Monday, July 19, 2010

Alta Jo Keith and Her Autograph Book

by David Parmer

When you are sitting on the front porch on a summer evening, with dinner over and the chores of the day all done, the sun starting to fall below the green-leafy hillside, the waning hours softened by a soft breeze wafting across the banister, and the rabbit cautiously munching the green shoots at the edge of the creek, what gives more pleasure than an autograph book from long ago lying on your lap, with amusing little poems leaping out at you, calling back memories of long ago. It makes no matter that the autograph book belonged to a long-dead mother. The memory of her, sitting on the porch, leafing through her autograph book, makes her seem almost alive.
Autograph books now are relics of the past, given scant attention by today’s youth, who are absorbed in cars, Ipods, television, texting, and playing phone tag with friends. But to the generations of a hundred years ago, owning an autograph book and asking a friend or classmate to render a little verse between the leather-bound covers, was special. As the song goes, “those were the days, my friend.”
Right, above: a page from Alta's autograph book.
Left: Alta Jo Keith McCord
Right, below: Alta Jo Keith

Alta Jo (Keith) McCord (1912-1995)

Alta Jo Keith was born in 1912, the fifth of seven children, to Hugh Keith and Maggie (Perrine) Keith. Her siblings were Ruth, Eva, Helen, Rudie, Oliver and Woodrow. Alta’s sister Ruth married Audie Cosner of Jacksonville Ridge and Eva wed Thurl Nestor of Spencer. Both sisters and their families eventually moved to Ohio. Alta’s brother Rudie, and his wife, Thelma lived in Ohio. Alta’s younger brother, Oliver, married a Greenbrier County girl, Kathryn “Kitty” Hughes; another brother, Woodrow and his wife, Violet, lived in Akron; and her sister Helen, the youngest of the family, married Harold McCort, also an Ohioan.

At age 29, Alta married Louis McCord with whom she remained for 54 years until her death in 1995. They became the parents of two sons, Louis and Kenneth. Alta’s niece, Cherry Wautot, poignantly remembers that her aunt and uncle were “not just married, but soul bound.”

Left: Maggie Perrine Keith, Alta's mother
Right, below: The Keith home on Oil Creek

Alta, also known as “Shorty” because of her short stature, was only around 10 years of age when her parents separated. Her father, Hugh, left Oil Creek for Clarksburg where he operated a restaurant and store. The marital discord in the Keith family made life difficult for the children, as well as for their mother Maggie. Perhaps because of this discord, the Keith children became quite close and remained so during their entire lives, and, according to her niece Cherry Wautot, Alta was “the glue which held them together.” “She was a marker in many people’s lives,” said Cherry, “the sweetest and kindest person I have ever known. She was full of love and kindness toward other people and had a smile which would light up any room.”

A page from Alta's autograph book

Alta’s Autograph Book
Alta was quite sentimental about her family and friends and held them close her entire life. When she was around 20 years of age, Alta found a new friend – an autograph book. She loved to have people write notes in her book and she carried it with her almost everywhere from 1932 until around 1940. Still single at the time and living with Ornie Gay, Alta listed in her book the names of neighbors, childhood friends with whom she attended the Walnut Grove School, and co-worshipers at the Oil Creek Methodist Church. This story will give the readers a first-hand look at Alta’s autograph book and acquaint them with those who obliged Alta by writing a ditty in her book.

“Remember well and bear in mind,
a true good friend is hard to find.”

Kitty wrote a number of amusing verses in her sister-in-law’s autograph book. Kitty was Kathryn Hughes Keith, the wife of Alta’s younger brother, Oliver, whose nickname was “Buck”. Kitty met Oliver when he was enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps and assigned to Kitty’s home county, Greenbrier, during the mid-1930s. Kitty and Oliver visited his old home place as frequently as possible in the 1930’s, in the days before they had an automobile. In those days, train travel was very convenient. Kitty and Oliver could catch a west-bound train on the C & O Railroad to Charleston and transfer to an Orlando-bound train on the B & O Railroad. Another transfer on the Oil Creek branch of the B & O would bring them right to Alta’s front door. Kitty was close friend to Alta, as close as a sister and they truly enjoyed each other’s company. Oliver and Kitty visited Oil Creek frequently over the years and stayed in touch by letter, as true friends do. Oliver died at age 91 in 2005. Kitty lived a few years longer and died in January 2009.

Above left: Buck and Kitty with their first car, a '49 Ford
Left: Oliver "Buck" Keith

Ventrue Damon Fox

“I like honey and you like cheese,
I will give you a kiss and you give me a squeeze.”

Every community usually has a person with an unusual name and the Peterson Siding community’s contribution was Ventrue Damon Fox. The son of Willam Earsey Fox and Rena (Perrine) Fox, Ventrue was born in Centralia in 1917. Centralia was then a bustling lumber town in east central Braxton County near Sutton, and Ventrue’s father was a laborer in the saw mill town. By 1930, the family was living in Weston. During World War II, Ventrue was in the Army and stationed for a time in Donora, Pennsylvania. He married the former Frances Pauline Beall who was born at Orlando but in 1944 was living in Reedy in Roane County. After the war, Ventrue worked as a railroader and died in Winchester, Virginia in 1978.

Virginia McCord
“Within this book so pure and white,
let none but friends presume to write.”

Another autograph book contributor was Virginia McCord, the daughter of David F. McCord and Annie (Myers) McCord. Three years older than Alta, Virginia was Alta’s life-long friend.
Virginia graduated from Burnsville High School in 1929 and was one of the “Roanoke Train Gang.” During the late 1920’s, the Baltimore and Ohio train schedule on the Oil Creek branch included an early train and a late train which made rail travel an ideal way for the young scholars of Roanoke and Oil Creek to attend both high school and grade school at Burnsville. Adopting a play-on-words with “chain gang,” the youthful students of the upper Oil Creek valley, as well as the village of Roanoke, became the “train gang.” Virginia was also known to her friends in Burnsville and on Oil Creek as “Vi.”

Left: top: Eleanore Arnold. left to right: Virginia McCord, Margaret Riffle, Pauline Scarff, Freda Groves.

In 1944 Virginia married Luther Mitchell, an Oil Creek lad and son of Robert Lee and Necie (Skinner) Mitchell. The Buckhannon nuptials were conducted by her brother, Reverend Ralph McCord, another member of the “Roanoke Train Gang” who also attended Burnsville High School. Virgnia’s and Luther’s married life was lived mostly in the Oil Creek area of their birth. She remained a close friend and neighbor of her sister-in-law, Alta, until Alta’s death in 1995. In the mind’s eye, it is easy to see Alta and Virginia sitting during summer evenings on Alta’s front porch, reminiscing about the “olden days” mentioned in Alta’s autograph book.

Virginia’s husband, Luther, died in 1985 at age 64. She died in 1990 at the age of 91 and was
survived by four children, Robert, Tom, Gary, and Wanda. One son, Steve, predeceased her.

Albert Perrine
“In your garden of affection, plant a forget-me-not to bloom for me.”

A native of Ben’s Run, just over the hill from Tulley’s Ridge, Albert Perrine was son of Bartlett Perrine and Genevieve Keith Perrine. Albert’s mother was the daughter of A. J. and Rosellah Keith. Albert’s father was a farmer and also dug coal from a coal bank on his Ben’s Run farm which he sold to households in the Orlando area.

Left: Albert and Mary Perrine.

In addition to being Alta’s contemporary, Albert was also her first cousin. Genevieve, Albert’s mother, and Hugh, Alta’s father, were the two oldest children of A. J. Keith and Rosellah (Kelly) Keith.

Although Albert’s full inscription into Alta’s autograph book reflected a life which appeared to be dedicated to the teaching profession, World War II changed what appeared to be a foregone conclusion for Albert, as it did with many of his contemporaries. After his service in the United States Navy during the war, he lived in Glassport, Pennsylvania, Ocala, Florida, and Chesterland, Ohio. He worked as a sales representative and as a security guard. He and his wife Mary did not have children. He died at the age of 90 in 2001 in Ohio and was buried in Glassport, Pennsylvania. Alta’s son Kenneth recalls that Albert had been an inveterate rock collector during his life and had traveled extensively building his collection.

Everett Andrew Puffenbarger
“When you are washing dishes and mad as you can be,
just squeeze your old dish rag, and think you’re squeezing E. A. P.”

“He was a musicmaker,” according to Alta’s son Kenneth, speaking of Everett Puffenbarger. “He played for hours with Ira Gay, Bud Gay and Ira Hall.” Everett, born in Illinois, was the son of West Virginia natives, Albert Puffenbarger and Reta (Wanstreet) Puffenbarger. Everett’s paternal grandparents were George Harvey Puffenbarger and Rosanna (Keener) Puffenbarger, an Oil Creek farm family.

Left:Evert Andrew Puffenbarger.

Gailord (Gaylord) Keith
“Violets are red, roses are pink;
you are the best looking girl on the creek, I think.”

Gailord was a youthful 17 years old when he penned the little ditty to his first cousin, Alta, in 1934. The son of Red Lick farmers George and Alice (Cosner) Keith, Gailord was the brother of Harold and Leonard “Lindy” Keith. His father George was a younger brother of Hugh Keith (Alta’s father) and Genevieve Keith Perrine (Mrs. Bartlett Perrine). Gailord apparently was never quite sure how to spell his name and it was sometimes spelled “Gaylord,” as it was with his obituary when he died in 1972 at age 55 while he was at work at the Goodyear plant in Akron. He married the former Evelyn Pearl Myers in August 1944 in Phenix City, Alabama when he was in United States Army stationed at nearby Camp Gordon, Georgia.

Herald Keith
“Dear Alta, I hope you live forever and I never die.”

Unfortunately of course, the rules of mortality deigned Herald’s little note to his cousin, Alta, never to come true. In 1980, at the age of 64, he died in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The oldest of the Keith brothers, he served his country, as did his brothers, during World War II.

Leonard “Lindy” Keith
“Lives of great men all remind us we must choose our wine with care,
And departing, leave behind little tots with curly hair.”

Besides being an outstanding baseball player during his teenage years on Oil Creek, Alta’s cousin Lindy” Keith was quite adept at transforming a Longfellow thought to adorn Alta’s autograph book in order to provide un-Longfellow-like levity. A popular young man during his youth, Lindy, in 1939, married Frances Wooddell, daughter of John Wooddell and Daisy Bennett Wooddell. T. R. Rector, the minister of the Burnsville M. E. Church, South, performed the ceremony, but it is uncertain where the wedding took place since the pastor’s church had burned down, along with a substantial portion of the Burnsville business district, during the preceding month.

Left: Leonard “Lindy” Keith with unidentfied child.

Waylaid by World War II, during which the three Keith brothers, Gaylord, Lindy and Harold, all served, Lindy began a career with the B & O Railroad in central West Virginia after the war. At this time, labor unrest in the coal industry caused substantial uncertainty to the coal-hauling business of the railroad and a railroad career seemed problematic. While on vacation in South Carolina in 1950, Lindy and his wife Frances were visiting with her sister and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. P. D. Scott. His brother-in-law suggested to Lindy that he apply for a position with the nuclear Savannah River plant in South Carolina. Lindy was the 665th person hired out of nearly 25,000 who worked to construct the facility. He made the plant operations his career and worked there for the next 28 and ½ years. Lindy passed away about 10 years ago in Augusta, Georgia.

Charles Willard Keith
“Spring time has come, and our cares from winter is free.
When on others you are thinking, will you sometimes think of me?”

Charles Willard Keith was the youngest of the four sons of George and Alice (Cosner) Keith and the first to die. Willard, as he was known, was but 10 years of age when he penned in youthful hand the thoughtful rhyme to his older cousin. He also urged her to remember the “duck dinner” which they had shared sometime before. Although details are scarce, Willard married after World War II and was working in Ohio when he died as the result of an automobile accident. It is reported that he was the father of two small daughters at the time of his death.

Bertie Ratliff
“Forget you? No, I never will, as long as I can whistle;
I might as well forget to yell, when I step upon a thistle.”

Bertie was Alta’s Oil Creek neighbor. The daughter of David and Elizabeth (Kelly) Helmick, Bertie was born in 1889 in Orlando, which was then known as Confluence. In 1904, she married railroad section hand Andrew Richard Ratliff, the son of William and Elizabeth (Gay) Ratliff. Andrew’s maternal grandparents were Oil Creek pioneers, Andrew W. and Martha Gay. Bertie and her husband Andrew were the parents of Gladys, Gail and Eugene who were classmates of Alta at the Walnut Grove School.

Bertie’s husband, Andrew, died in 1955 and she remarried James Eakle of Clarksburg in 1956. Another long term of married life escaped her, however, since she died the following year. She was buried in the Jacksonville Cemetery.
Eugene Ratliff
“Down in the alley, written on a tree;
2 little words, ‘remember me.’”

Eugene Ratliff was the youngest of Bertie and Andrew Richard Ratliff’s three children. Gladys, the oldest, married Romie Starett of Clarksburg who later worked for Weber’s Dairy in Weston. We know little about the middle child, Gail, except that he died in 1972. We are not certain of Eugene’s life beyond Oil Creek except that he served in the United States Army during World War II and died in 1972. He is buried beside his brother Gail and brother -in-law Romie at the Masonic Cemetery in Weston. Eugene was 12 years old when he wrote the little poem for Alta’s autograph book.

Ruth “Rufus” Helmick
“Love is but a little thing; beauty is a blossom;
If you want your finger bit, point it at a possum.
Remember me until you see a board walk.”

A close friend of Alta and a school mate at Walnut Grove School was Ruth Helmick. Known as “Rufus” to her friend “Alti,” Ruth was the daughter of Rosa Helmick and Jacob Edwin “Ed” Helmick. Ruth’s father operated a saw mill near the mouth of Red Lick which washed away during a flood in the early 1930’s. Delma Jean Skinner, a present resident of Peterson Siding, recalls a concrete structure which sat in the small meadow near the Walnut Grove School which apparently was a remnant of the mill.

Left: Ruth Helmick

According to her granddaughter, Elaine Diaz, Ruth, after completing her schooling at Walnut Grove, passed the state test for a teaching certificate and taught school briefly. In 1933, Ruth married Dana Grove, son of George Grove and Daisy (Wellen) Grove. Three children were born of the marriage, Donald, Elaine and Delores. Tragically, Ruth died of tuberculosis in 1940 at the age of 30. She was buried at Brier Point Cemetery, near the present Stonewall Jackson Lake.

Rosa Helmick
“Remember the cat, remember the kitten;
Remember that boy that gave you the mittens.”

The mother of Ruth (Helmick) Grove and the wife of Jacob “Ed” Helmick, Rosa came to the Oil Creek community during the 1920’s when her husband located a sawmill near the mouth of Red Lick. Rosa was the daughter of Darius Helmick and Louise (Godfrey) Helmick. The family moved to Weston where Rosa died in 1946 at the age of 66.

George P.
“When I am dead and gone to rest
Sit on my grave and laugh your best.”
“Yours until the Atlantic dries up.”

George P. closed his little rhyme to Alta with the words “Class of 1936.” It is believed that this notation references the Sunday school class of Oil Creek Chapel of which Alta was the secretary. As part of her role as secretary for the Chapel, Alta maintained the Sunday School Record Book. A perusal of the school roll at Oil Creek Chapel does not reflect any person who could possibly have been the “George P.” in Alta’s book. The identity of “George P.,” therefore appears to be lost for the ages, unless some reader can provide a clue to his identity.

Mrs. Elmer Perrine (Edna (Workman) Perrine)
“Dear Alta, I wish you a long and happy life.”

This September 1930 note to Alta was perhaps appropriate for the times. The Great Depression had stifled the optimism of the Gay 20’s and prosperity for the average person seemed out of reach. “A long and happy life” was perhaps the foremost thought in the mind of Mrs. Elmer Perrine as she wrote her note in Alta’s autograph book. Mrs. Perrine was the former Edna Workman, daughter of Ezra Workman and Mamie Sandy Workman. Her paternal grandparents were Shelton R. Workman and Margaret Agnes Skinner Workman. Margaret, known as Agnes, was the granddaughter of Alexander Skinner and Phebe Conrad Skinner. Their daughter Edna was married to Alta’s cousin, Elmer Perrine, the oldest of the children of Bartley Perrine and Genevieve Keith Perrine of Ben’s Run.

Left: Edna (Workman) Perrine

Ada Grove
“If you want to have Heavenly joy,
Think more of the Lord and less of the boys.”

Ada Grove was the 7th of 8 children of George I. Grove and Daisy (Wellen) Grove and a long time friend of Alta Keith McCord. Born in 1912, she married Wallace Watson, a Weston merchant, in 1940. He died in 1959 and she re-married Odrie M. Kelley of Brownsville, Fayette Co., PA in 1960. Odrie died in 1968 and Ada died in 1998.

Left: Ada Grove

George Keith
“When in some lonely spot you sit and sight some friend to see,
Recall your thought of last we met and kindly think of me.”

Alta’s Uncle George Keith was married to the former Alice Cosner. They were the parents of Alta’s first cousins, Leonard, Herald, Gailord and Willard.

Thelma McCord
“I love you little, I love you big,
I love you like a little pig.”

Thelma was the daughter of David F. McCord and Annie (Myers) McCord and was a first cousin of Alta’s future husband, Louis. In 1946, Thelma married William Boyles of Toledo, Ohio when she was 34 and he was 65.

Right: Thelma (McCord) and William Boyles.
Left: John and Pauline (Gay) Norton.

Pauline Julia Gay
“When you are washing dishes just as mad as you can be,
Squeeze your dear old dish rag, and think you’re squeezing me.”

Pauline Gay was another of the close friends of Alta. Born in 1916, to John Gay and Bessie Wooddell Gay, Pauline was 17 when she wrote her little poem for Alta. Pauline first married Walter Foster, son of Francis and Marshia Grove Foster in 1942. Later she married John Norton and lived in Milpitas, California.

Matt Gay
“’East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet,’
That little brown-eyed boy that stays around so much, well, I hope you learn about men from him.”

Matt Gay was the son of Earl C. Gay and Catherine “Kate” Matthews Gay. Matt was the grandson of B. F. Matthews and Clara Bird Matthews of Orlando and Andrew W. Gay and Landonia Summers Gay of Oil Creek. Matt’s mother Kate died in 1922 and his father remarried Ornie Strader of Crawford. Our autograph book keeper, Alta, lived with the Earl and Ornie Gay family during her early years. Ornie Gay was the sister of Olita Strader who was a teacher of the Walnut Grove School.

Matt, the autograph book scrivener, grew up in the home of his grandfather Andrew W. Gay and his parents Earl and Kate Gay, and later his step-mother Ornie Gay. Matt served in the United States Navy during World War II.

Left: Matt Gay

Ornie (Strader) Gay

“To be really serious, I am so glad you are making your home with me.”

Ornie Strader married the widower Earl Gay in 1925. Earl was the son of Andrew W. Gay, Jr. and Landonia Summers Gay, early settlers of the Oil Creek valley. Ornie was the daughter of Nicholas Strader and Rosie Lanham Strader of the Crawford area and had been a teacher prior to her marriage to Earl. Joan Post of Baltimore recalls when her father started the first grade in the Crawford area, his teacher was Ornie Strader. During his first day of school, he arrived with a large cud of tobacco in his cheek. Ornie told him that if he gave up the tobacco habit she would reward him at the end of the school year. Joan’s father gave up his habit. After Earl’s death, Ornie married Archie Clarence McCord, a widower, who had been married to Earl’s sister, Dana. Ornie died in 1992.

Left: Bill and Thelma (McCord) Boyles
Right: Ornie (Strader) Gay

“When you get married and your husband gets cross,
Just pick up the poker and show him who is boss.”

This amusing rhyme was written by a hand of a youngster in 1933, and simply signed “Dee.” This writer is unsure of the further identity of the young poet. It is however quite apparent that he was an early advocate of the empowerment of women.

“I love you great, I love you mighty.
I wish your pajamas were close to my nighty.
Now don’t be alarmed and be misled,
I mean on a clothes line instead of a bed.”
“In your drug store of affection, count me as a pill.”

This is another unknown poet who was quite inventive with rhyme. This little ditty was written in 1940.

H. L. F.
“Sure as the lion goes under the log,
I will choose you for my possum dog.”

Maybe the next night’s hunt was on the mind of “H. L. F.” when he scribbled this little poem to Alta and she was no doubt honored to be dubbed the “possum dog” to lead the chase. The identity of this intrepid hunter is unknown.

“Remember the nite you had to get up to let us in,
The way we arrived it was a sin,
Come up and see me sometime when you “kin.”

Although the writer is not absolutely certain, but after an exhaustive search of the residents in the Oil Creek area during the days of Alta's youth, the only "Eva" the writer could find is Eva Keith, Alta's sister.

Left: Eva Keith

Mr. X. Y. Z.
“Here’s to the gates of Heaven, here’s to the depths of Hell,
Darn a boy who’ll kiss a girl, then go and tell.”

Mr. X. Y. Z. noted that he was at “Edith’s Home” at the time he wrote this 1936 admonishment of the boy who tells. Perhaps the “Edith” whose home is referenced is Edith Groves who wrote the next little truism.

Edith Groves
“Fall down stairs, break your neck,
Fall from Heaven like a dove.
But never fall in love.”
Edith Groves wrote this little note of caution to Alta in 1936. Edith was the daughter of Wilson Groves and May (Hersman) Groves of Oil Creek and the granddaughter of Francis Marion Groves and Leah (Gay) Groves. Edith apparently disregarded her own advice to Alta because she married two years later to Gerald Donaldson.

Right Ada, Hazel and Edith Grove, Edith Keith

Helen Keith
“When I am dead and gone to rest, hop on my grave and laugh your best;
When I am dead and in my grave, ‘member the girl who couldn’t behave.”

Alta’s sister, Helen Keith, was born in 1917, was the youngest of the Keith family, and enjoyed fun and frivolity. Helen spent most of her life in the Columbus, Ohio area and was married to Harold McCort. She died in 1996.

M. P.
“Remember well and bear in mind,
A rooster’s tail sticks out behind.”

A little barnyard humor was the gist of this little ditty by Mabel Puffenbarger, Alta’s school mate at Walnut Grove School. Mabel lived most of her life in the Akron area and worked for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office as a tax collector. Mabel died in 2000 and was buried in the Peterson Community Cemetery. She never married.

“I had a little cat, I fed her on tin cans
When the little kittens came, they came in Ford Sedans.”

Alta often took her autograph book to church and in October 1933, her female friend “Jerry” wrote this amusing little joke of the time. There were many jokes about the Ford automobiles of the 1930’s such as a Ford came in any color you wanted as long as it was black. The writer is unsure of the identity of “Jerry.”

Dorothy Peterson
“The little boy stood on the burning deck, eating peanuts by the peck,
The flame flew up and burnt his chin, but he kept poking the peanuts in.”
“Yours till the egg plants hatch spring chickens”

Dorothy Peterson was the daughter of Charles Peterson and Emeline Smith Peterson of Oil Creek. In 1934, she married Napier native Walter Currence, a coal miner, who was killed in a slate fall at the Weston State Hospital coal mine. She re-married Silbert Harley Workman of Weston. Dorothy was Alta’s classmate and long-time friend.

Alta and siblings: Ruth Eva, Rudy, Alta, Oliver, Woodrow, Helen

for Alta
A parting word, here we tender
To our Alta, a note, we send her.
Oil Creek bred, and life-time long,
Many friends, indeed a throng,
Enjoyed her laughter, all her days
Adieu, we bid her, her life be praised.

. . . . .

Comment from Darrell Groves

"Kelley" and Aunt Ada lived in Brownsville, PA when they were first married. He was a mechanic for the B&O Railroad and worked in the roundhouse there. They lived in an apartment in Brownsville which had been the Brownsville Brewing Company. It was a great apartment except for the aroma of days gone bye. They were use to the smell, but visitors experienced a distasteful sensual experience that did not smell like beer at all.

Right: the Brownsville Brewing Company building

Comment from Flora (Heater) Pulfrey of Port Charlotte Florida:
“I keep reading articles on the Orlando site and think they are great. It is one of the best sites I have seen on the Internet. I am recommending it to my [genealogy] group. It is good reading even if you don’t have relatives in that area. What surprised me is how many people have roots in Orlando. You would think it was a large place.”

Right: Flora "Betty" (Heater) Pulfrey

1 comment:

  1. I have been doing research on the internet because the name Alta belongs to generations of women in my family, and we have no idea where it comes from. If you have any ideas about how she received that name, or if it was short for anything, please send me a message at Thank you!