Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Early Years on Clover Fork with the Holbert Family

by Nina Myers as told to David Parmer

It isn’t easy to lose a parent. Today there are many social welfare agencies that provide help and assistance to families that suffer the loss of a wage-earning parent. There are agencies that provide food stamps, rent assistance, free medical care, coupons for milk, payment for utilities, child care assistance, free lunches and textbooks at school, free transportation to school, vouchers for clothing and of course money, either in the form of welfare checks or social security checks. It is difficult today, visibly, to discern a child who is supported by his parents and a child who is supported solely by social welfare agencies.
Left: Nina Smarr
Below, right: Abia and Margaret Etta (Cunningham) Holbert

Death of My Father
Social welfare agencies were unheard of not that many years ago. In the 1930’s, my father, who was employed as the head sawyer in a stave mill in Marshall County, was killed in a traffic accident. As was the case with most families during the Depression, families lived from hand to mouth, without savings or resources to tide them over in case of a turn of fortune. The loss of a wage earning parent was catastrophic to most families, as it was with mine.

We Children Came to Clover Fork
After my father’s death, my mother and her four children, including me, came to Abram’s Run, to the home of my mother’s sister, Lucy Craig. In the 1930’s reality stared my young widowed mother with four young children coldly in the face. “Farming children out” was not uncommon in those days and many children not fortunate enough to be placed with a family who loved them frequently ended up in an orphanage. My siblings and I were among the fortunate. I found a loving home with Abia and Margaret Etta Holbert on Clover Fork, my brother Clell found a warm foster home with Pres and Jessie Bragg on Clover Fork, my brother Clifford made his home with Ralph and Audra Hall on Abram’s Run and my brother Lubert found a happy home with Vaden and Burla Traylor on Clover Fork. My sister Annabelle remained with my mother and was raised in the home of my mother and her new husband, Orville Sapp.

Left: Margaret Etta and Abia with grandchildren Angela and Helen Ellyson
Below right: portrait of Etta Holbert made from photo at left.

Mrs. Holbert, My Foster Mother
My years at Farmview Farm, the home of Abia and Margaret Etta (Cunningham) Holbert, were unforgettable years for me. My foster father was a good man and a good father, very interested in securing for me a successful place in life, and I was indeed fortunate to have been a member of his family and home. But the focus of this remembrance is my foster mother, Mrs. Holbert, whom I consider my first “teacher” in life and without whom my life would have been far less rewarding.

Mrs. Holbert was the daughter of Enoch and Mary (Kiley) Cunningham, a farm family of Clover Fork, whose farm was at the railroad tunnel near Chapman. Born in 1873, Mrs. Holbert received four years of education in a log school house on Abram’s Run. Despite this meager education, she never stopped learning until her death. She was 62 years old when I arrived at her home on Clover Fork in 1935.

From the start of my relationship with Mrs. Holbert, I was made to feel a part of her family. Her four natural children and her step daughter were all adults and had left home and had successful careers. She may have still had that maternal yearning which is perhaps why she received me so warmly and sought to make sure that my life would be secure and productive as she would have for a child of her own.

A Speech Impediment
Mrs. Holbert was born with a cleft palate which resulted in a speech impediment. Her speech was somewhat slurred and difficult for strangers to comprehend. Her parents had been philosophical about the speech problem and felt that the handicap would make her a “better girl.” Although I don’t necessarily agree that a physical handicap makes one a “better person,” I would agree that Mrs. Holbert was a wonderful person and role model. Whether it was because of her handicap or simply because of a natural gift of life, I cannot say, but her kindness and thoughtfulness were ever manifest in her dealings with people.

Although Mrs. Holbert shied away from public speaking herself, she always encouraged me to participate in school activities involving public speaking, whether it were plays at school or participation in school or public activities where communication was important. I particularly recall an occasion of a school play at Walkersville High School one rainy night when the Clover Fork hill was slippery and muddy from an incessant rain. I had stayed at school to prepare for the play and I was fearful that Mr. and Mrs. Holbert would not be able to make it to the play because of the horrible road conditions. Despite the inclement weather and worse road conditions, I was much relieved and honored when someone brought Fred Holbert’s Stetson hat backstage which was to be a prop in the play, which meant that my foster parents braved the elements to attend the play.

Equal Rights
When I was growing up, it was a given that women were not deemed entitled to have real estate or automobiles titled in their names, and that women “took the back seat” with regard to situations which were considered a “man’s right.” Mrs. Holbert encouraged me to think otherwise as she did herself. She had lived a goodly portion of her life being unable to vote or to be considered fit to hold a public office. She did not agree with that attitude and urged me not to accept the “backseat” in life. Looking back, I clearly see that Mrs. Holbert was a woman “ahead of the times” and a woman of vision.

Chores and Lessons of Life
Mrs. Holbert taught me many lessons of life while we did household chores. She would discuss with me lessons of morality while we plucked chickens or canned vegetables. Not only did the lessons make the jobs go faster, but the lessons were more meaningful as they blended with the chores. She discussed issues of modesty, manners, and the importance of clear communication with those we have to deal with in life. We recited poetry, or I discussed my school homework which she always made sure that I had prepared. I particularly recall that she cautioned me not to hang out ladies undergarments on the clothes line to dry when men folk were about the farm because it would be immodest. Never did a chore time pass without some valuable lesson of life being imparted to me by Mrs. Holbert and for that I am ever-grateful.

A Career
Abia and Margaret Etta Holbert were huge believers in education, and they encouraged me to look to a career in education. Some careers would have been more easily attained. Nurses training at the time involved less time, as did secretarial school, but Mrs. Holbert felt that education and teaching would be a more meaningful career for me in the long run and encouraged me in that direction. Today as a retired teacher with a satisfying career behind me in education I am ever so grateful that Mrs. Holbert was my advisor and mentor in my early life.
Left: Margaret Etta with son Robert's family in Nebraska
Mr. Holbert died in 1943 and Mrs. Holbert passed away in 1950. I am quite proud to say that I am the foster daughter of Margaret Etta and Abia Holbert of Clover Fork.

. . . . .

Father’s Day 1982
In Memory of Abia B. Holbert
By Nina Smarr Craig

We think of our fathers in this valley below
Who toiled to keep families together.
They worked with their hands from morning til night,
No matter what kind of weather.

Their word was their honor, each neighbor their friend,
Who they helped through sickness and health.
They had enough of God’s blessings in store;
Not one of them searching for wealth.

We sat on a bench at the table
And doubled or tripled in bed.
There was always room for everyone
And each of us amply fed.

Our Dad’s had their worries as we know now,
But they silently went on their way
And taught all us children honesty and truth
And knew the reverence to pray.

We respected the church, the older folk,
The teacher, the school and such.
What we learned from our Dads no words can explain;
By a good example was the way we were trained.

They never saw New York or Paris
Or yearned for the bright city lights;
Orlando, Clover Fork was home;
Their jobs, their family, their life.

We’re scattered now all over the world,
The offspring of these great men.
We hope we have left an impression somewhere
As they did for us back then.

We thank God today for the Dad we had,
With memories so precious and rare.
We could search the world over and never could find
A Dad like ours anywhere.


  1. Thank you, David, for your recognition of the Holberts. I am proud to say the Holberts raised my Mother, Nina Myers, and their morals and "lessons of life" have forever been a part of her life as well. You have done an excellent job compiling/composing these histories. My Mother has thoroughly enjoyed reading them, and, has also enjoyed her participation. She is a great historian herself, as I'm sure you're aware. (Dottie Starr,

  2. Amen to above! What wonderful stories and pictures! Nina Myers is my half-sister and Dottie my niece. Nina & I have been talking alot by phone since your interview. I am 20 years younger so I wasn't around when she lived with the Holberts. It is great how you've compiled and brought all this together. I've lived in the DC area since 1961; currently in Sterling, VA since 1972. Blessings to you, Jean Trotter,

  3. Aunt Nina, As I have encouraged you to do for so long, I am so glad you have began to come forth with your wealth of knowledge of the actual family history and facts that, much to some famly members dismay have been suppressed, denied, or just in general kept in the closet from younger generations on the pretense that if it's not spoken of it didn't happen. I am glad my Mother(Mary Sapp-Smith) was honest and forthright in telling me as a child growing up the events as she knew them of where Aunt Nina, Uncle Clifford(who died before I was born) and Uncle Loubert were farmed out to other families and did not live in the Orville H. Sapp household. I only hope you make more contributions to this to further tell the story of this family saga, so that younger generations can have a factual account of this portion of family history. Love always, David

  4. When Nina Meyers came to Crawford she became a special friend to my Mother. Over the years she became a special friend to me. Reading of her childhood was interesting and enlightening. Nina is such an asset to the community and her knowledge of the people and history of the area is amazing. I never speak with her at length without coming away with a plethora of history and information. I consider myself one of the fortunate ones who has had the privilege of knowing her. She always takes time to research any question or fact that one may inquire about. I feel I am so much more for knowing Nina.