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Recollections of Grandfather Elijah Rasnick
By Vera Counts Barosin

"The just man walketh in his integrity; his children are blessed after him."
 Proverbs: 20:7

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 improvising. In
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, Kentucky. She
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.





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