The Lewis Reason Steele family is remembered as mostly a hard working and honest family. There never seemed to be any of the wild “kicking up the heels” that seemed to plague other families of the time. The mountain home on Burke Mountain and fading memories of the beloved Lewis Reason Steele family must be documented before the last memory is forever lost through the passing of time. Most of the family passed on while still young, and the old home place has been covered over and obliterated by mountain top mining. All landmarks are gone, and the once beautiful wildflower covered peaks and valleys have been replaced by a boring mine reclamation. So very sad to not be able to go back and visit the old home place! I am not aware of any pictures remaining of the old farmhouse that once housed this large family. It seems fate has made a supreme effort to hide the fact that the Lewis Reason Steele family from Burke Mountain ever existed. But, there are the descendants with numerous cousins all over the United States; a mountaintop cemetery still nestles serenely on the mountaintop. Mitchem Ridge Cemetery holds many family members, and the pictures of Almeda Mitchem Steele and Lewis Reason Steele are embedded in their tombstones. I was born after they died, but would forevermore have a curiosity about the grandparents I never knew. May God rest their souls! Meanwhile, time marches on toward that great day when death will be no more and there will be no more parting. The Mitchem Cemetery holds the graves of many of the family along with numerous relatives and ancestors. Otherwise, it seems I might have dreamed of these folks!
One time, many years ago it was almost as if I had a premonition. Sometime during the quiet midday I was overcome by the song, “Will the Circle be Unbroken?” It seemed that God was letting me experience something before it happened, and I had a fleeting glimpse into a future without my beloved aunts and uncles. In my mind’s eye I could picture all the family gathered around in a big circle, and this startlingly vivid picture caused a sinking feeling to overpower me. Deep within my heart I knew this circle would be broken, and there was absolutely nothing that could make time stand still for me. I wanted to call them all and tell them I dearly loved these precious Aunts and Uncles. Following one of the many funerals Uncle Carson once looked over at Dad and said “There’s not many of us ole Steele boys left.” My Dad, being very aware that all brothers were gone except him and Uncle Carson, chose to let a deep quiet settle in the room. Some of them were very stoic and straight laced –the product of a strict upbringing! I saw into their hearts well, and remembered all their little touches of affection shown to me as a child. I, myself, sometimes maintain a slight aloofness, and feel very strongly this is a Steele trait embedded in my genes. They all died much too young! It seemed they were young and full of life one day, and then just gone way too soon.
I would like to share what I have learned from experience, research, and oral history. Grandpa, Lewis Steele, was a strict disciplinarian. He had a clock/watch shop in Northfork, West Virginia where he worked all week. He walked five miles home on week ends to the large farm on Burke Mountain. There were 12 children who were taught to work from sun up to sun down except on Sundays. They were all sent to the country school which went through the eighth grade. This did not limit them, however, as my Dad had more common wisdom than anyone I ever knew. He would tackle any job, and did a lot of math in his head. They grew up in what was a very large and nice farmhouse for the time. My memory easily travels back to the entrance in the kitchen. There was a water pail with dipper over next to a door that entered into the dining room. A very large dining room table dominated the entire room; a recollection is this table covered with a bounty of food for every meal. Aunt Minnie Steele Brooks did the cooking, and was she ever a cook! No electricity and no indoor plumbing, but the house seemed quite the mansion to me. We kids loved to bang on a big pump organ located in the living room. Surprisingly enough, we were permitted to bang to our heart’s content without fear of reprisal from Aunt Minnie. Inside the home had an unusual painting design, and we were told a man from New York was contracted to do the unusual painting. Upstairs consisted of large sparsely furnished bedrooms with all beds covered with snow white sheets. When walking down the curved lane one’s eyes were immediately drawn to two long front porches with one upstairs and one downstairs. We children were never permitted to play on the upper porch. There was the old pump out in the yard where water was pumped from a mountain well. The musty smell of the cellar is forever imprinted in my mind. I have fond memories of me trailing behind Aunt Minnie as she went down to pick out cans of fruit and vegetables for the evening meal. That same memory floods back anytime my nostrils are assailed with a strong musty odor from an old basement or shed.
Beyond the yard was an apple tree with yellow apples with the sweetest taste. Mom called them early apples. As a small child I recall eating those apples all day long, There was a long lane leading down to the house where you passed a barn…there were always a cow and some chickens. I have seen a chicken go from prancing in the barnyard to chicken ‘n dumplings in less time than it takes some eat-in restaurants to bring your meal. Worn hard rocks jutted out of the lane making for cautious walking. Mom remembers when Aunt Minnie always went to get the cows after dark, and Mom finally told Aunt Minnie she would have to go alone if she went after dark. Aunt Minnie liked to take an evening nap in a straight backed chair. I recall seeing an old photo one time with children all over the place at the house, but I’m not sure which family member had it in their possession. That is a good lesson to share pictures and write names on the back, as one never knows when they can be lost in a fire or tossed by offspring not aware of their value.
As one wound around the crooked mountain road there were beautiful meadows of wild flowers on the left. Many times after a heavy rain the road would be so rutted it was barely passable. My Dad’s old Mercury would jerk and lurch in the ruts as we made our way around the mountain. Finally, the old home place would come in sight, and we would jump out of the car and bound into the kitchen. We knew a feast of country food would be waiting, but we kids also knew very well to “mind our manners.”
Right side back row: Lewis Reason Steele, Almeda Mitchem Steele, children..Ida, Elbert, Ward, Minnie, Kelly. Lower row from right Carson, Clarence, Lonnie, Ed, Tarvin. Front row Sherman J. Steele, Katherine Steele Sizemore. Note: new info shows Sherman listed as John S. Steele on 1930 census, and he had trouble in WWII getting birth certificate corrected. 1929
The Steele family. All are gone now, with their work on this earth done. This was a very hard-working honest family, and they lived their lives in the way they should. This family got through the depression without realizing they even had a depression. Hard work on the farm assured everybody would always have plenty to eat. The excess of vegetables, butter, milk, and eggs were hauled off in a wagon to sell in the towns or Keystone and Northfork.
Grampa Lewis and Uncle Elbert in the Watch/Clock store in Northfork, West Virginia. Grampa stayed in the shop all week and went home on week ends. Grandma Almeda had to stay on the mountain with child rearing and managing the farm.
Mitchem Ridge Cemetery atop Burke Mountain.
An early memory is heading to the “dinner on the ground” in the back of Uncle Ward’s big ole red truck. He had a truckload of kids bouncing around in the back trying to keep their footing while he maneuvered the truck over the dusty rutted road. There is nothing in the world better than an old-fashioned “dinner on the ground.” Nothing can fill your spirit and touch your soul like the ole timey hymns sang on the mountaintops in Acappella. Singing has the purest sound in the remote mountains. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound! There was always church meeting with country preachin’ which seemed to follow the Regular Baptist teachings. The preaching was usually done by a very energetic “Big Ed.” I peered over the benches one time to see a little woman with a huge goiter on her neck. West Virginia, not being near the ocean, had little access to seafood which furnished adequate amounts of iodine. Goiters were quite common to see in the 1940s. The sale of iodized salt protected Appalachians from this once common malady. I did not realize at the time, but the lady was probably related to me.
Before all the mountain top mining we could walk down the dirt road, and the first graves passed were those of my Grandparents. I can still see those small oval framed pictures on their tombstones, and I am very aware that these and all the Burke Mountain memories will always be a part of me. Back then the old schoolhouse still stood, but the sounds of children playing had long been quieted. The old schoolhouse was left forgotten to brave the elements without the Winter fires to warm. It no longer stood when the mountaintop mining began…
Revelations 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.