“Living now… is a lot different than when we were (young), cause there (were) no shows and no television, no radios. So you had to make your own entertainment. So, if you had somebody like Lella, you had it made.”
-- Letha Sexton, about her old friend
The couple never had any children of their own; but, instead, adopted an entire neighborhood of them. One such child was Letha Sexton, now an old woman living just down the road from where she grew up. I met with her in the spring of 2009, and she told me what she remembered, with a striking fondness for the woman who had once lived and played music down the road.
“There was a lot of children round in the neighborhood,” she said, “and they took every child there in, played ‘em music, had ‘em dancing, fed ‘em popcorn.” Claude didn’t play music, but was an avid dancer, and was known to shake a leg while Lella fiddled, children dancing all around.
Lella, said Letha, was “a little heavyset lady. She wore glasses. And giggled all the time. She laughed, yes, she was like a kid, you know.” She would spend her days with the neighborhood children. She’d take them into the garden, to pick greens; into the river, to fish; into the road, to play games.
“I remember walking down the road,” Letha remembered, as she drove me down Forge Mill Road, some 60 years later. “It was just a sandy road then… and we’d play hop scotch. I think every little girl’s played hopscotch. So, Lella would hopscotch too… and she just laughed, when she’d jump. She’s so jolly.”
Lella always kept her instruments—fiddle, banjo, guitar—on a red upholstered fainting couch in her living room, Letha remembered. “She never would let us play her music instruments. Probably could’ve taught us to play music, but they were precious to her. She kept them on this couch, and we were never to touch them.” Letha bought the couch after Lella passed away, showing it to me proudly, sitting in the corner of her living room.
She played “all the string instruments,” as Letha remembered. “She played fiddle a lot,” she said. “She’d get that thing and cut loose on it… And if I can remember right, she got that old banjo, and really let it go.” She was, as Letha described her, “in her first heaven, playing music.”
Claude passed away in 1951. Upon his death, Lella moved from Powell County to Winchester, in Clark County, where she stayed with a number of relatives and friends, among them Serena, and a woman named Ms. Quisenberry, whose sons she’d take out hunting and fishing. In those years, Serena said, as her aunt moved from house to house, “the one thing she always took with her was her rifle, and her violin.”