Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Denzil Blake's Pappy

by Ralph Denzil "Smeech" Blake, Jr.

My great-great-great grand parents were John Burton Blake and Abigail (Crissmore) Blake, pioneers of Orlando West Virginia.
My great-great grand parents were Ballard Smith Blake and Mary Jane (Riffle) Blake, also of Clover Fork.
My great grand parents were William Henry Blake and Arminta (Williams) Blake who set to farming near Napier.
My grand parents were Walter Lee “Pap” Blake and Mina Jane (Allen) Blake.
My parents were Ralph Denzil “Dutch” Blake and Ruth (West) Blake.

To the left is my grandfather Walter Lee "Pap" Blake, 1885-1954.

My dad had two brothers Maynard and Woodrow and a sister Madeline. There were also two brothers that died soon after birth. Dad’s mom, Mina, died when he was seven leaving Walter Lee Blake with four small children and an infant. Baby Edwin Lee died one month after his mother. My Dad and his siblings called their father Walter Lee “Pap” (I guess short for Pappy).

Pap was caught between a coal wagon and the wall of the mine twisting his body until his neck was broken. A local blacksmith fashioned a device with a steel rod and straps that fastened around his body that Pap wore the rest of his life. A strap slipped in front of his forehead to keep his head up. I can’t imagine how he slept or lived a somewhat normal life under those conditions.

Due to Pap’s disability work was not easy to find but he somehow managed to keep the family together. I know the family was poor but I never heard any complaints about that from my Dad. In fact, it seemed to me he had a happy life based on the stories he told. Some of the stories were so funny we often asked for a repeat performance.

Head Pecking
I never heard it said that Pap beat his children but he did have a form of punishment. He would stiffen his forefinger and middle finger and peck them on the head. Apparently Dad was quite familiar with it and said it hurt. Pap would get his words twisted sometimes but Dad said you dared not laugh or you would suffer the dreaded two finger head peck. Pap would say “you get a feller all bumfuzzled up then laugh at him“.

Right above: Pap with brother James.
Left below: Maynard

Well Water
Dad said Maynard was told to get water from the well. Suddenly he yelled “the bucket came off”. Pap told him to get another bucket but Maynard again cried “that dad blamed bucket fell off too”. Pap yelled “Ahhhh Maynaaard. Why don’t you get two or three dishpans from the kitchen and throw them down the well too”. At that point Dad ran off to find somewhere to “laugh his head off”.

Berry Wine
Although Dad did not finish high school he was very adept at solving almost any problem, even as a young boy. Pap had a job taking care of a shed housing dynamite and blasting caps. Pap had picked some berries and decided they would make a fine wine. He put his berries in a big crock he put in the padlocked shed. Dad somehow got wind of it and had to figure a way to get Pap’s wine. He discovered two boards with a crack big enough to get a stick in to slide the cover over on the crock. He then used a hollow reed as a straw. Sometime later Pap was heard to say to one of has cronies: “Ahhhhh them boys. I had me a berry wine set out in the shed. When I figured it was just about time the wine would be good I raked my cup down in the crock and hit bottom. I know them boys had something to do with it“.

Blake Boys Vs. Bees
Dad decided another time to get the honey from a bees nest. He convinced brother Maynard to let him tie his pants cuffs around his boots and a long sleeved shirt was tied around gloves. To protect Maynard’s face Dad punched holes in a flour sack with a needle big enough Maynard could see out but bees could not get in. Dad assured Maynard he was safe but as Maynard starting to get in the nest he was sure a bee got in the flour sack. Panic struck, Maynard started jumping around causing the flour sack to get turned so he could not see. Dad said Maynard took off running blindly into a wire fence that threw him back several feet on his back. He got up and took off again right into the fence bouncing back again several feet on his back. Dad got control of his laughter enough to get Maynard up and away from there. When he asked Maynard where he was running to Maynard said he was going to jump in Cedar Creek to get away from the bees.
Dutch Got Hooked on Tobacco
Pap had a new pouch of tobacco on a shelf. Dad used a shoe button hook I think to get tobacco out of the pouch without opening it. When Pap went to get some tobacco he found the pouch almost empty. Pap didn’t say a word but the next day a brand new pouch was on the shelf to replenish the boy’s supply. Apparently Pap knew a whole lot more about what went on than Dad ever knew.
Right: a shoe button hook
Left: an unopened pouch of tobacco.

Making Music
Being a Blake it was natural for Dad to play several musical instruments. He and Maynard would play at dances for ten cents and played music on the radio for a short time. Dad made a mandolin and a fiddle for himself and a dulcimer for a friend.

Right: Denzil Blake and daughter Doris Jean

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Comment by David Parmer
I remember Walter Blake from my youth in Burnsville and saw him many times. I couldn't help but notice the strap on his head. He was the one and only person I ever saw wearing the headstrap apparatus. He frequently wore khaki trousers and a khaki shirt and other times gray trousers and a gray shirt and always with a well-worn broad brimmed hat which he frequently would remove to wipe perspiration his head with a handerchief.

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