Day two in Floyd County—Aunt Betty, Evelyn and I drove over to where my mom grew up in Willis, Virginia. Her family had a 60-acre spread that originally had a big farmhouse with lots of outbuildings—a spring house, a washing house, a smoke house, a cellar (built into the side of a hill), garages for the horses (and later cars), a corn crib, two big barns, and of course, an outhouse. My grandparents Lonnie and Virgie Gardner lived at this old homestead until 1972, so I have little-kid memories of how well-kept this place was. It was a pretty nice country house when it was built around the turn of the century, and even in the 1970s my grandma kept it very well maintained, with a big grassy yard. I used to go exploring every little old outbuilding and the old barns, and of course I have proudly claimed my hillbilly pedigree over the years from the fact that I have indeed used an outhouse.
My grandparents built a new brick house across the road in 1972, the first time they ever had running water or indoor toilets. I have many more memories of that place, mostly after my grandfather passed away in 1976, spending time with my granny, who lived alone for another 34 years after my grandfather died.
I tried to take as many “before and after” photos as I could, which is always a funny thing. Even if you line up the buildings in the old photos as closely as you can, forty or fifty years is a long time when things are exposed to the elements. After the old Victorian house burned down in the late 1970s (my grandma was renting it out to a down-and-out family for 50 dollars a month, and they repaid her the favor by burning down the old homestead), all the old outbuildings went to seed. The barns slowly collapsed on top of themselves. The only evidence anything was ever there is the ancient poured concrete foundation of the cellar, built into the side of the hill. It’s a weird feeling to walk around in an overgrown field and remember when this was a place where people lived, and loved, and cooked food and celebrated on blankets out in the lawn. It’s all gone now, even if you can get all the trees and the angles of the hills to line up. It made me sad.
We drove up the road to the graveyard where my grandparents are both buried, as well as my mom’s grave. It’s only a mile or two up the road from their old homestead. I haven’t been out here since 2018, and it was the first time that Evelyn has ever been to visit her grandma’s grave. My mom sure loved little Evelyn. I like to think that wherever she is, she was happy that I brought Evelyn out to her grave today. I’m also so grateful to my Aunt Betty, who takes it upon herself to make beautiful flower arrangements and keep all of the family graves up. Since my sister and I can’t get out here very often, we are so grateful that Betty keeps our mom’s grave looking so nice.
Back at CT and Betty’s place for lunch now, after lunch I’m going to take Evelyn to see the big city of Floyd, Virginia!
Find many, many more then-and-now photos at the original Facebook post!