Pearl Collins Spencer, daughter of Ervin & Lavernia Spencer Collins,
wife of Archie Spencer of Fenwick Mountain ,West Virginia. Pearl was my
aunt, and I lived with them for the first 5 years of my life. Aunt Pearl is
"making apple butter". The story below was written by her and found in a
little notebook by her daughter Archetta Bailey who passed away just last
year. Aunt Pearl was the eldest of 11 children and this is the story of each
written by Pearl Collins Spencer
My name is Pearl Collins Spencer and I'm the oldest daughter of Ervin Walker
Collins and Lola LaVernia Spencer Collins. I am writing this to the best of
my own recollection with no help from anyone else. Of course up to this time
I can remember what I write was told to me by my father and mother.
Ervin Walker Collins was born at what was then called the "Crew Place" in
Craigsville, WVa., Nicholas County.
Lola LaVernia Spencer Collins was born on what is now Fenwick Mountain but
at that time they received their mail at Holcomb, WVa. Nicholas County. so
it states she was not born too far from what is now called Collins-Spencer
I remember faintly of being at the Spencer Home Place. The one thing I do
remember is Olive and I getting in the brown sugar which was in a big barrel
and the sugar was in big lumps. We were not suppose to be in it but we sneak
around and got into it anyway. I remember very well about Olive ,my cousin,
getting dynamite caps out of the window where they were placed and thought
it was a safe place. She stuck a nail in it and hit it with a hammer. I
don't remember if she was took to the doctor as in those days you didn't go
to the doctor every time something went wrong. I know they were very uneasy
about her eyes but as luck would have it she was mostly scarred up on her
hands and stomach. She had some signs of this still today, like a crooked
I will go back to my father and mother being born. My father was born May
21, 1893; my mother October 15, 1893. She always told me she was only 18
years old when she married and 20 years old when I was born. Some of their
birth records were burned and they had her 2 years younger than she was.
This she found out when she went to the Summersville WVa. ,Nicholas County
courthouse for her birth record.
Mom kept her wedding dress til she moved to the farm. I was 14 years old and
she gave it to me and I made a skirt out of part of it. Her dress was made
out of cream colored satin with lace over it. It was indeed beautiful. The
Rev. CE Simms married my dad and mom with Laura Simms and CE
Smith as witness.
My dad worked in logging camps most of his younger days up until the time he
and mother married. He has told me he would go into a log camp wearing
cutter shoes and bib overalls. He would stay on the job without even going
out for 2 months then he would draw his pay and take off. He said he was
known around the camps as "Old 60 Days". My grandfather Johnnie Spencer also
contracted a few logging jobs too.
My mother cooked for him in some of the camps, but my grandmother Hattie
Bennett Spencer disapproved of her cooking in log camps so that didn't last
long for her.
My father must have gotten himself a job in the coal mining town of Saxman,
WVa. Since I've studied this, I believe he went to work in the coke ovens
making coke, anyway, they moved to Saxman in a 3 room house. There were
several of these small houses built along side, Big Laurel River on the left
side of the river and this was called Shanty Row. It was near the coke ovens
and right across from where they called the Power house. There was a
boardwalk in front of these houses. Some people spoke of it as "over the
boardwalk". It was here that my sister Versa and I were born.
I ,Pearl Collins, was born August 3, 1914 and Versa was born January 26,
1917. Our doctor who delivered us was Dr. E.F.Flora.
It must have been in early 1917 that my father built a house on the same
ground as the home place is now. I can remember it as being a nice house,
built in a L shape, with white weather boarding on it. My mother wasn't very
happy at this place so we didn't stay very long.
The flu epidemic was raging while we were there. Olive stayed with us most
of the time as the rest were down with the flu. We had a little burn side
stove with a little flat rim around the top of it. Mom kept onions roasted
on it all the time ,and Olive, Versa, and I would eat them. Mom would give
us a little hot toddy to drink. It was made with a little whisky, water, and
sugar. We were told that that would kept down the flu. It must have worked
because the three of us didn't have it. There were a lot of people sick with
the flu and whole families died.
It was about this time that my Uncle Jim Spencer went off to war. I remember
him taking off walking on a log out of sight. He had to walk to Fenwick back
then to enlist. Jim was killed in Germany and never brought home. He was
buried in Flander's Field. The death of Jim nearly broke my grandma Hatta's
My brother Howard was born on February 27, 1918. Aunt Lady Seabolt was the
midwife. He was the only one of us kids that didn't have a doctor with. Mid
wives were good in those days. As well as I remember we stayed in the big
house until Fall of 1918 or Spring of 1919, then we moved to Fenwick close
to the Alix Stull family. I don't know if my dad still worked at Saxman or
not while living at the farm at Fenwick. but I am inclined to believe that
he worked on the farm steady while we were there. As to what he worked at
while we were at Fenwick I do not know but it was a short stay there.
I got acquainted with the Stull children. I recall there was Curt, Roma,
Myrtle, Wanita, and Ralph. There were probably others born after we left
there but I can't recall. I do remember their mother, Joanna, and believe
they were the only family I remember of my stay there.
Then if dad didn't already have a job at Saxman he got one there because
back to the town of Saxman we moved. This was our home for the next 8-10
years. There were no roads into Saxman, only the railroad. In fact at that
time I don't recall ever seeing a car. I had seen buggies and rode in them.
I recall my dad having a beautiful buggy with lights that burned kerosene
oil, and of course you just had to light them. The buggy we had on the farm
but dad traded it off and I don't remember who got it.
Our furniture was moved on a flatcar and we rode the caboose into Saxman.
There dad, mother, Versa, Howard, and I had to walk from Saxman store back
down the railroad tracts to where we was to live.
I hadn't remembered anything about our wearing apparel until our trip to
Saxman. As we rode along on the caboose I noticed Versa and I having on
black socks above our knees with garters holding them up.
We lived in about the 5th or 6th house down from the store. It was the last
double house on that line of houses. There were a family of Kobilias
(Polish) that lived in the lower side of the house we moved into. The houses
looked large but there were only 4 rooms in each of them, a front room, a
kitchen and two bedrooms. The front room had a grate in the fireplace in
which to burn coal. Also one bedroom upstairs had one of these grates. There
were two little closets off the kitchen where the stairs went up. In one
closet we kept our flour, meal, and our groceries and in the other dad kept
his dirty mining clothes. I would get in there and play around and come out
looking like a miner myself.
You know I found myself proud to be a coal miner's little girl.
Another thing about the closet or pantry . My mother kept an old coffee
grinder that set on the top of the shelf. You had to grind your coffee
before it could be put inside the pot to make coffee. The Mrs Kobilia that I
spoke about earlier was polish and couldn't speak English. She would come
over and get me to try to teach her some words in English. It was hard for
me to understand just what she wanted me to do so my mother explained to me
that when she pointed at an object to tell her what it was. She would have a
basket of eggs and she would point to the eggs and I would say "egg". I
would say eggs til I got so tired I would fall asleep. One day she sit me up
in a high chair . It was thundering real hard. She would point up toward the
sky and I would tell her "thunder". She would try so hard to say the word.
For a reward she would treat me to what she called blood pudding. Sometimes
it would be link sausages that they made theirselves. They used the hogs
intestines to make the outside of the sausages but believe me they were
washed , and washed, and washed ....they were very very clean. I would come
home with pudding running out of the corners of my mouth and my mother would
grab me and wash it off my mouth and tell me she would whip me next time I
ate it. It must have been good for I would go right back and eat it again.
It was late in December of 1919 when my baby sister Velva was born. As well
as I can remember Aunt Ena ,daddy's sister and her little girl, Nellie,
stayed with us and took care of mother and the baby as well as the rest of
us. In those days the mother was to stay in bed 10 days after having the new
baby and on the 10th day she was to lay flat on her back in bed and do NO
turning. I always wondered why? Of course, this was still the rule when I
had my first two babies.
Those were happy days. We played in the green from morning til dark only
going home to eat a bite. The green was across the railroad tracks. It was a
large level place always green in the summer and full of daisey's and clover
bloom. In summer we picked the daisey's and clover bloom and weave them into
our hats. We had our own little cemetery there where we buried every dead
bugs, frogs and craw-dads, etc that we found around.
I was getting about ready to start school. I think I was seven when I
started so that would of been September 1921.My first school was right
across the river from where we lived. The teacher name was Mrs. Kirby. When
the river was low my mother would take me across the river by walking on the
rocks and put me up on the other side. This way I didn't have far to walk.
When I couldn't cross the rocks I had to walk down to the store, cross the
bridge, and walk back up the other side. It was a good walk for little legs.
At this time the children that lived at Saxman, and Fenwick Mountain
attended this school. I went there about two terms til they started tearing
the school down. It was torn down and the lumber used to make a new school
on Fenwick Mountain. At that time it was still standing but not a school but
was a garage owned by a Mr. Lynch. In the meantime there was a new school
house being built right by the Saxman Church and close to about all the
children. I went there while the new school was being built. The teacher was
Mrs Ada Vaught, we called her Mrs. Ada.
In November 1921 I got another new brother. His name was Ervin Walker
Collins Jr. I don't want to leave none of the siblings out. Then the new
school was finished I was going into eight grade. After we moved to the
farm in 1928 I still went another two years of school. I sure knew eighth
grade before I was through because you had to continue til you were 16 years
Back to the new school being built. I was so proud of it. There were 4
grades taught in each room. Versa, nicknamed Buckie, and brother Howard went to
school there too.Versa got the nickname of Buckie when brother Howard tried
to say Versa he would say "Buckie" and it just stuck.I don't remember if
Velva went to school here or not as in the last years we went to this school
it had become overcrowded and they solved the problem by using one of the
houses from Shanty Row. I remember the teacher as being Wilma Sweeny
Siebert. The best term I went to school there was to Blume Johnson from
Mount Nebo, WV and Miss Evaline Rader taught the small grades.
On March 11, 1923 Nelma Beatrice Collins was born. It seemed from the
beginning she had problems. The milk didn't agree with her. My mother
worried about her. She wouldn't say anything but I could tell that she
worried trying all brands of milk to get her lined out. Also she got the
doctor for her. I believe that one doctor was Doctor Echols. He told mother
to give her 3-4 tablesspoons of milk at a feeding which was every 4 hours.
She would frit a lot. One morning, four months later, my mom got up at four
in the morning and fed her and got my father off to work. She washed all the
bottles and scalded all the bottles and nipples and boiled water for the
baby. She fixed her bottles and went upstairs to feed her at eight o'clock
and found her dead. I didn't know anything was wrong til I heard my mother
sobbing. I ran and looked upstairs. She was sitting on the top of the stairs
with her head in her hands and she kept saying over and over, "My baby is
dead". I ran and got Dash Poole. She came and soon another neighbors
arrived. June 12, 1923, it was a heart breaking time for mother and all the
family, but mother would suffer many more heartbreaks before she died.
>From the time Buckie and I were old enough to walk to church Mother seen
that we were in church every Sunday morning. We would walk to revivals and
each one of us got big enough to walk we would be in Sunday school in the
morning and that was from me down to my baby brother Eldon. She taught us to
fear God and love him. That was our beginning to knowledge. She was very
stricton us working on Sunday. In fact she didn't allow us children to but
my father would work when he got ready on Sunday with her telling him that
the Bible said to"remember the sabith and keep it holy".
On April 3 1924, I got another brother. His name was Lloyd Garland Collins.
He was a pretty baby , fat ,plump with brown hair and eyes. When he was 21
months old on January 26, 1926 Betty Jo Collins was born When she was about
a year old all of us took the "Big Measles" from the oldest down to the
youngest. My dad and mother really had their hands full. We were all in beds
all over the house. They was around six weeks my parents didn't have a
chance to lay down. The neighbors came in to help. We were out of our heads,
ran high fevers, etc.and everything that went along with measles. Lloyd"Bud" had
took Membranis croup. I don't remember if this was before the measles or shortly
after. I think though that it was a complication of the measles. He was very sick
having dry hacking cough and very croupy. You could hear him trying to get
his breath clear down to the river bank. The outside privy were all along
the river bank. I can remember going out there to keep from hearing him
cough so hard. I was then 10 years old and I understood that something was
bad wrong. The doctor was called ( Dr. William Nelson) The verdict was bad.
He called it Membranis Croup. There was nothing to be done for it only give
Anti-Toxin. This was a kill or cure. I remember there was a decision to be
mad and it had to be made soon. It was talked over by mom and dad and even
some neighbors. Dash Poole was one of them. Well Lloyd couldn't get well the
way it was and with the new medication he at least had a chance, so the
decision was made. The doctor gave him the medication and said it would take
several hours before it would take effect.(24-48 hrs) I know things got very
still, nobody spoke, just watched one another. As I understood it he would
cough this thing up or pass it through his bowels. The doctor told mother
what to look for (hard bony object, white in color) The watch started
through the night. The clock was watched. My mother stood over the bed
constantly never leaving his side. It seemed forever to me but it came and
my brother got better.
Betty Jo took the measles and then pneumonia set in. She didn't last long.
She was one year and 8 or 9 months when she died March 6, 1929.
Ervin took infantile paralyzes (polio). He was very sick with it and I've
wondered so many times how my parents held up. Polio, as it is now called,
was raging among children killing lots of them. It was days before they knew
just how he would be crippled. His leg wouldn't grow much. I remember my
mother saying she wondered if it would grow any in length. Freda Clevenger
came to stay with us. She was my first cousin. It was more than my mother
could take care of with my dad having to go to work. Dad bought Ervin a
carriage and everyday Freda would take along side of it. This was doctors
orders. They rubbed his legs with all kinds of liniment even buying it by
the case. I remember one brand as being NOVACK LINAMENT, but to no avail, he
was crippled for life.The leg did grow in length. It was somewhat shorter
than the other one, but never got too much bigger in size around and not
much muscle to it. He was very sturdy from the waist up but it didn't keep
him from doing hard work on the farm, later being a foreman on the mines,
and marrying and raising a family.
This my mother always thanked God for. It was then the Fall of 1927 that my
brother Gene Dale Collins was born. (September 20, 1927) It was a little
past 6 months after my sister Betty Jo had died. There was a heavy weight
fight between Gene Tunny and Jack Dempsey. My father said that which ever
won the fight was what the new baby would be named. Gene Tunny won the fight
and my brother was called Gene Dale, altho to this day he is called "Tunny".
My mother got Emma Shoulders to stay with us while she was in bed with the
new baby. Us older ones had to go to school so we weren't much help.
It was about then my father decided to leave Saxman and go back to the farm.
He worked very hard . There we had a cow, chickens, and a big place for a
garden but with seven children mother and dad had rent to pay etc. It took
lots of eats and clothes for us. Howard ,Versa, and I were now big enough to
help out on the farm so with some help from Uncle Clerance Collins (dad's
younger, unmarried brother) and Alvy "Butch" Hinkle he began tearing the old
house down I had talked about us leaving when we went to Fenwick and then
to Saxman the 2nd time. He worked very hard in the mines during the days and
going after work to work on the house til dark. He worked every Saturday on
it. It wasn't anything like finished when we moved into it. I remember
having a quilt tacked over the window in the kitchen but it was fixed enough
to be livable so Spring ,April 18, 1928 .School was out for the summer and
wouldn't start again til September, so dad waited until school was out and
then we left Saxman where mom and dad lived out the rest of their lives.
We just got moved in and BANG, what a terrible storm. The snow was deep and
lasted several days. I recall wading snow up to my neck. We had no coal or
wood on hand. Now we were really busy for a while just trying to stay warm.
Uncle Tom Williams had a little small one room store which he kept just
necessities in. We would go there to the store which wasn't far. We would
buy slabs of salt bacon which mother would soak the salt out, and then roll
it in meal or flour and fry it. You couldn't sit still and eat it. It was so
delicious. Them was the good ol days though we older ones had to work awful
hard . We were up early and to bed late. Dad was still working in the mines
and walking it most of the time. He finally got him a mule to ride back and
forth to work. My mother, Howard, and I worked outside feeding, milking, and
tending to the garden, and everything else that needed to be done on the
Versa took over the house, cooking, washing dishes, washing clothes, on a
board and carrying water from the spring. My sister Velva took care of the
baby (Tunny) when she wasn't in school. He was 7 months 2 days old when we
came to the farm. Velva was 9 years old.
We always had a cane patch to make molasses for all loved them, but work we
did. There was never no end to it but one thing for sure when Sunday Morn
came we were all up to go to Sunday School and preaching after. This was a
Had to be thing with my dear precious mother.
The house was always full and running over with children, our friends, and
others that would stop in for the day, and our tunny's were always full. I
remember Hilda (Poole) Ayres. The first thing she would want to do was make
candy. and candy was made for all. My father had began to ail, his blood was
low. He had anemia and coming down with arthritis which finally crippled him
In late 30's to the exact date November 5, 1930 Shirley Ford Collins was
born. This was sort of a suprise to me as I thought my mother was through
having babies and that there wouldn't be anymore. He was rather sickly from
the beginning. He took sick when he was about a month old. Pneumonia
followed and he passed away December 21, 1930. He was 1 month 16 days old.
It was on Sunday night, Versa and I went after Uncle Jack Brewster. He was
an eldery man good when anybody needed him to help. When morning came other
neighbors came. The Rev. Hill Jones held a little service there at the
house. He brought along three of his daughters to sing. Carrie, Ollie and
Dena. None of them were married at that time. They were wonderful singers
and are to this day. Their father Rev Hill Jones was the minister that
married dad & I (meaning Pearl & Archie Spencer) He was a real good
minister, Methodist. He preached it just like I believed it ( that hell was
long and hot)
Things began to change a little at home. I had began working away from home,
mostly when somebody had a baby then you could work 10 days or more if
needed. I stayed with Clerance and Emma when Kenneth Wayne was born. I had
began to date boys. Then going with Archie at that time I then stayed with
Ross and Nita Weese at Saxman when Phillis Jean Weese was born. They just
had 2 children ,Eldon & Phillis Jean.
Versa kept busy. She stayed gone most of the time. Every time there was a
new baby Versa was gone. She was well liked and did her job well. I got
married then in August 1932. My first child, Archetta was born June 23,
1934. I learned then the last of 1935 that my mother was pregnant again....
This worried me very much as she was getting up in years, 42 years old which
I thought was too old to have babies, and it had been 5 years since the last
one. I know she worried also. MY father was able to work some and was
working at Saxman. Archie was working with him. On November 25, 1935 the
baby was born strong, and healthy. He was named Eldon Jermone Collins. Aunt
Vergie (dad's oldest sister) stayed with them awhile. Dr. Ellis Frame was
the doctor. He said it was the last baby as my mother had already went into
the change of life. We often referred to him as the change of Life baby. I
guess it really did change the lives of us. My mother and dad worshiped him.
Velva took care of him fixing bottles etc. My mother didn't have to tend to
him very much as he was the center of attention. He began to know that he
was the baby, and let everybody else know it also. If he ask for the moon
they tried to get it for him. I guess we older children didn't quite
understand this for he sure got by with things that we didn't. He was
spoiled, but he was mother's baby and she loved him ,and we did too.