Helen Dallison Still Going Strong at 98
Helen Dallison, 98, of Folsom, W.Va., has not let personal tragedy or time get in the way of living her life to the fullest. And fortunately for us, neither does she sparingly give out advice or her wisdom on the ever-changing world, when asked for it.
“I don’t know if the changes are for the best or not. But these computers . . . I can’t turn one on or off,” she adamantly said while quietly seated, alongside son Ken, at a table in her neat and tidy kitchen.
“Computers have taken a lot of people from working. People need to work instead of watching television and playing with the computer. Children have it too easy anymore. They don’t appreciate what you buy for them. The toys do not last any length of time … the children anymore have it too easy, and they don’t really appreciate it. (In the past), you didn’t hear of drugs and shootings and sex. Now that is all you see and hear on TV. The kids will sit and watch that, and I think that encourages them to make a change in their life.”
One certainly should not discount Dallison’s advice. She will be 99 in November and is looking ahead to November 2016 actually.
“I’m trying to reach the 100 mark,” she said, explaining she wants to be on Willard Scott’s birthday list on the Today show. “You have to be 100 to do that.”
Besides a lack of junk food and minimal pop, except for the occasional root beer, Dallison tends to credit her good health to a respectful upbringing, along with hard work.”
“I can remember living over in Wallace beside my dad’s parents … My grandpa made us work. We were always having to do something; maybe he’d give us a nickel, a dime, or a quarter. Now children want five and 10 dollars. I just don’t have time for a lazy person. If they can’t get out and work, to make an effort and to have something in life.”
Dallison’s family was in no way spoiled.
“Every Sunday, there was a peck on the window for us to get dressed to go to Sunday school and church,” she said. “We didn’t have the play things that the children have now. We mainly had a toy or two, as well as clothes. We always had plenty to eat. My mother sewed. She made all of our clothes. I never had a store-bought dress until probably I was 14 years old.”
Dallison said she was required to help her grandpa mow the yard, as well as pick berries out of his berry patch. Furthermore, if her grandpa had a garden, Dallison and her two sisters, were required to help with that.
Dallison remembers a time when her grandpa had gone away on a trip and had to stay overnight.
“Grandpa and grandma had a cow. Grandpa always put a cap on and put his head up against the cow to milk it . . . Grandma came to our house and said ‘Helen, you are going to have to come up and milk for me.’ She said, ‘I can’t put my head up against the cow. It kicks me.’ So I went over and milked for her. I didn’t have a bit of trouble. And every time Grandpa was away to stay overnight, that was my job, to go milk the cow.”
Helen met her late husband Pat at a prayer meeting.
“He walked home with me” she said, smiling at the memory. “He stayed a while.”
Helen said Pat had a sawmill. Groceries would be brought in for the working men, along with feed for the cattle that were used to log with.
“They would bring a truckload of groceries in for the sawmill men and feed for the oxen. They would leave it there at our place. The men from the sawmill would come down to pick it up. Pat and I got to be close friends. We were married in 1936.”
Helen became in charge of cooking for the men at the saw mill.
“You’d cook potatoes and beans. Very seldom you had meat, unless you raised meat,” she explained, adding she had ten men to cook for.
“You didn’t have fancy foods. You had food that would stick to the bones.”
Helen and Pat had three boys; the oldest is deceased.
“Ken and Dick are the ones who has carried the sawmill business,” Helen said, adding that the business was sold about a year ago after being in the family for 78 years.
Ken notes that Dallison was the oldest privately-owned business in the state of West Virginia and was in the family through six generations.
Helen said all the lumber in her home was picked out by Pat.
“We’ve been here since 1948,” she said, adding that all the floors are hardwood and the steps are original. The floor upstairs has never been redone or had anything done to it.”
Furthermore, the stone on the house was all gathered by hand.
Decades later, Helen is still very much keeping busy. She is seen regularly for health-related checkups by Dr. Isha Woofter, as well as Registered Nurse Regina Carlin. Helen has someone who stays with her 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Oftentimes, Helen’s caretaker can be found quilting alongside with Helen.
Not a bed inside the Dallison house can be found without one of Helen’s hand-made quilts covering it. She has made more than 200 quilts since Pat passed 14 years ago.
Helen said when she lived beside her grandparents, her grandma would quilt.
“I would go over at night and quilt with her. Of course, I don’t remember what kind of stitches I made or whether she took them or not,” she adds, laughing. “When we moved to Folsom, I went to church and Sunday School and taught a class. They had what they called Ladies Aid. They worked to earn money to help with expenses of the church.
“So then when I would come home of the evenings, I would work on piece puzzles. And Pat would say ‘Can’t you find something else to do to show for what you are doing?”
Helen said Pat ended up making her quilting frames, which she still has.
“I have used them a lot, but with modern quilts and beds, queen and king . . . you have to make them wider, and so I had to quit using them.”
Two of Helen’s favorite quilts are her West Virginia quilts.
“When West Virginia is playing, Mom is right in front of that TV,” Ken says. “She has a picture of her and Coach Beilein … She’s been a basketball fan for as long as I can remember.”
There are many days when Dallison does not make it outdoors; however, this does not stop her from engaging in physical activity in other ways, as Dallison said she will still trek up and down the steps in her house three to four times a day.
Besides quilting, Helen also cans greens beans and freezes peaches.
“I told her, before you got here, that she has enough food in the cellar to last her a year,” Ken jokes.
“When (Pat and I) lived on Arches Fork, we raised a big garden,” Helen said. “We had pole beans. I had gotten all the beans I wanted. My mother and dad said they’d like to have some. So they came over on a Sunday. The night before the deer got into the beans, so (Mom and Dad) didn’t get any beans.”
Helen is also known for her great baking skills. Ken says she is known for her rolls, which she “makes for basically every family function.” Perhaps this request can be credited to the days Helen would help make bread for the working men.
“I had a large pan that would hold nine loaves of bread. I would mix up bread every other day and bake it. I got so that it just looked like a store-bought loaf.”
“Here’s a cute story,” Ken said, beginning to chuckle. “When my brother and I were still at home . . . around the time pepperoni rolls were introduced here, we were telling Mom about the pepperoni rolls. Well, Mom decided she was going to make us some pepperoni rolls. She used a whole stick of pepperoni in the roll!”
“I learned how to make them,” Helen reassured.
When asked as to what was a favorite dish that Pat liked, Helen said “rice.”
“He said if I didn’t know what to cook for the evening, I could always fix rice.”
“You didn’t have fancy furniture,” she added. “You had a table that was made rough. You didn’t have chairs. You had a bench, and you’d set on the bench to eat.”
Perhaps not having the fanciest upbringing makes Helen a bit more grateful for what she was given, as she easily recalls one of her favorite Christmases.
“My dad had a brother that wasn’t married. He worked for a hardware store, and they sold furniture and things like that . . . That was one of the nicest Christmases we ever had was when he got a table and a chair, three for three of us, and a set of dishes that went with it, and a doll-baby in each chair.”
Also, besides quilting and canning and watching basketball, Helen does watch a bit of television every now and then, though stresses the importance of turning the set off when there is company.
Of course, she enjoys the Today show, as well as Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. She added that she also likes to watch the talent show, “where there’s dancing.”
“I like that,” she said.