Delsie Branham Dotson. Born South of the Mountain, near Pound, Virginia 1885 and died 1983, buried in the Branham Cemetery also near Pound, Virginia.
My Dad, Roy, said he would sit this climb out. The Branham cemetery was high up on an impossibly steep hillside deep in the green mountains of Southwest Virginia. The type of place where you put a cemetery when you don’t want anyone over age 30 to ever visit you. We had to stop and ask for directions even though only a single road led into the valley. Dad remembered the road because, as a boy, they had to drink the iron-tainted water whenever they visited Delsie, his grandmother and his mother Laura’s mother. We stopped at one house along the road, introduced ourselves as descendants of Branhams and Dotsons, and were shown the dirt road up the hillside to the cemetery. Dad eventually made it up the hill and there we were.
I only remember speaking with Delsie once in my life, and that was when I was 18 years old. We were at my Grandma Laura’s house in Rehoboth, Ohio. Of course as everyone knows, Rehoboth is a small hamlet 2 miles north of New Lexington, Ohio. Delsie had been a widow most of her life and had come to stay with her daughter Laura for a spell. When Delsie’s husband Albert had died in 1926 of the heart dropsy and the family business burned, Delsie eventually had to send her youngest children away to live at an orphanage in Richmond, Virginia. Laura, being one of the oldest daughters, stayed with Delsie. Laura soon decided to marry one of the coal miners living in their boarding house named Dewey Spradlin. Dewey and Laura moved, or as they said, “followed the coal,” to Kentucky and later to Ohio.
At age 94, Delsie was now staying with daughter Laura but she spent most of the day in her room. One day, I was told to report to her room and Delsie told me to sit down and talk with her. At that time, I did not know that this was the lady who was famous in the 1920s for her squirrel and dumplings, a dish loved by her boarders. I also had no idea that she had been a hit on the Washington, D.C. social scene decades later going to parties with her daughter Carrie Lee and Carrie Lee’s husband, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. All I knew was that she seemed a force of nature. She asked me if it was true that I had decided to become a preacher. I told her that I had been called to the ministry at the age of 16 and was soon off to college to study the Bible. She said that I was an answer to prayer and I asked her what she meant. She told me that she had prayed that one of her family would be a preacher and that I was the answer to that prayer. Then she told me that I could go (she was tired).
As with so many family members, I wish that I could go back in time and ask her questions about her life, about her faith, and about her family. Alas, the clock cannot be turned back and every passing is a lifetime of memories that fade into the mountains. Unless of course, you discover a long forgotten radio interview kept in a box in daughter Carrie Lee Nelson’s house.
How many are in your family? “I’ll have to count that.”
Where did you meet your husband? “Singing School and Sunday School. Young people had religion in those days.”
And so much more. You may say that the voices of the past live on in some way within us–the following generations, and that may be true. But whether you believe that or not, here’s one voice from the past that lives on. At least for today.