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, 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.”
Right, below: The Keith home on Oil Creek
A page from Alta's autograph book
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
“Within this book so pure and white,
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.”
Gailord (Gaylord) Keith
“Violets are red, roses are pink;
Leonard “Lindy” Keith
And departing, leave behind little tots with curly hair.”
When on others you are thinking, will you sometimes think of me?”
I might as well forget to yell, when I step upon a thistle.”
“Down in the alley, written on a tree;
2 little words, ‘remember me.’”
“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.”
Left: Ruth 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.
“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.
“If you want to have Heavenly joy,
Think more of the Lord and less of the boys.”
Left: Ada Grove
“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 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.
“’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: 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.
“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
“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.
“Fall down stairs, break your neck,
Fall from Heaven like a dove.
But never fall in love.”
“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.
“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.”
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
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