Growing Up Out Proctor: Roy and Ruby Palmer
Two of the most memorable characters of my childhood out Proctor were Roy (1911- 1996) and Ruby (Dulaney) Palmer (1915-1983). The Skylab prank that Roy’s tormentors Uncle Oakey and Joe Coleman played on Roy is recounted in Chapter 6. Chapter 2 on Pap’s hound dogs describes the time when one of our beagles had a fight to the death with a family of skunks under Roy’s clapboard shack. I’ve written and recorded songs about both of these events, Ol’ Scotty and When Skylab Fell. These stories barely begin to describe what could be told about Roy and Ruby. I saw no evidence they were illiterate. Though they were mostly self-sufficient, they had little knowledge of the world beyond Wetzel County. Ruby never had much to say but Roy liked to talk and his Wetzel County vernacular was classic. “A right smart” (very much so), “I ‘low” (for sure), and “yes indeedy” (I agree) were three common turns of phrase. The Palmers were kind and honest but true hillbillies.
Roy and Ruby squatted on a piece of land down Newman Ridge owned by the Hall family, between the farms of Uncle Okey and Clyde Cozart about a mile west of our place. Their house was a classic clapboard, open underneath with a kitchen, living room, and bedroom. There was no running water or electricity in the house and they cooked and heated with a wood stove. Roy was the son of Lisander Palmer, who had a place on Huff Ridge high on the other side of Proctor Creek. Maps even as late as the 1880s describe Huff Ridge as “unexplored wilderness.” The steep Price Hill road that climbs up to the ridge from Proctor Creek still is “interesting” and no place for beginners to learn how to drive.
I’m not sure where Roy and Ruby were born but he and Ruby were buried in the Palmer Cemetery on Palmer Ridge about a mile east of our place. From the name of the ridge and cemetery, obviously there was a family connection to Roy but I don’t know exactly what it is. I don’t know anything with certainty about Ruby’s background. Since her headstone lists her middle name as Dulaney, perhaps she was from the family of that name that once lived about halfway up the Anderson Hill road. Because of her bronze complexion, as a kid I always suspected that was Native American blood.
The Palmers grew and shot most of what they needed to survive but Roy occasionally did odd jobs for neighbors, including Uncle Okey and my Dad, to augment the Palmer’s monthly dependency check. He was a pretty good hand at haying, setting fence, shearing sheep, splitting wood, and other farm jobs. I can clearly picture Roy working in long sleeve flannel shirts no matter how hot and muggy it got in the summer.
Like any good hillbilly, Roy was great at what is known these days as “repurposing” and never passed up a freebie. He just didn’t use a fancy name for it. One time we had a big, dead, 1930 or 1940s vintage refrigerator that we were going to discard. Roy thought it would make a great place to store his canned vegetables, fruit, and meat so we hauled it over to his place. A few days later he told us that their clapboard home had to be evacuated, after he had taken the refrigerator inside the house and tried to take out the refrigerant pump and piping to make more storage space. The refrigerant was sulfur dioxide, which of course is the product of burning sulfur, long since replaced by non-toxic and odorless compression gases. It’s not hard to imagine the pandemonium in that shack when Roy broke open the line.
On another occasion, I remember Roy walking by our house with an old Singer pedal sewing machine strapped to his back. He had gotten it on Huff Ridge at his father Lisander’s place and had carried all the way down Price Hill to Proctor Creek and back up Anderson Hill on the other side to give to Ruby. That image is clearly in my mind over sixty years later.
Roy and Ruby had epic benders when they traveled the fifteen miles to New Martinsville to pick up their monthly welfare check and buy salt, bullets, canning lids, needles and thread, and the few other things they needed to get by. They almost never had to walk more than a few miles before somebody stopped to give them a ride. After picking up their check and shopping, the Palmers would get roaring drunk at Mae’s Place or another watering hole, setting aside just enough money for a taxi ride home. Nobody had to ask them for their car keys because they never owned a car.
Everybody who knew Roy and Ruby had stories about them. Here are a few from people I grew up with.
John Parsons recalled that once Roy was talking to his dad (Tom Parsons) and my Uncle Okey. Roy was very upset about something President Eisenhower said or did and was thinking about “moving out of the country” – maybe to Ohio!
Nancy Garner says that one bitterly cold winter night when she was a volunteer EMT in that part of Wetzel County, a body was reported to be lying in the snow in Roy’s yard. When the ambulance arrived, the EMTs found the body was Roy, passed out drunk. They loaded him in the ambulance and took him to the emergency room at the New Martinsville hospital. As Roy warmed up in the ambulance, he lost bladder control so it was a very unpleasant trip for everyone, except maybe for Roy. Doctor A. J.’s first words after looking at Roy were “Wow, he needs a bath! After examining Roy for a while, Dr. A. J. – always the joker – told Nancy “We need to talk about your father.”
Terry Cozart’s family lived in New Martinsville but he spent a lot of time as a boy at his Uncle Clyde Cozart’s farm adjacent to Roy’s place. Terry and Roy also sheared my Dad’s sheep. Terry fondly remembers sitting as a young kid in Uncle Okey’s pump house on Sunday mornings with Okey and Cyde and listening to them talk. One time Okey mentioned he had some red barn paint and convinced Terry to paint one of Roy’s sheep red in the middle of the night. The next morning, Roy butchered the red sheep, explaining that the sheep couldn’t breathe. Terry also remembered that Roy would sprinkle flour on the flat rock at their front door and put small rocks on top of the door to detect whether someone had entered their house when he was gone. Roy was ahead of his time with home security systems!
A book could be written about Roy and Ruby!