Recollections of Grandfather
By Vera Counts Barosin
"The just man walketh in his
integrity; his children are blessed after him."
My maternal grandfather,
Mr. Elijah Rasnick, the son of James H. and Margaret Counts Rasnick,
was born in Russell County, Virginia, on April 7, 1857. Although he
probably would not have placed himself in any of the following categories,
he graced the stage of life as a teacher, historian, philosopher,
physician, farmer, superior conversationalist, entertainer, and genuine
friend of his fellow man.
My initial remembrance of Grandfather is of the visit that he and
his beloved "Phebe" (Phoebe Smith Rasnick,, my grandmother)
paid to my immediate family on Sandy Ridge, Dickenson County, Virginia,
during August, 1919. Grandfather was tall and fair. He radiated a
warm and sparkling personality. Within a few minutes after his arrival,
my brother and I were being entertained with stories, jokes, and riddles.
It was during this visit that Grandfather taught us the ease of catching
the bird of our choice; however, he emphasized the prerequisite of
sprinkling salt on the bird's tail. As he perhaps predicted, we spent
the following few days in the vain attempt of getting close enough
to any visible bird to drop salt on his tail.
As the years passed, Grandfather's innate ability to impart his joy
of living to others became obvious. I also began to realize that he
was unusually entertaining, imaginative, knowledgeable, and talented,
especially in the art of storytelling. We children were delighted
to be in his presence and pleasantly
anticipated his visits. He held us spellbound with his narrations
of Indian lore, hunting adventures, and folk tales which had been
passed down to us by word of mouth from our first ancestors who arrived
from the British Isles. Grandfather's stories were told with
enthusiasm and relish. His talent of vivifying was remarkable: i.e.,
the listener could literally hear the painter (panther) scream, see
the hoot owl's eyes shining, smell the blood dripping, etc. Also,
his ability as a mimicker was unique: e.g., "in telling 'Mutsmag',
he boomed out the old giant's voice most terrifyingly and had Mutsmag
answer him in piping tones." (1) He also displayed a capacity
of supplementing stories with colorful and embellishing phrases which
were not to be found in any book. His relating of these stories produced
the apparent intended effect, for example, uncontrollable laughter
that gradually became painful upon hear "Jack and the Robbers'
or fear that created hair raising and bone marrow chilling upon hearing
his version of 'Mutsmag and Chunk o' Meat'. Near the conclusion of
'Chunk o' Meat,' the children would be seen scampering for the nearest
lap on which to sit or could be felt snuggling closer if they were
already on a lap. On occasion, Grandfather was also known to stimulate
the imagination and hopes of men with his descriptions of the location
of Swift's Silver Mine with its alleged riches. (2) To this day, I
have not heard his equal as an exciting narrator of stores.
Grandfather was a capable teacher whose jovial style of imparting
knowledge regarding various subjects made learning a pleasant and
effortless experience. He displayed an interest in the spelling ability
of his grandchildren and taught us to facilitate spelling by the usage
of syllables, as in "O-pe-chan-can-ough"
(Opechancanough, the Indian chief). Other examples using his method
of spelling which we were encouraged to know were gizzard, salamander,
hippopotamus, and Nebuchadnezzar. He also emphasized the physical
and aesthetic value of good posture. Occasionally, upon observing
us exercising poor posture, he immediately informed us that it would
be necessary for our respective fathers to tie a board to the culprit's
back for a minimum of two hours daily. This declaration on his part
resulted in immediate improvement of our posture, as we were unable
to imagine how we could perform our routine activities in his specified
position. Furthermore, he repeatedly admonished us to be temperate
in all things, e. g., appetite, language, and all activities. He also
taught us the technique of making crow's feet and other figures, preferably
with twine string; however, in its absence, Grandfather was good at
addition, his knowledge of nature was extensive. He taught us to identify
the constellations, the nature and habits of animals, fowls, reptiles,
and insects. He also communicated his knowledge of trees, shrubs,
and plants. This information included how to manage, utilize, and,
when appropriate, protect all of the above
mentioned. On the other hand, he taught us how to protect ourselves
from the very same, as well as the elements. He also explained how
to read the lie of the land so that it could be utilized most advantageously.
Being a man of his own time, Grandfather possessed personal, historical,
political, socio-economic, and cultural knowledge dating back to the
Civil War. During discussions of this period, he transmitted a sense
of history to the listener. In addition, he permanently enhanced and
facilitated the historical knowledge, especially for youngsters fortunate
enough to be in his presence. He explained the Dred Scott Decision
and the economic conditions which apparently precipitated the Civil
War. His personal memories of this period were extremely vivid. He
recalled how his father who served as a chaplain to the Confederate
troops, visited his family from the war zone and of the effect created
by his return to the battle lines. He likewise remembered how the
local citizenry attempted to protec themselves and their valuables,
such as gold and the better horses, from the enemy. He discussed the
neighborhood slaves, including how they were utilized, e. g., assisting
on trips to the salt lick in Saltville, Virginia, to procure salt;
helping in driving herds of cattle on foot to the stock market in
Baltimore, Maryland, helping in caring for drops and animals. Furthermore,
he discussed their attitude, particularly upon the event of the Emancipation
Proclamation. He defined and discussed the carpetbaggers, scalawags,
and mugwumps. He also discussed the presidential elections following
that of President Lincoln and gave the listener the regional opinion
in reference to the reason for each presidential victory.
Grandfather was a pleasant and peaceful man whose heart was as big
as a cathedral. He was generous to the point of self-denial and gave
frequently and much of himself. His knowledge that the plant kingdom
contained healing properties was beneficial to his fellow man. In
his capacity as herb doctor, he prescribed potions containing lady-slipper,
lobelia, ginseng, May apple, snakeroot, goldenseal, peppermint, alamus,
mullen, cherry, onion, tea, horehound, etc. He could explain the medicinal
use of each herb, e.g., snakeroot for the purpose of lowering the
blood pressure. Grandfather approached his patient simultaneously
as a friend and a good listener. He also recommended an abundance
of T. L. C. (tender loving care) and rest. Many of the above mentioned
herbs, as well as Grandfather's other prescriptions, still remain
as essential ingredients in the medicinal word of today. He also possessed
a natural aptitude for comforting the bereaved and would be a valuable
teacher for modern thanatologists.
Grandfather was called upon to assist, and faithfully responded, in
various emergencies and needs other than illness, death, or dying.
These problems or situations affecting his immediate family, more
distant relatives, neighbors, and strangers were frequently related
to litigation, surveying the property lines, or animal husbandry.
He was also well known as a nurseryman and was unexcelled in aligning
young fruit trees at planting time so as to achieve symmetry and at
grafting and budding fruit trees. He commonly supervised robbing of
bees and stiroffs (molasses making). It was in turn difficult to persuade
Grandfather to accept anything, including monetary remuneration for
his services. On most occasions, following the successful completion
of his mission, his usual response to the gratitude expressed for
his kindness and help was a very gracious, "I am much obliged!"
From observation, it appeared that Grandfather was unaware of the
term "stranger." His typical approach to a group of strangers
was the following, "Well, young man, in a hundred years from
today, we won't know the difference, will we?" He was a gracious
and charming host whose hospitality was unlimited. It was immaterial
to Grandfather whether his guest was a familiar friend or a rank stranger.
In either instance he was treated royally. Anything that could be
done to accommodate or please the guest was not enough. His repertoire
of stories, jokes, riddles, and songs were appropriately utilized
to entertain his guests on these occasions. He had a beautiful singing
voice. Two of his favorite hymns were "How Firm a Foundation"
and "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning." His guests were
indeed fortunate to have such a dynamic conversationalist as a host.
They always went away happy and frequently repeated the visits.
Grandfather maintained his faculties, including his strength of character,
his manliness, and pleasantness, to the very end. His life was richly
fulfilled. This fulfillment was reflected by his love of and dedication
to others, an enduring warmth, and a joyous vitality. To him, the
art of living was in the joy of giving. He departed his life on March
17, 1943. He was laid to rest in the family cemetery near Nora, Dickenson
County, Virginia. His cherished "Phebe" preceded him in
death on June 2, 1920. His only son to reach adulthood, Uncle Morgan
Rasnick, also precede him in death, on September 22, 1942. Grandfather
was survived by the following six daughters: Alafair (Mrs. E. C. Long),
Ruth (Mrs. John McCoy), Rosina (Mrs. J. C. Neece), Bessie (Mrs. J.
M. Counts), Coosie (Mrs W. L. Counts, my mother), and Eliza (Mrs.
B. L. Lee). Grandfather enjoyed the greatest love, pride, and pleasure
from his innumerable grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They now
stand as the living monument to his everlasting memory. For him who
is worthy of God's blessings, the oft repeated blessing in Genesis.
"Be fruitful and multiply," surely applied to Grandfather
Elijah Rasnick and his ever-loving family.
He Is Not Dead
I cannot say, and I will not say
That he is dead. He is just away.
With a cheery smile, and a wave of the hand.
He has wandered into an unknown land
And left us dreaming how very fair
It needs must be, since he linger there.
And you - oh, you, who the wildest yearn
For an old-time step, and the glad return.
Think of him fairing on, as dear
In the love of There as the love of here.
Think of him still as the same, I say,
He is not dead - he is just away. (3)
(1) Chase, Richard, Grandfather Tales, Houghlin Mifflin Co.,
Boston, Massachusetts, 1948, p. 235
(2) Sutherland, Elihu Jasper, Meet Virginia's Baby, Clintwood,
Virginia, 19655, pp 264-265.
(3) Riley, James Whitcomb, "He Is Not Dead," from
The Best Loved Poems of the American People, selected by Hazel Fellman,
Doubleday and Co., Inc, Garden City, New York, 1936, p. 532.
About the author: Mrs.
Vera Counts Barosin (wife of Dr. Irving Barosin) is currently serving
as associate director of nursing services at Downstate Medical Center,
State University of New York, Brooklyn, New York. She is a graduate
of the Louisville General Hospital School of Nursing, Louisville,
earned her B. S. in nursing education from Spalding College (formerly
Nazareth College), Louisville, Kentucky, and her M. S. in nursing
education from New York University, New York, New York.
Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia, published by The Historical
Society of Southwest Virginia, publication 12, 1978, pages 17 to 20.