By Johnnie Clyde Gibson Rhea
On May 23, 1931, I was born in Virginia to John and Martha Goins Gibson. My grandparents were Andy and Emily Long Gibson and Alex and Merky Collins Goins. I have researched back to my 6th grandparents.
My parents owned one car back in the late 30’s. They never had another one so we did a lot of walking.
I was raised on Blackwater and Newman’s Ridge. We never owned a tractor; it was a red mule! I went to school at Elm Springs, Vardy, Sneedville and Howard’s Quarter School; never got through the 7th grade.
I washed on a washboard and cooked on a woodstove. I sawed wood to cook with and to keep warm. I washed by a spring and carried water because we never had running water in the house or an inside toilet. I plowed with a mule, I turned ground, and I shocked hay, worked on straw stacks, threshed wheat, cut corn, and pulled fodder corn. I made my toys out of corn stalk. I walked to school two miles there and back and was picked up by a truck for four miles there and back, to go to school. I used a saw to cut wood for wood to sell. My games at night were by a coal oil lamp where we played Hully Gully with parched corn. I took a bath in an old wash tub on Saturday night. We had an old victrola with a Carter Family record. We finally got a Sears Roebuck radio run by a battery that lasted three months. We never had a store bought sled or wagon, but would go to the woods and make our sled and wagon from wood. We lived in the woods, and never learned to climb a tree or swing on a grapevine. I had to pull weeds for the hogs to eat. We had two hogs killed in the fall and two cows gave milk and butter. All we bought from the store was a little coffee, salt and sugar. Taking history back, we grew our own corn and wheat for making our flour for bread, made molasses and maple syrup. To dye our clothes, we used walnuts, rye or goldenrod. We had to spin our wool from sheep. We made our quilts out of worn clothes to keep warm. We lived in a house that when it came a snow we would wake up with snow on our bed. We had chickens to kill and eat, and sold eggs. You made your own food to eat in the winter out of the garden, berries and apples; we dried our beans or we would go hungry. I can say I never went to bed hungry or went naked.
I had good parents that provided for me. I am thankful for that. We didn’t have anything fancy. We just had a phone, old rough stuff to eat, didn’t go to the store for food. We didn’t have any electricity. We had a spring where we put milk and butter we made. Three times a day we brought it to the table and took it back to the spring. The spring was our refrigeration.
So—I was that Melungeon, raised up poor and hard, still Melungeon made and proud to be one, too!
Johnnie (Johnnie Clyde Gibson Rhea)
Johnnie at the John Goins Cemetery on Newman’s Ridge, April 2003.
This article was originally published in the MHS Newsletter Winter 2009
Hat Tip to Beverly Walker
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