|Carma & Virgil 1945|
After the first night that I slept at my house, I woke up a little cold, so I knew I needed to put another blanket on my bed. I smiled, knowing which one would be perfect.
Several years ago, my grandma made me a quilt. She made one for each of her grandchildren, and we put our quilts in a plastic case, so we could use them after we moved out of our parents’ home.
I lived next to Grandma for 23 years. My parents built a house next to Grandma’s in 1991 after Grandpa passed away of a heart attack. When I was a little girl, I would walk into Grandma’s house. And if I didn’t see her in the kitchen or sitting in her rocking chair in the living room, I knew she was upstairs working on a quilt. I’d walk up the stairs of that 100-year-old farmhouse and open the door to the back bedroom. Grandma had the quilt laid out on the wooden quilt rack. I’d ask her who this one was for, and then we’d talk about the colors on the quilt.
So the second night I slept at my house, I grabbed the quilt Grandma made me and spread it out over my bed. Now my bed is just right.
My grandma’s name is Carma. She is my dad’s mother. She was born in her parents’ house in Kentucky in 1927. She was named Carma because her dad had a little sister named Carma who died years ago, and he wanted to name his daughter after his little sister.
Carma’s parents were especially thankful that she was a healthy baby because before she was born, they had a baby boy named Leiland Richard who had died. Grandma told me, “Mommy just got up one morning and found him dead. He was only 2 or 3 months old.”
Carma’s dad was 6’4” tall. He had to grow up fast because his father died young. Because he grew up without his dad, he learned to do things a lot younger than others. He was often solemn and quiet because he was used to shouldering so much responsibility. But Grandma remembers that one time he told little JR (Grandma’s youngest son) a funny story. Grandma said, “He told JR how he had gone to work in the coalmines when he was 15 years old. They had carts that they hauled coal with, and they wore lights on their heads. One time he was walking with the old mule that was hauling the cart, and his light went out. It was as dark as could be, so he held onto the mule’s tail until it walked out on the other side of the mountain. When he told JR this story, JR listened with his face in his hands, taking in every word.”
Carma and her brother Otis and sisters Odlean, Ruby, Hazel, and Ada grew up in the holler in southeastern Kentucky. Carma was born just as the Great Depression was beginning. But from Grandma’s stories of life in the hills of Kentucky, I think of the song lyric,
“Somebody told us Wall Street fell,
but we were so poor that we couldn’t tell.”
They had chickens, cows, mules, cats, and dogs. Grandma told me, “Daddy had a couple of mules to plow the grounds with. They might have had tractors some places then, but we didn’t have one.” Her dad also used to cut posts and ties and sell them to people who wanted to set up fences with them.
Carma’s mom was funny—always jolly and talking and laughing. Grandma told me, “Mommy was a good cook; she was pretty good at anything she started at. She could make a good meal even if she didn’t have much. My favorite was stack cake, but anything she made was always good.”
Carma’s older sister Odlean got married in 1940. Carma’s youngest sister Ada was just 6 years old and crawled under the table and cried because she didn’t want Odlean to leave. (I can understand the feeling. I was 13 when my first sister got married, and I cried through most of the ceremony as I stood up as her bridesmaid.)
Grandma remembers, “Mommy had a brother killed in WWI. Uncle Jim died in France from poison gas. She had 3 brothers who served in WWII. Uncle John got hurt, but not much.”
My grandparents, Carma and Virgil got married on June 20, 1945. Because WWII was going on, the wedding wasn’t a big thing. Virgil and Carma got married at the preacher’s house. Carma’s sister Ruby was the only one who came with her for the wedding.
I asked Grandma what her wedding dress looked like. She told me, “I can’t remember what dress I wore. It wasn’t white—you just wore one you already had. No brides that I saw wore white dresses.”
Carma and Virgil met at church and had known each other a few years. Then after only a month or 2 after they started going together, Virgil got a ring and proposed to her. Carma remembers that “Virg” was always lovey dovey. Through the years, Virgil always remembered their anniversaries. He’d say to Carma, “What were you doing this time today years ago?” J
When they got married, Virgil and Carma moved to Ohio for Virgil’s job at a steel mill. Carma liked living in the double house there. Virgil’s brother Jack lived downstairs, and they lived upstairs.
Because Grandma is such a good cook now, my brother and I asked her how her cooking was as a young bride. She told us, “I wasn’t a good cook right away. I taught myself how to cook. When we were first married, some of it wasn’t too good. Mommy taught me some.” Grandma chuckled, “One time Mommy told me to ring some apples. I cut them in rings, but that wasn’t what she meant. She wanted me to take off the skin.”
Virgil’s job in Ohio started going down after 4 months, so they moved back to Kentucky. Grandma told me, “After Ohio, your Grandpap bought a little old farm close to his parents. It was a small house—someone had just built it. Virgil bought it because it was on the ground his sister and brother-in-law owned. It had one bedroom and an outside toilet. There was no shower, so we took a bath in tub. We got water from a well. I’d go up there in the evening and get water; it was really good and cold. We didn’t have electricity.”
I asked if they had a fireplace since there was no furnace.
Grandma replied, “No fireplace, but the stove kept you pretty warm.”
Grandma said, “I was 19 when I had Allen. I had a midwife who came to our house. Virgil and his mom were there too.” Because Grandma always gets excited when one of my sisters or cousins has a baby boy, I asked her if she was happy her firstborn was a boy. She said, “Yeah, I was happy it was a boy. I always wanted 3 boys and 3 girls.” She got her wish plus one: Allen, Beth, Barbara, Stanley, Doris, Hubert, and Virgil Jr. (JR).
Virgil and Carma always lived in the country. Grandma told me, “Sometimes I thought I would have liked to live in town—where the kids couldn’t track in the sand and the dirt, where I could sweep the sidewalks, but I guess I wouldn’t have wanted to with the kids because there were so many of them.” I smiled when she told me that because Grandma likes to keep her house so impeccably clean. She vacuums and dusts and washes windows even when the house seems perfectly clean to me. Often we’ll look out the window and see Grandma sweeping off her driveway with her broom.
When they lived in Kentucky, they didn’t have indoor plumbing and certainly not a television, but they had a radio that they’d sit around and listen to. Grandma said, “In the summertime, we’d sit on the front porch after supper. Those were some of the happiest times of our lives.” Then Grandma smiled and looked at me. “It doesn’t take stuff to make you happy. You could be happy living in a tent outside.”
They moved to Indiana in 1956 when Virgil got a job at the paper mill in Carthage. The house they lived in didn’t have a bathroom, but they were able to drill a well and put a bathroom in. They were also able to get their first TV. They watched a lot of westerners and shows like “The Wagon Trail” and “The Virginian.” Grandma said that the Sammy Terry show told scary stories, and the kids always watched that. They also watched Hee Haw, Pat Boone, and Tennessee Ernie Ford. Grandma still watches “Hee Haw” every Sunday evening, and I get to watch it with her sometimes.
Their son (and my dad) Hubert became a minister, and one day he asked Virgil if he had given his life to Christ. Virgil said, “Yes. If something ever happens to me, you can know that I’ve made my peace with the Lord.” Then he told Hubert this story: When Hubert was about 4 years old, he was very sick with Rheumatic Fever. The doctor told Virgil and Carma that he didn’t expect little Hubert to live. Hubert vaguely remembers being sick in bed and his family members bringing him little gifts because they thought he was going to die.
After Virgil heard the bad news from the doctor, he went outside alone and walked across the road to a game reserve. Carma was crying and sitting with Hubert—probably rocking him, she said—and she knew that Virgil went out there to pray. He prayed to God, “If you save my son, you can use his life for whatever you want.”
Grandma remembers that after that prayer, Hubert started feeling better. She said, “And that little booger got up right away and started playing. I guess he was healed instantly of it. I took him back to the doctor, and he said to me, ‘Mrs. Nolen, I can’t find anything wrong with him now.’ The doctor thought he had been wrong in his diagnosis.”
After Hubert heard that story, he said, “Dad, you know the Lord took you up on your prayer!” He believes it is no coincidence that he became a pastor and church planter.
|Carma & Virgil at Hubert's wedding 1976|
In 1977, Virgil and Carma moved to the farmhouse where she lives now. It’s a good story: My dad and mom were newlyweds and lived in that farmhouse as Dad ran the hog farm. But then Dad felt that God was calling him into ministry. Dad wanted to go to bible college, but he prayed to God about what he should do about the hog farm. God gave him the vision of his father sitting by the fireplace in the farmhouse.
A few days later, Grandma mentioned to my dad that they might want to move from the house they were in. Then Dad asked them if they wanted to live in the farmhouse and run the hog farm while he was in bible college. So Grandma and Grandpa made the decision to move to the farm in 1977.
I told Grandma, “They always say that Grandpa liked the hogs.”
“Oh, yeah, he liked them. He liked fooling with them. He liked all the cats and dogs too.”
“What about you?” I asked.
“I hated the hog smell. I never went out around there. Your grandpap wanted me to go out there and look. But hogs and chickens were two things I never did like.” I think I understand because I never liked the hog smell either, but we got used to it.
Thankfully—for all those who didn’t enjoy the manure aroma—my dad sold all the hogs in 1991. Grandma said, “I was glad when those hogs were gone.” My sisters and cousins and I missed playing out in the barns around the pigs, but getting rid of the smell really was worth it.
But I can’t say the same thing about how I reacted when my parents burned the barns down a few years after that. I was probably in 4th or 5th grade at the time, and I was angry with them and yelled, “It’s because of people like you that we don’t have any old barns anymore!” I was a bit dramatic and started to cry as I watched the barn in flames, burning down on purpose. My parents were tired of the barns and didn’t feel emotional about it like I did. Aunt Patty was kind enough to give me a hug as we stood there on the porch.
In March 19, 1991, when Grandpa was only 65 years old, he passed away from a heart attack. I was 3 years old when Grandpa died. I was too young to remember him, but I get to know him through the memories that my family members tell me.
I asked my dad about him. He said, “Dad was simple, and his word meant everything to him. He would say, ‘If you don’t keep your word, you have nothing.’” My dad said that Grandpa would leave an hour early for work every day—just in case he would have car trouble—because he wanted to be sure to be on time for his job.
I asked my older cousins and sisters to share with me some things they remember about Grandpa. I laughed at the first thing some of them said. It was a little joke or game that Grandpa would do with the grandkids. Sara remembers that Grandpa would be silly and pretend to choke the grandkids, which would make them giggle. Sara said, “Grandpa would say that he was going to choke us and that Grandma was going to dig our tonsils out.” Justin remembers that Grandpa would tell them he was going to nibble their ears off! I’m not sure if this was a Kentuckian thing or a Nolen thing, but the grandkids seemed to love it.
Michele said, “Papaw was my favorite person in the world. He would always call me ‘Squirt.’ I loved all our trips to Kentucky and all the hikes through the woods with his walking stick. I remember when I lost my kite, he loaded me up in his old red truck (the really old one) and drove the countryside to look for it for me. He made me that rope swing that I played on everyday. I loved him more than words can say!”
Steve also remembers the old red truck. He said, “I used to love riding in his old red truck and the smell of it.” Danny also remembers riding in the truck with Grandpa and how Grandpa would let them ride in the back of the truck. Grandpa would drive slowly while the kids enjoyed riding in the truck bed.
Michele said, “He would put his coffee in mason jars and wrap them in newspaper. And we always had a dozen glazed donuts.”
Steve remembers that Grandpa usually wore brown or blue work pants and a t-shirt with a pocket. Steve said, “He always enjoyed being outside, whether it was mowing the yard or sitting out on the porch swing with a cup of coffee. I loved to swing with him on the porch looking out over the fields.”
Kathy said that Grandpa was a man of very few words, but he had a big heart and loved his family. Steve said, “He was always good to Granny, his kids and grandkids. I remember how he cared for and watched over Pop.” (Pop was our great-grandfather, and I could write a separate post just about Pop! J)
Sara also said that he was a quiet man, but he would always let the grandkids go with him wherever he went. He’d go out to the barn with 6 or 7 grandkids following him. Steve said, “I remember walking out to the barns with him—following behind him and walking in his footsteps, step for step. I remember walking out to his orchard checking the trees and picking fruit. I always enjoyed when he took us along to check the fields or to take a ride in the combine or tractor. I loved it when he let me feed the hogs by myself.”
Lisa remembers going with Grandpa to the farrowing house and clipping the piglets. Michele also said, “Everyday I would get off the bus and would pray Granny would let me go with Papaw to the farrowing house to clip the teeth and tails off the piglets.”
Rachel remembers that Grandpa loved the barn animals and always had his own names for them. Rachel said, “He had that ferret that we all called Stinky, but Grandpa called Billy.” She also said that Grandpa had a cat that he always called Tom…until Tom had kittens! Then he called that cat “Thomasina.”
Shari said, “That same cat would jump on Grandpa’s shoulder as he passed the little white barn on his way out to the pigs. ‘Tom’ would ride with Grandpa to the barn and hang out with him while he did his chores. After Grandpa passed away, Dad was walking past the white barn in his overalls—looking an awful lot like Grandpa—and Tom jumped on his shoulder. Dad was startled, and the cat didn’t get the same treatment that Grandpa had given it.” Then Shari added, “I think maybe I got my love for cats from Grandpa.”
Rachel said, “I can still see him in his overalls walking under the clothesline, coming in from the barn for lunch. Grandpa would eat those little Vienna sausages from a can, which I thought was really gross! But he would share his Fig Newtons with me, and I still eat them today and think of him.”
Kathy said, “He would always come in from the barn and take his boots off at the door and walk around in his sock feet. I always that was neat for some reason—I guess I thought only kids walked around in their sock feet!”
Lisa said she remembers after meals, Grandpa would mix butter and jelly together to eat with his roll. Everybody remember how much jelly and butter he would put on his rolls.
Kathy said, “Granny always made his favorite lemon cake with the sugary glazed icing. It was a staple for dessert!
Steve said, “I remember how I wanted to be like him, so I sat at the kitchen table and ate liver and onions with him. Also, he always wore his toboggan high on his head, and I wondered why he didn’t pull it over his ears, but I started wearing mine that way too.”
Danny remembers that he would give them cookies out of the jar. He remembers Grandpa making Keegan—who was only about 4 years old at the time—peanut butter sandwiches, but he made the sandwiches so thick. He scooped up the peanut butter and slabbed it on in big chunks instead of spreading it. Danny said, “But Keeg was a big eater even then, and he would choke it down like an anaconda. Every time Keegan would come over, Papaw would make it for him.”
Danny also remembers that Grandpa would mix all his food together in a big glob and eat it. He said, “The funny thing is that I find myself doing that today and think, That’s how Papaw used to do it.”
Sara remembers that Grandpa had a huge garden. The year he died, he had grown and snapped so many green beans that they canned; Grandma said that those canned green beans lasted for about 3 years.
All the grandkids remembered how Grandpa kept peppermint candy in his silver pig candy dish by his recliner, and he would always offer them a piece. Sara also remembers his butterscotch candy. Sara remembers seeing Grandpa sitting in his chair, listening to Hubert’s sermons that he would be bring on cassette tapes.
Lisa remembers sitting with him in his chair. Steve said, “I remember sitting in his chair with him and watching wrestling.” I chuckled because I was surprised to hear that Grandpa would often watch professional wrestling, but Danny also remembers him watching pro wrestling with Pop. My dad remembers that his favorite wrestler was Dick the Bruiser!
Michele remembers watching TV with him on Friday nights. She said, “We watched Hee Haw and Dukes of Hazard every Friday night, and Papaw would laugh and laugh.”
Shari said, “I was just telling my son Eli the other day when he needed to get a splinter dug out, how one time I told my grandpa about a splinter I had. Grandpa took me to the bathroom, washed my hand, and then pulled out his pocketknife, which at the time looked like a butcher’s knife to me! He proceeded to dig that splinter out, and I was too afraid to whine or squirm! I’m sure Grandpa thought I was one tough girl!”
Danny said that JR reminds him so much of Grandpa. Luke said that if you know JR, then you know Grandpa Nolen. Luke said that Grandpa had a huge heart and a big personality, and Grandpa taught him about working hard. Luke said, “He once made me cut down horseweeds on the southwest corner of the old barn with a little pocketknife that was dull. Now as I look back, I think the lesson that he taught me was the value of doing something with almost nothing and to not be afraid of hard work.”
Luke also said, “On another occasion, I filled his gas tank on his truck with trash, dirt, wires, etc. When Dad pulled the tank off the truck, he said, ‘How in the world did all this get in here?’ Grandpa just smiled and said, ‘I have no idea’—never giving up the guilty party that he watched do it with his own eyes…. I miss him very much.”
Danny said that he doesn’t remember Grandpa ever raising his voice. Steve remembers one story that left a big impression on him. Steve said, “Dad told me that he once borrowed Grandpa’s truck, and then he lost the keys to the truck in the river after their boat turned over. Dad was worried about calling Grandpa to tell him about losing the keys. He expected to get yelled at, but then was surprised that it really didn’t bother him. Grandpa just brought him the spare set like it wasn’t a big deal. My dad was so relieved.”
Steve also remembers how Grandpa gave a guy one of his best hogs. The man couldn’t afford it, but Grandap was there to help, and it made a huge impression on that man. Danny also said, “If anybody needed anything, he was there.” Steve added, “Even though Grandpa was small in stature, he was a big man with a lot of heart, and it was easy to love and respect him.”
Rachel said, “As a young kid, it was a little hard for me to understand Grandpa and his thick Kentuckian drawl. I can remember looking at my dad some for translation. But I did understand how much he loved Grand, his kids, and grandkids, and how he would hug and tickle us!”
I loved hearing what my cousins and sisters shared with me about my grandpa, and I teared up as I wove these stories together because I wish I could have Grandpa in my life now. But these memories of Grandpa and Grandma’s love—and her quilt—keep me warm and make me feel so thankful. J
|Christmas with Grandma!|
 Alabama. “Song of the South.” http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/alabama/songofthesouth.html.