Total Solar Eclipse on the Day My Grandparents Married in 1904

There’s a narrow gold wedding band I wear on my left hand along with my own. It is my grandmother’s wedding ring that was left to me when she passed away many years ago.

Inside is engraved my grandparents’ initials and the date of their wedding … August 21, 1904 … 113 years ago today.

John Francis Osborne was from Grayson County in southwestern Virginia. Mollie Beatrice Kennedy lived just across the state line, on the other side of the New River, in Allegheny County, N.C.

The two young lovers met at an all-night dance, a tradition during those days in the mountains where the young people would meet at someone’s house for a dance party. The social gatherings would last all night because folks lived such long distances from one another and it was difficult and dangerous to travel through the mountains after dark.

I don’t know how long they courted but my grandmother, whose father was a prominent and prosperous store keeper and farmer in the Turkey Knob community outside Sparta, NC, consented at some point to become my grandfather’s wife and to move away from her family. Because John was such a stern man in his older years, I have tried to imagine him as a star-crossed teenager smitten with Mollie.

The marriage license was obtained in Virginia so my grandparents, along with the wedding party, walked to the Virginia-North Carolina state line and were married in the middle of the road, probably where it crossed the New River. Did Mollie pick some wildflowers along the way to hold during the brief ceremony? Was it a hot, humid mountain day? Or did the clouds roll in and they found themselves dodging thunderstorms? My mother said those types of weddings were a common practice back in those days, and certainly a lot cheaper than the opulent occasions that are so popular these days.

As two teenagers beginning life together like generations had done before them in those isolated, hard-scrapple mountains, John and Mollie didn’t have money for a fancy wedding. It would be needed for the tough days ahead as they settled into a small cabin on the side of a mountain near an area known as Mouth of Wilson, located in the shadow of Grayson Highlands and Mt. Rogers in the days before they became part of the state and national park system.

The land was sloped and rocky … the elevation was over 3,500 feet … and to walk it today makes me wonder how they were able to survive in the harsh winters and difficult summers. With only two uninsulated rooms to live in, they began raising their family that would eventually include 10 children. My mother, now 90, was the youngest and the only surviving member of her immediate family.

My grandfather farmed with a mule and plow, piling rocks on the hillside under the trees, and to this day those  rocks are still in the same place he piled them over a hundred years ago. It was extremely hard manual labor for the tall, gangly man who had a growing family to feed. Below the cabin, a small creek still babbles down the mountain, the only source of water during the days they lived in those cramped, sparse conditions.

They were surrounded by family. Our relatives are all through those hills, most staying close as they grew into adulthood, married, and raised families of their own. My grandfather’s parents lived in a log cabin on The Knob, the family place near a mountain top. The hand-hewn logs included two rooms and a fireplace on the ground floor, and one large room upstairs, just a short distance from John and Mollie’s cabin.

Because my grandparents were tough and made their own way, they set a work ethic for those of us who followed that continues to this day. And, as I once again look at the gold band on my ring finger, I think about how it all began on this day 113 years ago when John and Mollie became man and wife.

Editor’s note: On this day in 2017, the anniversary of John and Mollie’s wedding, an historic total solar eclipse crossed the U.S.

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