Listen to her tell the story:
In the fall of 1894, Alfred A Branch took his family from Missouri back to his home in Virginia for a visit by covered wagon. His daughter Iona Hope Branch Gander recalls some of the tales then in this interview made by her daughter Jackie Coon in the mid 1970s when Iona was about 90 years old. She was about 9 years old at the time of this trip. Her younger siblings on this trip were Sam, Fairy and Bill (who was an infant). Her youngest brother Alfred hadn't been born yet.
Jackie: Well what were some of the nice places you stayed at?
Well that was a nice dinner [at the Babb’s] boy that good fresh meat with hot biscuits and jam. So the next one was a Preacher. We thought he was gonna be all right. We were in – Dad was putting the team up – and we were sitting around the heating stove in kind of a corner like that. The dining room was off over here to my right, set with a nice white tablecloth and everything like that. They came in and the Preacher bowed his head and said grace and never asked us if we'd had supper or anything like that, and I said, “Mamma, don’t you know that man, the Preacher, he said the blessing and he never asked us if we'd had any supper.” Mamma shook her head and stuck her mouth out. She wanted me to keep my mouth shut. Of course, they heard it. But that was what was ‘called’ a Preacher, just by calling him that. He wasn't a Preacher.
Jackie: Had you had your supper?
Iona: No, we hadn't had any supper.
Jackie: Did you have any supper that night?
Iona: I guess we ate syrup and bread. We couldn’t cook anything. I can't remember cooking anything. But we surely ate some syrup and bread. We always kept that on hand.
Then a few nights after that we come to a - now this was a little bit of heaven – we came to a nice big barn, the kind that you could drive right through the center. With the hay just dripping down from above on each side. Mom said, “This would be a nice place to stay all night - we could put the team in the barn if we could get to stay.” About that time an old man drove up in a buggy, pulled by a gray horse. He had long white whiskers. Dad went to him and asked him if he was the proprietor of the place. He said he was. Dad said, “We are traveling and wondered if we could get to stay the night with you. Put our horses in your barn and our pallets on the floor in your house”.
“Oh, yes, get right down, get right down! Put your horses in there and feed them. Get right down.” And so we climbed out of the wagon and it was such wonderful hospitality. So he led the way to the house and told Dad what to do about the horses and just left Dad in charge of that. We went to the house. It was cold and nobody was in the house. So he got down on his knees before the fireplace, blowing the fire alive with his breath, you know, to get it to kindle up. It was pine shavings he had on it so it soon burst into flame. He looked up and he seen Bill - Bill was shaking, I guess. He said, “That child is cold - give him to me”. So he got up and took Bill from Mothers arms, and he had brandy flask in his pocket and he gave Bill a big swig of that raw brandy. Bill sputtered and almost strangled - so he beat him on the back and walked the floor with him, shook him around a little bit and Bill wasn't cold any more. So his daughters came home - one was a schoolteacher, and the younger one was a student. They turned in and fixed supper. They made the most lovely biscuits - buttermilk biscuits I’ll say - and blackberry jam and had just everything good on the table. And they seated us all around the table. So after supper we went into the parlor and there were three or four boys. And Mom and Dad was both good singers and at that time I could sing, too. So we sang. The oldest daughter played the organ. We sang hymns until it was bedtime.
Dad says, “Well, it’s time. I'll get our bedding and make the beds down on the floor”. It was time to be going to bed. And the old gentleman said, “No company of mine is going to sleep on my floor. You're going to sleep in beds. You leave the bedding out there, you’re going to sleep in a bed.” He put us in the best beds they had and it was warm. So the next morning we had a nice hot breakfast and everything that went with it. When we got ready to leave why Dad said to him, he said, “Well, how much do I owe you?” He expected to pay a big price for all that. He said, “Now if you ever meet up with any of my family out in the world as you are today”, he says, “What you owe me is to treat them just like I’ve treated you.” And he said, “Now here's my baby, sixteen year old girl, she washed the dishes and helped with the cooking – so if you want to make her a gift, that’s alright. But he says you don’t owe me anything.” So Dad give her two dollars.
Jackie: That was a mighty cheap night’s lodging and meals!
Iona: That was just a little bit of heaven.
Jackie: That was quite a contrast wasn’t it?
Iona: That was a contrast; I’d say it was.
Updated December 10, 2017
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