don’t have much choice. And that’s why I say, “Come along…” and I did. And improvise. And you didn’t bitch and complain about nothin’. And then of course I have a great faith. And that’s where my church comes in – that’s what I say, that Bluemont Church.

In the Bluemont church look  to the side of the altar. There is a Baptismal font, used for babies. I donated that in Karen’s memory.

 We always – when we have a death – well, flowers are wonderful, but we usually leave something at the church. My husband did the entry way, and then for his memorial, it was just money. And they needed some literature – Sunday School literature I guess it was.

Origins of the Bluemont Fair

S. I understand you know something about how the Bluemont Fair got started. And when.

R.  I would say 1970. But there is one thing I want you to do for me. You remember the plaque that is in the auditorium of the Community Center to the left as you go in?

S. Yes.

R. That plaque.  Are they doing to put it back?

S. Well, I have not heard, I assumed they would. This is Dr. Humphrey, right?

R. Well, he gave $5,000. He wanted to see the hall go up. The school was up where Tom Rust is now [the Mountain Shadow School, now a residence]. They were talking about it then. His was ’21, ’22, somewhere about then. Well, then it went on, and we had a wonderful school, wonderful. Not all of my children went there – two of ‘em went there.

Well, they got to the place they wanted a school in Round Hill. And they did everything in the world to close it [the Bluemont School].  We followed it every step of the way because we didn’t want to lose it. We had a wonderful PTA. These were the same people that started the Bluemont Fair.

We had a fourth of July thing of ice cream and cake, we had a nice Halloween party. We always had music. This is when the patrons had to do it. We had an active lunch program.

S. Oh, yes. I remember Judy Anderson told me about that.

R. You see, Judy is just a year or two older than my Beverly. Nice girl. and her parents – I loved her parents.  This is what I’m telling you --I’m just so blessed with the people I’ve known.

Well, we just think they were pickin’ and pickin’ and pickin’ at our school. One time we wanted it painted. Well, they said they’d give us paint. And the School Board came and put several buckets of paint on the floor, and we had to put it on. And we did. We wanted to keep our school there. And we put it on.

My job, well, I’ll tell you, I musta been nuts – I volunteered to do all of the windows upstairs. Nobody wanted to do the windows. I said I’d do it. My Lord, what a mess. And we would go up on the school bus, a bunch of mothers, and we had babies, not even old enough to go to school. 

Miz Lightner was the principal and she would – I don’t know how – put all these kids around a table, I don’t know how in the world she ever done it. Cause we wanted to keep our school open!  And we all worked together. And she watched those babies while we painted.

The teacher just insisted that we sit at their table while eating lunch. We hesitated, because we looked like a bunch of gypsies, with our heads tied up and everything.

But the killer point for the Bluemont School was that they condemned our water. One of the things we did when we started the Fair – ‘cause we started a Fair but we didn’t have any what you might call drinking water there.  So Tom Rust, he brings a big milk truck full of water.  That was when I was active.

And of course we did get water – that’s one of the things we did want.   So we dug a well. We took Bluemont Fair money, what was left over from the Fair. We had a project every year – well,  we had 15 projects and one or two years of money – but we made out. And it was the same group that was BCA [the Bluemont Citizens Association, which still puts on the annual Bluemont Fair].

S. Who actually helped start the Fair?

R. Well, here was the trigger. Have you heard the name of Earl Iden?

S. Why, sure! [Earl Iden, store keeper and entrepreneur, lived in Bluemont 1905-1978.]

R. We got very upset with Mr. Iden. He bought the station, the railroad station, cut it up into three little houses. Didn’t bother with a drainfield or nothin’ – he dug a pit.  He was nothing else than a menace in town. He said he was saving money. Well, he was saving money all right but – we had to fight him.  And he didn’t cooperate. Well, they closed our school. We was sick over that.

Walter Mann, he was the one who had the  Bluemontstore, came down to our house one day. He said that Earl Iden is going to try to buy the schoolhouse and make apartments. We just did not want it.

Lewis got in the car with him then, and they went to see others about it

We already had a wonderful PTA, so working on the fair was just a continuation of our PTA, I guess. And we banded together. See, the Bluemont Church had always used the grounds of the school for parking. You can’t park in front of the church along Route 734. It’s so narrow and everything else.

S. So you were afraid that if the apartments got it, there went your parking.

R. One of the things Loudoun County, or the School Board, did, we went there one Sunday and the gate was locked. It wasn’t just fastened, it had a lock on it. We already had our group that had tried to keep the school together, our PTA, and that was more or less our citizens association. We just sort of banded together, because we were not going to have this. We worked with the School Board. We had to, because they seemed to be in control.

S. So the people when Mr.  Mann came to your house, and you had the meeting that started  the Bluemont Citizens Association, who was there?

R. It was Walter Mann, and Lewis, Alex and Jerry Walsh and Ralph Cochran, and Bob Jones. I don’t know, once we got things movin’ other people joined. The Corleys came in – when people heard about it they joined in. We just felt like it was something we had to do.  We didn’t know what we were going to do with it or anything else. We wanted to do something. We were just going to have to.

Sometime in the ’50 we had gone over to talk to the people from Waterford. They put out an appeal. they wanted volunteers to help with their fair. [http://www.waterfordvillage.org/waterford-fair.htm]

Part of this happened before the war, and they discontinued it during the war -- then they struck back up again. But we volunteered because we sold stuff there.  And we worked.

But after we started this Bluemont Citizens Association, we didn’t have any money. I mean, zero! And it takes money to run anything. We had a bake sale, two or three of them. One time we had an auction – everybody just gathered up stuff  and we had an auctioneer. I think we made $300. Not like we were millionaires. But anyway, we absolutely had nothin’. We still kept up with our Fourth of July party and our Halloween party, because that kept our kids at home—they wasn’t out on the roads lookin’ for – anything. And that’s when they was all young and in cars.

S. Did a group go to the bank to borrow money?

R. That was to start the Fair, yes. Like I said, we had worked at Waterford Fair—just about that original group Bob and Ellen [Jones] were not in it. We would volunteer out there.

I don’t know, just sittin’ around like we are – in conversation.  We were trying to think of every way in the world to make money – cause we had music, we had lights, a few expenses. So, I don’t know who came up with the idea to have a fair, but it was one of the group that worked out there. So we asked them about it.

S. You asked the Waterford Fair people about it?

R. Even though we were going to be in competition – and they were absolutely lovely to us. Told us just how to do it. The main thing that we had to know was how you get that number on there, and how do you keep track of it. 

S. A tax-exempt number?

R. No, it wasn’t anything about taxes, though we had to worry about them, too. But this was a number, when you brought your stuff in – I brought in dried flowers -- you’d get number so and so. I still remember my number – 365. That was your identification and later on, about two months, you’d get a check. They’d charge you 25%. That’s what you had to give Waterford – 25% -- and we got the rest of it. Well, we based ours exactly like theirs.

The embassies used to come up to the Waterford Fair and they’d buy these bouquets. A big bouquet like this [spreads arms] for $50.00. Who had $50 for a bouquet?!? But they came on Thursday, and I loved to work that day.

The Waterford people were so sweet and kind, and we said, as a courtesy, we will hold ours after your fair. We started on the third weekend of October – they were the first week.

Of course we had to have bylaws. All our rules and regulations had to be in writing.

And we got ready for this thing. We had the school building – no shed out back.

We borrowed $3,000. And five men went out to the Round Hill bank and signed a personal note.  It was Lewis Underwood, Jim Walsh, Ralph Cochran, Bob Jones, and Walter Mann.

As you probably know, there’s a lot of hidden expenses.  There were volunteers to do the work, but there was money to be laid out. Then you got entertainment. We got most of our entertainment from somebody who just wanted to pluck a gitaur and sing. Didn’t have to pay ‘em.  

We cleared $7,000. We paid the note off,  we put $3,000 aside for the next year, That is something we did every year while was on it, we put $3,000 away for the next fair. And the rest, we could do what we wanted to with it.

S. With that Fair money, did you put the sidewalks in Bluemont and the shed?

R. Yes we did.  And I love Bluemont. And I’ll tell you another girl who does: Mary Liz McCauley. She was a Walsh. She is one of the dearest people on earth. Her mother was my best friend.  And you talk about workers – they worked too. And those boys Alex and Jerry Walsh.

S. Now, was Evelyn Johnson [Loudoun County school teacher, who founded Friends of Bluemont in 2002] there when the Fair first started?

R. Yes, she was. And Evelyn had put on something – she and Clyde Beck. They had something up in Evelyn’s barn one year. All of this sort of happened at the same time. We were talking about and she had it. And she was married to Bob Johnson at that time. That was before Ginger was born – ‘cause she just had the twins and another girl.  You know the movie that they show down in the basement of the church? We made that movie the first year. “When the Trains Came to Bluemont” and another about the Civil War. It was two different movies.  Bob was the sort of ring leader of that.

We used to have a train display, came over from Winchester. Jim Walsh was a member of that group. You go in the schoolhouse and that very first room – that was the train room. We had that thing going.
Well, Jim had this big display at his house. And when you went to see Betty and Jim,he had to go out and play with his train, and you had to sit there and watch him. Jim would grin and grin. But those kids, like I say, Jerry has a service station down there [ in Purcellville] and Alex is selling houses – real estate. And, gosh, I remember when they were born.

We had such a good group of people – everybody just workin’ together. And we did the same thing for girls out of the church getting married.  Ivy Cochran always made the cake. Someone always tended to the flowers.  You got everybody together and it didn’t take a lot of money. 

I tell you I loved those people – they were just absolutely like family.  Not an exaggeration, not an exaggeration at all.

And of course I’d watch Winnie [http://www.bluemontva.org/historyarticle20090511.html] and Judy [http://www.bluemontva.org/historyarticle20100201_1.html] and all them grow up.  I tell you they are sweet girls – would do anything in the world for you.

We’d watch these kids grow up. We’d watch each other’s kids. It was just day-to-day living. It was a good life.

Return to Roberta Underwood, Part I: A Gift for Storytelling