The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Tall tales

Hector Horatio Hess

My oldest brother (not the one you've met here on the blog) is getting married in August, and he asked for a family geneology as a wedding gift.  So I've been engrossed in old photos and history for the last few weekends.

I'm struck by how everything is just a story with no clear line between fact and fiction.  Here's a typical tale from my father:

Boys playing in a pondMy great Uncle George, Grandad's brother, was a noted storyteller, and, some would say, liar. He told me once about visiting Grandmother Hess's relatives down at the Kentucky border, the patriarch of whom was Devil Anse Hatfield. I haven't a clue if what he said was true or not. He told of seeing sun glinting from rifle barrels as he traveled up the hollow to the homestead.

I always took Uncle George's stories with a big grain of salt. He said the Hatfields planted their potatoes in a row going straight up the hill. It was so steep that to harvest them they just dug at the bottom and held a basket when they came pouring out.

But George showed me bear tracks on the riverbank near where he had his garden and showed me how to bake corn in the husk in fire coals. And he told about visiting Devil Anse in front of Grandmother and she didn't deny it.

Horse drawn wagon

Daddy also told me about my great, great grandfather, Hector Horatio Hess, pictured in the first photo in this post.  Hector Horatio was a butcher, baker, and candle-stick-maker...I mean lawyer and restaraunteer.  He was reputed to be able to write two different letters at the same time, one with each hand, from dictation.

Easter clothesAre these larger than life characters actually real?  Perhaps because my grandfather on the other side was an engineer, my forays into geneology are giving me an uncontrollable urge to go measure something.

(For family members and anyone else interested, here are the photo credits:  Hector Horatio Hess is the one in the apron, pictured in front of his restaurant.  The second photo is Daddy as a child with some friends --- he's the one with the pole.  The third photo is my great grandfather John Hess (the driver on the right).  The last photo is Daddy, Aunt Joyce, and Aunt Jackie in their Easter clothes.)

Our chicken waterer cuts chore time by precisely 5 minutes and 22 seconds.  Okay, maybe I made those numbers up, but it does go faster.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Every family has their share of tall tales, and as fanciful as some sound- dont discount them. While they may be a bit over the top there may be a grain of truth to them. When I was little I was told the story repeatedly of how my Paternal Grandfather, David Oyer, trained and rode the family cow to school. I thought it was funny, but by the time I was in HS I seriously doubted the story as fact. Boy did that change when my Aunts and Uncles hunted up the original newspaper article! Now its a known FACT that Grandpa did indeed ride old Bessie to school :D
Comment by MamaHomsteader Wed Jun 6 08:08:25 2012
Love the photos - the genealogy bug has been biting me again lately and now you and homesteading neophyte both go and post old family pictures! My problem tends to be the opposite of yours...I've dug up many of the factual details but wish I was good at getting more stories.
Comment by John Amrhein Wed Jun 6 08:44:18 2012

MamaHomesteader --- I actually kinda believe all of them, despite my father's caveats. :-)

John --- We've got some facts too, but they don't go back all that far. I prefer the stories too, and love the old photos my father found for me! I may have to post some of my father's stories about what life was like growing up in the 1940s and 50s in West Virginia --- they're very homesteading related.

Comment by anna Wed Jun 6 08:58:17 2012
The pictures are all in St. Marys, WV, btw. Great Uncle George, Grandad Hess's brother, was retired. He used to sweep out the barber shop under the bank daily in exchange for a free haircut (and, I'm sure, for the company). One drought ridden summer, various customers were talking about the worst droughts in their memories, while I was sitting waiting my turn in the chair. After half a dozen brags, George leaned on his broom and said in his slow draw, "Welll, I remember one summer it was so dry when the fish swam upstream they raised a cloud of dust."
Comment by Errol Wed Jun 6 09:23:23 2012
Daddy --- I hope you don't mind me using your words without permission. The stories were just too good not to share with a wider audience!
Comment by anna Wed Jun 6 11:12:41 2012

Anna, from the surname Hess, are your ancestors possibly Germans from Hesse?

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Jun 6 16:27:17 2012
Roland --- It gets a little hazy when I get back to the immigrant generation. The Hess side is supposed to have come from Germany, but I don't have any data on where in Germany they lived. Once ancestor (a Strauss) is reported as having come from Prussia/Germany/Vienna --- pretty vague and contradictory. Your guess is as good as mine!
Comment by anna Wed Jun 6 19:18:36 2012

When I was turning into a wild and vulnerable teenager, my father (Errol) taught me a lesson, or a way of life really, that has helped me tremendously through the years to love myself and be true to myself and ultimately to be who I am today. My memory of this conversation is so strong too! I was invited to one too many slumber parties, which really shouldn't be a big deal, but I have that Hess need for renewal in solitude. He suggested that I flat out tell the truth in all cases no matter what. I cannot say I have done that to a T my entire life, but I feel like if I dodge the true at first, I still have a grip on honesty so I can act honestly. I don't tell a very good lie, perhaps because of the fact I rarely bare false witness at all. Honesty comes natural to me; lies wear on my spirit.

I also am an English major, as is Anna and my Dad. From that I know the incredible gift that fiction brings to the frontier of a story. I also, from a recent class in Creative Nonfiction am well aware of the actual LEGAL ramifications of putting over a certain amount of fiction in words you call memoir or nonfiction.

Actually, I adore the gray areas and I think Anna handles those colorful shades beautifully.

Sorry, Anna if this is a tangent... :)

Comment by Maggie Thu Jun 7 00:19:13 2012
Maggie --- Good anti-tall tale. :-) But I'm not an English major!
Comment by anna Thu Jun 7 08:19:04 2012
I know your major. It was an error of typing too late.
Comment by Maggie Thu Jun 7 09:39:22 2012

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