“I’m not going to get old,” 101 year old Hazel Sherbs said, with a twinkle in her eye.
And, indeed, when it comes down to enjoying life, she is not old at all. As a matter of fact, her driver’s license just expired Thursday, the day before her 101st birthday on March 3.
Any conversation with Sherbs is a delight, and one of her most delightful tales is about getting a speeding ticket when she was just 93 years old.
Sherbs said had been looking after a neighbor, who had sent her from Huntersville to Marlinton three times in one day – and that’s when her foot got heavy, and she was rewarded with a ticket.
“I was going up the straightaway at Huntersville,” she said, laughing, “and, buddy, I was packin’ in the mail!”
She has a way with words. If things get to moving too fast, Sherbs will say, “hold your britches on!”
There’s really no need to get in a hurry. You might miss out on life.
If there is a secret to her longevity, Sherbs said it is that the Lord gave her a good life.
She takes issue with the question as to whether she ever drank or smoked.
“Drink?” she said rolling her eyes. “Drink? Never. Never smoked, nothing. Craig [her adopted son] thought he wanted to smoke one time, but I smacked him in the mouth.”
Craig finished that story Saturday by saying he bought a pack of Kool cigarettes once, thinking they would make him “cool.” He coughed and choked while trying to smoke one, and made the mistake of going home.
As soon as he got in the door, Sherbs said, “you’ve been smoking!”
At that, she made him eat a cigarette, and he hasn’t touched tobacco since.
But that’s the way kids learned right from wrong in those days.
I guess you could say, “when you care enough to take things to the extreme!”
Sherbs is funny, she’s feisty, and she learned early in life how to work hard and how to hold up her end on a crosscut saw, but she was dressed up and the center of attention Saturday at Pocahontas Center where family, friends, neighbors and church family gathered to help her celebrate a rare milestone.
Folks from the Hunters-ville United Methodist Church showed up for the celebration.
“We always had to go to church,” Sherbs said, speaking about her childhood.
“You couldn’t say you didn’t want to go. We called it Class Meeting, not Bible Study or Prayer Meeting.
At the Huntersville UMC she served as Sunday School teacher for all ages, song leader and superintendent for many, many years.
When the time came for her to retire from those responsibilities, she turned them over to her friend, Rose Hinkle.
“You’re it,” she said to Hinkle. “I’m done.”
She may “be done” as a church officer and as a song leader, but this lady is far from “done.” She can weave some entertaining stories about her life, all of them peppered with love.
Sherbs and her siblings worked hard, and they respected their parents.
“Mom was a good mom, and Dad was a good dad,” she said. “But when he spoke, you didn’t talk back.”
Sherbs is the daughter of the late Lanty A. and Icy Alderman Underwood, and the granddaughter of Noah and Alcinda Pyles Alderman, all of whom lived on Cummings Creek. She had two sisters, Regena Underwood Sharp Dumire and Jewell Underwood Carter. Her two brothers were Edgar and Calvin.
“My balance ain’t too good,” Sherbs said as she told about the first fall she had taken in her life. That fall came when she was “reaching across the woodpile to get some kindling.”
As the falls became more frequent, her family thought it best for her to be in a place where she would be safe.
She became a resident at Pocahontas Center in November 2016.
Sherbs has seen a lot of changes in her 101 years, but one thing never changed, and that was helping her neighbors.
“I ran my own taxi service,” she said. “And if I thought people didn’t have enough to eat, I would take them something.”
You could also say that Sherbs is a one-timer.
“We went to the fair one time and spent ten cents,” she said. “That ten cents lasted us all day.”
She was the Parade Marshal, once, for the Pioneer Days Parade, and her stories on that occasion were entertaining and inspiring.
One time, when she was 19 years old, she ran away from home to attend the one and only dance of her life at Watoga. It was there that she met Fred Sherbs, whom she married in 1935.
“I was really with somebody else, but Fred showed up and that was that,” Sherbs laughed.
Who was the other guy?
“I don’t remember,” she said.
The couple had one child whom they named Sue.
When the family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, and lived in two rooms, Sherbs had an idea.
“I put a sign in the window that said ‘Will take children for $10 per week.”’
She had one taker.
“I never got the $10, but I did get the boy,” she said.
That is how she and Fred came to be parents to Craig, who, by all accounts, is a very fine man.
Not one to put up with shenanigans, when Craig went under the bed, Sherbs pulled him out, ready to send him packing and told Sue to go get his father.
When the father returned, Craig jumped into Sherbs’ lap and said, “I’m staying with this woman,” and he has been with that woman for more than 60 years.
Where did Sherbs learn about love and discipline?
From her family, of course.
“Your parents didn’t tell you something two or three times,” she said. “They told you once and that was it.”
Part of that discipline was attending school every day – every day, she said. And the children walked two miles to get there.
To this day she can rattle off the list of teachers who shaped her formative years – Lucille Pennybacker, Evelyn Ginger, Mary Ruckman, Dr. Roland Sharp, Paul Burr, and Principal G. D. McNeill at Marlinton High School, just to name a few.
Living on Violet Road off of the Beaver Creek Road, Sherbs attended the Cummings Creek School and then the Beaver Creek School.
“Wherever the best teachers were, that’s where we went,” she said.
There were some good teachers, but there was one that really sticks in her mind – and maybe “in her craw.”
That teacher was Ruby Eiland, who later married Delbert Underwood.
“Ruby Eiland taught at the Beaver Creek School, and I always said whenever I got big enough I’d whip Ruby Eiland,” Sherbs recalled. “She kept Greta [Underwood Rucker] and me in for two weeks and whipped us every day. She would have kept us longer but one day Harson Underwood came to get us because George McComb fell off the hay wagon, broke his neck and died.”
“They can’t go,” Eiland said.
“Yes, they can,” Underwood told her. And promptly took the two students home.
Sherbs traveled a path across the mountain to school, but there were times, if you had the grades, she said, you could go to Field Day.
“We’d run to see who was the fastest,” she recalled of that run to Huntersville. “I always won.”
Memories of childhood events flow easily from this “young” lady.
She recalled the times that classmate Norman Alderman “tormented” her by taking her hat and throwing it into the trees. When enough was enough, Sherbs took things into her own hands.
“I hit Norman with a rock, right between the eyes,” she said. “He took that scar to the grave. I told Olive [Alderman’s wife], do you see that scar right there? I did that.”
“Now, I’ve done everything,” she continued. “I’ve put up hay, went to school wearing high tops with a knife in the side, never wore pants, always a dress. In the spring we got a pair of slippers to wear to church, but we’d carry our shoes and then put them on when we got there. Oh, we had a good life back then. You carried your lunch in a lard bucket – biscuits, cornbread, hominy, apple butter.”
When she was ready for high school, she stayed with various families in Marlinton. But that was not so for her brother, Edgar.
“Edgar worked at Smith’s Dairy [Locust Hill],” she said. “He walked there and worked in the morning, then went to school, back to the dairy in the evening and then walked home.”
Outside of school there was work to be done.
There were no power saws back then, she said. When the family ran out of wood, Sherbs and her sister, Jewell, would get the crosscut saw and cut some more.
“If she didn’t do it right, I’d shake her up,” she said.
Sherbs only recalls getting one “whipping” when she was young.
“My parents were gone and the others locked the door,” she laughed in anticipation of the end of the story. “I kicked in the door and threw in the wood. Dad whipped me with a board.”
The litany of her life may sound like things were tough, but Sherbs says she had a much better life than people do today.
Going to the store was a rare event as the family raised most of their food, and rations for the animals.
When it was necessary to make a run to the store, Sherbs’ mother would ride the horse they called “Old Satan” to Violet.
“Mom rode the horse to Violet, got off at the George McComb place, crossed the river on the ferry, caught the train and rode into town,” she said. “She would get what she needed, ride the train back, cross the river on the ferry and ride that old horse home.”
The family had cows, sheep, hogs, turkeys and chickens.
“Mom killed the turkeys,” Sherbs said. “She’d cut their throat, hang them up and when she got enough, they took them to the Homestead and sold them.”
“In the spring of the year, everyone would turn their cows out and the sheep and the hogs,” she said. “They needed the grass for hay. In the fall, Dad would go and call them, and they would all come to him.”
But even when the animals were “turned out,” the milk cows would always be out in front of the house in the morning waiting for you, she said.
“All in all, we had a better life than people have today,” she said.
As for Fred, her husband of 51 years, Sherbs said, “He was a good man. He was good to me.”
Sherbs admits that she couldn’t cook when she and Fred married.
“We always worked outside,” she said. “But I could boil potatoes.”
Although her cooking skills were limited, she knew her way around a washboard.
“We carried all our water,” she said. “We scrubbed clothes on a washboard and hung them to dry. I always washed Fred’s mining clothes on a scrub board.”
Sherbs was hard pressed to zero in on any one invention or convenience that she remembered as having made her life easier.
“I guess it was when Fred got a tractor,” she finally said. “Putting up hay was hard work.”
Through the years the Sherbs family lived in Baltimore, Maryland, Akron, Ohio, and Shinnston, but eventually returned to Pocahontas County.
Sherbs lost her husband, Fred, and her daughter, Sue, but she still has Craig, her grandchildren, Debbie Corbin and Paula Phillips Doran, and her great-grandchildren.
And she still has her zest for life.
“I used to put the coffee on, wash my face, comb my hair and make up my bed, and then I would go and have my coffee, “ Sherbs said.
Things have changed, and, today, Pocahontas Center Recreation Director Jackie Friel brings Sherbs her coffee first thing in the morning.
And, that’s okay, she said.
As for her advice to the younger generation: “Live a good life,’ Sherbs said, “and respect your parents.”
Jaynell Graham may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org