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Gladys Larew at home

The Larew farm, located in the Hans Creek Valley of Monroe County, is home to 100-year-old Gladys Larew.
Photo by Doug Chadwick

"Good for the Soul"

Gladys Larew at 100

By Virginia Steele

Gladys Larew is always busy. Even at her age - 100 last January - she is interested in everything, bright, quick, and full of humor and wit.

Last summer, during one of my visits, she took from the freezer compartment of her refrigerator a glass full of round balls the size of golf balls. Hail, that had fallen in June! She never considered not preserving this event of nature.

Gladys Lynch Broyles Larew was the first of six children - four girls and two boys - of Wilbur Lee and Minnie Pearl Callaway Broyles in Hans Creek Valley, Monroe County. She was born on January 31, 1899, on a farm adjoining the land grant Larew farm, where the boy she eventually married had been born 12 years earlier. In fact, 12-year-old Robert Larew came with his mother to see the neighbor's new baby girl. That's how they met.

The Larew farm, now a modern dairy, lies in the broad beautiful valley where the meandering Hans Creek flows. On that farm lives one of Monroe County's treasures. Gladys, who shares a modest brick duplex with one of her 10 children Wilbur ("Wib") and his wife Irene, is still very much a contributing member of her family and community. She is a source of history, wisdom, techniques for how to do things, consultation, laughter, and good conversation.

Broyles is a German name, according to Gladys. Her mother, Minnie Callaway Broyles, said the Callaways came from England. The Larews were French Huguenots with various spellings of the name - Larew, LaRue, LaRoix, and others.

Gladys remembers that Grandfather Broyles never shaved in his life, and never had a haircut. Her father Wilbur was an only boy with four sisters. He became a farmer and a deputy sheriff. He respected Sheriff Ed Lynch so much that he gave his name to his first child: Gladys Lynch Broyles.

Her Grandfather Callaway kept the jail in Union, and made shoes. Gladys still remembers seeing the shoe lasts he had. He had been a teacher before he became a shoemaker. She knew him slightly, but he died when she was young. People didn't visit so much in those days, as she recalls. It had to be by horse and buggy, and there would be cows to milk,... . Nor does she remember that they talked much about ancestors, as we do now.

Her mother had been a teacher and was known to her grandchildren to be a lot of fun, a great storyteller, and a "live wire." She could tell a risqué story if she thought it appropriate. Minnie lived almost to the age of 101 with a sharp mind all the way. She, too, was a county treasure.

Little Gladys Broyles had a beautiful head of curly red hair. Her mother would roll it into ringlets around a finger. As her hair got long enough, she had "plaits" - the word they used rather than braids. When she was about 15 or 16 years old her father cut off her plaits. Gladys thought it was probably because there was a scare about lice in school. The other kids were shocked, she says, but in telling about it, it doesn't appear to bother her that her hair was cut. It seems she simply doesn't have a temperament to let most things bother her - or she learned early how not to.

Eighty-some years later, she gets up, and without the aid of the cane she uses for most walking now, goes to a storage place and brings back two plaits, each about 14 inches long, soft, deep red, rather auburn in shade. She says they have gone to many a Halloween party and been borrowed for all kinds of occasions: at the end of school, dances, plays, and a variety of other dress-up occasions. The postmaster had once borrowed them. With all that use, it was astonishing to see how well cared-for and preserved they have been and still how beautiful.

Red-haired Gladys Broyles attended the first Monroe County 4-H Club camp in 1917 at the old Salt Sulphur Springs resort. These stone buildings, still standing, still in use, served as a hospital during the Civil War. Gladys remains proud of having attended that first Monroe 4-H camp. On their way to the state fair last summer, she told the others in the car that their route was the same as the one she had taken to that first 4-H camp.

Gladys received her elementary education in one-room schools on Hans Creek, Kibble Hill, and Ellison's Ridge. No local high schools were available then, so she lived with relatives in Huntington while completing two years of secondary education at Marshall. One year she attended Anna Arundel Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, having to avoid marching cadets in order to get to classes. She attended one year of college at Stonewall Jackson in Abingdon, Virginia, in the building where the Barter Theater now stands.

Robert Larew, a graduate of Marshall College, helped his brother survey the Virginian Railroad for 10 years. Robert then came back to manage the farm for his father, and to marry the girl he met when she was born and he was 12. Gladys and Robert Larew were wed September 10, 1919.

Mr. Lewis Larew, Robert's father, was a teacher. With a still-embarrassed chuckle at the memory of it, she told me about the most embarrassing moment of her life, when she was 11 or 12. In her Sunday school class, her teacher, Mr. Larew, asked her what the Golden Text was for that Sunday. It was "Here am I, send me." She mispoke and said, "Here am I. Take me." Mr. Larew said that was incorrect, "but it wouldn't be a bad mistake." She wanted to go through the floor. She later became his daughter-in-law.

Gladys' youngest daughter Julia told me a story of how the children once begged their mother to come swimming with them. Her suit couldn't be found - no doubt borrowed - so she put on overalls, shirt, shoes, and a straw hat to protect her fair skin. As she went into the creek, she stepped on a slick rock and went down with a great splash. Her straw hat floated on down the creek - a memorable sight to the children. Gladys told me later it was the last time she went swimming.

"Then there was the pleasant summer day - Mama had moved the treadle sewing machine to the roomy front porch," eldest daughter Roberta recalls. "I'm not sure what she was sewing...hemming more diapers, maybe! There were already three children by then. I was three and a half years old and was playing nearby at the steps when I spied a toad and asked if it would hurt me. Mama assured me she had played with toads. Several hops later I caught the warty creature and proudly ran to show my conquest. Horrors! Water was pouring on my hand. 'Mama, it peed on me!' She held out her hand, and with a smile in her voice, 'Give it here. I know what to do.' She pulled out a piece of outing flannel, cut a triangle, pinned a diaper on the toad and handed it back to me. Years later, when I became a fifth-grade science teacher with hands-on experience for the students involving live toads, I often heard my words repeated: 'It peed on me!' That gave me a chance to tell my diaper story."

You can read the rest of this article in the Summer 1999 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.