Wednesday, January 16, 2013


PROLOGUE:  Recently a cousin posted on the Internet a photograph of my daddy’s father as a young adult.  It was a picture that I had never seen of my granddad as a young man in his twenties.   The grandchildren only knew of PaPa Kilgore when he was much older.   I was five years old when my grandfather died. Truthfully, I had never even thought of him as a young man just starting out in life.   Seeing that photograph got me to thinking, and inspired me to write this narrative.  It is a subjective discourse, imposing some of my own thoughts and feelings about what the early life of this man and his family  might have been like, based on real facts and assumed facts.  In some cases, I was not sure of the timeline of things.   In other cases, sentiments expressed are only conjecture on my part. But who is to say they are not true?  I would appreciate my cousins who knew PaPa Kilgore better than I did to add to the discourse. We all do know that he was quite a man, and he has influenced our lives through the lives of his children.

At the edge of the winding country road, the trees and undergrowth obscure a single dirt road that leads to the open fields where the old home place sits.  It has been years since the land has been cultivated.  The fields during bygone days produced corn, hay, cotton, peas, potatoes and other vegetables.  The land also provided grazing for cattle, pigs and chickens.  Fruit trees dotted the fields separating the land as the trees furnished apples and plums for the taking.  Today sage grass and fire ant hills are the products of the fields.  Today there are woods surrounding the fields, defining their presence.  Within those borders lies the sacred old Kilgore homestead. The 100-year-old house stands as a testament to a man called Verge.  His full name was John Wesley Virgil Kilgore.  Virge was the affectionate name people used when addressing him. 

Virge was of Scott-Irish descent.  He came from good, hard working stock.  Standing less than six feet tall, he was handsome to the eye.  His words were few.  When he spoke, people listened.  He was a God-fearing man who displayed his faith through his actions.  Liquor did not touch his lips; cursing did not come from his mouth.  His Scott-Irish temperament was that of a strong, self-sufficient working man.  The underlining motto for his life was “idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.”

The love of his life was Sarah Louiza Martha Tabitha Noles, a tall, large- framed young lady with beautiful black hair. To those who knew her, she was called Sarah.  Sarah Noles was the daughter of Tom and Martha Jane Noles of Nauvoo, Alabama.  The family attended the small rural church of New Oak Grove.  When he could, this was also the church that Virge attended. 

New Oak Grove had a circuit preacher who went from church to church preaching the Gospel.   Same preacher –different churches--Baptist—Methodist—Nazarene—it made no difference. Those who attended New Oak Grove came from all over the community by foot or by wagon.  They traveled on dirt roads, crossing creeks and going up and down ridges to get there.  Attending church was an escape from the daily hard life that most people experienced in rural Alabama in those days.  The church provided the social setting for meeting folks.  But more important, church provided a moral and religious compass for the lives of those who attended.  Virge was no exception.  He was a good and honorable man, clothed in humility. 

Virge was a farmer by trade.  He married Sarah, who knew what it meant to be a farmer’s wife, and a home maker-- cooking meals from the fireplace or on a wood burning stove, heating water for washing dishes, keeping a house in order, sweeping the yard with a brush broom, planting and harvesting a garden, gathering eggs, making soap, washing clothes in a big black pot over an open fire and then hanging them on a clothes line for the sun to dry, drying apples, curing meat, vegetable canning, making hominy, sewing, quilting, and what ever else was needed to be done.

The marriage of Virge and Sarah took place on March 30,1902.  Virge was 22 years old.  Sarah was 19 years old.   By any standards of their day, Virge and Sarah were mature adults who knew what they were getting into and what they would be facing.  They were hopeful and secure in the establishment of their life together. 

Prior to the building of the house presently standing, Virge began married life in a smaller place located further in from the main road on his property.  He, with his young wife, was homesteading half a section of land in the southern part of Winston County, in northwest Alabama.   That meant Virge’s tract of land was 320 acres—rather a large portion to work and develop.  There was little time to do anything else except work the land from sunrise to sunset.  Sarah admired the stamina and the strength of this handsome man she had married.  Virge admired the help and devotion of his devoted wife, who was strong in body and in spirit. Virge was not an affectionate man, but he cared for Sarah very much. 

A year into their marriage, Virge and Sarah were excited about the prospect of having a little one in their home.  Sarah was pregnant with their first child.  With great anticipation as the baby grew within her, Sarah carried out her many chores. The pregnancy was not an easy one, and heartbreak was ahead for the devoted couple. Their infant child was stillborn.  The sadness of the occasion was shredded in silence.  Virge and Sarah had a private burial for their child in the cemetery of Old Union Baptist Church.  This church was the closest one to their home, and for that reason, it was the church they also attended.  

Another year passed, and this time a happy occurrence entered their young lives. Sarah was 21 years old and was now the mother of a beautiful, healthy baby boy whose given name was William.  William was a significant family name because Virge’s father was named William, and so was Virge’s grandfather.   Little William’s middle name was Grady.  Grady would be the name he was called by everyone who knew him.  

As the years passed slowly and the land was being developed, Virge and Sarah were blessed with more children.  There was Lou Etta, Dolly, Ruby, Johnie, and Lois in a span of ten years.  Six children in 14 years of marriage meant a lot of mouths to feed.  But it also meant a lot of hands to help work the land-- to help drive the mules, to plow the fields, to clear the land, to harvest the crops.  There was always work to do. Getting an education was also important, but did not interrupt harvest time.  The children walked to school during the school term, carrying their syrup buckets, which held food for their lunches--a breakfast biscuit, some fried pork when available, or some peanuts or apples from the field.  They never went hungry because everything they had to eat was grown on their land.

The children assumed the characteristics of their parents—outspoken, determined, self-reliant, hard working, and God-fearing.  The girls were beautiful in appearance.  The boys were likewise handsome.  All had strong personalities. They were a close and tight-knit family, drawn together by blood and by farm life.

At times, it was difficult to make ends meet.  There would be good harvests some years, and meager harvests during other years.  During the most difficult time, to meet the needs of the family, Virge decided to sell a small parcel of his 320 acres to a friend.  Jess Lawson was practically part of the family any way.  His brother, Richard, had married Virge’s sister, Minnie.  Virge made the sale with some regret, but it was a necessary solution for the time.   

With six children, the Kilgore family had outgrown the house in which they lived.  It was also Virge’s desire to be closer to the main road from Poplar Springs to Nauvoo that went through his property.  As he walked his land, Virge began selecting trees to be cut for the new home he would build.  He found large sandstone rocks to be used for the foundation and for the chimney.  Virge planed heart pine boards in his mule-driven sawmill. He also made the oak shingles that would cover the roof of his new house.

The house was built as a two-room house with a front porch and a dogtrot.  As the family grew and times changed, a room was added to the house.  This room actually began as a porch but was converted into a room.   During the earlier days after the house was built, the wood -shingled roof caught fire from some embers coming from the family fireplace. Virge replaced the shingles with a tin roof. Eventually, the dogtrot was enclosed and the house then had five rooms and a long, narrow hallway.

With the arrival of three more children, the family members now numbered eleven. The last three children were Ruth, Cecil, and Lorene.  As time passed when some of Virge’s children married, they too settled on the land originally owned by their father.  That is how Grady, Ruth, Lois, Ruby, and Cecil and their families came to live near each other through the later years of PaPa Virge’s life. 

At 59 years old, Virge experienced the lowest point in his entire life. His son, Johnie, was accidentally killed in a motorcycle accident.  Johnie had already left home to work in Birmingham.  Virge was no longer a young man, and his son’s death reminded him of the precious gift of life, his love for his family, and God’s grace during difficult times.

Ten years later, the family would experience death again.  Virge died on December 25, 1949 at the age of 69 years old.  At the time of his death, Virge had eight living children, twenty-five grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and his precious loving wife of forty-seven years.  To Sarah, he was still the young, handsome man she had married many years before.  


1 comment:

  1. A note from Ron McKeever, a grandson of Verge Kilgore and the oldest son of Lois Kilgore McKeever: "Papa also grew him some tobacco to mix with his chew. I recall carrying him water in the fields and watching him with his backy....I only tried it once."