By Jessica Farrish
BECKLEY -- In the Richmond district of Raleigh County, Swell Mountain rises 3,294 feet above the closest town.
It's a remote region of the county, isolated even from the small communities surrounding it. To reach it, motorists must turn on Pluto Road in Shady Spring and drive some 5 miles to a dirt road. That dirt road eventually reaches Swell Mountain.
When Bonnie Sue Bennett Pishner was growing up on the mountain in the 1950s, it was commonly called "The Swell."
Her memories of life on the mountain are so strong that she recently penned a memoir, "Swell Mountain Memories," of the first 12 years of her life, which she spent there.
"I was born before a television became a common piece of furniture in American households, before penicillin was widely used, before polio shots, frozen foods, sperm banks, Xerox, hula hoops, contact lenses, Frisbees and The Pill," writes Pishner, who now lives in Beckley.
The book is filled with Pishner's descriptions of the natural beauty of The Swell: The snow "was a thing of beauty, covering everything like a lumpy, white comforter," while autumn on Swell and Freezeland Mountain is "magical," she writes.
"I can't think of any sight more breathtaking than the mountains cloaked in blazing yellows, fiery reds and burnished golds of birch, oak, hickory and maple leaves," pens Pishner.
Pishner, who retired from the Department of Health and Human Resources after 40 years and now trains social workers for DHHR, said she decided to write the book 12 or 15 years ago to preserve her memories for her children and grandchildren.
"I wanted to preserve the memories of my ancestors so that my children and grandchildren would know what a big difference there is in the way they lived, and the way I lived, because even 50 years makes a big difference in the technology, the way we do things, the way we celebrate holidays, birthdays, the way funerals are handled," said Pishner. "An example of that is when I was growing up, we were taught not to step on a grave.
"Now, people don't think anything about that," she added. "I just wanted them to know about our ancestors and how they lived."
It was a time when Pishner's mother, Elsie Jane Richmond Bennett, sewed her children's clothes on a treadle sewing machine, as Pishner stood beside the machine, watching as her mom turned feedsacks into dresses.
There was no indoor plumbing, so families had outhouses.
When kids heard a car, they ran to the road to look at it.
In the book, Pishner writes about making molasses one year with her uncle, Basil Richmond.
It was a magical experience for Pishner, age 9, as she and her cousin, Linda Richardson, got to stay up well into the night to help the adults make the molasses. The Bennetts and Richmonds stripped leaves from the cane in Basil's field, then chopped it down.
"That night, (Basil Richmond) had a horse and had either borrowed or rented the rollers," she explained. "The horse had to go around and turn those rollers to make molasses.
"It was attended by lots of people in the community," she said.
Pishner had never seen molasses made until then, since it wasn't commonly done in the isolated community of cousins and extended family members who lived on The Swell.
"All the people in the community gathered together for the experience," she said. "Just the togetherness and the people <t40>...<t$> it was a fun time for us to be out that late at night."
She and Linda also got to eat some of the molasses once it was finished, she recalled.
"It was a fun time for us," she said.
Pishner and her brother walked 5 miles round-trip each school day to the Freezeland Mountain School, a one-room schoolhouse where 15 to 20 students in first through eighth grades gathered to learn.
"The teacher would give the assignment, then he would move on to the next grade level," she recalled. "Sometimes he would have the upper grade level help the lower grade level with their assignments.