‘They’re Good People’
Editor’s note: This is the final installment of the life and times of the one of Tyler County’s premier farming families the Roberts’ clan.
ELK FORK – A chicken was walking around taking advantage of the warm weather recently at Sarah Midcap’s farm along W.Va. 18. After knocking, the longtime Tyler County woman opened her front door so as to give solid directions for the short drive to the Roberts’ family farm located in a valley in the shadow of a ridge that overlooks both farms.
“I know who they are. They’re good people,” Midcap said.
Country roads led to a white three-story, wooden framed farmhouse that has been in Tyler County since the early 1900s. A large dog greets visitors as they approach the home’s side door.
John Roberts opens the door and knows Sarah Midcap.
“We were all raised together. She was a Fletcher and married a Midcap. He passed away a few years ago. She kept her cows until a couple of years ago. She still has chickens.”
Roberts’ granddaughter, Jenna Archer, added, “She has all kinds of chickens. She tried to give them up once, but she got more.”
Roberts’ said, “Oh yeah. People like to farm in this area.”
The Roberts’ family has been working the same land for more than a 100 years. The values they share managing a family farm made Tyler County and America stronger.
Roberts was a a longtime member of the Tyler County Fair Association, Farm Bureau officer for several decades, Farmer of the Year for the Sistersville Jaycees and he was active in many other organizations.
“I tried to dabble in everything,” he said.
His wife JoEllen added, “A lot of people called and kept him on the phone all evening.”
Long time when, the family bought a 100 acres and then during the Depression, another 80 acres. Then, the family acquired a few more acres that was sold by someone who was in “hock” for a few hundred dollars. After purchasing another 23 acres later, the farm goes from one side of the ridge to the other to face a familiar looking place along W.Va. 18. Overall, there is more than 200 acres of land in the Roberts’ family.
“Our farm goes clear over to Sarah Midcap’s place,” Roberts said as he showed a handful of deeds.
Once upon a time, a bridge crossed a creek by the base of the ridge leading to LaZears’ Chapel, a Tyler County icon where many members of the Roberts’ family are buried.
“There used to be a big iron bridge right here,” Roberts said as he pointed to an old map. “We walked to the church that’s about half a mile away. That church is our family’s church.”
As Roberts’ daughter, Julia, was about to go home to make dinner, she spoke to her dad about her plans for the next day on the farm. She still does a lot of work on that farm. And that led John Roberts to talk about when a farmer’s day begins. Farm work is not an eight hour shift.
“Back then, I usually got up around 4:30 in the morning and finish the day around 9 or 10 at night,” he said. “When we were able, we would usually milk around 4 that evening, then eat supper, then work in the hay or work in the garden until dark. Then the next day, we’d get up and do the same thing all over again.”
Roberts talked about family dinners. They didn’t have taco Tuesday, but the real deal with beef and vegetables grown on the farm.
“We had our own beef,” he said. “Whenever we need beef, we’ve got it ready to butcher. That’s one thing I told the kids, ‘don’t ever be without the beef.'”
Before Julia Archer left that evening, she said to her mother, “See you in the morning, mom. I love you.”
JoEllen Roberts smiled warmly before she said, “I love you too.”
Speaking of love, particularly around Valentine’s Day, John and JoEllen Roberts got hitched in 1965 and have been married 51 years.
“It just seems like we always knew each other,” JoEllen said.
Roberts added, “We met in front of Tyler County High School. She was with her aunt and I was delivering milk. I fell in love with him.”
Sharp as a tack, Roberts knew June 18 is the couple’s wedding anniversary.
The couple had a few kids six.
The old married couple laughed when Roberts’ said, “She says I just married her for the kids the labor (for the farm).”
JoEllen added, “I’ve enjoyed being a farmer all these years. Oh my yes! I loved all of it. Whatever he was doing, we were…”
“Doing it together,” Roberts said as he finished his bride’s sentence.
Milking a cow is
“For me, it was easy,” he said.
JoEllen added, “But sometimes it was a battleground to get under that cow. You had to be brave.”
Roberts laughed as he said, “Sometimes you get kicked.”
Farming is lot like life; it depends on your perspective, your attitude and wisdom enough to know what you’ve got.
“We had some lean years, but we never really let it bother us,” Roberts said. “We made the most of what we had. It’s not how much you have, it’s how you use what you do have.”
No matter what you do in life, be it farming or teaching, writing or working with your hands, that’s a powerful quote that deserves repeating.
“It’s not how much you have, it’s how you use what you do have.”
And that quote brings us around to Tyler County appreciating what you’ve got.
“Everybody is friendly,” Roberts said. “Even the ones I had to put in jail (as magistrate), they’d come across the street to speak to me, talk to me. And Tyler County is one family atmosphere. It’s like our church. It’s one big family. If anyone is hurting, we’re all hurting. If you got something good, praise God for it; everybody will.”
JoEllen added, “For me, the best part is the closeness of our family.”
As the goodbyes were being exchanged, JoEllen said, “Drop in anytime.”