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Charles Kirk as a child

Red Clay Memories

My Early Life in Turner Hollow

By Charles E. Kirk

Author Charles Kirk plays a toy drum beside his grandparents' farmhouse in Turner Hollow, 1938. He lived here for 12 years and carries with him many mixed emotions about the experience.

Turner Hollow must have been the last place in West Virginia to move to. Otherwise, I can't visualize why anyone would end up there. The soil was pure, red clay. In order to coax any sort of vegetation to grow there, it took the expertise of a very good farmer, and my grandfather was a very good farmer.

He was of the old Amish stock and seemed to do better than the rest of the farmers up that hollow. Some of the them didn't end up the year with much more than chicken manure. Grandpa didn't expect too much from life - seemingly just a living. He never accumulated any semblance of wealth but always had enough of the essentials to see him through.

He spent 56 years in a never-ending battle to tame the clods of red mud that stood between him and a crop. I don't think it ever entered his mind to give up on that old farm and look for greener pastures. He had essentially the same when he died as he had when he moved there - it was just a little more worn. He simply borrowed it from God for awhile and forced it to yield a living. He thought he had won the battle. I do, too.

My grandfather was Joseph Edward Matheny. He was born November 19, 1880, and died in 1973, a month short of his 93rd birthday. He moved to Turner Hollow in Wood County in 1917. He had been born and raised in Harrisville, Ritchie County, and was a cobbler by trade, as were his father, brothers, and Grandfather Rueben. His father Tommy Matheny (1839-1912) was born in Highland County, Virginia, and had opened a shoe shop in Harrisville right after the Civil War. In that era, the two most important businesses in a settlement were a gristmill and a shoe shop.

His mother's maiden name was Nancy Brake (1849-1930), born at Rock Cave, Upshur County. Tommy and Nancy never owned a piece of property of their own. After Tommy's death in 1912, Nancy bought a house in Parkersburg and lived alone until she got old and sick, then moved in with her daughter Florence until she died.

In 1917, Grandpa bought the old McKibben place in Turner Hollow; it was about 15 acres and still had rail fences. It was located about three miles east of Parkersburg on old Route 50, about half-a-mile from the highway up a mud road that you couldn't get a horse and wagon up in the wintertime. Three miles from town was a very long distance in the horse and buggy days.

You can read the rest of this article in the Spring 2001 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.