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Cover Photo: Dalna Archibald at 18.
Briarhopper: A History
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Mary Lynn gives an overview of the book:

May you live in interesting times, says the toast. This woman did. Born in southeastern Kentucky, she lived through World War I, the Depression and World War II, constantly maintaining her optimism about life, and about people. Briarhopper: A History, is the true story of a shy, beautiful girl's journey from the hollers of Kentucky across the country during the depths of the Great Depression, and her awkward, triumphant assimilation into California life, complete with indoor plumbing. Dalna Archibald's life is presented in her own words, as told to her daughter, Mary Lynn Archibald, when Dalna was in her Eighties, and compiled from notes, tape recordings and oral reminiscences that capture not only the flavor of a life, but of an important era in our country's history, through the eyes of a loving, compassionate and insightful woman whose mind was as sharp at 82...
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May you live in interesting times, says the toast.

This woman did. Born in southeastern Kentucky, she lived through World War I, the Depression and World War II, constantly maintaining her optimism about life, and about people.

Briarhopper: A History, is the true story of a shy, beautiful girl's journey from the hollers of Kentucky across the country during the depths of the Great Depression, and her awkward, triumphant assimilation into California life, complete with indoor plumbing.

Dalna Archibald's life is presented in her own words, as told to her daughter, Mary Lynn Archibald, when Dalna was in her Eighties, and compiled from notes, tape recordings and oral reminiscences that capture not only the flavor of a life, but of an important era in our country's history, through the eyes of a loving, compassionate and insightful woman whose mind was as sharp at 82 as it was at 18.

She was the mother of two, the grandmother of five, and the adopted grandmother of countless others. She gave advice freely, but never forced her opinions on anyone. Throughout her life, she managed to embody both innocence and wisdom, and was cherished by her family and beloved by all who knew her.

 

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The Bad Branch bottomland, where the creek ran through the Parsons property on its way to empty into the Cumberland River, was relatively flat, but much of the farm was steep and hilly. We used to say that the plow mule had two shorter legs on one side of his body to enable him to safely plow those hills.

The old homestead still stood when I was a child, and I can remember its huge walk-in fieldstone fireplace with iron hooks for cooking kettles. I raided this fireplace often for charcoal with which to draw on flat rocks in pursuit of artistic glory.

The fireplace was so big that Uncle Elmer (Grandma's youngest of twelve children) and I could each sit in a corner on the slate hearth. Grandma still used the metal pothooks for slow cooking at the fireplace, and she also had a big cast-iron stove that
burned coal. It had a huge oven for baking bread, cakes and pies.

The kitchen was always the place to be when there was baking going on, and we begged samples shamelessly.

Grandma always grudgingly obliged.

There was a big porch on the left side of the kitchen that opened into a long room with a table and chairs in which the whole family ate. No other furniture occupied the room. At the front of the house was a long veranda, along which Grandma planted a riot of morning glories and potato vine. Even though she had twelve children, Grandma still had time for a flower garden, where she grew a great variety of colorful flowers each year, including zinnias, dahlias and Sweet William.

I’ll never know how she found the time.

The living room had a high ceiling. There was also a bed in there part of the time.

My aunts Alta and Pat and I would lie in that bed on a summer night and listen to the bats squeaking in the attic. We would scream and cover our heads with the sheets to ward off attacks.

Uncle Bill used to walk in his sleep. This turned out to be a problem, because he slept in the loft on the second floor. One night while asleep, he jumped out of a second story window, landing in the yard miraculously unhurt, with one foot on either side of the fence.He didn’t sleepwalk much after that.

To the left of the living room was a large bedroom where Grandma and Grandpa slept. On the rare occasions when we were given chewing gum (a rubbery substance dusted with powdered sugar, and about the length of my finger, wrapped in paper
twisted at both ends), we always disposed of our used gum on the back of that iron bedpost, where we could retrieve it at will.
I was never sure if Grandma knew about it, but she never mentioned it to us. I appreciated that.

The privy at the farm was a grand affair. It was a three-holer, each of whose holes was a different size, to accommodate small, medium and large children. It was sited both handily and scenically over Bad Branch Creek. This enabled Elmer and I to visit together as we sat regarding our dangling feet and tearing pages from the Sears, Roebuck Catalog to use for toilet paper.
The quiet murmur of the stream echoed our subdued voices as we perched, listening to ripe plums falling
softly off the privy roof into the creek below, and pondering the meaning of life.

mary-lynn-i-archibald's picture

This book is an "as-told-to" memoir, taken from my mother's memories and reflections, notes and recordings, when she was 82. She died in 2005, at 92, still in possession of most of her marbles. May I be so lucky.

About Mary Lynn

Mary Lynn Archibald is a freelance copywriter, editor and author of two memoirs: Briarhopper: A History, and Accidental Cowgirl: Six Cows, No Horse and No Clue.

A former interior designer and teacher of art, design...

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Published Reviews

Mar.01.2008

"Larry Archibald...strode in and out of her life until, after her freshman year at San Jose State and during the depths of the Depression, they married. The family was able to stay together through...