I realize I have written a good bit about Maw and Paw Spencer in the last few weeks, but there’s more to their story, and I don’t want to wait too long to get back to it and get it all down, so I hope you will indulge me as I share more of the story of that bad boy who won over the good girl. If you missed the first part of their story, “A Bad Boy for a Good Girl,” you can find it here:
We left the newly married Breece and Retha in bed while Poppy (Breece’s father, Emory Spencer) slipped up to the bedroom door to see if they were really in bed together, meaning that they had truly “jumped the broomstick.” We’ll pick up there…
And, so, that’s where their lives together started. They lived with Mommy and Poppy for the next eight or nine months. During that time, they diligently worked on fixing up the old house just up the dirt road on the family farm. They planted a garden in the spring, ensuring plenty of food to eat during the next harsh Ashe County winter. Finally, in the summer of 1928, they happily moved into the like-new (at least to them) three room house that they would call home for the next 15+ years. Their first night at home, they feasted on the best meal they had ever had–cornbread and milk and homemade apple butter.
Three rooms doesn’t sound like much, but in those days, you made do with what you had, and three rooms was what they had. Breece and Retha used that small space quite efficiently, though. The kitchen doubled as the sitting room (living room), and the other two rooms were bedrooms. Each bedroom boasted two beds. This made Retha particularly happy because they always had room for company.
They had no more gotten settled in the little house that summer than Retha knew the two would be three in the spring. And sure enough, spring brought the old doctor, little black bag and all, to the modest Spencer home. He stayed all night with them, leaving the next morning only after ascertaining that mother and baby were both well and healthy.. His bill was $10.
Life settled into routine for the young Spencer family. Little did they know that in just a few short months, the whole world would change when the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929. The Great Depression slammed the country and sent it in a free fall. In all honesty, though, not too much changed for Breece and Retha. They didn’t have extra money to invest in the stock market; actually, they had hardly any money at all. Instead, they tended cattle, sheep, chickens, and turkeys, and they grew enough food for both the family and the animals, including fields of corn for the livestock so large that by the time they finished hoeing them once, weeds were already ankle deep back where they started)
Breece and Retha seldom needed anything that they couldn’t grow or make, but when they did have to go to the general store for sugar or coffee, or some other staple, money was not an issue for it was hard to come by in those rugged mountains long before the Crash. Eggs and/or chickens took the place of currency.
Sometimes, though, big things came their way that weren’t as simple as bartering or hoeing a corn field. When the little three room house’s roof started leaking, Breece did everything he could to keep it repaired, but it finally began to leak so hard that repairs were no longer an option. The prospect of replacing the roof was a daunting prospect, but both Breece and Retha knew it was time.
Breece had been eyeing a big, solid chestnut tree for just this purpose, and with the help of Poppy, older brother Marvin, and other nearby neighbors, the tree hit the ground. The men continued to work together sawing the tree into boards by hand. Breece was on his own after that, and he worked hour after long hour to cut the boards into just the right size for shingles, and then he used a drawing knife to shape them, nearly drowning himself in shavings. Finally, Breece and Marvin worked together to re-roof the little house. Both were quite thankful that the roof had to cover only three rooms!
Life returned to a cyclic routine for the Spencers and their little three room house. Falls came, and crops were harvested. In the winter, the cows gave birth to calves, and the ewes gave birth to lambs. The sheep were sheared and the crops planted in the spring. Summers were devoted to putting up hay and canning and pickling fruits and vegetables.
Their routine would not be disturbed until the sub-zero morning of January 20, 1936,when Breece made his way around the newborn lambs that he had brought into the house the night before to keep them from freezing to death. He wrapped up as well as he could, then braced himself as he opened the door to face the frigid air. He especially rued the day that the old doctor down the road had died as he got into his old, drafty Model-A truck. Breece headed to Lansing to get the doctor. Despite the bitter cold, the new doctor came, bringing his little black bag and a nurse, too. Late that evening, baby Dick/ie, drew his first breath. The doctor charged $15 for the delivery.
Time passed, and the little house seemed to shrink a little more with each year. The dryer the boards for the walls got, the more they shrunk. Cracks appeared between the boards just as they would have had the house been a barn instead. The cracks weren’t so bad during the summer months, but during the harsh mountain winters, the little house’s occupants often woke to as much as an inch of snow on their quilts from where the wind had blown it through the cracks overnight.
Both Breece and Retha, especially Retha, longed for better place to raise their family, but the whole country was still in the throes of the Great Depression, and mountain money was even scarcer than it had been when Breece and Retha got married. The Spencers were used to making do with what they had, but the little house, a casualty of time, had slipped beyond what they could make do with. They would have to find another solution and leave the only home they had known for over 15 years. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and the Spencers would find their way back down the road to Poppy and Mommy who opened their doors wide, taking the family into Breece’s childhood home. They all managed to live there together for several years until Breece and Retha could do better..
Better came when the family moved about four miles away into an old country store that had been abandoned after the Crash. It really wasn’t any bigger than the little house, but the outside walls sported large asphalt swatches, and there would be no more snow on quilts. The little store would be their home for the next five years.
Thankful for a roof over their heads and sound walls around them, the family still longed for a larger home, a better home, and they spent much of that five years acquiring farmland and building the home they had always wondered if they would ever really have. Their five years in the little store ended in 1954 when their new “mansion” was completed. They said goodbye to the little store and headed the half mile down the hill. They would travel back up the hill many times in the years to come, but it would never again be to come home. Home lay at the foot of the hill.
Stepping through the back door and into their new home, Retha thought all about this marvelous . She thought about the full basement underneath the house where there were shelves upon shelves just waiting to be filled with all her canned goods. She thought about the big kitchen with their wood stove and a new electric icebox. She could hardly wait to cook huge meals for lots of company. Then there was the open dining/living room combination that seemed larger than both their first little house and the little store put together. Behind the living room lay two huge bedrooms and one mid-sized one. Best of all, though, this marvelous house, this home, had a miraculous indoor bathroom! There would be no more night time trips to the outhouse!
Breece stepped through the door and into the house right behind Retha. All he saw was big rooms, huge rooms. He finally had the space to breathe.
After almost 27 years of marriage, Retha and Breece both knew they had come home…