Retired farmer enjoys his leisurely life
The country road winding to the home of Forrest and Stella Alford needs only one thing to be complete -a row of yesterday’s Burma Shave signs. Driving past well-manicured gardens before the sun is fully awake while breathing the aroma of freshly cut hay fields does something for a city boy like me. The miles quickly melted before I found Alford’s rural driveway.
Pulling through the wagon wheel gates past a dozen or so Martin Bird boxes hanging high overhead, I parked in front of a large red barn with a sign that read; “Big Wheel Ranch.” Hanging on opposite sides of the sign were several bleached out cattle skulls. Snuggled between the house and barn were a pair of comfortable covered swings with enough room to accommodate three people apiece. Alford sat stretched out comfortably on one swing I took the other and was quickly handed a fresh cup of coffee and a jar of homemade strawberry preserves.
“I was born right over there in 1936,” said Alford as he pointed out past the barn. “It’s called Bear Hollow; we lived in a two story frame house. Fourteen kids all toll, I was the seventh there’s only five of us left now.”
According to Alford two or three gardens were the norm for their family while growing up. If they couldn’t raise it they didn’t eat it - except for pinto beans and flour.
“Dad worked for the C & O Railway,” said Alford. “He would purchase pinto beans in 100 pound sacks and large barrels of flour. Mom made the best biscuits with that flour. She also used that flour for pancakes, waffles and gravy. We had three milk cows that we bought feed for; the sacks were made into clothing on Mom’s pedal powered Singer sewing machine. We also had chores before and after school. During the winter we’d only heat parts of the house where the bedrooms were. It was my responsibility to get up before everyone else and build a fire in the fireplace. If there were any water in the kitchen I sat it by the fire because it would freeze overnight. We never had electric until 1946.”
Alford said if it hadn’t been for the money they received for raising tobacco, times would have been leaner. He also mentioned if he were paid a dime for every step walked behind a horse plowing a garden, he could afford a tractor.
“I attended grades 1 through 8 at Chapman Rose Grade School about a mile away,” said Alford. “We walked every season with or without snow. There were about 30-40 kids in that one room class depending on deer season. Lunch was whatever you brought with you. When I started in the fifth grade I got a job at school cleaning and starting an early fire in the pot belly stove during winter, it paid 22.50 twice a semester.”
Hannan High School in Mason County was a three quarter mile walk just to the bus stop. They had a class that Alford really enjoyed call Vo-Ag which taught Agriculture.
“Our football team numbered so small that each of us played several positions,” said Alford. “Milton High School wasn’t in our league but we played Duval, Buffalo, Winfield, Crum and a few others. I graduated from high school in 1955 and started classes at Marshall. Because I couldn’t afford a car, getting to classes proved too much and I dropped out. A neighbor helped me get hired on at AC&F in Huntington. It worked out well because we worked the same shift that allowed me to ride with him.”
Less than a year after graduating from high school, Alford married his high school sweetheart in 1956. They fell in love while still in school, 63 years later Stella is still taking care of him. Since they retired, she has tried without any success to get her husband on a South American cruise. Forrest retired from the Nickel Plant after 32 years and Stella is a retired medical nurse.
“When we were married I had a 1941 Ford Coupe,” said Alford, “It cost me 50 dollars and I drove it until it rusted down and I sold it for 20 bucks. After I retired, I raised tobacco for several years. It’s lots of work but I enjoyed it. We have a small cabin up in Pocahontas County. When we go it needs so much work that I never get to enjoy it. And those big gardens we had, I’m too old and for that sort of work anymore.”
What Alford does enjoy is that cushy back yard swing where he can watch Martins flying about. He takes down their nesting gourds each October cleans them out and stores them away until March when he puts them back up. Alford claims they help rid the farm of flies and mosquitoes.
“I use God as my example when dealing with others,” said Alford. “Every dishonest deed will never go unpunished in this lifetime or the next. My dad taught me family values that can be applied to every dimension of life. Never think that you are better than anyone, scripture says we are all dust and dust we will return.”
And to you Mrs. Alford; you make some darn nice strawberry preserves - thank you. Good luck on that cruise.
Clyde Beal seeks out interesting stories from folks around the Tri-State. Email email@example.com.