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Memories of a girl's life in early 1900's Knifley, KY

Stella Chelf Neagle often used the Pen Name "Tillie." This favorite Chelf family story is reprinted today in honor of another Tillie, Matilda Ann Waggener, who is already showing great literary skills, her cousin to be, Haley Elizabeth Waggener, and their Chelf related cousins
For complete story plus photo of Matilda, click on headline

By Stella Chelf Neagle

Originally printed October 1994 in Rural Kentucky Women


I remember when I was a small girl in a large family in Knifley, Kentucky. Ours was a safe, secure home filled with love by my parents, and my eight sisters and brothers, Hazel, Edith, Hallie, Audrey, Ruby, Marshall, James and Paul.


I remember the large country store and post office owned and operated by my father, Lee R. Chelf and my mother, Annette (Nettie) Spurling Chelf, with each child assisting as they grew up.

I remember the large yard; the climbing roses and other flowers. I remember how we would beg to go barefoot when the warm days came in the spring. How eager we were to shed our shoes and stockings; then at last the day when we could feel the "goodness" of the green grass on our bare feet. I also remember the "stone-bruises; stumped toes; nails stuck in feet and having our feet smoked with wool.*

I remember the sweet taste of the honey when we would bite off the top of the honeysuckle bloom, the smell of wood smoke, ham and bacon frying and the good aroma of coffee; and the aroma and taste of homemade loaf bread and blackberry jam.

I remember the wonderful smell of Christmas, spicy fragrances of cakes in the oven, then all the beautifully decorated cakes.

I remember the rows of stockings hung; waiting for the arrival of Santa. How we would wake and call out to see if Santa had come. I remember the large community Christmas tree in the street across from the store.

I remember the fishing in the branch, using bent straight pins for hooks, and later the fishing in Casey Creek; the time I caught a sixteen inch catfish while fishing with my brother (James or Paul?) and Orville Burton.

I remember picking wild flowers and wild greens with Mrs. Sarah Hovious.

I remember our good doctor friend, Dr. J.C. Gose, and J.V. Dunbar and A.A. "Babe" Hovious, merchants and D.J. Bowen, sawmill owner and operator, and their families.

I remember eating green apples, climbing trees with my sister Ruby and my brothers, Marshall, James and Paul; swinging out over the hill on a grapevine swing; walking the picket fence.

I remember the large baskets of fried chicken, biscuits, jam, etc., that we carried to school for our lunch, with extra goodies for recess.

I remember playing in the barn loft, blowing soap bubbles on empty spools, letting them drift down to the ground only to be smashed.

I remember the lightning and thunder during a storm. The winds blowing the trees to and fro. My Mother was not afraid and liked to sit on the porch and watch the storm but Dad would gather all of us indoors as quickly as he could.

I remember when our entire family was stricken with smallpox in 1917, having to be quarantined. Some people passing our house would walk as far across the street from us, just as far as they could. Our good neighbor, Uncle Booth Hovious, kept store and post office while we were quarantined. He would bring our mail and groceries and put them through a window.

I remember the ice cold good taste of the short-core apples we would place outside the window to freeze in the winter time.

I remember how hard we tried to throw salt on birds because we were told we could catch the birds if we could get salt on their tails.

I remember the "Haag Circus" coming to town each year - what wonders! and the times of the candy salesman coming to the store with the many wonderful concoctions of sweets that we were allowed to sample.

I remember the time Marshall disappeared, how everyone searched, thinking perhaps he had tried to follow some of us across the old swinging foot bridge across Casey Creek and had fallen through one of the holes in the bridge and into the creek. Oh, the joy when he was found under the bed where he had cried himself to sleep. The time James had typhoid fever, the long days and nights until his recovery with mother and her sister Audrey doing most of the nursing.

I remember when Paul had diphtheria; what a scare for all!

I remember "Uncle" Steve Knifley's blacksmith shop and Uncle Steve coming in the store to lie on the long bench. I remember when everyone would run out to see a plane passing over. At times when the bench in the store was filled with people Uncle Steve would pause outside the front door of the store and shade his eyes with his hand and look up. Everyone would rush out to see the plane and while they were searching the sky for the plane that wasn't there, Uncle Steve would go in and stretch out on his favorite resting place, the old bench.

I remember the tolling of the church bell when someone in the community had died; one ring for each year of the decedent's age.

I remember our good friend and neighbor, Ina Hovious, and the good times she and Edith had together. They remained close friends until Ina's death.

My mother was a wonderful cook. Later, I remember Hazel's good chocolate roll, Ruby's good pies and sugar cookies, and Hallie's good pies and sauerkraut dumplings. I don't remember any of Edith's and Audrey's special dishes at home but Audrey became one of the best cooks in Adair County, and Edith in Taylor County.

I remember spring housecleaning times. Beginning upstairs, beds were taken apart and carried outdoors, slats were washed in tubs of sudsy water and left in the sun to dry. Feather beds were shaken and left out to air. Curtains were washed, windows and walls cleaned, and when everything was back in place we had a clean room with a very clean smell. Then on downstairs with all the furniture out of rooms, the carpets were taken out to the clothesline to beat. I remember the pretty rag carpets Mother had. Mother cut and tacked the rag strips and Mrs. Fannie Dunbar and daughters Ethel and Eltha would weave the carpets on the big loom they owned.

I was named for my Aunt, Stella Mary Spurling, who died on her twenty-second birthday. I remember when I was small, looking at the framed certificate of her death and thinking that I would probably die on my twenty-second birthday, too.

I remember my great Aunt Mary Wright Puryear coming to visit us and how we would gather around to see her smoke her pipe after supper. Aunt Mary was Grandma Spurling's sister. Grandma had three sisters, Lydia, Mary and Jenny.

I remember catching Lightning Bugs, catching June Bugs and tying threads to one of its legs and letting it fly around us.

I remember my first trip to Campbellsville, Kentucky. Dad, Ruby and I made the trip in our buggy with our good old mare, Maud, pulling the buggy

. I remember how happy Mother always seemed to be - how she loved to work crossword puzzles, how she would sing "Lilly of the Valley" and other songs; and how we loved to hear her sing "On a Bicycle Built For Two".

The northern Adair County town of Knifley, first home to this writer, Stella Chelf, and later home to author Janice Holt Giles, was mostly razed and relocated when the Corps of Engineers displaced all the families in order to make room for Green River Lake. Stella lives with her husband, Thurman Neagle, in Columbia. Note 12/2/2004: The Neagles have since passed on.

*"and having our feet smoked with wool" - Foxfire 1 (Eliot Wigginton) it says, on the subject of nail punctures, that you put rags in a tin can, pour kerosene over it, and light. Then you bathe the wound in the resulting smoke. -Note contributed by Wilma Jean Waggener Cravens

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Miss Tillie, with definite Knifley, KY attributes



2011-09-18 - Shelbyville, KY - Photo by Pen.
Matilda Ann Waggener is satisfied being securely held by her Mema, Linda Waggener of Columbia, KY. It looks like she's going to keep her Chelf eyes, and we remember, a favorite aunt in the Chelf family, the late Stella Chelf Cooley Neagle, a Knifley, KY, native, favored the pen name, Tillie, for many of her writings. Maybe Tillie will be a writer, too. She's a super communicator, already, and she hasn't even graduated high school! -GRANDAD, Ed Waggener. To read one of CM's all time favorite reprints, by Stella Chelf Neagle - though not using the Tillie pen name - click ReadMore with this photo.

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