Subscribe Today

‘The Milkman’s Daughter’


Jaynell Graham

Jo Ann Vandevender Gilardi, of Bartow, wrote a poem in 1982, shortly after the birth of her daughter. Through the years, she penned other musings that tell about her family and their life on the family farm. She has published them in a book titled “The Milkman’s Daughter.”

Known as Winterburn Farm, the Vandevender’s property was once the site of the town of Winterburn and part of Dunlevie.

Gilardi has six brothers and two sisters. Their parents were William and Mary Adams Vandevender.

“We were a big farm family,” she said. “And we were the Farm Family of the Year in 1969.”

It was a close family every year.

When the children left the farm to start their own lives and families, the family farm and their parents were never far from their minds.

“All the children wrote letters to Mom and Dad, and Mom and Dad kept every letter and every card,” Gilardi said.

At their parents’ estate sale the letters and cards were returned to each of the children.

Gilardi said they were a close knit family, and remain close, having a reunion every year – a tradition that began in 1984.

A reunion of this family is sure to include a thousand stories and shared memories.

“My dad was great, and he was a wonderful father,” Gilardi said. “He read the newspaper every day. He made us read and keep up with current events. There were eleven of us at the table.”

Eleven at the table, three meals a day, takes some planning and hard work.

“It was nothing to put up a hundred jars of pickles a day, or a hundred jars of tomatoes,” she said. “It was like a factory.

“We had cattle, pigs, chickens. We rarely went to the store.

“Dad ground our cornmeal, oatmeal and buckwheat. We didn’t have to go to the store.”

Mary Vandevender had a great deal of influence on her children, as well.

“Mom was big on poetry – limericks and rhymes,” Gilardi said. “She was always reciting something.

“She made us sing our ABCs forward and backward, and we did numbers the same way. By the time we went to school, we were past ready.”

Gilardi said her dad teased her mother, but he also had a serious side and shared stories of his time in the military.

“He was a Tech Sergeant in World War II,” she said. “He took care of the wounded soldiers while they were being transported by plane.

“It was wonderful growing up with Mom and Dad,” she said. “They were strict, and none of us got into trouble. We’ve all had good lives.”

Gilardi’s generation may have kept out of trouble, but not so for her Granddad Ora.

“My grandfather made moonshine during the Depression,” Gilardi said. “It was the only way he could support his family. He got caught and was sent to the ‘pen.’ That’s what they called it – the pen.”

Gilardi “penned” a poem about that, as well. It is titled, “Granddad the Moonshiner.”

When her granddad went to the Georgia Federal Prison, the children were sent to the Elkins Children’s Home, and her grandmother went to live with her parents.

William Vandevender was old enough to work, so he lived with a Levisay family in Mason County for two years.

“Grandma Nelia got Granddad paroled early,” Gilardi said. “He sold his best horse and went to Mason County to get my dad. They eventually got the whole family back together.”

Gilardi said her father often told the family that his mother, Grandma Nelia, would always say, “there are only two things you really have to do – and that’s pay taxes and die.”

Gilardi recalled the events of August 16, 2002:

Her sister, Judy Greer, drove their mom and dad to Marlinton so William could pay his taxes.

After leaving the courthouse, they drove to downtown Marlinton. While stopped at a red light, Mary, who was riding in the front seat, noticed that something was wrong with William. She got out and opened the back door to check on him.

“Oh, Judy, I think he’s gone,” Mary said.

Gilardi is married to Michael Gilardi who retired from Snowshoe Mountain. She met him when she went to Fairmont State in 1983. But it didn’t take long for her to find her way “back home.” She and Michael live on part of the original farm, as do three of her siblings.

Gilardi worked at the Ford Garage in Marlinton for several years, then at Sheets Garage in Green Bank for 10 years, Huttonsville Correctional Center for nine years, and has her own tax prep business, which is located in her home.

Her self-published book of poems, The Milkman’s Daughter, is available at the Green Bank Gallery or by mail from Jo Ann Gilardi, 1346 Thornwood Road, Bartow, WV 24920. The cost is $29.29. Shipping and handling for mail orders is $3.99.

more recommended stories