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Generation IX: Stella Mae Lowe & Rufus Asbury Penley

Stella & Rufus Penley


Rufus and Stella Penley

The writing of our history changes for this generation, adequate words are suddenly scarce. Our earlier ancestors had to be discovered, clues of their culture and values had to be interpreted from old documents. Core values are seldom considered in a current generation. A child's experience becomes his definition of normal, only the exceptions to that are notable. But those ordinary values are our foundation, the soil beneath our feet. It is who and what we are, not negotiable, no need for discussion. 

At least three of our previous generations were orphaned at an early age and fended for themselves. Since Epp we have been raised by strong parents who stayed with us to support and guide us to maturity and exerted powerful influence on our children. The strides made since by our family exhibit that treasure. 

Rufus worked on Sam and Priscilla's farm, attended school near Gate City and played some baseball. He registered for the World War I draft, but he may have been late coming off the mountain to do that. He registered on September 12, 1918, just one month before his 22nd birthday, but he gave his birthdate as July 5, 1900. Rufus surely knew his birthdate was actually October 12, 1896. Either the clerk made a big mistake, or Rufus confused the dates to avoid a penalty. He had red hair and gray eyes.

Stella did well in her studies. When she finished school in Manville, the family arranged for her to board in Gate City to attend the Shoemaker School and become a teacher. Fate intervened when she met Rufus in there. They were distantly related but did not know each other growing until Stella moved to Gate City. The mountains across the county isolated people between the ridges.

Stella quit school and married Rufus around 1920, and they made their own history of the Roaring Twenties. Neither Rufus nor Stella have been found anywhere on the 1920 Federal Census. They lived in Gate City for a while, then took jobs in Kingsport. They lost their first child, Georgia Marie before 1922. Their four other children were born at home in Kingsport; Mitch was born on Dorothy Street. On the 1930 Census they lived at 1023 Globe Street in the Gibson Mill section. Rufus was listed as a carpenter at the Mead Paper Mill, Stella was a housewife. 

By the time Mitch started school at Bell Ridge around 1932, they lived around Morrison City, and at Saw Mill Hill. Thanks to the F.B.I., we know they lived on Flannery Street in 1942. Rufus found steady work as a carpenter and brick layer. Granny Stella took a job as housekeeper for the King family on Catawba Street, and later at Kenchlow's Poultry Store. Late in 1942 or early 1943, they bought the house at the corner of Long Street and East Carters Valley Road for $2500.

In his early years Rufus was known to be a bit feisty, certainly not one to be picked on because of his small stature. Mitch was whipped hard at school one day, so Rufus whipped him again. Shorty Burton had hooked the strap of his overalls to his seat. When Dad stood up, the entire row of chairs had turned over. After Rufus got the full story and some other details, he confronted the teacher, and the teacher left the county.

Granddaddy Rufus Penley knew something about everything, but he was most known in later years for his finesse as a brick mason. His work was known for precision, durability and tidiness. His basement was as clean as his house. Ruf kept a bountiful garden in the side yard until his last few years, and helped can the harvest. His strawberry preserves remain unequaled, but Lyla's come close. After work he was equally meticulous about himself; he shaved and put a fresh shine on his shoes before leaving the house. Rufus was the only known musician in the family, he played a fine harmonica and enjoyed music on the radio.

Mitch said his Mom worried herself sick about the boys when they were away at war, and never got her strength back even after they were home. She spent a lot of time in the hospital at Abingdon, and wrote letters which Alpha also saved.

May 2, 1945
".....Tell Gardner to have those mules ready, I'm coming out of here before long....Yesterday was my birthday and I felt the best since I've been here, I don't smother anymore, but I better not brag. My children were up yesterday...I was tickled to hear from that sweet Mitch and we heard from Luther too...

May 11, 1945
".....I really did cry when I read your card. I know Rufus misses me, he looks so pitiful when he starts to leave me, he almost cried a time or two. I'm really wanting to come home, but Alpha I feel worse than when I came...I told Rufus Sunday when I came back home that I was going to church. I've been so tired on Sunday from my Saturday's work, that I just laid around all day on Sunday."

Granny Stella Penley loved her children and was equally revered by them. She was a charter member of Morrison City Christian Church, just up on the corner from their house. Her early death in 1955 at the age of 57 was a crushing blow to the family.

She was known to spoil her grandchildren a bit. The oldest have more fond memories, Linda, Reta and Michael. She taught us her phone number: CI6-6890, and made us promise to call her anytime we didn't like what Mom made for dinner. She had a new electric fryer, and would make french fries for us. She sewed and bought us pretty clothes. When we lived just up at the top of Long Street, the girls got in trouble because we would run dangerously down the street whenever we spied her in the yard.

Penley Generation X: Rufus and Stella Penley's Children

Sufficient words were scarce for Rufus and Stella's generation, for this generation adequate words don't exist. They loved us dearly and made us who and what we are. Rufus and Stella had five children:
1. Georgia Marie Penley (infant death, 1919 or 1920)
2. Luther Alvin Penley (July 5, 1921 ~ January 25, 1982)
3. Evelyn Dolphine Penley (born February 17, 19XX)
4. Mitchell Clayton Penley (February 7, 1925 ~ November 16, 2001)
5. Billie Jeanette Penley (born October 28, 19XX )