by David Parmer
Sam Marchio drove slowly along the Goosepen Road, gripping the steering wheel tightly with both hands, oblivious of the tranquil farm scenes which presented themselves around each curve in the road. The hardworking farmers of southern Lewis County kept their farms in tip-top condition but Mr. Marchio, a Physical Education teacher of Weston High School, wasn’t thinking about the haying which was going on, the cattle grazing along the hillsides, or the corn growing in the bottom-land. He did not notice the farmers standing in their fields looking at the strange car coming down their road. A sad duty was in store for him this September day in 1952. It was a duty he dreaded to fulfill. Just how do you tell a mother that her only child, a beautiful, seemingly healthy daughter, who left for school that morning without a care in the world, died suddenly at his school? The eighteen miles to Goosepen were the longest miles Mr. Marchio had ever driven, but the hardest part of the journey would not be begin until he reached the Clarence and Hetty (Nye) Finster home on Goosepen where Carolyn Sue and her mother, Mary Poffenbarger, made their home.
Mary (Beall) Poffenbarger was the daughter of Newton "N. H." Beall and Clara (McCullough) Beall of Route 1, Orlando. For many years, Newton and Clara operated a country store and post office at Aspinall, a pick-up point on the Orlando mail route. Newton’s father, Charles Henderson Beall, had operated this store and a grist mill for many years before turning the business over to his son Newton.
Born in 1915, Mary was the only child of Newton and Clara Beall to survive to adulthood. She was quite familiar with tragic untimely deaths because her mother Clara died of tuberculosis in 1918 when Mary was just three years of age and her father Newton died four years later in 1924 when she was just seven. Orphaned at an early age in 1924, Mary was fortunate to have been a student of Edna Wiant, the teacher of the Ben’s Run School.
In 1937, when Mary was 22 years of age, she met and married Wade Poffenbarger of Tucker County. Unfortunately for Mary, her marriage was a brief because Mr. Poffenbarger was not the settling-down type and he soon flew the coop, never to be heard of again, when he was informed that Mary was with child. Mary, who had been orphaned at a young age, with a child on the way, now was abandoned by a faithless husband almost before the ink was dry on the marriage certificate. Edna Wiant welcomed her foster daughter back to her home to await the birth of her child. A daughter, Carolyn Sue Poffenbarger was born on August 6, 1938.
Mary Poffenbarger died in 1989, thirty seven years after the death of her only child and the searing visit by Mr. Marchio. Those who knew Mary well say that she never talked about her daughter Carolyn Sue but they all say her stoic silence about the loss of her only child masked an inner pain that lesser souls could not bear. Since Mary never mentioned her loss, others never broached the subject, and future condolences were never uttered. Some pain is best left in silence and best handled that way and that is the course Mary Poffenbarger followed with respect to her loss. When Carolyn Sue was laid to rest in the Pumphrey Cemetery, the matter was closed.
Given the great advances in medicine in recent years, the cause of death of Carolyn Sue Poffenbarger could probably now be made, but at best, it would be conjecture, and it now seems pointless to hypothesize. In the early 1950’s many death certificates were unclear regarding the cause of death of a decedent and this was just another of the many such cases. Her caring neighbors decided that Carolyn Sue must have succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage. Whatever the cause, the mystery remains. The shining girl of promise was buried in the Pumphrey Cemetery, to be joined later by her dear friend, Edna Wiant McPherson in 1967 and her mother, Mary Poffenbarger in 1989.
To enlarge the above death certificate, please click on it.
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Comment 1 Carolyn Sue and her mother lived north of the Oil Creek watershed but on Orlando's RFD Route 1 at both the Blake/Wiant home on Ben's Run and the Fenster home on Indian Run. School kids who lived north of Orlando, on Oil Creek, Three Lick, Grass Run, Indian Fork, etc. went to school in Weston.
Comment 2 by Bob Pumphrey
This story was great and brought back lots of memories. It is my recollection that Mary and Carolyn Sue Poffenbarger were living on Ben's Run when Carolyn Sue died. Her mother Mary was babysitting during the day for Clarence and Hettie Finster. Clarence was the school bus driver and drove the bus from the Ben's Run area up Goosepen into Weston. When Clarence got home in the evening, he would pick Mary Poffenbarger up at his house and continue to drive the bus to Ben's Run and then let Carolyn Sue and her mother off the bus. A few days after Carolyn Sue was buried, Clarence and Hettie asked Mary to live with them and continue babysitting. From that time Mary Poffenbarger lived with the Finsters.
I further recall that Clarence Finster told me that the morning Carolyn Sue died. she mentioned to Clarence when she got on the bus that she had a headache. Clarence offered to take her back home but Carlyn Sue declined the offer.
Carolyn Sue's wake was held at the house on Ben's Run and Mike Moran, the Orlando undertaker, was in charge. Many people were there.
Comment 3 by June Nixon Henry
I just finished reading the story of Sue Poffenbarger and tears are running down my face. It brought back the memory of that day that my Mom called me and asked me to go over to City Hospital to see Edna and Mary. There was no way I could describe the grief of those two. What comfort could I give them only just to be there? So glad you told their story. When Mary went to live with the Finsters she certainly channeled her grief into caring for their mentally disabled daughter. Thanks for telling the story.