Sunday, February 13, 2011

W. J. Absher Chapter 2. A Forged Character

The tragic murder of Bill's dad, no doubt, had a dramatic affect on his early life and helped forge  a strong character.  Bill exemplified integrity, strong work ethic, frugality, and empathy for others, especially with those with great needs.  He didn't have time to be an adolescent; with the sudden loss of the family's bread winner he was thrust into a major role of supporting his widowed mother and the young siblings that were still at home.  Most of the older brothers and sisters had left home to provide for their own young families.   He credits his brother Frazier for "keeping us from starving; he had a good job and would send us a check every few days."

Bill was 10 years old when his dad was killed.  Bill was soon the man of the house.  He felt the responsibility of caring for his mother and doing what he could to keep the subsistence farm producing something that they could eat or sell.

Bill grew up hunting, not as a sportsman but as a provider of food for the meager Absher table.  He always spoke of fried squirrel as a delicacy on the Absher table.  When the garden wasn’t in, cornmeal mush might be all that was on the table besides milk and butter that came from their few cows, unless Bill had shot a rabbit or a squirrel.  Their farm flock of chickens produced an occasional Sunday dinner.

The family looked forward to Thanksgiving,  not so much for the holiday but more since that was generally hog killing time.  Butchering was a community activity.  Hogs were fed to get heavy and fat so that there would be sufficient lard and cured meats to last most of the year.  Dressing hogs as a community activity made a lot of sense, since the hair had to be scalded and scraped off the pork carcasses.  Water was heated over a wood fire, and it took a lot of manpower to handle, scrape and hang the big carcasses.  Most farms had their own smoke houses, so the bellies, hams and shoulders were salted and smoked so they could keep for a long time without refrigeration.

The picture of Wm. Absher on his tombstone at his grave
where his remains were moved to in Blacksburg.

Dad seemed to have a relationship with his dad that differed from that of other brothers and sisters.  The grand kids of William and Dallas heard little of their grandfather.  When cousin J. C. began his efforts to get Wm's  remains moved from it's lonely grave to Blacksburg he got the reaction, "If he couldn't stay at home alive, why should he in death?"  The children who were old enough to know what was going on with Wm's  infidelity were probably hurt, angered, and embarrassed.

 But Bill's reaction was different and after most of the sibs death, Bill contributed to the expense of creating a  new grave in the Blacksburg's cemetery.

Bill's memory of his dad were from those of a boy. Wm. was probably estranged from the older
family so the younger William was with his dad a lot when the senior Absher was at home in the McDonald's Mill Community.  Bill remembered helping his dad build a chicken house, staying with him at one of the two houses on the Absher farm. He remembered his dad as a hard working, smart businessman (with a big character flaw.)   He was comforted by a report of a conversation between his dad and the Bradfords before one of his last trips to Tazewell County.  The Bradfords told that Wm. had said he was " through sowing wild oats."

Young William had to learn from  neighbors how to farm.  Bird Bradford was one of his teachers.  He had a team (or pair) of horses.  I say pair because, even though  they were harnessed together,  they worked differently.  The one named Morgan ( probably his breed too) was a hard worker but his team mate Charley was lazy and mischievous.   Dad loved to tell about the pair pulling a wagon: Morgan would be pulling with his traces tight but Charley would stretch out his neck as if he was pulling hard but the traces would be swinging loosely until an authoritative voice called on him.

Dad told another story about Charley's  mischievousness:  The Bradfords heard a pig squealing incessantly. They found Charley standing next to the hog pen, holding a pig off the ground with the pigs ear in his teeth.  Charley had is eyes shut as if to silence the squealing.

Bill also worked with Clarence Shepherd.  Clarence had a farm over on the back road known as the "Bush Place.". Bill shared work with Clarence and learned some "teamster" lessons as well.  He told of hauling a wagon load of newly harvested corn up over Gallion Ridge- or attempting to.  The horses acted like they were trying but the wagon didn't move.  The horses were apparently trying to convince the young driver that the load was too heavy. But when their owner got hold of the lines and called on them, the wagon seemed to move easily.  Bill was a share cropper with Clarence for one third of what he produced of corn , wheat, barley and buckwheat.

Farming was difficult for the young W. J. , not only for his lack of experience but because of the land he had to farm.  Most of the land was on mountain slopes.  The small amount of bottom land along the North Fork of the Roanoke River was subject to spring flooding.  Creed Absher was Bill's next older brother. Creed and Bill were companions on the farm until Creed got a job in town.  Carl Absher, one of Creed's sons currently owns most of the home place.  He identified a rough hillside patch now grown up with Popular trees as what his father had called Bill's corn patch. One can only imagine the labor required to clear the land and cultivate the hillside corn field for what was probably a meager yield.
The home place sits at the base of a mountain with a narrow river bottom in front of it.

The lessons learned by these early hard times made anything but a hard man.  Surviving his difficult teen years gave W.J. the confidence that he could attempt about anything he wanted to do.  When he built the only home he ever owned he was turned down on his first request for a loan.  He ignored that difficulty and got the loan from another bank( Mr. John Kessler, was president) .  Another example of that calm confidence was that W. J. started his own business at the age of 51 after he had been passed over for jobs ( probably because of his age and formal education level).

Bill Absher grew to be a compassionate man.  While manager of Blacksburg Lumber Company and then owner/manager of his own business he gave several men opportunities to work, some for him and some for people he knew that needed help.  He extended credit and made out-of-pocket small personal loans me that probably couldn't get money anywhere else.

After retiring Bill Absher became deeply involved as a trustee at the Blacksburg United Methodist Church, a member of the Lions Club,  and with the Food Pantry.  He used his skills and heart to help people.  He facilitated many maintenance and improvement projects at the church and did many of them himself.  He headed up the effort at BUMC that replace a non-working furnace at the AME church.  He was a lead recruiter and salesman of light bulbs and brooms for the Lion's club.   He was custodian of a special account for the Interfaith Food Pantry and the account seemed to always have enough in it to fill in with food the Pantry needed.  He was know in the pizza parlors around town.  He took surplus or unclaimed pizzas to neighborhoods where they were needed and appreciated.

3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
   bind them around your neck,
   write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Then you will win favor and a good name 
   in the sight of God and man.

Proverbs 3:3,4