Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Visits With A Southern Gentleman

J. with Mr. Haskel Rogers

The first wife of Mr. Rogers passed away at about the same time as did Phil Moss. James Philip Moss, born into an old Gradyville family,  worked all over the country as a construction electrician.  During his career he worked on a number of large hydro-electric projects, served as a representative for  several large electrical contractors. At one point in his career he and his family were able to live in Gradyville for a decade---I believe in the old house shown in my previous post. Phil and his wife Jerry were acquainted with Haskel Rogers and his family.
After Phil's death, Jerry decided to return to Gradyville and to have a modern house built on the site of the old farmhouse, which had suffered during its use as a tenant house. By the time the house was completed, she and Mr. Rogers were married. He owned one of his father's farms and for a time they kept both houses open. After her death in 2005, Mr. Rogers stayed on here alone until last autumn when he decided to sell this place, giving the proceeds to the heirs, and returning to his house on the Edmonton Road a few miles away.
Jerry Moss Rogers loved gardens and it was she who chose the plants which are delighting me this spring.
Haskel did the landscaping, transplanted trees from the nearby woods to the dooryard which had been razed to make way for the building of the cottage.
He created the shelves and cupboards which grace either side of the fireplace, using lumber from a cherry tree cut down on the property.
It was he who framed up the little garage. He had heard the tale of the yellow poplar lumber having been salvaged from one of the flood-ravaged houses.  He wasn't sure he credited that tale, until he dismantled the old building and saw the marks and nailholes in the boards which indicated it had been used in another setting.
He smiled wryly as he admitted to J. "That garage isn't as straight on one side as it should be.  The wind blew when I was framing it and knocked one side out of line.  I had to take the tractor and pull it back."

We weren't sure who was arriving yesterday when a blue Blazer turned slowly but confidently up the drive.
"Who on earth?" I said.
J. peered out and replied, "That must be the man who used to live here!"
We've been told--and told--"You need to stop and see Haskel. He could tell you history."
We hurried out to greet our guest as he pulled to a stop near the carport.  He wouldn't get out, though we urged him.
"I had an errand in town," he said, "and then I decided to see what damage the rain had done."
He shook our hands--his is slender, dry-skinned, warm.
J. had wondered about the exact location of the old well.  Mr. Rogers pointed it out.  He told us about the wonderful harvests from the old pear tree--"over a hundred years old--I remember it from when I was a boy in the neighborhood."
I enjoy history and I asked eager questions--about the flood, about life as it had been lived here decades before.
Mr. Rogers admitted that he didn't remember moving here with his parents. He was born in February, 1916, in  Metcalfe County a few miles away.
His father bought farmland here and Haskel grew to young manhood in Gradyville.
The house which Doctor L.C. Nell built [ on higher ground] after the flood which took the lives of his first wife and all but one child, was within easy walking distance and young Haskel was intrigued with the doctor's practice.
"I don't know just what Dr. Nell saw in me" admits Haskel, "But he made me welcome around his office and put me to work. Later he recommended me for work as an x-ray technician and since there was no large hospital in town then, emergency cases were often brought in to the same office that housed the lab, and I worked beside the doctors to treat the injured"

World War II interferred with any plans Haskel might have made for a more formal medical training.  Still, folks who knew and respected him continued to seek his skills when they were injured or ailing.
"I never pretended to be a doctor," he assured us. "If I could help someone, I did. I was never afraid to say that an injury was beyond what I could do and that the person needed to see the qualified doctors that I worked with."

Mr. Rogers returned for another visit Tuesday afternoon.  Knowing that I was interested in Gradyville history, he brought with him a copy of his late wife's book.  "I want you to enjoy this." he said.
He also brought apples which he picked from one of the trees in this yard, sliced and dried.  Several heads of garlic were presented in a plastic sack. He emerged from his car and led J. over near the grape arbor to point out the garlic growing there in clumps. [So that's what it is!]

He agreed to come in the house to see what we had done, pleased to see the items already displayed on the shelves he had made around the fireplace--"for my wife's antiques.  She loved old things."
When he left he paid us the ultimate compliment.  Pausing on the threshold he smiled. "My wife would have appreciated what you are doing with this house.  She would be pleased to know that you are taking care of things here."

This gentleman, courteous, quietly witty, reminds us of a man whom J. loved and revered as a boy.  There is the same integrity and generosity of spirit.

We ask questions and each question prompts a story.
 Today we sat on Mr. Rogers' front porch while he told us stories, described old landmarks, told us something of the sons he has out-lived.
We took him a loaf of the bread I made this morning to pass out as thank-you's to the neighbors who have welcomed us to this little community.
The bread was still very faintly warm and Haskel's slender, knotted fingers stroked the wrapper. He told us of depression days, when as a boy, he wondered why his family had so much company.
"We had no money,", he explained, "No more than anybody else.  But we had food--meat hogs, a beef, garden stuff and fruit in jars.  We had a springhouse with shelves built all around and they were full. Folks knew where to visit and be fed."

I have a feeling there will be more visits back and forth. Perhaps some of the stories will be twice-told. I won't mind. The stories are kindly told. Mr. Rogers' voice has an old man's timbre, but in it I hear the tones of a man who sang in the church choir, a man who was young when my parents were young.


  1. What a lovely post. Mr Rogers was born the same year as my dad . . . He must be so pleased you are caring for what was his home and that you are enjoying the lovely garden his wife planted. The history of your new house and area sound so fascinating - and what good neighbours you have.

  2. What a wonderful friend to have found and I bet he was as pleased as punch to have found people as nice as you occupying his old house. Hope everyone (meaning the cats and Pebbles, of course) are settling in comfortably. Don't suppose Pebbles liked all the rain.

  3. Absolutely beautiful MM. Lovely tone and full of interest and admiration coming through on every sentence. You have made a connection there I feel and I would like to sit with you and hear his stories, from his own quiet hand and in his voice so ably described, of people, local worthies, and happenings of years past.

    It's nice too that he approves of work done - and I got the very strong impression of genuine approval - and that the house will flourish once again in your hands.

    I think your photo catches the spirit I hear in the words too.

    Thank you for this lovely post.

  4. Of all the places you could have chosen to settle in, it seems you have found the best possible place to make your new home. It all seems meant to be, that you should find this lovely place and continue to find more to love about it as the days go by.

    A wonderful story, and thank you very much for sharing it with us.

  5. How wonderful to meet and talk to this man ...he so looks like how I imagine a Southern Gentle man to look he was good looking in his young days. I actually shed a tear as I read the remark he made about his wife and how you are keeping the house. Hope you have many visits from him.

  6. I envy you living in a home with a history and even better meeting the person who was part of that history.

  7. Mr Rogers must be delighted to meet you and know that a new family is enjoying his old home and caring for the garden nurtured by his late wife. How wonderful to have all that history in your new home.

  8. It's late and I'm tired, but I just had to stay up and read this wonderful post. It reminded me of so many dear, old friends of years past. I've loved the stories they told and listened patiently to them the second time as well quite often. I'm glad you're feeling a part of the community there and making dear friends.

  9. How I would love to meet Mr Rogers and listen to his stories. He looks exactly as I'd imagine a Southern gentleman would, put him in Civil War uniform and he would look absolutely right riding alongside Robert E Lee. You are so lucky to know him.

  10. When we moved here. I found getting to know the people the most interesting part of the move. This area is very similar in family history and interaction. Seems like places like this draw it's people back even when they leave for lengths of time. It's a good place to live. Sounds like you've found a similar experience. It's rich and fascinating.