Rapp at Home’s “Local Voice Series” enjoyed guest speakers Diane Bruce, who spent her career as the Rappahannock County Circuit Court Clerk, and her brother Manly Bruce. A rapt audience savored colorful vignettes of life growing up in Rappahannock.
“If you went up Gid Brown Hollow,” Diane relayed “there were two stores, one was Smedley’s and my father Jack ran it for awhile. My brother and I would sit on the front porch and watch folks go by bringing in gunny sacks for flour and sugar.”
“There was a penny candy counter” noted Manly with a smile, “and a wood stove.”
“Mother,” tells Diane, “taught school in Warrenton so we went to Warrenton High School. She did not renew her contract with the Rappahannock school system where she had taught for 18 years, as she was told she needed to disassociate herself from one of our neighbors and she refused. My mother had character and principles so she chose to teach instead in Warrenton. A bunch of families pooled together money and bought a Woody station wagon and we’d load up and mother would drive us.”
And not up today’s highway.
“Long before there was a four-lane highway between Washington and Sperryville,” Diane recalled, “my brother and I would . . . watch cars go by. Cars were few and far between. We would often wait until we could see one and then call out, there goes a Chevrolet! . . .
“Seldom did we go to Front Royal or Culpeper,” she pointed out. “Our house was two-and-a-half miles from Sperryville. There were four small country stores between our house and Sperryville, and three large stores in Sperryville, why would anyone want to go anywhere else?”
Diane recalled that a lot of people walked on foot back then:
“Our parents told us to beware of ‘tramps.’ Mother and I were scared to death. Occasionally a tramp would come to the door asking for food. We weren’t allowed to talk to them; their clothes were always dirty, their faces and hands needed washing. But they always said ‘thank you’ and went away.
“Daddy was a farmer,” she continued. “He had hounds and horses and fox-hunted and could tell a hound from its call. He knew if it was Josh or Chase. He knew too, if it was a red or gray fox being pursued.”
Manly explained: “The gray has hair, the red has wool, the gray climbs trees but both can go to ground. Daddy had a favorite cow horn and often was heard to toot ‘Gone Away’ to signify the fox had left the lair, now in the open and the hunt commenced. Daddy said there were no deer in the county until the early 50’s, when they were imported to the park from out west. Foxes have a territory and stay local, but deer run away.
“We had one foxhound that failed to come home. He finally returned skinny with no hair on it’s sides. Daddy assumed he had chased a fox into some rocks, gotten stuck and had to lose weight to wiggle out and come home. We also had two beagles, Bip and Bop, and two milk cows named Lollipop and Black.”
Diane added, “Every year Daddy would lead line the cows across the pasture to a neighbor’s, many months later we’d have calves.” To peels of audience laughter she went on to recount, “I think I was 21 before I figured it out.”
They talked of the annual apple harvest to knowing nods from many in the audience. “Orchards and packing sheds were everywhere and we all had seasonal employment of some kind related to the apples,” Manly said, recalling the Pentecostal Tent revivals during harvest season. They’d sneak in frequent visits, attracted to the fiery speakers and music that played every night.
Manly talked fondly of morning chores, milking cows, feeding hogs, and enjoying pancakes with half-gallon jugs of King Syrup. “We made our own butter, and Diane and I would take turns cranking ten times each, as it got thicker it became harder to turn. We made sausages. Mom canned everything. We didn’t have to go to the store all the time. We were, as most families, self sufficient.”