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Generation IX: Stella Mae Lowe & Rufus Asbury Penley

Uncle Malcolm's Mountain

Sam and Priscilla's son, Hiram Thomas Penley, was a World War I soldier. Because he returned from the war in poor health, Thomas kept his serviceman's life insurance paid up with his sister Sarah, and brothers Malcolm and Kelly as beneficiaries. He left specific instructions for them to buy a small farm for his mother Priscilla where she could live out her days in peace. Upon Thomas' death, his wishes were carried out poetically. For $1,250 the Penleys bought 85 acres on Clinch Mountain from James Willis. Malcolm later bought 30 acres more for a total of 115 acres. Between Slabtown and Snowflake on State Road 71, the land rises up behind the Woods Cemetery and the old Mountain View School, about four miles from Gate City. 

It was about a 3/4 mile walk to the house from the road, across a creek. In the summer a car could get a good way up, but in the winter it was a hike all the way, unless you turned an ankle, then Granddaddy Rufus carried you up on his back. Uncle Luther bought a Scout that could maneuver the entire route to their front door in good weather. Kinnie Wagner was born there, and is buried at the foot of the mountain, at Woods Cemetery by Mountain View School. Flint and Indian arrowheads were found there. Signal Knob was a bit further up at 3,217 feet. It was a distance Mitch Penley loved to run; he said they never walked anywhere, they always ran. In his later years he regretted not taking one more hike up there. Uncle Malcolm's house was only up about 2600 feet above sea level.

As soon as Priscilla gained her mountaintop home in 1927, it became a safe haven and hub of activity for her children, and grandchildren. When her kids hit hard times in the 1920s and 1930s, they brought their families to Priscilla's mountain while they worked through rough patches. Mitch Penley lived there with Luther, Dolphine and Jeanette for a few years around 1927 - 1930. Rufus and Stella came on days off to see the kids.

Through good times and bad, on weekends the mountain came alive with children. Mitch fondly remembered running with throngs of cousins and begging to stay over through the summer, or at least the next weekend. There were some tall tales about Alpha, Ginny and Don Strong, Jack and Benny Collings, Janie Lane, Uncle Malcolm's boy Tommy and some other favorites, but mostly just fond reflections on the bygone days.

When Mitch's grandson Joey Zack interviewed him for a school paper, he wrote: "Cousin to my grandfather means best friend. He grew up in a very tight-knit family cluster and spent most of his time with his cousins. My grandfather regrets nothing about his life, as he is grateful for all he has been given."

The good times lasted through the years. Don Strong, Jack and Benny Collings would come to our home on Long Street or Dora Street to play Rook until the wee hours. Whenever any of Mitch's cousins visited, there were always big smiles, pranks, and talking long into the night. Helen kept the coffee pot going and usually had to make a cake for Don. When Helen was pregnant, Benny always threatened to call a Vet for delivery. Linda and Karen fell asleep many a night to the voices and melodious laughter coming from the kitchen. Janie (Lane) Mann and her daughter Coantha Mann lived near us in Florida for a few years. We spent a lot of time together, and endured Hurricane Donna at their house in 1960. Jack and Benny Collings might pop up anywhere for a quick visit. These are just memories of Dad's memories; if he were here now there would be more colorful stories about these folks.

After hearing the now legendary tales of the Penley cousins on that mountain, imagine the surprise at finding it reported on the society page of The Kingsport Times. But it was no surprise to see that the Misses Georgia and Bernice Freeman were visitors. My Aunt Georgia married Uncle Malcolm, and Berniece married Uncle Kelly, and they kept the farm through the 1980s when age forced them off the mountain. There are many more newspaper entries like these in the 1920s; these were chosen because Mitch, Luther, Dolphine and Jeanette were surely there those days, such visits spawned many a Penley legend. These must have been some of the days that Dad talked about for the rest of his life. Priscilla's daughter Lillie married Carson Strong, referred to here as C.E. Strong.

January 29, 1929: Mr. Malcolm Penley and Miss Fannie Strong called to see Miss Georgia Freeman Tuesday night. Mr. Malcolm Penley returned to his home near Gate City Friday after spending the week with Mr. and Mrs. C.E. Strong.

October 24, 1929: Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Strong and family, Misses Georgia and Berniece Freeman, Messrrs. Robert McKinzie, Clarence Bruner and Malcolm Penley spent the day with Mrs. Samuel Penley, near Gate City. Mr. K. H. Penley spent Sunday night with Mr. Alfred Strong.

December 19, 1929: The C.E. Strong family spent Sunday with Mrs. Priscilla Penly near Gate City.

Grandma Priscilla's remained a favorite spot on earth for those who came, not just because of the calm and majestic beauty of the mountain, not just because of the table where there was always food for one more, or the beds that were never too full for one more cousin. It reminded you of who you were, where you'd been, and told you where to go next.

Relationships forged on the mountain sustained the family for generations to come, and built character that would see them through tribulations to come. If World War II adults were The Greatest Generation it was the love of people like Sam and Priscilla that made them.

Grandma Priscilla died in 1951. It was "Uncle Malcolm's mountain" to the next generation. The farm was neat as a pin inside and out. He was a giant of a man who made every little visitor feel incredibly important. He guided Aunt Georgia down the mountain on a sled to meet an ambulance after a copperhead snakebite. Aunt Georgia was a powerful woman with a razor sharp mind for every detail of family history. Uncle Kelly and Aunt Bernice lived nextdoor. Their son, Sammy Penley has added some memories to this book.

As this is written, Aunt Georgia is celebrating her 100th birthday, on January 15, 2009 with her son Tommy in Georgia. [Georgia died March 6, 2010] If she lived closer this book would have flowed easily into one big wonderful story. The Penley name lives on in Thomas Wayne Penley, the son of Malcolm and Georgia, born December 4, 194X. Tommy's children are Cynthia (Chilton) born in 19XX and son Tommy Wayne Penley, Jr. born in 19XX. Cynthia and Rudy Chilton have Austin Thomas Penley born October 1, 19XX. Tommy Jr. has Matthew Wayne Penley, born September 10, 19XX and Ashley Nicole, November 6, 19XX.

I Never Knew Another (That Was A Finer Man)
written by Steve Barber 
In Memory of 
Malcolm Penley
He wore overalls on Sunday,
They seemed to suit him fine.
He never was pretentious,
He wasn't that kind.
He seldom went to church,
But he was a righteous man.
I never knew another
That was a better man.

His face was all weathered,
From working in the sun.
It seemed he never stopped,
The work was never done.
He never took vacation,
It wasn't in his plans.
I never knew another
That was a better man.

He always found the time,
To help a friend in need.
He'd work in the fields
Until his hands would bleed.
If you searched this world over, 
And went across this land,
You'd never find another
That was a better man.