Growing up in Arthurdale – A History of the Eble Family by Gwynne Mesimer
Gwynne Mesimer is the daughter of Reverend Charles Eble, who used to be the pastor of Arthurdale Community Presbyterian Church. She shared her story with us, which we are now sharing with you all! She details moving to Arthurdale, some of the community members who impacted her, and her reflections on her family. Have a story you would like to share with us? Email ahi@arthurdaleheritage to give us a glimpse into life in Arthurdale – during any decade.
I was asked to put pen to paper and tell the story of what it was like to grow up in Arthurdale in the 1960’s. We moved here in 1961 shortly after the Presbyterian Church USA bought the community church. My father, Rev. Charles Eble, was the pastor during that time. At the time we moved, there were 8 of us: Mom and Dad, my five older brothers, and me. I often wonder what the church session thought when they were interviewing Mom and Dad. I am sure they were thrilled to know they were not only getting a Pastor but also a great soloist and choir director.
I remember seeing Arthurdale and the church first when I was still in 2nd Grade. We had a family tradition of the “Sunday drive”. So…one Sunday, we took off from Western PA for that Sunday drive. Now imagine eight people in a station wagon heading out for the drive after church. Mom would make sandwiches and we would all jump in the car. The fun thing about this drive is that we each got a turn picking which direction we would go at the next intersection. So, we never really knew where we were going or where we would end up. Somehow on this particular Sunday, we ended up in Arthurdale. I recall Dad announcing “Oh, look…a church. It looks really interesting. Let’s go take a look.” By coincidence, the church was unlocked and there was even someone there to show us through the church. Of course, the family all loved the church and had an enjoyable Sunday afternoon. We left Arthurdale to go home with none of us kids thinking that this might be our new home. I don’t recall what time of year this was, but we were all set; moved; and unpacked by the start of my 3rd grade that year. We moved seven people thanks to the moving company and I am sure much help from the members of the church.
Our New home
We moved in that summer and quickly integrated within the community. Mom and Dad taught us early on to honor the “Homesteaders”. These were the people who were invited to move here by the New Deal homestead subsistence project led by Eleanor Roosevelt. Either their parents or they themselves very likely left a poverty-stricken coal community.
I love that I had my own bedroom in the four-bedroom home. We had five acres to play in a community where nearly everyone had five acres. So, there was a lot of room to roam and explore. We ended up using this land in various ways that I will explain later in this epistle. First and foremost, we planted one acre in vegetables that we learned to harvest and freeze. This fed our large family through the winter. I remember days of shucking corn; peeling peas and lima beans; picking strawberries. Our freezer was always completely full by the end of the summer and I realized with greater gratitude what it meant to be able to eat healthy food every day. I learned so very much during my time in Arthurdale. Preparing and freezing food was just one of the things that Ethel Hill, a homesteader, taught me. I have so very much to thank this strong woman of God who just happened into our world when we moved to Arthurdale.
One of the first things Dad planted for fun was gladiolas. He had the idea that these would be great flowers to take to people who were in the hospital or sick at home. And, did these ever grow well in WV! So much so that we were always sharing the “Glads” as Dad called them. I remember visiting people with Dad in the hospital and carrying these flowers up in milk cartons. I was too young to visit since the allowed age was 12, especially in the St. Vincent Pallotti Catholic hospital. Dad worried that the nuns would make me leave if they saw me, so we climbed the stairs rather than used the elevator…and, carried those Glads with us. He loved the Glads because I could trim them while he visited with the patients. Gladiolas were beautiful in their many different colors and they last a long time if they were trimmed frequently and the old blooms pulled off. We took gladiolas with us everywhere!
Better known to the community, or at least to the Eble Kids, “Hill” was an enigma and one that will be very hard to fully describe here in writing. As you read this, you may think I am being disparaging when I call Mrs. Hill just “Hill”. This is really what she wanted to be called and quickly told us all that she preferred that to Mrs. Hill.
Hill was a homesteader living on E Road. And, of course, she was very involved with the Arthurdale community and that meant the church as well. The words that come to my mind to try to describe her are: Aunt, 2nd mother, Naomi to my Ruth, explorer, athlete, crafting genius, homemaker, widow, willing teacher. You would think that it would be easy to remember the first time I met someone who was so influential in your life, but I honestly don’t recall that first meeting. We were meeting many new people as we had done before in our other moves, but I think I intrinsically knew Arthurdale was going to be significant to me even at my young age. However, it wasn’t long before I began to realize this was a remarkable woman with an endless supply of giving in her spirit. Hill shared not just her talents with us but also her values and drive to excel.
By the time we met Hill, she was already a widow with grown children who had moved away from Arthurdale. I’m sure we filled a hole in her life, but she crept in and made a home in my heart for sure. I met Hill when I was eight years old and in Third grade.
I must take a diversion here to make certain the reader understands that I had an absolutely amazing mother and have loved and respected her my entire life. My mother gave me many skills and a zest for living. Hill just happened to have gifts my mother didn’t and neither woman seemed to mind that they were both in my life for a reason. Maybe I was a complex kid or maybe I became one due to the wonderful influence of these two women…I don’t know. What I do know is that I thank our God daily for the gifts these two gave me. And, it helped that Mom and Hill were great friends to one another. Here is a bit of a summary comparison of gifts:
|British cook||Great cook|
|Sewing when needed||Weaving, cross stitch, sewing, embroidery for fun|
|Great supervisor / cheerleader for six rambunctious kids||Freezing vegetables, garden work|
|Hard worker as dental hygienist, soloist and pianist at church as well choir director||Hiking, exploring|
|Amazing alto singer with perfect pitch||Never heard Hill sing|
I recall Mom first arranging Hill as my babysitter when I was sick and needed to stay home from school. I usually went to Hill’s house and that is how I was first introduced to the wonders of folk arts. Hill had what I thought was a huge house for just one person although I now know our homes were the same size except for Hill’s enclosed porch. That porch enthralled me because that was where her loom was in place. I was amazed that there was such an item as a loom and even more so, that these beautiful rugs and throws could be made if I could learn this complex machine. I got to watch Hill start a project by “warping” (threading) the loom. This was a process I never actually got to do as it was really complicated, and Hill was rather particular about her folk art. But I did get to weave sometimes. Even that was complex and required paying attention to detail. While I have learned that the details are important, I am sure I wasn’t very detailed as a young girl and can only imagine the patience and grace required from Hill to teach me a little bit of that. I was thrilled to hear recently that Hill’s loom was found and is now in the Arthurdale Heritage Center. I always thought it was a beautiful item and am glad it has found a home.
On to other aspects of Hill. I learned to garden with her help. I learned how to pick crops; shuck corn; prepare peas and lima beans; and how to freeze vegetables. We were organic before that was popular and a somewhat rare commodity. I don’t believe I have eaten such tasteful food since then with the exception of Welsh food. Wales is now becoming (and, actually always was) known for their organic food. They have finally found great chefs to cook it.
Hill was also known for her involvement with the youth group. She would out-hike most of us while laughing and frequently instigating some new adventure. I remember hiking down Decker’s Creek after church on Sundays. The youth group (and adults) often ventured this route. I know I loved it as the water would ripple over the rocks so you could walk in the chilly water and slip on the rocks.
In discussing this with my brother Dave Eble, he shared his recollection of Hill talking a good bit about Eleanor. This is not meant as showing the First Lady any disrespect; it is more an example of how close Mrs. Roosevelt was to all the Homesteaders of Arthurdale. She would even join in the dancing that happened at events held with her when she visited her beloved Arthurdale. It seems amazing to me and an honor to the Homesteaders that they were on a first name basis with her.
My brothers were quite the crew when we were in Arthurdale. The oldest, Chuck, was in the Navy and not home much. I did love his visits and especially when he brought us our very first VW Beetle. He honked that car the whole way up our ¼ mile front lane. It was so exciting to me…both to see the new car but more importantly to see my big brother! I also remember learning to drive on that Beetle.
I sure loved those five boys, my brothers Chuck, Keith, Dean, Dale and Dave. I loved it when something happened that was clearly a violation of one of Mom’s rules. She would begin yelling for us to come by calling us “Chuck, Keith, Dean, Dale…well, all of you. Who did it?”. She always gave up long before she got to me and that was clearly one of the best things about being the baby of the family.
I also remember that when I was about twelve, the boys came to me to have a discussion. You see, I often whined to Mom that the boys wouldn’t let me play with them. So, they now had a plan and this discussion was to share that plan with me. I was offered a pair of football shoulder pads. And then I was told that even though I was three years younger than Dave and six years younger than Keith, I was now equal to any and all of them. I was not allowed to go whining to Mom anymore. If I wanted to play, I had to be quiet; accept the circumstances and have fun. Oh, so many wonderful stories I have about my brothers! I think I am somewhat difficult to please now, and I owe it all to them. You see, they spoiled me terribly and I had so many choices of who to take my problems to. If I needed someone to listen, I went to Keith. If I needed someone to tell me a joke, I went to Chuck or Dean. And, so on. I was clearly the most spoiled and beloved girl with all this attention from my brothers. They were and still are, wonderful to me and a great support.
I do have another very funny story about my brothers. I soon realized that I couldn’t win in a physical fight with any of them. I remember wanting to fight with Dean and him laughing “Go ahead, kid, hit me in the stomach.” So, I did and felt like I had broken my hand. I realized I was going to have to utilize brain since brawn wasn’t going to work with them. I thought and thought…finally coming up with what I thought was a great idea. I would LICK them! Literally! I would begin on their hand and lick up their arm. Usually by the time I was up to their forearm, they were getting sick to their stomach. And, oh No, that wasn’t enough. I then said to them “Go…tell Mom. Tell her I licked you. Go ahead, I dare you to!”. Years later at one of our family reunions we were taking pictures and we got one of me licking them.
But seriously, they were amazing to me. They would do almost anything to be sure I wasn’t sad or crying about something that happened. However, I recall turning 16 which meant I could date. But, no one in the Valley District would ask me out. So, I went to my brothers crying with my tail between my legs and summoned up the courage to ask them why no one would ask me out. I honestly thought I must be ugly if no one would ask me out. They all howled with laughter. The answer was quick to come. They said “Of course, no one is going to ask you out. They know they have to go through all of us first and we will tell them NO.” I know I was very protected in my life and so blessed to have these wonderful five brothers.
What does one say about a man who was a constant companion growing up? I know most people from Arthurdale will remember us together. Mom worked at the Dentist’s office and so after school, I went with him to the hospitals to visit those who were sick or even some home visits. Many people may recall his greeting upon arriving at someone’s house. He would knock and then quickly yell “What’s for dessert?”. I never really knew whether that was seen as a welcoming greeting or if there was a lot of groaning in the other room.
I learned how to have respect for people and families who were coping with an illness or surgery. I learned how to listen to their prayers; to sit quietly while they brought Dad up to speed; to sneak up the stairs at St. Vincent Pillotti hospital in Morgantown so the nuns didn’t catch me and make me go back to the lobby. I am sure I became a nurse due to these many visits to the sick in one of the hospitals that served the Arthurdale area. I don’t recall ever feeling uncomfortable or afraid when visiting people in the hospital. I think I was more afraid of the nuns than anything else.
I remember falling asleep on someone’s couch as Dad was listening to their concerns; making friends of the two Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs at another home; carrying gladiolas with me and arranging them at another home. This may be one of the reasons I almost always felt comfortable when I later made visits as a Home Health RN.