The sun shone a golden whirl of trees and leaves, as our old truck shook down the washboard road. We pulled off the road at an old house once covered in elegance, and dignity, but slowly losing it’s soul to age and time. The yard was covered by a hodgepodge of people. Men in their overalls, women in simple dresses, some could have come from feed sacks. Men dressed in their Sunday best and women dressed for a trip shopping. Some belonged and some didn’t. Turkeys, chickens wandering at will thorough the grass. But by far the strangest thing I saw was a bed sitting in the yard with an old lady laying on it. I was still mostly a child and I don’t think I had ever seen a bed sitting in the yard.
So it was that I had my first remembered meeting with the Waddle family. They pronounced their name as the walk a duck makes, but others gave it a more traditional pronunciation. It was alright with me whatever pronunciation the Waddles wanted to give themselves. There was Verge the oldest sister, who was a little heavy and usually wore skirts or dresses of some type. Hair cut short, she often kept scarves or knit hats pulled down on her head. Verge ran the whole family. Next was Coy, a slight man who was mostly wearing bib overalls. Coy always seemed to just fade into the background when others appeared. I don’t think I ever heard Coy say a word, but I guess he did talk to mostly a group of men. Next was Mary who was the largest in size. Mary wore her bib overalls and a cap or knit cap on her head and was often mistaken for a man. Mary loved to hug people, but if you got caught in a Mary hug you were forever getting free. Last was Maw as she was called, but her given name was Tilde. She was the mother of the two sisters and a brother. Maw was a slight woman who was of an indeterminate age. She was one of those women who appeared old and maybe as if she had always been old. She could have been 150 years old and it wouldn’t have been surprising, than to find out that she was 89 years old.
But we hadn’t traveled here to visit the Waddles. We had come to attend a decoration at the small cemetery on the hill above the house. I heard the sister known as Verge tell my father that with the decoration going on they had brought Maw outside for some air and so all could visit with her. After the short walk to the cemetery, I got to go and visit Maw, to do otherwise would have been considered insulting. I walked over and climbed on the side of Maw’s bed. Silver hair was pulled back from her face, which was beyond a road map of wrinkles looked up at me pleasantly. She had the most beautiful sky blue eyes which changed her whole face, giving her the appearance of a wizened sprite. I made my expected remarks to Maw and quickly left the scene for others to take my place and have an audience with Maw.
As soon as I got in our old truck I stared to ask my father about the strange scene, but he forestalled me by saying, “The Waddles are alright. They got their ways.” I understood that. Everyone had their “ways” and people’s “ways” were not necessarily the same. You could spend all day discussing the “ways” of man. But unless someone’s “ways” caused any harm, then you gave them some respect for having different “ways” and you went on about you life.
Thinking about it later, I decided it was like a teacher told me in school, you have two men and one man knows everything contained in a 6 inch thick book. The other man knows nothing contained in the book. The second man, however, can walk 100 miles through the mountains and not get lost. He knows the mountains like an old friend. He knows what to eat and how to survive. He could survive years in the mountains. The first man doesn’t know this survival.. So do you say that one man is less intelligent than the other because they know different knowledge. It made sense to me that you couldn’t say that, as both had a lot of knowledge. Verge, I thought, she has a book. Her book might not say the same as others, but she had a book. Coy and Mary had a book too, but maybe their book wasn’t as thick as some.
The Waddles made many appearances through the years in my life and memories. Verge was such a good sister, she took care of Mary and Coy like they were her own children. Even after Maw was gone, Verge was at the wheel steering the family where they needed to go. Once when some boys in the community lured Coy to come drink with them, Verge and Mary walked the ridges, with lanterns all night long looking for Coy. The next day when Coy returned, sick, Verge was furiously searched for the ones that had poisoned and pert near killed Coy. Then there was Verge and her strength. Verge could outwork ten men and had amazing strength. Her neighbor, Dean Sturgill, reported that in those days he had a Jeep with a bad starter. Sometimes, he would coast it down hill towards the Waddle’s house trying to start it. If Verge heard him coming, she would call for Mary and they would get behind the Jeep and give it such a shove, that Dean says, “he probably could have made it the three miles onto the store even if the Jeep had never started.
It was a tradition in our family for someone to dress as Santa and go visiting friends and neighbors at Christmas. As you can see in the photos we often visited the Waddles. Mary loved stuffed animals or a new coloring book.
Most often Mary was such a happy seeming individual. She loved gifts and she loved to get to hug someone. But on the last visit with her, she was different. She wanted to cry and did some. “I just miss Maw” she said. “I miss Maw so much”. “I want to see Maw. The other night I thought she was coming across the bridge.” In old mountain folklore or beliefs this might be seen as a warning or foreshadowing that something bad was to occur. So it turned out to be a warning for the superstitious among us. Verge suffered a stroke and was bedfast. The situation was discussed between those responsible for such decisions and it was agreed the Waddles would be place in a nursing home. Verge could not care for herself and there was no one to do it. Many saw it as such a good thing to happen. The family would now have better heat, running water and inside toilets. No longer would they place newspaper and magazines on the walls for insulation. It would be so much better for the family. Soon after arriving Verge had another stroke and was gone. Coy and Mary didn’t last much longer. Within a matter of weeks the whole family was gone from our lives and only remain in memories.
Many didn’t understand, right before the end, the Waddles probably had life the easiest they had ever had. But their ways were not our ways. This was the atmosphere they had lived in all their lives. Without Maw and Verge, this strange world would seem like a nightmare to Coy and Mary.
Everybody has their ways.