When little Frances Lelia Walker was born at home in Crozet on the 3rd of July 1919, she joined the ranks of eight other siblings ranging in age from 13 to two. Truth be told, the children may have been looking forward more to Independence Day fireworks than another baby sister whom they would surely be called upon to help look after.
But in the home of William and Mary Lizzie Walker, deacon and deaconess in Crozet’s recently organized Union Mission Baptist Church, loving and serving one another, and their neighbors, was the order of the day—even as they were bent to the task of scratching out a daily existence to keep a sound roof over their heads and food on the table for their growing family.
William Walker, Sr. married Lizzie Brown on Christmas Eve, 1902. He was employed as a 21-year-old operator of shovels, picks and sledgehammers, maintaining the Chesapeake & Ohio rails that passed through western Albemarle County. When John Barnes established Crozet Lumber Company in 1922, he became aware of the steadfast qualities exhibited by Walker and hired him to drive one of the business’s delivery trucks, transporting lumber over relatively primitive roads to customers on both sides of the Blue Ridge.
At their home a block off Main Street, Mary Lizzie Walker worked as a laundress for the more affluent in her community, even as she was surrounded by “stair steps,” as her daughter Frances described their household of eleven children who arrived every one to three years between 1906 and 1924. The never-ending demands of cooking, cleaning, washing clothes and keeping some semblance of order became shared responsibilities. “That’s what we had to do,” said Frances. “And wear the others’ clothes. I was so glad when I got big enough to make a dollar and could buy me something for my own. You get tired of wearing hand-me-downs. You wanted something new, but your parents just couldn’t afford it. Yessiree, it was tough times.
“I used to work for Mr. Jack Phillips and his wife [on Blue Ridge Avenue]. I guess I was about 8 or 10 years old. Mr. Phillips used to walk down to the barbershop, and he would stop by and tell my mother that his wife wanted Frances to come up and help her. Go up there and wash dishes. Time for vegetables, go help them in the garden. Time for peaches, help peel peaches to can. Gave me about a dollar and a half a week and I thought I had some money.
“Babe Foster lived in that house next to the Gulf filling station where you come in Jarman’s Gap Road. I went down there and helped his wife wash and iron clothes. Their children went to Crozet High School.
“Mr. Curtis Haden had a store right beside Mountainside [Senior Living]. My Daddy would give us a little allowance. You could get three or four Mary Janes for a penny. It would be a couple of ginger snaps for a penny; a caramel candy wrapped three for a penny. Child, we’d get a whole lot of candy for ten cents. And they had some kind of long black licorice candy we liked—that stuff was good. Then by the middle part of the week, you’d be done ate up all your candy, and we could go to E.L. Grasty’s store. He had ice cream in something like a deep freezer and had popsicles in there—five cents a piece. I’m going to tell you, them old days was good days.
“Carter was the man that built the Cold Storage. Later, Herbert took over. We used to go up there and get ice, ’cause people had iceboxes during that time. They would chop up whatever you wanted: a 10¢ piece, or a 5¢ piece. You’d get a little bitty piece for 5¢. A half-a-block would cost you 50¢. How many times have I taken my wagon up there to the Cold Storage and gotten ice on Sunday when I come from Sunday School with my sister. Carried it around to the Blue Goose Inn to Mrs. Mae Owsley who ran the hotel.
“On Sunday, ice cream was their main dessert. Lillian Spears was the cook there for 20 years. She would have cooked the custard and got everything ready. All we had to do was bring the ice, put it in the freezer and turn the freezer, I and one of my sisters. And that was an eight-gallon one, so you know how big that was.
“Momma worked at home from Monday to Saturday, and on Sunday she worked for Mr. Charlie Wayland at Wayland Park. She’d have us helping her on Saturday night to cook the dinner for us to have at home on Sunday.
“She’d leave home about eight o’clock Sunday morning and go to Mr. Wayland’s. Leave there and go to church at eleven, then come back to work. They had a big dining room and table that reached from here to diddy-wah-diddy. Never saw such a great long table. Their children and grandchildren came on Sunday.
“At 4:30 or 5:00 we’d take our wagon, get the ice and go on over to the Waylands’ and freeze ice cream for their dinner. His freezer was the same size as Mrs. Owsley’s, ‘cause, you see, those old families used to have from ten to twelve people for their Sunday dinner. It was in the 1930s. They’d eat dinner about 5:30, quarter-to-six. Momma would get back home, it would be every bit of 6:30, quarter-to-seven.
“They had a hard time getting people on Thanksgiving and Christmas, so they’d get the help to come on the day before and help them fix all this dinner and everything. Ohhh, it was something else.”
Frances Hill’s adult work life mirrored her earlier years in many ways. She was away from her own home for extended periods as she worked for private homes in Farmington and at Ash Lawn. On Sundays, one could often find her playing the piano or singing beautiful Christian solos with her church family.
She was not timid to remind others that her heart leaned mightily on her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Her faithful walk showed that she was heavily invested in, and with, those in her family and community.
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